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TMI & Free Songs

What Was I Thinking? 

CRAYON BOMBS - The Water EP

It isn’t often that I look back on the older songs I’ve written. This is due, in part, to the fact that I don’t carry the curse of popularity and I’m not constantly asked to play the same hit songs over and over again. Once a song, or even an entire album, begins to fall out of my setlist, it rarely finds its way back in. The positive, at least for me, is that I’m always playing the music that feels most relevant to who I am at any given moment. Still, I think it could be valuable to look back on some of my forgotten songs and talk about what they meant to me then, how I’ve changed, and what significance they may take on now. That is the inspiration for this new TMI series, that I’m calling What Was I Thinking? 

Given that the topic of this month’s In the Corner conversation is politics, I thought that Crayon Bombs from The Water EP would be a good start.

LISTEN ON SPOTIFY (or go to the music page of my website).

 

What It Meant to Me Then

The year is a bit fuzzy, somewhere in the mid-2000s, and I was attending my first songwriting conference as a very green singer/songwriter. I technically had an entire record under my belt by that point, but let’s just say there’s a reason that first record is never mentioned and is incredibly hard to find. Checking in at the conference, I was invited to draw a piece of paper from a hat and was told that it would be my song assignment for the weekend. As I unfolded the note, I read the words, “Crayola Bombs to End the War.” Jackpot! 

America, at the time, was smack-dab in the middle of our “War on Terror,” and country singer Toby Keith led the call for putting boots up people’s asses because, well, it’s “the American way.” Now, I have certainly never claimed to be an expert on foreign affairs, but I do have many opinions on the value of human life and I certainly hope that the American way involves much more compassion and nuance, so trying my hand at an anti-war song seemed like a good way to spend my weekend. 

The actual writing of the song came pretty quickly. I mean, it’s all there in the prompt. If only we could get back to the attitudes we often employed as children, full of passion, yes, but also full of grace, creativity, and forgiveness, then maybe we could find ways to solve our problems without violence. 

 

How I’ve Changed

Looking back at myself in that song, I see the idealism that dominated my personality and beliefs. That isn’t to say that I’ve lost all of it now, but, as I’ve grown older, I lean more into the fact that nothing is as simple as we would like it to be. 

I was far removed from my playground days in the mid-2000s. Now, as a parent, I’m reminded that kids are actually not very good at forgiveness. But what they lack in clemency, they more than make up for with forgetfulness. When things are going well for my daughters in their social interactions, past grievances aren’t given a thought. But the moment something negative happens, the emotional war strikes back up. 

The playground conflict is not something that can simply be fixed by coming together momentarily and the same goes for our conflicts as a society. As beautiful as the picture of “crayon bombs” might be, we can’t solve our conflicts through forgetfulness. 

I think about the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 when German and British troops supposedly put down their weapons to sing carols together. In essence, they lived out my song - only to resume fighting the next day. 

I still love to hear a good idealism. They make me feel warm and fuzzy inside like anything is possible. But I believe that if there is any chance for humanity to find peace, globally or locally, we have to stop waiting for ideals and start putting in the work. Grace, forgiveness, and understanding require practice and intentionality, and most of all humility. 

Yes, let’s “paint the world the color of love,” but we shouldn’t be too entrenched in our own understanding of what that color looks like. We need to listen to people outside of our own community and start seeing love as a multiplicity of color. 

 

I'd love to hear your comments below, along with any suggestions you may have for which of my songs you’d like me to tackle in the next post.

Runaway Sun (Solo)  

Runaway Sun (Solo) Cover Art
In our early days of parenthood, Melanie and I loved singing lullabies to our daughter at bedtime. Most nights involved me playing guitar and picking my way through some song that we had deemed important for her little ears to hear. Sometimes they would be bedtime classics, but more often than not it was something from artists we loved or our own songs that we would adapt for bedtime.

It was around this same time that I started playing shows without Melanie, which was difficult at first. I wasn't finding much inspiration playing solo and I needed to switch things up. So I started leaving my acoustic behind and playing electric instead, which required me to rethink how I played several songs.

It was the mixture of those lullabies and my search for solo inspiration that birthed this version of Runaway Sun.

 

Production Notes:

I kept this one really simple, just like I would play it live at those solo shows. Just a single vocal take, no bgvs. I put an SM57 on my Fender Excelsior and cranked it up just enough to get the amp to break up a little. I even had some radio interference sneaking into the recording, adding to that live feel.

The bulk of the guitar sound comes from one of my favorite pedals, The Retro Sky made by Greenhouse Effects. It's a beautifully sounding delay with a switchable phase effect built-in that only affects the repeats while keeping the attack clean.

Unfortunately, I don't think they make the Retro Sky any longer, but when they did, they actually put up a link to a live version of this song on their website. When Roy, the owner, emailed me to ask if he could use it, I geeked out like a fanboy. I love the way he approaches the design of his pedals and was super honored to be used as an example of what the pedal could do. I highly encourage you to go check out Greenhouse Effects and see what kind of magic Roy has up his sleeves these days.

Lastly, this isn't so much a production note, just a cute photo. My youngest daughter was with me as I recorded the guitar and the amp was pretty loud, so I put some ear protection on her. The sound in the room was so trance-like that she ended up falling asleep on the couch - making the lullaby origins come full circle.

Celebrating Polkinghorne 

 

Earlier this month, John Polkinghorne passed away. He was an Anglican priest, theoretical physicist, and theologian. I was introduced to his work far too late in my life and have so much of his writings to catch up on, but the little I have read continues to inspire me. 

I often feel caught in the middle of the modern world’s war between science and religion. Sometimes finding myself more on the side of science and other times the opposite, but always in-between. I cannot seem to satisfy my curiosity by limiting myself to either the how or the why? Both are equally valuable. 

I grew up in a Christian tradition that valued a formulaic approach to “the Gospel,” a system of salvation that relied on every detail to be exact and unrelenting. It was a house of cards built on a specific idea of Biblical inerrancy. For most of my childhood, it seemed like a well-built house. As I grew older and fell in love with the wonder of the universe, cards began to fall and I found myself scrambling to hold the structure of my childhood faith in place. 

Polkinghorne spent a considerable amount of his career trying to mend the fast-growing tear between religion and science, arguing that both are valuable lenses through which we view reality. I wonder, had I been introduced to thinkers like him earlier in life, would I have struggled so deeply with the depression and inner conflict that arose out of the attempts to save my house of cards. 

A couple of years ago, I participated in a reading group that discussed an essay of his about creation. Below is the opening excerpt from that essay. It comes from a collection called The Polkinghorne Reader, edited by Thomas Jay Oord. I like to think of it as Polkinghorne’s take on Genesis Ch. 1. 

If you find yourself inspired to read more Polkinghorne, perhaps we can do it together. Reach out and let’s celebrate his life and work. 

       

        In the beginning was the big bang. As the world sprang forth from the fuzzy singularity of its origin, first the spatial order formed, as quantum fluctuations ceased seriously to perturb gravity. Then space boiled, in the rapid expansion of the inflationary era, blowing the universe apart with incredible rapidity in the much less than 10-30 seconds that it lasted. The perfect symmetry of the original scheme of things was successively broken as the cooling brought about by expansion crystallized out the forces of nature as we know them today. For a while the universe was a hot soup of quarks and gluons and leptons, but by the time it was one ten-thousandth of a second old, this age of rapid transformations came to a close and the matter of the world took the familiar form of protons and neutrons and electrons. The whole cosmos was still hot enough to be the arena of nuclear reactions, and these continued until just beyond the cosmic age of three minutes. The gross nuclear structure of the universe was then left, as it remains today, at a quarter helium and three-quarters hydrogen. It was far too hot for atoms to form around these nuclei, and this would not occur for another half a million years or so. By then the universe had become cool enough for matter and radiation to separate. The world suddenly became transparent and a universal sea of radiation was left to continue cooling on its own until, fifteen billion years later, and by then at a temperature of 3oK, it would be detected by two radio astronomers working outside Princeton—a lingering echo of those far-off times. 

        Gravity is the dominant force in the next era of cosmic history. It continued its even-handed battle against the original expansive tendency of the big bang, stopping the universe from becoming too rapidly dilute but failing to bring about an implosive collapse. Although the early universe was almost uniform in its constitution, small fluctuations were present, producing sites at which there was excess matter. The effect of gravity enhanced these irregularities until, in a snowballing effect, the universe after a billion years or so, began to become lumpy and the galaxies and their stars began to form. 

        Within the stars nuclear reactions started up again, as the contractive force of gravity heated up the stellar cores beyond their ignition temperature. Hydrogen was burned to become helium, and when that fuel was exhausted a delicate chain of nuclear reactions started up, which generated further energy and the heavier elements up to iron. The elemental building blocks of life were beginning to be made. Every atom of carbon in every living being was once inside a star, from whose dead ashes we have all arisen. After a life of ten billion years or so, stars began to die. Some were so constituted that they did so in the dramatic death-throes of a supernova explosion. Thus the elements they had made were liberated into the wider environment and at the same time the heavier elements beyond iron, inaccessible through the burning of stellar cores, were produced in reactions with the high-energy neutrinos blowing off the outer envelope of the exploding star. 

        As a second generation of stars and planets condensed, on at least one planet (and perhaps on many) the conditions of chemical composition, temperature and radiation were such that the next new development in cosmic history could take place. A billion years after conditions on Earth became favourable, through biochemical pathways still unknown to us, and utilizing the subtle flexible-stability with which the laws of atomic physics endow the chemistry of carbon, long chain molecules formed with the power of replicating themselves. They rapidly gobbled up the chemical food in the shallow waters of early Earth, and the three billion years of the history of life had begun. A genetic code was established, a biochemical alphabet in which the instructions for terrestrial life are universally spelled out. Primitive unicellular entities transformed the atmosphere of Earth from one containing carbon dioxide to one containing oxygen, thereby permitting important developments in metabolism. The process of photosynthesis evolved, the method by which the sun’s energy is trapped and preserved for the maintenance of all living beings. Eventually, and then with increasing rapidity, life began to complexify through a process which certainly included the sifting of small variations through the environmental pressures of natural selection. Seven hundred million years ago, jellyfish and worms represented the most advanced forms of life. About three hundred and fifty million years ago, the great step was taken by which some life left the seas and moved on to dry land. Seventy million years ago, the dinosaurs suddenly disappeared, for reasons still a matter of debate, and the little mammals that had been scurrying around at their feet seized their evolutionary chance. Three and a half million years ago, the Australopithecines began to walk erect. Archaic forms of homo sapiens appeared a mere three hundred thousand years ago, and the modern form became established within the last forty thousand years. The universe had become aware of itself. 

        Such, in outline, is the story that science tells us about the history of the world. There are some speculations (particularly in the very early cosmology) and some ignorances (particularly in relation to the origin of life), but there seems to me to be every reason to take seriously the broad sweep of what we are told. Theological discourse on the doctrine of creation must be consonant with that account. 

        Of course, the first thing to say about that discourse is that theology is concerned with ontological origin and not with temporal beginning. The idea of creation has no special stake in a datable start to the universe. If Hawking is right, and quantum effects mean that the cosmos as we know it is like a kind of fuzzy spacetime egg, without a singular point at which it all began, that is scientifically very interesting, but theologically insignificant. When he poses the question, “But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary, or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?” it would be theologically naive to give any answer other than: “Every place—as the sustainer of the self-contained spacetime egg and as the ordainer of its quantum laws.” God is not a God of the edges, with a vested interest in boundaries. Creation is not something he did fifteen billion years ago, but it is something that he is doing now.

We Are Easy  

We Are Easy Album CoverIn most situations, I'm an incredibly practical person. I believe that anything can be figured out, broken down into steps, and conquered. My first instinct is rarely emotional, it's mathematical.

I wrote We Are Easy only a few months ago, in the midst of the pandemic, surrounded by sadness and questions. It was a time when emotion was welling up inside and the math went away. I needed to remind myself that hope is always on the horizon.

At its core, this is a song about relationships. It's about making the easy choice to go through the most difficult things with those you love. In reality, it's more than that.

I've heard it said before that every song has two stories, one told by the writer and the second by the listener. It's for that reason, I'm often hesitant to say exactly what some of my songs are about. I always hope that some of them can become just as much yours as they are mine.

Let me know in the comments if We Are Easy sparks your own story.

 

Production Notes for We Are Easy:

A side goal of mine when it comes to this "monthly song" thing is to get better at home recording. I've always considered myself a vocalist and songwriter, not an instrumentalist or recording engineer. So I recorded this song completely at home and played all the instruments myself (minus the drums, which were done by my good friend, Artificial Intelligence). If you're interested in gear that I used, reach out, I'll be glad to geek out on gear with you.

As a result of my deficiencies, this is most definitely categorized as a "demo." I'm trying to learn, so feel free to email or call me if you've got mix suggestions or anything of the like.  

Lastly, I just want to say thank you to Paul and Umber Darilek for letting me use a photo of their backyard labyrinth as the cover art. I wanted to use a labyrinth because I thought it was such a great metaphor for something being incredibly easy on its surface, just walk the path, but the spiritual goal is a lifelong practice that, to me, is one of the most difficult.

 

Galveston (Acoustic) Video / Limited Edition Coffee Mug 

The March song is a little behind schedule, so I decided to make a video of an acoustic performance for last month's song, Galveston.

I do have an ulterior motive for revisiting Galveston because it pairs well with the release of a Limited Edition Galveston Coffee Mug! That's right, now you can sip your morning coffee from a cup that not only looks beautiful but also supports your favorite half-assed singer/songwriter. The mug will only be available during March 2021, so get it while you can.

Visit the STORE to place your order.

Now that the business is out of the way, let's talk about something else. Can I really call something an "ulterior motive" if I've revealed the unknown aspect? Isn't the whole point of the word to address a hidden agenda? I know that "alterior" is a common misspelling, but maybe it actually would make sense in this case because I'm not revealing some hidden motive, but rather an alternate motive. Discuss amongst yourselves in the comments below.

And, if you're wondering, the answer is yes. I did ignorantly type "alterior" first and got caught by autocorrect. So in this case, I am simultaneously humble enough to admit my mistakes and yet so full of pride that I think my mistakes should actually be considered correct.

Two Things 

1. Silver Lining by Tyler Kealey



2. Pitchers and catchers report, the magical words that kick off another year of baseball. If Opening Day is my Christmas, the start of Spring Training is my Thanksgiving!

 

Comment below with something that you've recently found inspiring.
 

 

On My Turntable 

J. Dewveall's Must-Listen Albums (Spotify Playlist)

Today, instead of a single record, I’d like to share something a little more accessible to people who may not have a record player.

Several months ago, a friend of mine threw out a challenge to create a list of 100 “Must-Listen” albums. Of course, I over-thought and over-analyzed what makes something a “must-listen,” but it was the middle of a pandemic and it seemed like a fun thing to do. 

I tried to set a few rules like only including one album per artist or leaving off some of the well-known stuff that tends to always be on lists from music publications. Of course, some of those records are here anyway, because I wanted to make sure the list was representative of albums that truly influenced and inspired me. 

The key takeaway is that these are albums that I currently listen to over and over again. It probably would’ve been a different list twenty years ago. 

To make it easy for you, I made a Spotify playlist that has a song from each of the albums. I encourage you to follow the playlist and, as you’re listening, take note of stuff that interests you. Then go back and listen to full albums of the ones that caught your ear.

Click Here to Listen 

 

Things of Note: 

  • Dewveall - Songs from our "Word" album are on the list too. Why wouldn't they be?
  • Los Lobos - There are three albums by Los Lobos. Don’t make me choose. 
  • Ian Moore - I included a song from his album “Modern Day Folklore.” Technically, my album choice is “And All the Colors,” but it’s not on Spotify. Listen if you can find it. 
  • Dana Cooper - “Harry Truman Built a Road” is my real pick, but it’s also not on Spotify. 
  • Frank Ocean - “Novacaine” is a single on the list, but it’s from “nostalgia, ULTRA.” 

Notable Exclusions: 

  • Metal - There are several Metal albums that I would probably include in a “best of” list, but I just don’t listen to them anymore. Maybe one day. 
  • Creed, Staind, Etc. - I have a soft spot in my heart. Let’s be honest though, they didn’t age well. 
  • Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream - Anyone who knows me well, knows that Katy Perry is a guilty pleasure. I almost put “Teenage Dream” on the list, because I listen to it a lot. I just can’t think of anything in particular that makes the album special, except that it’s really fun. 
  • George Strait - “Strait Out of the Box” is probably the only box set I’ve ever purchased in my entire life. That said, it’s not an album and it’s pretty much the only way I listen to George Strait. 

I hope you enjoy the playlist. Comment below with some of your album recommendations. Maybe they’ll make my list one day.

Galveston  

Two years ago, I joined a blues cover band. Three years ago, I “retired” from music. I’ve said it before, I’m really bad at commitment. 

In late 2017, I realized that I had unconsciously not done anything musical in a couple of months. No guitar, no songwriting, nothing. Then, instead of picking up my guitar, I wondered how long I could go. I went another month, then another after that before an idea hit me. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll never pick up my guitar again. Maybe I’ll never write another song. Maybe I’m done playing shows. Yeah, I think I’m done. 

All in all, I went almost a full year with no intention of ever playing again. Then I fell victim to the only thing I have a harder time with than commitment, saying no. 

Long story short, a friend convinced me to play a show and I was hooked again. It wasn’t very long after that I joined the blues band, looking for a way to ease back into playing music without worrying too much about the stuff that made me want to quit in the first place. 

As a band, we’ve had a rough go of it so far. We spent the first year of my time with them cycling through bass players and learning how to vibe with each other musically. And year two...well, thanks Covid. 

Still, we’re having a lot of fun playing music together and slowly morphing, from a blues cover act, into some sort of psouledelic blues monstrosity. 

In October, we went into the studio to cut a couple of songs, one of which is a song that I wrote called Galveston. I’m super proud of the way it turned out. Willy Gibbs, the band leader, produced the song and played guitar. His son, Chris Gibbs, played drums and percussion. And Jimmy Flynn played bass. 

This song has not been “officially” released and probably won’t be until we’ve got a few more recorded, but I asked the guys if they were cool with me pre-releasing them on my music blog and they gave the go-ahead.

Comment below and let me know what you think about it. Also, since I've kind of abandoned social media as a growth tool for the moment, I would really appreciate it if you encourage any music-loving friends to check it out and sign up on my mailing list. Thanks so much.

 

Production Notes for Galveston:

Written by Jonathon Dewveall
Produced by Willy Gibbs
Engineered and Mixed by Dave Coleman
Cover Art by Melanie Dewveall

Guitars: Willy Gibbs
Bass: Jimmy Flynn
Drums/Percussion: Chris Gibbs
Vocals: Jonathon Dewveall

 

Two Things 

Two things that inspired me on the day we welcomed a new President:
 

  1. Amanda Gorman’s poem, The Hill We Climb, which she performed at the inauguration.

    ...because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It is the past we step into and how we repair it.” 



     
  2. Tobe Nwigwe's cover of Wake Up Everybody, originally by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. It's one of my favorite songs and this is now one of my favorite versions.


Comment below with something that inspired you today.

 

Spinning On My Turntable 

Scott Garred - Scott Songs Vol. II

 

Scott has been a long-time favorite songwriter of mine. In so many of his songs, he expertly captures the emotions of his subject matter and then passes them on to the listener. I can’t help but catch a case of the feels anytime I start listening to his music. 

For the past few years, he has been releasing one song every month on his website and I have followed it religiously. In fact, following Scott’s monthly music blog was a major influence on me deciding to give away some free songs of my own and I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from his method. (Scott, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for stealing your thing. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…” Right?) I can only hope that one day, I can execute it as well as he does. 

That brings us to Scott Songs Vol. II, which includes several of those monthly songs. A copy of the record showed up on my doorstep recently, giving me a chance to revisit them in my favorite format. 

One of the things I love about this record, in particular, is that Scott doesn’t shy away from some really difficult subjects. 

High and Lonesome was written from the perspective of Charles Whitman, the mass shooter who climbed the tower on the University of Texas campus in 1966. The song gives us a glimpse into the hypothetical mind of Whitman, reminding us that even the most monstrous of those walking among us are still human. 

Perhaps my favorite song on the record is Make You Whole Again. It’s an exploration of hope in the midst of disaster. I loved it when he first released it on his blog in January 2020. Listening again, with the Nashville tornado and worldwide pandemic now in my mind, makes the song resonate so much more. 

The thing I love most about the record, as a whole, is that there is so much mystery living within. I find myself trying to piece together the story for each song’s protagonist, hidden details that, in the end, matter so much less than the emotions conveyed by their words. Songwriting like this helps to remind me that sometimes the truth is not only found in factual events, but also in the ways those events impact our lives and the emotions we feel in the aftermath.  

I highly encourage you to check out the album for yourself and, of course, sign up for Scott’s mailing list and follow his monthly music blog. 

After you’ve listened, comment below or send me a message letting me know what your favorite songs were.

Scott Links Vol. I

Website
Spotify
Bandcamp (to buy the vinyl)

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