Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Album Notes for "Contrary"

In the winter of 2011 I first took my best friend, the rez dog Edy, with me to Texas. We went to Padre Island where I had memories of my baby Forest Arturo Dunn in a Snugglie on Mama's chest and sea birds flying over his head. I practiced up on old and new songs that I thought might go well at open mics in Austin. As I described in the album notes for "Texas Dance Songs" I ended up recording with Big John Mills and Sterling Finlay at the Woodshed Studios of the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas. Russell Tanner, engineer.
With the thrill of a successful session in memory I was more inspired about writing than I had been for decades. For 2012 I had an idea for a song cycle - concept album - whatever you want to call it. I had some of it written but mostly I finished it on the beach. I scattered some of the few ashes I had of my son's body on the beach. I drank, wrote, played, and walked with dear old Edy who was obviously in her last years with me.
My concept was highly influenced by the news. I had been reading so many stories of men released from prison after DNA evidence proved their innocence. I was wondering how many poor innocent victims had been tortured at Abu Ghraib and were being tortured at Guantanamo and at secret prisons around the world. I knew in my heart that America was creating future terrorists by these actions. When reading about Americans released after being cleared of rape, murder, and other crimes by DNA evidence I was always struck by the statements and apparent attitudes of these men. Where was their anger? Had it been burned out by religion? Had they become passive due to an overload of injustice?
I wrote "Confession" from the point of view of a man who was confessing that, by God, he was going to kill that damn, lying judge who sent him away unjustly. But as I began "Tattooed With Regret" I knew I didn't want to finish the album with the concept of killing. And I knew I wasn't going to have the man find religion. No, I turned to a theme close to my heart - the idea of living invisibly - the theme of many of my short stories like "The Meadow." It's only in the last two songs that it becomes clear how the man will end up.
As a country murder ballad, I'm very proud of "Fear the Man." "Riverside Blues" is actually a song I wrote around 1969 and I use it as the turn-around moment when he turns his heart from hatred to his strange future.
Anyway, here's the story of the recording of "Contrary." I said to Kent Finlay, the American Treasure, patron of songwriters, that I wanted a drummer who just used a snare drum, but who used every inch of it - like I've seen on the streets and in the bars in Mexico. Poor guy who only has that snare drum, sticks, and brushes. And wails, Man. And I wanted to start with a song that is only drums and guitar. Kent said it was unusual but he got me Johnny Arredondo. Thanks Kent!
So Johnny shows up with a nice big kit and cases of percussion instruments. Oh well. Russell Tanner sets us up in separate rooms but where we can see each other and we work out for a bit. The sweet drum intro is where he was at about a minute into my original idea. He counted me in - 1,2,3,4."
I must say, I was not shy in asking to do something in the studio. I had recorded - the most important being the lovely year when Forest Arturo Dunn, my son, played with me. I'll talk more about those for the album notes of "Texas Socialist Infiltration Dance Songs Instigated and Agitated by Burl Dunn."
When we did the first track of "Light My Last Cigarette" I just played a 12 bar blues hitting one chord per measure on the first beat. The track was meant to be dropped, I just wanted to give Johnny free reign on how he played it. The next day (half drunk) I said, "Johnny, can you turn this s*** into wine?" But after about few minutes he asked, "What do you want me to do with this?" I said, "Play it like it's 1962 and you're backing the stripper at Jack Ruby's club in Dallas." And he grinned and did.

I laid down "Riverside Blues" on my nylon string guitar and wanted to try a better take the next day, but Johnny and Russell kept saying leave it so I did. I can't remember how many tracks they used for the drums and percussion. I just drank beer and enjoyed my money's worth! (As an aside, I'll tell you that working with pros at the Woodshed can be more affordable than you'd imagine.) Uh, that's not a dispersion on Johnny's playing. Russell must have told him that it was my daughter Hannah's and her brother's favorite. When he finished he said, "I'll live forever 'cause I played on that song." I wish it didn't look sappy on the printed page. Johnny treated me totally as a peer.
The last two songs where my twisted ideas appear have a funny musical story. Big John Mills, on about 10 seconds of hearing my playing before turning it over to him, improvised a sweet song along with Sterling Finlay. I rewrote the words and melody accordingly. "Let's Go Now" is the same chords as "Round and 'Round." ! You'd have to listen to them back to back to get the irony of that!
I was working on the lyrics to "Let's Go Now" in a motel early one morning. Rosemary was sleeping and I had headphones on. I forgot that my voice was something she'd hear. So she wakes up to me saying, "Shhhh, are you ready? Let's go now? Are you ready? I've got the feeling, I've seen the light..." Rosemary is fun.

If you google "Burl Dunn" that's me. Or just type my name into your favorite download page. I'm a "CD Baby." All albums on Spotify.
My Pandora station just added a lot of new songs from my two albums there.

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