2006-09-18 : Music blogging: Dog songs 1

Let's try something new and illegal for the next few Mondays.

The first time I heard a Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer song I was driving to work, listening to ... Mount Holyoke's radio station, probably. I was on 116 in South Hadley, merging onto 202 toward 91 South. It was "Gentle Arms of Eden" and friends I cried like a little child. Dealing with the merge and the stoplight with tears pouring out of my eyes.

That would have been the spring of 2002. I bought the album (Drum Hat Buddha) off Amazon, foiling Meg's scheme to give it to me as a birthday present. Dave Carter died that summer in Northampton, on tour, on know what day? My birthday. I didn't know that he'd died until I heard it from my friend Keet that fall, and I didn't know he'd died on my birthday until I looked it up just now.


He was the best lyricist I've ever heard. The man had a way with words. Here's him rhyming "orange":
Professor come to burst my bubble
says that girl is bound for trouble
Serves me solace in a paper cup
But it looks a bit like agent orange
and when he leaves he slams the door and
Just about that time she phones me up


When he died, he and Tracy Grammer had released three albums, When I Go, Tanglewood Tree, and Drum Hat Buddha. Since his death, Tracy Grammer has released an album of his previously unrecorded songs, Flower of Avalon, and an album they made together years and years ago but never finished, Seven is the Number, as well as a short album of non-Dave Carter songs, The Verdant Mile.

Meg and I saw Tracy Grammer in Greenfield a couple of years ago. She was playing with Jim Henry and sharing the bill with Slaid Cleaves, who's for next monday. She played most of my favorites and left many of my favorites out - she doesn't perform his "lonesome man songs," on account of how he wrote them for himself, not for her. She drew a little heart on When I Go when I asked her to sign it for me.

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer are the definitive Dogs in the Vineyard soundtrack. I wore holes in my CDs while I was writing the game. They're wall-to-wall Christianity, death, mysticism, guns, murder and the West (with, yes, some lonesome men thrown in. Lancelot rode on a swayback mare). If you're looking for the top five Dog songs, they're "41 Thunderer," "When I Go," "Farewell to Bitterroot Valley," "Snake-handlin Man," and "Preston Miller." One each from the five albums, by coincidence.

Which brings us to the illegal portion of the blog entry, the filesharing. Here are two MP3s:
"Snake-handlin Man" is from Seven is the Number.
"Preston Miller" is from Flower of Avalon.

If you like the songs, buy the albums. They're among the very best albums I own.

If you represent Dave Carter and/or Tracy Grammer and you'd prefer that I take the mp3s down, email me and I'll do so immediately.

1. On 2006-09-18, Vincent said:

Speaking of having a way with words, when Tracy Grammer performed "Preston Miller" she told us to listen close and stay on our toes. She warned us to look out for the toady tutors and comrade fops, the comely roan and laggard locks, the fain and scion, the laudenum and faro, the aging Jacob.

It's my very favorite murder ballad, and you know I love murder ballads.

But hey Clinton, don't miss the one about the snake-handling man!


2. On 2006-09-18, Matt Wilson said:

Thanks for the music tip! I can always use new things to listen to, and I love smart lyrics.

Can this thread be about musicians who died who shouldn't have died, or is that hijacking? I'm going to decide it isn't hijacking, so I can recommend Elliott Smith's Figure 8 to everyone in the world who doesn't already own it.


3. On 2006-09-18, Vincent said:

Oh MAN should Dave Carter not have died.

The story goes that he died in Tracy's arms, then revived a minute and said "I was dead. It's okay," and died again.


4. On 2006-09-18, Blankshield said:

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer is great, great stuff, and I was really touched and heartened when I heard about how she was continuing on with his work; which is how I heard he'd died, so it didn't hit me so bad, coming that way around.



5. On 2006-09-18, Julia said:

Many of the songs on Gillian Welsh's Hell Among the Yearlings always struck me as Dogs-ish.
I think I was at the concert you're talking about. Even Bea liked it, and she must have been about 4 at the time. I was sitting in the balcony, because it was [almost] sold out, so the volunteers got the proverbial nosebleed seats. Even still, it was a magical concert, and sitting up and far just made it a little surreal. Funny, I was thinking about that concert just last night.
I've learned something new about you, Vincent. I didn't know you liked murder ballads! My love for murder ballads, especially when they involve sibling incest, borders on obsession. (I have no siblings). The violence in a garden variety gangsta rap song is just plain boring compared to something like "Cruel Sister", "Sheath and Knife", "Banks of the Ohio", or "Pretty Polly" (my favorite murder ballad).
Yay! Murder Ballads!


6. On 2006-09-19, Ben Lehman said:

God-damn, man.


7. On 2006-09-19, Dave Younce said:

I'm going to like this new feature. a lot.


8. On 2006-09-19, Vincent said:


Matt, tell me about this Elliot Smith guy. I listened to a couple clips but I hate clips.


9. On 2006-09-19, Vincent said:

Julia: You know, I just never managed to listen to Gillian Welsh. Right after Oh Brother I was confused about who was who, Gillian Welsh or Alison Kraus, and when I heard Gillian Welsh she wasn't the one I was hoping for, and I haven't happened to check her out again since.

All of which to say: cool! Can I borrow it from you?

My favorite traditional murder ballads are, let's see. "Edward," although the version I like best seems to be half "Edward" and half "The Cruel Mother." Does "Step it out Mary" count as a murder ballad? It oughta.

And "Sam Hall."


10. On 2006-09-19, Twila said:

Oh lord, murder ballads. I have a whole special section on my iPod for murder ballads and other Child ballads. Mmmmm mmmm mmmm mmmm mmmm. And Dave Carter/Tracy Grammer—I love those two! I hadn't managed to see them while Dave was alive, alas, but I've seen Tracy both times she's been in town since, and oh. Oh oh oh oh oh. She did my absolute favorite (which consoled me no end when my son was going to Iraq)—"The Mountain". I love that Sumerian chant. I think of it as a Dogs song, just for that chant. Though I do agree that "41 Thunderer", "When I Go", and "Preston Miller" are damn fine Dogs songs.

Which version of "Edward" is it that's your favorite, Vincent?
I admit to an unholy enjoyment of Steeleye Span's version, although Old Blind Dogs do a wonderful one, too.

And I have to say that one of my favorite ballads (though I don't know if it counts as a murder ballad, since although there are two murders and one execution, only one is on-screen as it were) is "Famous Flower of Serving Men" in the Martin Carthy edition.  Do you know it? That would make a damn fine Dogs scenario in and of itself.


11. On 2006-09-19, Twila said:

And I have to third or fourth the mention of Dave Carter as a wizard with words... I am a stickler for interesting/storytelling lyrics in my songs, and he satisfied all of my needs in one fell swoop. About the only thing I would have loved is one (just one) song about happy endings. :-)


12. On 2006-09-19, Vincent said:

My favorite version of "Edward" is by Boiled in Lead (about whom I'll write some future Monday), "Son Oh Son," from their album Orb. I can't find the lyrics on the internet!

Mmm, "The Mountain," yeah. I love that song.


13. On 2006-09-19, Flynn said:

I can only second the recommendation of Elliot Smith.  My favorite song of his is "Between the Bars".


14. On 2006-09-19, Vincent said:

Someone of you tell me about Elliot Smith! What do you like about his music?


15. On 2006-09-19, Flynn said:

Ahh - even found a legal free download of "Between the Bars" here:


16. On 2006-09-19, Meguey said:

My favorite murder ballad: Anathea, as sung by Judy Collins.


17. On 2006-09-19, Vincent said:

Flynn's link, linked.


18. On 2006-09-19, Dave Younce said:

Written for Mr. Baker's 4th Grade Music Class

What I like about Eliot Smith, by Dave Younce

Eliot Smith is not loud. Eliot Smith is the kind of music that grown-ups like because it makes you sit down and stare at the CD player instead of running outside to play. Eliot Smith makes grown-ups cry and be in love and think grown-up thoughts. Someday when i'm a grown-up I'll think Eliot Smith songs are better than loud, fast songs. Eliot Smith plays guitar and sings and my favorite song is usually "Miss Misery" but not always.


19. On 2006-09-19, Twila said:

Oh, "Son oh Son".... mmmm. Yah, "Sheath and Knife" meets "Edward".
I *like* Boiled in Lead, quite a bit. Tell you what—I will try to transcribe the lyrics sometime today, and will put 'em up.


20. On 2006-09-19, Meguey said:

Yay for links and lyrics!


21. On 2006-09-19, Julia said:

Karan Casey does a real gem of an "Edward" called "Who Put the Blood". I'll bring my iPod over tomorrow for more murder fun!


22. On 2006-09-19, Twila said:

Oh yea, that Karan Casey.  Mmmm. I know that one via Christy Moore.

But here's the lyrics for "Son, oh Son" as sung by Boiled in Lead on "Orb" (transcribed by TOP, aka me)....

1. It's up in the kitchen and down in the hall
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
Willie's the father of his sister's child
Down by the greenwood side.

2. Took her down in the merry wood,
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
And there he shot his sister dead,
Down by the greenwood side.

3. He goes back to his mother's house,
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
Welcome to me, my son, my son,
Down by the greenwood side.

4. Son, oh son, why are you so pale,
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
I been down in the greenwood hunting quail,
Down by the greenwood side.

5. There's no quail away down there,
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
I'm down there shooting the white-tail deer,
Down by the greenwood side.

6. No pistol kills a deer,
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
Ah, Willie, where's your sister, where
Down by the greenwood side

7. Oh mother, oh mother, make my bed,
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
For I have shot my sister dead,
Down by the greenwood side

8. Then, son, oh son, where will you go
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
For your father will kill you when he comes to know,
Down by the greenwood side.

9. He'll bury you under yon hill,
Ah, my lea and the lonely,
If he doesn't kill you, I surely will,
Down by the greenwood side.

(All errors in transcription are mine, but they are what I heard on repeated listening.)


23. On 2006-09-19, James Nostack said:

Elliot Smith is the guy who performs "Needle in the Hay" on the Royal Tenenbaums Soundtrack—the music playing as Luke Wilson's character shaves his beard and attempts suicide.


24. On 2006-09-19, NinJ said:

He also graduated Hampshire while you guys were there.


25. On 2006-09-19, Vincent said:

Really? I knew an Elliot at Hampshire. He had the Lorax tattooed on his arm, which, awesome. I played Shadowrun with him a lot. I think he dropped out though, probably a different guy.

Hey Sam, are you reading this? What was Elliot's last name, who we played Shadowrun with?


26. On 2006-09-19, Dave Younce said:

If I find out you played Shadowrun with Elliot Smith, it changes everything I knew about him, you, and Shadowrun for that matter.


27. On 2006-09-19, Vincent said:

I'm pretty sure it was a different Elliot.


28. On 2006-09-20, Ian Burton-Oakes said:

I have heard some of these before and really liked them, just never put together they all came from the same source. Now I need to go buy me some new music...


29. On 2006-09-21, sammy said:

Hey! Sorry I'm a bit late...

I, uh, can't remember Elliot's last name, but it was definitely a different guy. Basically, he dropped out after his first year, which was a big bummer, because I liked him a lot.  Wanted to do theater lighting.

If you're into Elliot Smith, you may also want to look for Heatmiser, which was a band he was in briefly.  But thanks to this thread, I will now have an image of some random coroporate security guard, sitting in front of a giant bank of CCTV monitors, casually watching the oh-so-clever runners sneak around, all while "Pictures of Me" plays in the background.

The summer before he died, Dave & Tracy played a show in Philadelphia. If I remember right, Kate Rusby was also there.  I, however, was not. I regret it still.

Also - "Gentle Arms of Eden" was one of the songs I sang to Maya when she was still in her little NICU salad bar.  On the day he died, I listened to that song as I drove home and bawled.

Favorite Dave lyric: from the very end of the song "Tillman County," about the county on the Red River in Oklahoma:

Maybe old moses come and turn this current back
Cross me over ever holy and dry
Climb me a crooked oak, scar-faced, bible-black
Swing this shovel till it cracks the sky, I was

Raised on the river, washed in the blood
Blood run thickert han bottomland mud
And the wheel sinks deeper as the years spin 'round
Thirty bad summers in Tillman County.


30. On 2006-09-21, Twila said:

I love that song, "Tillman County", but mostly because my son is stationed in Wichita Falls, so I get a big kick out of the twister screaming over Wichita Falls in an earlier verse. But I also love the Biblical/Arthurian imagery in this song a lot. That resonates with me.


31. On 2006-09-21, sammy said:

Me too, for reasons I'm not sure I get. But he could make one hell of a powerful image when he wanted to. Just reading the lyrics gives me goosebumps.

Oh - and I was wrong about the concert. It was Eliza Carthy who was there. According to Keet, Dave called her a goddess.

Also, when Tracy sings "I Go Like the Raven" - maybe it's just because i'm a wanna-be fiddler, but "Woodpecker woman, chip away, whittle; Carve my name in a hick'ry fiddle;  Dance all night, dream just a little I go like the raven."

See that? More goosebumps.


32. On 2006-09-24, Ice Cream Emperor said:

Wow—there's a local band that did a cover of "The Mountain" which I absolutely loved. I lost their CD and every once in awhile I have this craving to listen to that song. And now I know where it came from—nice!

Townes Van Zandt is probably a little modern for your typical Dogs game, but "Pancho and Lefty" is probably my vote for best song ever.


33. On 2006-09-24, Curly said:

Black Dogs cleanse Cracker Falls branch:


34. On 2006-09-25, Curly said:

I had no idea, when I posted the above link, that there was an ongoing
thread about "Black Muslim" DitV, at The Forge.

I've been watching a lot of old rap videos on youtube lately, and thinking about the militancy and theology.

I almost posted this link—with The Teacher reciting the geneology of Shem, black Moses turning his 10 Commandments into DJ records and lots more:

But I chose the Public Enemy link instead, because its S1W troopers are such obvious Watchdog equivalents.

Or howabout the Rastafarian reggae movie Rockers—the entire film is on youtube!—with its holy men, righteous ghetto vigilantes, killer songs like "Stepping Razor" and "Police and Thieves" and even a documentary scene of a mass baptism:

Less dear to my heart is the 5 percenters ideology of Supreme Mathematics and their Supreme Alphabet. But I must admit their stuff read like some indie-rpg spell components or obscure game mechanics or something—and the 5% influenced countless rappers, such as the cartoonish Kung Fu of the Wu Tang Clan.

As you can see, my vision of Black Power DitV is a far cry from Syndey equating it with Nazi Germany.


35. On 2006-09-30, misuba said:

I'm sure I am not the first to have the passing thought that Dirty Three's album Whatever You Love, You Are is the soundtrack to one of the top five greatest Dogs games yet to be played.


36. On 2006-12-03, Graham said:

Thank you, Vincent Baker. Thank you for some awesome music. This quite wins.


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