Cozido

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All this talk about literature is making me hungry.

The above photo is of Portuguese cozido, a typical Portuguese stew.   It can be made from a range of vegetables and meats including pig’s ear, pig’s tail, blood sausage and other various “unmentionables.”  Ahhhh…

When I went to Lisbon to write, two friends I made there, Ana Bárbara Ramalho and Pedro Simoes Dias, separately both wanted me to do the very same two things (so I did them): go to a particular Japanese tea house they loved, and eat a genuine Portuguese cozido.  In its eclectic use of unmentionables, a cozido is not all that divorced from a “feijoada,” the national dish of Brazil in which I have seen pig’s tails.  I was later surprised to learn that the Portuguese actually also have their own various versions of feijoada, some made with white beans.  Nao posso acreditar!  By the way, my Brazilian Portuguese (not that it’s all that great any more) was utterly useless in Lisbon.

It rained a lot of the time I was in Lisbon, perfect cozido weather.  I stayed in my room a lot, working on “NO STRAIGHT LINES.”  I wrote most of the lyric for a song called “Tale Of My Life” that didn’t make it on the album (but which I’ll release separately next year).  Over the process of making the record I wrote three entirely different sets of lyrics for the song that became “Road Of Pain,” one of them in my little room in the 2-star Albergaria Senhora Do Monte, situated on the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills.  Here was the view, without the rain.  The good life.

 albergaria-senhora-do

Speaking of feijoada, the guitar part in “Road Of Pain” was very Brazilian-influenced, a holdover from my past.  I was expecting to hear lots of Brazilian and maybe some Angolan or Mozambican live music in Lisbon, one of the principle reasons I was exploring possibly relocating there during that trip.  Although Brazilian music is nowadays ubiquitous worldwide (though I spent a lovely evening listening to two guys playing bossa novas out of the Real Book in a tiny restaurant on Santorini all the way back in 1979) I either didn’t know where to look or Lisbon wasn’t a great international music town — disappointing given how musically rich Portugal’s former colonies were and are.  (And speaking of the “Real Book,” a song I wrote with Jimmy Haslip for the Yellowjackets years ago called “Sonja’s Sanfona” is included in Chuck Sher’s classic “New Real Book.”  I wrote the opening of that song in a hotel lobby in Belo Horizonte (speaking of Brazil) in 1984 waiting for Toninho Horta to pick me up to stay at his house.)

But I did hear some wonderful fado in Lisboa though, in the back streets of the Alfama and once in a jam-packed club in the Barrio Alto where the players didn’t start playing until 2:30 am!  Lisbon is most definitely a late night city.

A couple of the currrent era fadistas I quite like are Mafalda Arnauth, especially her “Encantamento” album, and Ana Moura.  (For me Amalia Rodriguez is too much an acquired taste from another era, or I’d recommend her initially as well.  Fado can be a bit like crawling through fudge for all its sentimentality, though this from someone who admittedly speaks limited Portuguese.)  Here’s one of the many beautiful songs off of “Encantamento” called “As Fontes.”

When I got back I wanted to incorporate some kinds of Portuguese influences on “No Straight Lines” beyond the mere fact of having been inspired so deeply by Fernando Pessoa (see my last post) and having spent time in Lisbon.  I early on wrote a couple of songs in a fado style for the album but never felt comfortable singing them and abandoned the idea.  I also really wanted to use Portuguese guitarra on the album, but had no ideas for players.  I called my good friend Don Cohen (who has written great introductory books on not only fado, but also tango and gypsy music), who told me to forget about trying to find anyone nearby or even in California who could play the instrument well (though I did find one guy who could do that), let alone play it outside a fado context.  I toyed with the idea of doing a long distance session with someone from Portugal but for various reasons it was too cumbersome.

So, for better or worse, I bought one and played it myself — not all that well, mind you, and surely not anything like a real fado player, but passably, I hope!  What an amazing instrument, very particular, and incredibly fun to play.

BG 6ML

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No Straight Lines – The Album As A Journey

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After many years of hard work, I have finally finished another album, called NO STRAIGHT LINES. It was substantially written during my travels in Spain, Morocco and Portugal – inspired by the incredibly rich music and literature of the Western Mediterranean. All songs were written by me. I sang most of the vocals and played guitar, Portuguese guitarra, some cello and percussion on the project, which was produced, arranged, mixed and primarily engineered by me. It will take a few more months to get it out into the world, but it’s definitely on its way.

Many years ago an A&R friend of mine observed that rather than getting bogged down thinking about records as overly precious things, they should simply be seen merely as biographical records of particular periods in our lives, nothing more. There is a lot of wisdom in that observation, and a lot of promise inherent in it too – the promise of turning the page on the past, of new beginnings. But when it takes as long to make an album as it did mine, that statement takes on a different significance. And I knew then as I know now that I have always seen records, at least singer-songwriter ones, as precious.

As people who know me recognize, I have faced major distractions over the past 15 years – brought on by a sometimes demanding legal career separate and apart from music. So whatever else might be said about No Straight Lines, it represents a major accomplishment of dedication and focus. And yet I am not alone in this. Many musicians are struggling these days and it’s not unusual for artists’ albums to take years to complete in-between making ends meet.

While I am preparing “No Straight Lines” for release, I have been clearing my studio out in preparation for the next project. It’s amazing, the many piles of books, folders and notebooks filled with ideas, that still litter the place. The making of this record was a very personal journey, as they all are. As the collage of travel mementos at the top of this page illustrates, many things and many places went into its making, with many long and riding roads, to quote you-know-who.

This blog is going to explore many things, ranging from music to literature to travel to friendships to copyright law to mass media to food to politics to philosophy, all of which played a role in the making of this album. Even if they only tangentially apply to No Straight Lines, I like the idea of writing about things I have long been interested in. So here we go…