The title of the song RESTING ON THE ROCK was chosen because references to the rock, as in “of ages,” have been traditionally found in Western religious music and spirituals. And while the inspiration for this song was largely Eastern in thought, I began to feel the natural merging of these two historic foes into one expression. All the religions of the world speak of sacrifice and burden being a part of growth and enlightenment, Buddhists often refer to the aching knees of the meditational Lotus position. What more potent an image could there be, I figured, than the concept of resting, or meditating, as it were, on something we perceive of as hard and challenging? Thus began my journey with this recording.
For years, music writing for me was all about wanting to compose the hippest stuff, stuff that “the cats” would be impressed by and therefore would deign to include me in their Boy’s Club of musicians. It was all about needing to bash the preconceived notion that players often have about “chick singers.” But after years of writing that way, I finally found, in this present phase of my life, that trying to impress was no longer a good enough creative motive for me.
I’d lately been yearning to reach down into the earth and create something more organic, something that was not so much from the head, as from that other vital organ. When I started writing for this record, what came out, some dozen songs later, was this unexpected canon of loss and delusion and sacrifice and thorny paths and redemption. I kind of spooked myself. I started finding that my journey was about taking roads that were not necessarily always pleasant little strolls through the flowery meadow. Sometimes they took me to some very dark places that I felt compelled to examine. The more I excavated, the more I began to find the answers in something earthier. From the root. From something very old.
Musically speaking, that meant a few things. I found, for example, great inspiration from the call-and-response tradition of slave songs, as illustrated in the title track. Out of that tradition, historically, came Negro spirituals, blues, country, bluegrass, folk. Music of the peasants and farmers and laborers. Music whose impetus was not the need to hear a titillating harmonic vocabulary, but the need to soothe wounds, and heal broken backs and spirits. It was music as tonic. That spoke to me.
I was also not only interested in music that was purely American in color and texture. Therefore, I sought out musicians whose own inspirations had led them to explore and master the music of other cultures. This idea that struggle is a universal experience meant that infusing onto a song, say, the mournful twangs of a Chinese xin-xin, or the vibrational prowess of a Tiwa Shaman drum or the wailing solemnity of a Persian cha-chah, were not at all incongruent with my folk melodies. And I have Ken Rosser, Paul Angers, and Ross Wright to thank deeply for the greatest of those gifts, which they gave to me without prejudice. As a result, the recording process ended up being an extraordinary one for me, and far more collaborative than I had originally envisioned.
The piece entitled PAVEMENTS, for example, was almost abandoned. It’s about homelessness, and I wanted it to be a kind of mantra-like meditation, so I wrote as simple and bare-boned as possible. But the problems that that kind of writing invites can be multi-fold. We tried every approach possible, from having the guitar take the lead theme, to having the bass take it. Eventually we all deduced that a piece like this required building from the drums up, which makes complete sense from a meditational standpoint, drums being centuries-long associated with meditation. So, without anything to play against, Paul Angers, for whom drumming is ritual, proceeded to layer track after track, using everything from djembes to cups and spoons. Then one day a former neighbor, a guy I hadn’t seen in some time and didn’t even know that well, popped into my head. Lonnie Johnson used to practice his didgeridoo round the clock, which I absolutely loved, even if the other neighbors might not have. Didgeridoos, which hail from Aboriginal and Marquesan traditions, have always make me think of the throat singing of Buddhist monks. Again, perfect for this meditational opus I was trying to create. Once he blew his magic on top of Paul’s drums, the song really began to open up and give everyone ideas. Ken Rosser’s offering were these ancient stringed instruments no one had ever heard of, and Ross Wright’s bass assumed a more melodic role than basses usually do. Finally, the song became a song.
Likewise, Skins Coulter, an old friend and valued guest on this recording, has a unique gift few others have. He builds and solders and bends and molds and shapes and assembles these scraps of kitchen utensils and gardening tools and whatever else he can find into the most amazing percussion instruments you’ve ever seen or heard. I’d been salivating for years over these “rakes” he uses on his snare to create a sort of, almost, Zydeco loping. I kept swearing that one day I would need that touch on a song of mine, and all along I knew which song it would be. LAST CHANCE MOJO EYE was always intended to be a sort of trashy, greasy expression, and Skins was definitely the man for the job. Who else do any of us know who uses an old piece of luggage as a bass drum? Inspired!
The night we recorded WAKE UP OPHELIA, Ken Rosser showed up with a fever, and understandably not in the best of moods. He asked me what I wanted on this song, and I told him it was about a woman being murdered. I wanted his guitar to sound desperate, like a man on his last manic leg in this life, and I wanted his solo to sound like a woman wailing. Thank God for Kens’ fever.
These are but a handful of examples of the extraordinary process this recording was for me. We operated, by and large, in what we teasingly, though lovingly, dubbed the spit-and-glue studio. Which meant that any given session was invariably not without its problems, and the need to be resourceful and inventive in how to get past a particular hurdle was great. It forced us to be even more creative. The result was this global infusion that ended up transcending the music beyond my tiny little American, middle class experience, into something quite…otherly.
Otherly I dig.
I hope you do too.
released September 16, 2004
Produced by Angela Carole Brown & Ross Wright
for Rue de la Harpe Records
The Global Folk are:
ANGELA CAROLE BROWN
electric & acoustic guitars, prepared guitar, electric sitar, pipa, xin-xin, 12-string guitar, oahu slide guitar, baritone guitar
electric, acoustic, and fretless basses
drums, rake, luggage, kitchen utensils
( "An Old Black Man Someday" & "Last Chance Mojo Eye")
GLENN CARLOS & KELLUM LEWIS
Swahili chants, Tibetan chant
("Fix the Bend" & "Pavements")
("Wake Up Ophelia")
All songs composed by Angela Carole Brown
(c) Angela Carole Brown Music (BMI)
Recorded by Ross Wright
Additional recording by Michael Kramer
Mixed by Ross Wright & Michael Kramer
Mastered by Maurice Gainen
Cover Photography and Design by Jim Henken
Writer/musician/artist Angela Carole Brown has been a veteran of the L.A. music scene for over two decades as a vocalist and
recording artist. She is a published novelist, essayist, and poet. Her art and design has graced the covers of thirty-plus CD covers for other artists. Her proudest achievement, however, is as a kidney donor, which she did in 2008....more