Best of the Barley

A lovely ballad by the Scottish songwriter Brian McNeill from his collection Back O’ The North Wind. It tells the true story of his uncle’s immigration to the United States where he found work as a woodworker in 1920s Michigan–successfully finding drink even in the midst of Prohibition. (“To find a dram in a foreign land is the natural gift of a Falkirk man/and Lady Liberty looked the other way”).  He endured the depression and returned to his native Scotland to serve in the Second World War and storm the beaches at Normandy. He married a girl he had waved at from the deck of the ship on one of his voyages. McNeill’s lyrics tell a powerful story of resilience and persistence in the face of adversity.

I learned the song from a recording by Ed Miller a Scottish singer, songwriter, and folklorist from Austin, Texas. When I was a kid, Ed would occasionally host the “Folkways” show on KUT on Saturday mornings. As a performer, he is wonderfully funny and engaging. (more…)

Sunrays and Saturdays

This week, it’s a cover of Vertical Horizon’s “Sunrays and Saturdays” from their mid-1990s album Running on Ice. Keith Kane and Matt Scannell played together for a number of years through the mid- and late-1990s into the early 2000s and had something of a following on the college circuit. They wrote some great songs and recorded several solid albums. Unfortunately their transition to a major label didn’t go smoothly and after fifteen minutes of radio fame, they more or less disappeared from the airwaves. As far as I know they aren’t still playing together, though I believe Matt Scannell still tours some. I dredged this album back up a few months ago and realized it’s still got some pretty good songs on it. Here’s one of them–It’s a nice, mellow, sad-but-not-too-sad breakup song. There’s also a recent-ish version of Matt playing it live available on YouTube (https://youtu.be/AiNdAgCAae0) — once you’ve listened to mine you should go hear what it sounds like when played by someone who can actually sing and play guitar. (more…)

On Susan’s Floor

It’s been far too long since I posted one of these. This is a cover of “On Susan’s Floor” from Gordon Lightfoot’s 1972 album Don Quixote. It’s one of only a handful of songs on Lightfoot’s albums not written by Gord himself. This is actually the work of the American poet Shell Silverstein, best known for his book Where the Sidewalk Ends. Silverstein seems to have dabbled in songwriting during the late ’60s. I’ve heard a handful of his tunes and they’re all good, but this one is a personal favorite. I’ve been playing it for more than fifteen years, going back to my days playing open mic nights in Oklahoma City, but I feel like I’ve only started to get the feel of the song down just right in the last couple of years. (more…)

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