Category Archives: country music

The Mitchell-Feeney Project – Track 6, Saturday Morning in Idabel.

There’s a dead armadillo

on the side of the road

empty beer can in his claws

that joke just never gets old.

There’s a dog on the shoulder

trying to bite his own tail

I’m in the motel parking lot

watching that dog fail.

 

This lyric started with a poem I had published in The Shop literary magazine (called Down and Out in Idabel), then took off in a different direction. When writing the lyric, I was thinking of the feel of Kris Kristofferson’s, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and the structure of songs like John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” in which the verses are a series of snapshots that connect back to the chorus. Play it in your car and sing along with the chorus when no one is listening! That’s what I do!

Here’s John to tell his side!

When I saw that Idabel, Oklahoma was in this little bitty, piece of land between the states of Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma I jumped right off the front porch, because now I could REALLY do a country song. I’ve always loved the pedal steel guitar but you have to have it in the right song, and “Saturday Morning in Idabel” is just the song. 

The chord progression is pretty much true country. I found a lovely little rhythm track with some nice tight fills, added the bass and then I used my Larrivee D-50 to lay down the acoustic track.  I added some Fender strat. with heavy Duane Eddy tremolo for flavour. I called up John McArthur Ellis, a wonderful pedal steel player, and asked him to just play whatever he felt fit the song, and he was fantastic. Again the tracks were exchanged by e-mail. I think the best way to be a producer, is to let players play the way they feel, with only a soucent of direction. If you don’t trust them, don’t hire them. After I did the lead vocal, I called on the John Mitchell choir to do a little back-up singing, and there ya go. A swell little country song thanks to the inspiration of Jim Feeney.

Click here to preview/ buy the whole album or individual tracks! Also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Mitchell Feeney Project – Track 4, Willie’s Oasis

Houses hunker in the heat

out on Highway 82,

the landscape sweats and saunters

billboards block the view,

and this is not New York City

this is not Saginaw

this is a dry county, son

this is Arkansas….

 

Willie’s Oasis…a song about looking for drink in all the wrong places.

This lyric was adapted from a poem I wrote called “A Dry Country in Arkansas”. The poem was published some time ago in Cyphers,  a long -running Irish literary magazine. This is a print magazine only and one of the best around in my opinion (check it out at http://www.cyphers.ie). To write the lyric, I had to disassemble the poem; for all you poets out there, I have added a bit more discussion on the transition from poem to lyric at the end of this post. When I gave the lyric to John, I had no concept what kind of song would emerge, I couldn’t have been happier with what he did. Here’s John..

“Willie’s Oasis” turned out to be quite a challenge musically. I loved the feeling of the tune, that southern heat out on Highway 82, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t hear the music. I tried using my electric guitars, my acoustics, I even tried my piano, but no matter what key I played in and what chords I used, I couldn’t make it work. So I decided to use technology, and I searched through some of my pre-recorded samples and found this rough sounding, bluesy guitar riff. As soon as I started to work with it and edit the sample, add a few more samples, voila, “Willie’s Oasis” appeared.The only live things I put on this tune were my handclaps and my vocals. 

I decided that it needed something else, so I called a wonderful violin player friend of mine named Ben Mink and asked if he would put some fiddle on the tune. Modern technology allows me to send him my tracks, he puts on the violin and sends it back to me via e-mail. We were never in the same room. I expected him to put some real down-home fiddle on, but he completely fooled me and played the most smoking electric violin parts that took the song over the edge. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Click here to preview/ buy the whole album or individual tracks! Also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen)

A  bit more about the the transition from poem to lyric…below is an excerpt from the poem:

A parking lot and boat ramp

Spent cartridges

Birds improvising

Dragon flies with no apparent flight plan

Good ol’ boys chugging out

Across water the colour of iced tea

To catch a mess of catfish.

These lines have a kind of chopped up rhythm, so I had to re-jig them. This entailed killing my favourite image in the poem, the one about the dragonflies; the catfish and the cartridges had to go as well. I then re-instated a line that I had discarded when writing the poem and ended up with this:

Good ol’ boys are chugging out

storm clouds on the horizon

the water looks like iced tea

birds are improvising.

Simple is sometimes hard to do!

 

 

The Mitchell-Feeney Project – Track 2, The Road.

 

The sun beats down like judgement

on the armour-plated road

I just called out God and the Devil

and neither of them showed,

and there’s a sour smell of whiskey sweat

on the air-conditioned air

sometimes I think I care too much

and sometimes I just don’t care……

The Road….a song about a man who has run out of options.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Click Here to Buy album or Individual Tracks

To buy the song, album, click on link above, the album is also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen).

 Notes..

In this lyric, I wanted to imply a story through a series of images. This proved to be harder than I thought! This is one of those songs that John and I kicked back and forward a bit, tweaking the lyric. The chorus was always there, though!

Now, John will tell you how he took the words on paper and worked his magic……. (by the way one of my favourite moments in this song is when the guitar solo kicks in after the second chorus)….here’s John:

 When I read Jim’s poem, “The Road” I could see myself looking through the cracked and dusty windshield of a ’81 Pontiac Catalina, on that real, dry stretch of highway between Santa Rosa and Albuquerque, New Mexico, that seems to go on forever.  The song obviously needed a rolling tempo to match the movement of the car, and I thought that the jangle sound of my Rickenbacker electric 12 string guitar and a solid drum track would add to the constant moving effect. I use the key of G, because that open G chord with an added D on the B string really has an open ringing sound, Lots of fifths. I also felt that the song needed a bridge, but felt that it didn’t need a bridge with a lyric, so just added some different chords and put in a guitar solo using a Standard Strat. on the middle pick-up. Jim’s poems always feel like they have a country twang to them, so an all guitar background was the right thing and some nice tight 2 part harmony seemed to work, thanks to singer, Nikki MN, who just happened to be here from London.

(Photo: Sunrise 1)

 

The Mitchell-Feeney Project – Upcoming Album (Crossing the line between Poetry and Song-Writing)

I was sitting down one night over a few drinks with my good friend, John Mitchell, talking about music, poetry and soccer when the subject of song lyrics and song writing came up. At that point in the evening where the power of drink makes every idea seem like a good one, John suggested that we should write a song together.  John is a successful professional musician and I am a chemical engineer and occasionally published poet, so I have to admit I felt  a bit out of my league, but I agreed anyway!

Over the next few days, I pulled out some poems I had hanging around but none of them really fitted the bill given that they were basically non rhyming free verse. I had a phrase, though, – “sitting in this motel room/ I could be sitting anywhere”- and I started to develop a character and story around that phrase. The final lyric eventually became the song, “Emma Jean”, which you can take a listen to below. It’s a long way from words on paper to a finished song, and that’s where John’s talent as a singer, song writer, composer, musician and arranger took over (in other words, John did the heavy lifting!). Here’s the song, please, please use headphones to listen rather than just your computer’s speakers, the song is mixed with headphones in mind.

In the end John and I collaborated on 5 songs which, together with 2 songs written by John alone,  we have put together on an album.

Click here to preview the whole album, and if you like the songs, buy one, buy them all!! Also available on iTunes (search for “The Mitchell Feeney Project”, no hyphen)

A few notes about the song “Emma Jean”, it was obvious from the start that this would be a country song, it’s about divorce,  separation, there’s a child involved, and what could be more country than that? But I wanted to avoid formula, so the story took a twist, at the end, that perhaps disqualifies it as a mainstream modern country song, but hey, never pander!   Initially, the song didn’t have the middle two verses, being more accustomed to writing poetry where my rule is “say what you have to say with as few words as possible”,  I thought I had said enough. But songs need verses and John told me to flesh it out a bit, so I came up with the lines “Who know why love goes wrong/ It’s not written anywhere” and took it from there. John was right of course, the extra verses created context. Now…over to John!

Writing lyrics for me, is about as easy as giving birth, not that I have experience of both. My lyrics are either incredibly self indulgent or incredibly preachy, or a bit of both. The ability to paint pictures with words is truly an amazing gift and I appreciate that gift in others. My favourite lyricists tell stories and take us to another place and time or share experiences through someone else’s eyes. When I first read Jim’s poem, Emma Jean, I could see that motel room and I could smell the mixture of stale beer and carpet cleaner that is the telltale odour of cheap motels. I recognise it from years on the road with bands.

In the case of “Emma Jean”, the music came quickly. First, it had to be in a minor key, as the story was fairly dark and the background music needed to be sparse with minimal instruments so as not to interfere with the lyrics – just guitar, a little bass, and a touch of southern slide. The vocal tries to express how Emma Jean’s dad would feel in that hotel room – loneliness with a good helping of bitterness. I then wanted to use different instruments to accent the chorus, so I added accordion and trombone and orchestral cymbals. The acoustic guitar( a Larrivee D-50)  and vocal are all real, but all the other sounds are digital samples. I recorded it all on my laptop using the program, Logic, and mixed the tunes for headphones to hear the full spectrum of instruments.  

As Jim noted above, please use headphones to listen to the sample track above or plug into a good set of speakers.

In our next post, John and I will discuss another track on the album.