Arabica Records CF-11
Liner Notes by Lyle Lofgren:
I think some musicians are friends with their music. They know its strengths and limitations, and support its virtues while downplaying faults. They know what they can and can’t do with it, and along with respect comes an ease and playfulness that allows expression of emotions that are usually hidden. As with old friends, familiarity with a song does not breed contempt.
Pop Wagner and Dakota Dave Hull have that kind of relationship with the music they play. They don’t have to impress anyone, so they don’t feel the need to indulge in showy self-expression: they follow, rather than lead, the songs. This is not the same thing as imitation. In fact, even familiar songs, such as Cindy, are brand new on this recording. “Rearrangement” isn’t the right word, either; they’ve merely exposed us to an aspect of the song we’ve never heard before. The girl who lost her religion when the fiddle started to play is being courted by an unexcitable beau. Maybe Pop’s experiences with horses have taught him how to handle a high-strung filly.
If you’ve been exposed only to Pop’s cowboy persona before, you’ll be surprised at the breadth of songs represented here. He can be raucous, as on I’ll Rise When the Rooster Crows, or Might Not Never Come Home (I never before thought of Pop as being a bad influence). As soon as you get used to Dakota Dave’s punchy guitar playing on those pieces, the two of them present a parlor song, I Once Loved a Sailor, with gentle finger-picked guitar and straightforward fiddle that would fit perfectly in a 1904 parlor. Pop further demonstrates skillful fiddling on Little Sadie and the Coleman/Peeler instrumental medley. Elizabeth Cotten’s Shake Sugaree and Jim Jackson’s Grizzly Bear explore two interesting byways of African-American tradition. The jazzy Guess Who’s in Town strikes me as a tribute to the moment when Rhubarb Red became Les Paul. Drought Year and Good Friday describe troubles without the self-pity that can creep into modern songwriting. The duo give a nod to Pop’s cowboy style with Who Will Care for Thee? and Starlight on the Rails, the latter being particularly reminiscent of the best Willie Nelson renditions.
Finally, an important medical observation: listening to this recording will prevent cranial unbalance, because it exercises both sides of your brain. Available without a prescription. -Lyle Lofgren, Minneapolis, August 2007
I’ll Rise When the Rooster Crows (Binkley Brothers) · This absurdist ditty was originally recorded by the Binkley Brothers’ Dixie Clodhoppers in 1928. We especially like the way it combines earnestly religious and comically secular images.
Guess Who’s in Town (Andy Razaf & James C. Johnson) · Sean Blackburn used to sing the heck out of this song. We’re sure that his version came from Bill Boyd’s Cowboy Ramblers. Ours filtered down from there.
Shady Grove (traditional, arranged and adapted by Pop Wagner and Dave Hull) · Originally an English ballad of broadside origins, ca. 1607-11, Matthy Groves or Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard—#81 in the Child collection—is a blood-soaked tale of adultery, class conflict, and vengeance. It’s still in the repertoires of both traditional and revivalist performers, and has even been rendered in rock arrangements. The ballad made its way to America like many of its compatriots. One strain, eschewing the narrative, changing a name (“Matty Groves”) into a place (“Shady Grove”), but retaining some of the melody, became the song we perform here. In 1967 Pop conjured up a fingerstyle arrangement using just two chords and adding two more chords after hearing a recording of Kilby Snow’s version. Now Dave has added his touch to this interpretation.
Who Will Care for Thee? (traditional) · The late Jim Ringer asked Pop to play fiddle for this song once at the old Coffeehouse Extemporé. Jim learned the song from Jim Griffith who got it from the folklorist Henry Glassie who collected it in the Piedmont region of Virginia from his uncle. While the song was in Ringer’s hands, it apparently gained some verses, supposedly from a grandmother or elderly aunt, but more likely from his own pen.
Cindy (traditional, arranged and adapted by Pop Wagner) · Pop just couldn’t resist making this old favorite into a tongue-twister.
I Once Loved a Sailor (J.W. Myers) · Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers recorded this whimsical song back in 1928, but they got it from Billy Murray’s 1904 version. We used elements of both in ours.
Good Friday (Pop Wagner) · When Pop did a concert a few days before Easter in Cordova, Alaska, in March 1989, he stayed with friends who were getting ready for the herring run which was on its way north. Their plan was to harvest herring roe for the lucrative market in Japan where it is used for “happy food” or, as we westerners would say, hors d’oeuvres. On Good Friday, Pop deplaned in Juneau where he saw the headlines and the photo of the Exxon Valdez run aground on Bligh Reef. He wrote this song a few weeks later.
Drought Year (Jerome Clark and Dave Hull) · Jerry and Dave wrote this song back in the 1970s after the drought of ‘76. It seems a lot more timely now.
Might Not Never Come Home (Pop Wagner) · Pop wrote this first as a regular two-part fiddle tune and later came up with a fingerstyle arrangement for guitar which, in turn, prompted this rowdy set of lyrics.
Shake Sugaree (Elizabeth Cotten) · Pop learned this song—which the late Fred Neil recorded in a memorable version on his 1967 Capitol debut—early in his finger picking career. Later, he had the great good fortune to meet and teach with Libba Cotten at the Puget Sound Guitar workshop. The song has long been a favorite of both Pop and Dave.
Old Joe Coleman’s March & Peeler Creek · (traditional, arranged and adapted by Pop Wagner and Dave Hull) · Pop learned Old Joe Coleman’s March from Lynn Manring in 1976 while at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. Joe Coleman, a fiddler, was said to have played the tune on the way to his own hanging. Peeler Creek is a beautiful waltz that Pop started playing while in a band called Mad Jack and the Black Label Boys; they learned it from Skip Gorman and Ron Kane who got it from Kenny Hall.
Grizzly Bear (Jim Jackson, additional lyrics by Pop Wagner) · This tune, from the singing of early 20th-century songster Jim Jackson, was popularized in the ‘60s by the Youngbloods, who probably learned it from Rolf Cahn and Eric von Schmidt’s 1961 Folkways recording. It’s not to be confused with Irving Berlin’s Dance of the Grizzly Bear, which Sophie Tucker made famous in the 19-teens, though some have managed to achieve such confusion. Pop, who added a verse, also extended the original stanzas to make the whole thing just a little wilder.
Little Sadie (traditional, arranged and adapted by Pop Wagner and Dave Hull) · A great tune also known as Cocaine Blues, we gleaned this version mainly from Clarence Ashley of North Carolina.
Wait ‘Til the Clouds Roll By (J.T. Wood and H. J. Fulmer) · This 1894 song was recorded by Uncle Dave Macon in the 1930s, and a classic was born. The harmony on the chorus is so cool that Dave actually agreed to sing again.
Starlight on the Rails (Utah Phillips) · Both Pop and Dave have had the pleasure of knowing Bruce “Utah” Phillips since the early 1970’s as well as the opportunity to work with him on numerous occasions. He is a great writer. You can compare him to Woody Guthrie, and nobody will gasp. This beautiful song takes its inspiration from a line in Thomas Wolfe’s 1935 novel Of Time and the River.