Why Music?

At a certain time in my life — my late teens and early twenties — what captivated me the most was folk music, and my fascination with that kind of music has stayed with me ever since. I’m not sure why. I’m not foolish enough to believe that I, a comfortably off college-educated middle-class city dweller, somehow miraculously become one of The Folk just by playing the banjo. I’m also not a purist: I love the traditional styles and hew pretty closely to them much of the time, but I’m not one of those who believe that the only legitimate way to perform this music is by trying to reproduce, note for note, the Library of Congress recording by Hollerin’ Hank and his Swampwater Boys. In fact, I’ll admit to not really being a performer of folk music, properly so called, at all. Leadbelly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bill Monroe, Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson and others who grew up in a folk tradition, are performers of folk music. Unlike them, I’m a performer of folk-based music. Again, I don’t know why I’m so drawn to it — I just feel good doing it and hearing others do it.

When I decided to record the material that makes up ‘Square One’ I decided that I wanted a balance between traditional songs (sometimes adapted) and original material, including some that comes from a part of my musical self pretty removed from folk music. The balance is actually tipped in favor of the originals — eight out of thirteen. Of those, four (‘Doughboy Blues’, ‘Folksong Ghetto’, ‘The Storm’ and ‘Clock on the Wall’) are in a pretty folky style; the others (‘Le Fantôme du TGV’, ‘An Inconvenient Song’, ‘Outlaw Boots’ and ‘Sixties Survivor’) deviate from that style to varying degrees. I also included, as a bonus track, an alternate mix by my producer, Justin Vold, of perhaps the most traditional (and most traditionally rendered) of the songs on the disc, namely the Anglo-American folk classic ‘The Cuckoo’. That second mix presents the music in a way that’s stylistically better suited to more commercial genres like rock, but it fits the spirit of the material as well as the more pristine mix that I chose as the ‘official’ one. Listeners are welcome to make their own choice as to which they prefer!