Not In Our Town Rally Performance: Refugee

I was given the chance to sing for a Not In Our Town rally on February 1, just after the chaotic weekend where 45’s executive order came down leveling the travel ban.  The rally was inspiring as 1100 people showed up with just a couple days warning to speak out against the prejudice and discrimination of the current administration.  Speakers from all faiths led us in prayer and reflection.  Community leaders spoke proudly of the traditions of inclusivity and compassion which we honor now and refuse to part with in the future.  I was proud to be included as an artist and be able to use my voice in the cause of  justice.

My friend John Parrott recorded the song and edited it, with content added from another recording by Kelly McNamara ( Here it is: Refugee (video link):

I wrote this song this past summer when the news cycle was filled with images of both the refugees from Syria and victims of the flooding in Appalachia.  They were both in the midst of losing their homes and livelihoods. I was struck by the similarities in these images, the expressions of fear and uncertainty on their faces. In that expression, I sought to blend elements of both middle eastern and bluegrass music into my composition.

The melody for the haunting “ooh” part had already been in my head for months.  It was a little bit middle eastern, at least I thought so because of the vocal trill, and that’s what made me think of adding it to this song.  It’s played in C minor (though sometimes I drop it to Bm if I’m feeling throaty) with the first, fourth, and the fifth hovering behind the same melody line as a hook.

I composed the verses with simple wording and in a pattern that is reminiscent of some bluegrass folk songs where the first and last lines of a verse are the same.  There are three verses, broken up by the “ooh” part, and a chorus. When I perform this song, I don’t sing the chorus until after the second verse, which makes the first half rather sad– the song stays low emotionally–with no chorus to lift the senses.  The chorus is meant to part with the tradition in the rest of the song in that it doesn’t contain the root chord at all until the very last, perhaps that strikes some with the feeling of strength or defiance.  I think leaving out the root gives the illusion that I have transitioned to a major key, though I haven’t. The melody pattern shifts here too.  Instead of going up and down, like stair steps, the melody takes two steps up and holds, like a stance.  This to me feels right; as if the speaker is getting his feet under him and claiming his truth without either wallowing in despair or ignoring reality. Just stating what’s real.


I went down today
To leave my home
I went down today
Where orphans go
The door has been closed
The steps are no more
I went down today
To leave my home

The sun blinds my eyes
My shadow falls behind
The light fills the sky
The earth to dry
Too late for our land
Too late for our life
The sun blinds my eyes
My shadow falls behind

For my home, for my home
I am none but my own
For my home, for my home
And for all I have known

My life and my past
I can’t carry
The building of each day
A memory
I own what I am
I own what I make
My life and my past
I can’t carry

You can also read more of my Morning After thoughts on the things swirling in this world right now.


Amber, fruit sexter, friend and now commander in chief of my career, has suggested that I talk about this.  THIS being the subject that is on my mind maybe 70% of the time. And when it’s not I am writing, dancing, watching Netflix or sleeping and dreaming of polar bears jumping through windows.  No joke.  It was enormous.

THIS is that…. I am afraid to tell you…I am supposed to be ALL THAT and I am fearing that you don’t know that I may not be ALL THAT.

ALL THAT: confident, talented, energetic, organized, prepared, creative, funny, cool, sophisticated, sparkling, attentive, thoughtful, unique, youthful, hip, smart, kind, accepting.  Can kick ass in the microphone and even follow an amazing talent on stage without freaking out.  Can ask people to buy her stuff and not demure.  Can accept disinterest or condescension, take a deep breath, and try again. 

If you don’t know me in real life, then you don’t know that I am perhaps the most open person ever to exist on the planet.  I can’t prove this; you’ll have to trust me.  I can make friends with a doorknob.  After about 10 seconds of talking to me that doorknob will be telling me all his doorknob stories, and I will forever carry that doorknob’s stories around with me in my heart.  And I will be confiding in that doorknob like he has opened the little door of my heart.

So, that paragraph was to say that, the reason for my hesitancy in broaching this topic is not that I am private about it, but more that I don’t want to force you to dwell on me when I haven’t even asked you how you are or what you dreamed about last night.  It seems rather self-centered.

Self-centered is something I REALLY do not want to be.  I am often in the spotlight, so to speak, and I don’t want to BECOME self-centered either.  Okay, okay, okay, enough with the disclaimer.  On with the blog.


Choosing to write music, climb up on a stage to perform it, put my mouth up to a microphone and tell the world that the something I have to say is the something that they should hear is simultaneously the most wonderful and most soul-crushing thing I have ever done.  When I get an idea in my head for a song, and I construct it, and see it sitting there on the paper, it feels AMAZING.  Something exists that didn’t exist before, and could not have possibly existed without me.  And in those moments, truly I believe it.  Somehow I have achieved the ALL THAT.  I write MUSIC and it’s good enough to be considered MUSIC by people who love MUSIC.  In that moment someone could ask me if I would write a speech for Obama or lead a flash mob on live TV or sing at the Grand Old Opry, a list of things the other me would be terrified to do, and some part of me would be completely confident in answering that I could do anything.

And there are those rare moments, when I’m singing and somehow, someway, the sound that is escaping my mouth matches the sound in my brain.  And the muscles in my throat don’t let me down.  And the risks I take with the melody–pay off–my ear brings me joy because what it heard was true and right.  Full of wonder and I’m  ALL THAT.

But the soul-crushing is coming.  It’s coming because I can do ALL THAT and reveal to the world the way my brain works and all the thoughts I have and ask it to listen to me and it might shrug its shoulders.  It might look the other way.  It might say “She’s okay.”  The world is not responsible for keeping my self-esteem in working order.  Those mistakes I made suddenly come into hyper focus and maybe my lyrics aren’t as intelligent as I thought.  Maybe my melodies cannot compensate for my lack of great guitar skill.  Maybe I was wrong when I was soaring.  Maybe those nice comments were people just being nice because they are MY MOM.

That’s real.  And there’s no way to make light of it with some cute quip.  It hurts.  Not because I’m a wimp, but because I care deeply about what I’m doing and what I’m doing is essentially for other people.  And if they don’t care to take it in, then I have no success to dwell on.  I have spent all day making a meal and no one is there to eat it.

So, I worry about this a lot.  I tend to go in phases where I’m holding myself together pretty well and can keep those doubts at arm’s length; I’m writing all the time, and having fun and connecting with people and what I do seems to do some good.  Then, for no apparent reason,  I start to think it’s over and was all just a silly idea.

I’m in the middle of the beginning  of “real” now.  A record label, unbelievable musicians playing on my album, a gifted producer who believes in me, my artist brother working on the album art and getting me gigs, Amber making me to do lists of things I didn’t even know I was supposed to be doing, my family believing in me despite the ridiculousness of this whole crazy thing. I’m just going with it.  Pretending I’m ALL THAT.  Trying to be ALL THAT.

Taking Me Back: My New Album

Last April on a visit to the recording studio I played a few of my newly written songs for Tony.  He said, “We should make a 70s album.”  My eyes glazed over, and I was gone.

So, that’s what we did. I spent a few months re-listening to Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones and Fleetwood Mac.  Hall and Oates, James Taylor (even though I know every syllable) Dan Folgelberg, Jackson Browne, and the Eagles.  I took a detour through folk music and a little day trip through disco and 70s Top 40. Continue reading Taking Me Back: My New Album