“NO STRAIGHT LINES” Album Release April 14th

No Straight Lines Album Cover (low res) copy

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted here.  My sincere apologies!  I actually created a really detailed post a while back with great visuals and links about how many pieces of equipment broke down during the making of “No Straight Lines,” my upcoming album.  But I somehow exited WordPress without saving and you know what happened.  If you see the humor in this you are surely my kind of person.

Regardless, my “long-awaited”new singer-songwriter album NO STRAIGHT LINES is coming out April 14th and now the fun part (for me, at least) starts.  The sharing.

I’ve pasted in below some of the early publicity about the album.  If you are inspired to click on the colored hyperlink above you can hear excerpts of all songs off the album.  For each song you will also find album credits, lyrics and session notes about either the writing or recording of each particular song.  Hope you enjoy!  And if you subscribe to my Mailing List you’ll get updates, bonus tracks and other stuff over time.  Salud!

Bill Gable: A Map of Life with No Straight Lines

Straight lines. They’re a man-made conceit – highways, railroads, the quickest distance between two points. But nature likes to meander, to take a slower course. And No Straight Lines is a path that suits musician and singer-songwriter Bill Gable. His new record is inspired by those destinations never quite reached.

“Every record is a journey,” Gable remarks. “I wanted to carry the listener with me. I often thought of these lines from a poem by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa: ‘To be great, be whole; exclude/Nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you. Be whole in everything. Put all you are/into the smallest thing you do. The whole moon gleams in every pool./It rides so high.’ Through attention to detail in the storytelling and production, in my own small way I tried to do that.”

Gable began writing No Straight Lines in 2004, a year after his second disc, This Perfect Day, was released. Much of it was composed in Morocco, Spain, and Portugal, in the hotel rooms where he lived, soaking in the countries, their culture and their music.

That travel resonates through the songs. The lyric of “I Threw Your Heart,” for example, burrows deep into the pained flamenco tradition, while on “I Was Born To Love You” Gable’s voice takes on the cracked patina of a flamenco singer, with cajon and footwork providing the rhythmic base.

“I read a lot of flamenco lyrics, a lot of Lorca, Pessoa and Sufi poets.” Gable recalls. “I let them seep in and this is how they came out. But in everything I tried to include influences from where the songs were composed.”

And that includes America, where the fragments of two songs came together to make “A Million Miles Away,” the easy warmth in Gable’s singing evoking ‘70s era Stevie Wonder. It’s a disc of shades and moods, pop music in the same way that Brazilian MPB is popular music – sophisticated and intelligent, with heart and depth. Its music dives into the soul, rather than gliding over the surface.

But that’s probably no surprise. Raised in the Midwest, Gable is a classically-trained pianist and cellist who played in symphony orchestras growing up before heading out to the West Coast with a literature degree in his pocket. He worked with jazz group the Yellowjackets on many albums, garnering three Grammy nominations, writing a number of compositions for them and other artists ranging from Chicago to the DeBarges.

In spite of that background on piano, the songs for No Straight Lines were all written on guitar.

“It’s more intimate,” Gable says. “It gives a more personal song.”

And the tracks of No Straight Lines are studies in emotion and life. The characters in Gable’s songs are people on the trail of certainty, but rarely finding it. “I realized I’ll be on the very verge of beginning/every second the rest of my life” he sings on the album’s title cut, a summation of the understanding that comes with age.

It’s a document of a journey that can never end, but he has some strong companions along the way. Along with Gable’s own voice, guitar, cello and Portuguese guitarra, Steve Rodby (Pat Metheny Group) and Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets, Bruce Hornsby) play bass, Larry Goldings (James Taylor, Norah Jones) contributes on piano, and Greg Ellis (Beck, Mickey Hart) adds percussion, along with several other guests, and the Eclipse Quartet delicately grace “Road Of Pain” and “End Of The Day” with strings. Not to mention a special appearance by Motown legend Leon Ware (I Want You) on background vocals.

Gable is a traveler with an open heart and open ears, and he pulls the listener along with him, conjuring up the sights and smells of Fes with the shadings of the oud or the ney flute, the crisp palmas of Granada, or the cumbus and clarinet of Istanbul.

Finding musicians to provide some of the more unusual instruments sometimes proved a challenge, even in cosmopolitan Los Angeles.

“I knew I wanted flamenco footwork on some of the songs,” Gable says, “but there wasn’t anyone here who really knew it. Finally a friend called me up and said ‘There’s this guy called Manuel Gutierrez who’s just arrived from Spain. He’s the real deal.’ The minute he pulled those little wingtip dance shoes out of that bowling bag I knew he was.”

For all the care in the details of the arrangements, Gable acknowledges that No Straight Lines is very lyric-driven, like all my albums.” They’re the picture and the music provides the frame. And powerful pictures they are, too, such as “Like a snake, my heart has split its skin/somewhere far away it blew” (“Came So Close To Loving You”) or “The truth was never true enough/and you were never you enough” (“Sustenance”).

It might have taken 12 years for the words and music to finally surface, but the wait is worthwhile. It’s easy to understand why Steely Dan’s Walter Becker called Bill Gable “a great songwriter [with a] marvelous ability to incorporate exotic musical elements and seemingly disparate influences.” Not going in a straight line makes for a much richer journey.

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On Bronzes

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Fernando Pessoa appears to be Lisbon’s largest tourist attraction.  In front of the Café Brasileira, pictured above, sits a statue of Pessoa in front of one of the most popular restaurants in the Chiado where tourists and university students flock to get their pictures taken seated next to the man whose writings they have likely never read.

In my last post I mentioned Pessoa’s amazing “The Book of Disquiet.”  It is remarkable that Pessoa only published one book (“Mensagem”) during his lifetime.  When he died he left behind a trunk filled with his unpublished and unfinished manuscripts, some of which became the basis for “The Book of Disquiet,” published 50 years after his death.  By clicking here you can access one person’s selections of pithy quotes from that book (though many of my favorites are more humorous).  I guarantee if you buy this book and can get through the first 50 pages or so (I always find it starts a bit slowly) you may find yourself richly rewarded with your own list of discoveries!

“The Book of Disquiet” was “written by” Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s “semi-heteronyms.”  Pessoa wrote under numerous heteronyms.  According to the ever-authoritative Wikipedia, “heteronyms differ from noms de plume . . . in that the latter are just false names, while the former are characters having their own supposed physiques, biographies and writing styles.”

My favorite heteronym is Alberto Caeiro, about whom Pessoa claimed “Alberto Caeiro was born in 1889 and died in 1915; he was born in Lisbon, but lived almost all his life in the country.  He had neither profession nor any sort of education.”  (From a letter to Adolfo Casais Monteiro, January 13, 1935.)  As Alvaro de Campos, another of Pessoa’s heteronyms and himself a disciple of Caeiro, once observed, “My master Caeiro wasn’t a pagan: he was paganism.  Ricardo Reis is a pagan, Antonio Mora is a pagan, I am a pagan, Fernando Pessoa himself would be a pagan if he weren’t a ball of yarn rolled up inside himself.”

I highly recommend Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown’s “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (though it may no longer be in print).  Below is a short stanza from Alberto Caeiro’s “Keeper Of Sheep” (and here is someone’s more extensive compendium of selections from that work):”

When I sit down to write a poem
Or when ambling along the main roads and bypaths,
I write lines on the paper of my thoughts,
I feel the staff in my hands
And glimpse an outline of myself
On top of some low-lying hill,
Watching over my flock and seeing my ideas,
Or watching over my ideas and seeing flock,
And smiling vaguely like one who doesn’t understand what’s said
And likes to pretend he does.

During my Lisbon trip I was reading Jose Saramago’s “The Year Of The Death Of Ricardo Reis,” a book based upon the life of one of Pessoa’s heteronyms — a fiction balanced on top of another fiction.  Bravo!  After Saramago died, Portugal declared two days of mourning and billboards like the one below appeared along the boulevards:

 ObrigadoJoseSaramago“Thank you, Jose Saramago”

What makes Portugal so proud of its writers?  Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998, but were there public outpourings like that here when Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner died in 1962?

I was primarily raised in Bloomington, Illinois.  In its airport there is a seated bronze — more or less just like the one of Pessoa in Lisboa — of Adlai Stevenson, who hailed from there and was certainly a remarkable man.

IMG_0622MLTaking nothing away from Stevenson, I’d love to think there will someday be a bronze outside some cafe of David Foster Wallace, who lived and wrote in Bloomington for many years before moving to California.  Now that he is dead people make pilgrimages to his office, which, ironically, was in Stevenson Hall.  Oh well…”The World was not made for us to think about…” (Pessoa, “The Keeper of Sheep”)

PS: Here are a couple of cool links to the syllabi Wallace was using during those days: http://flavorwire.com/373519/learn-from-the-best-10-course-syllabi-by-famous-authors/view-all; http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/press/releases/2010/dfw/teaching/

Lisbon 2005

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In 2005 I traveled to Lisbon to continue writing songs for “NO STRAIGHT LINES.”  I was considering moving there at the time, where I thought I might try to set up a European legal practice representing high-end clients needing advice on U.S. intellectual property law.  I met with several of the largest Lisbon firms and explored various strategies with them, made a few friends I still keep in touch with today, and wound up doing a few Portuguese deals afterwards as result, but eventually decided against the move.  I was also hoping to meet up with Mafalda Arnauth on that trip to see if she might be interested in singing on the album, but she was out of the country on tour.

But all was not lost, of course, because I was there mostly for Fernando Pessoa.

pessoaFernando Pessoa

Tucked away in a corner of Praça do Comércio (back behind the red trolley car in the photo above), the main square of Lisbon that fronts the Tagus (i.e., Lisboa’s version of St. Marks’ Square in Venice), one can find the illustrious Restaurant Café Martinho da Arcada, Pessoa’s favorite haunt.  I of course needed to eat there at least once, though I chose not to try the juliana soup (see below), cod and fried eggs with cheese Pessoa usually ingested there.  I can’t remember what I had, but it was probably the grilled sardines or caldo verde, neither of which I could ever get enough of in Lisboa.

sopa-juliana

I am in the process of re-reading one my favorite books of all time, Fernando Pessoa’s remarkable “The Book of Disquiet.”  Pessoa’s work has been swirling around my head ever since I first discovered him in the early 1980s.  I often read Pessoa while I was working on “No Straight Lines,” and plainly see his influence on certain lyrics on the album, especially I suppose “At The End Of The Day.”  But it has been now more than 10 years since I last read cover-to-cover this tour de force of prose.  I’m savoring it page by page.

For anyone who has never encountered the amazing work of Fernando Pessoa here is an exquisite short poem of his from 1933 found in “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (translated and edited by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown), Ecco Press, one of my very favorites:

To be great, be whole; exclude
Nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
The whole moon gleams in every pool.
It rides so high.

I owe my discovery of Pessoa to Dori Caymmi who, at a feijoada at John Pisano‘s years ago (more on that subject and John later), told me Pessoa was his favorite poet in the Portuguese language.  That led me to first read Pessoa’s poetry, and later everything of his I could ever get my hands on.  This being back in the 1980s, a fair amount of his work still wasn’t readily available in the U.S. in English translation then, including “The Book of Disquiet,” though that has changed.

It turned out that I had already by then heard a fair amount of Pessoa without knowing it.  It wasn’t until I traveled to Lisbon in 2005 that I discovered the album “Various Artists – A Música em Pessoa”

and realized I had been listening to these songs for years without knowing the lyrics came from Pessoa — songs by Jobim, Edu Lobo, Dori and his sister Nana Caymmi (my favorite female singer from Brasil, at least from the MPB era) and many others I knew so well.  Vicente Soto Sordera”s “Pessoa Flamenco” is another great offering, showing Pessoa’s influence extending into the flamenco realm.

I’ll write more about Pessoa later.  I’m far more interested in his literary output than others’ use of his work as lyrics, but it’s gratifying to see the world embracing this visionary poet and thinker.

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…