The MP3s on this page are not intended as commercial studio recordings. These are casual affairs, some recorded at home (though I do intend to improve the sound quality by getting a better microphone and pre-amp), some recorded by the kindness of friends with good audio equipment. Call them practice recordings. Or "studio-casual" - like business-casual attire. Most of them are of various autoharp things, partly because that's what I've been working on recently, partly because there was no autoharp on Roseville Fair (available if you want it from CD Baby), and partly because people have emailed me to ask what it sounds like and I wanted to give them something they could actually hear. You are welcome to download, copy, and learn this music, but you may not use it commercially without my permission and that of the songwriters, if any.
Recorded live performances
- Griselda's Waltz (video). In performance at the Twickenham Folk Club, early 2006. This was I think the first time I played this song publicly. The song is a fractured fairytale, written by Bill Steele (writer of Garbage! and other songs).
- Ashcroft's Army (John McCutcheon). As sung at CFP 2004. (The glitch in the first verse happened when, unexpectedly, a bunch of people rushed up and started flashing camera lights in my face. Sorry.)
- The Surveillance Waltz (written by Wendy Grossman) -- 4/8/05. My first-ever original tune, written for the red autoharp in b minor. It happened because I wasnoodling around with the tune of Bill Steele's The Walls Have Ears (see below) to try to come up with some kind of instrumental break. Instead, I came up with a four-part waltz. Mike Cogan very kindly recorded this version in his studio during an off-hour, and in fact without his help I couldn't play the ending I wanted, which is known as a Picardy third, after a cathedral in Picardy where the natural acoustics created a major, instead of minor, third out of harmonics. The red autoharp doesn't in fact have a D# note in it, and the effect was created by playing what I think of as a B modal chord -- that is, the B chord with no thirds (just B and F#), and then recording separately the single D note created by holding down the D and G chord buttons simultaneously (which locks out everything but the D strings). Mike autotuned that single D note up to D# and then mixed it into the B model chord. Voila! B major! The only way I can get this effect live is to play the tune on the blue harp in g minor (because that harp also has G major); I don't think the rest of the tune sounds as good at that pitch, though. Played on the red autoharp in b minor. Update (2007): I have decided that I vastly prefer this played AABBAACCDDCCAABBA instead of, as here, AABBCCDDAABBCCDD. So if for some reason you decide to learn it, please do it that way.
- Lady Margaret (traditional) -- 4/8/05. I originally learned this song off Tony and Irene Saletan's Folk Legacy record back in the 1970s. I think I played it on autoharp for a bit (as Irene Saletan, aka Irene Kossoy of the Kossoy sisters did), and then I stopped playing autoharp and I can't remember what I did with the song. When I started playing autoharp again, it seemed natural to pick it up again. Of course, autoharp playing has changed dramatically since then, and what sounded good then sounds unbelievably clunky and average/dull now. The song itself is yet another Child ballad of love and death. As a skeptic, I note that the ghost in this song appears at the foot of the jilting lover's bed; it's interesting to me how often apparitions in the old ballads do this, given that even now many reports of ghost sightings take place in similar circumstances. There is a rational explanation, too: when half-awake or half-asleep the brain enters states (hypnagogic, hypnopompic) in which it is particularly prone to hallucinations. Good reporting, there, and especially so if it's survived some centuries of oral transmission. Played on the red autoharp in D. Note the use of Dsus4, part of this autoharp's special configuration.
- Four Nights Drunk (traditional, updated by Wendy Grossman; from an idea Bill Steele got from someone in California in the 1970s) -- 4/8/05. The 2005 version of the Child ballad "Our Goodman", in which the master of the house comes home drunk on successive nights, each night seeing something more alarming that he wished he hadn't. In the 1970s, Bill Steele did an update, and when I was getting ready for CFP05 it seemed time for another one. The tech stuff of course is fungible, but what really struck me is how much attitudes have changed towards alcohol and drunkenness in the last 30 years. It really works best live, but I can't find out what CFP did with the recording they made when I did it on the closing day. This was recorded on in Bruce Koball's studio. Any laughter you might discern in the background is his. Unaccompanied.
- The Walls Have Ears (written by Bill Steele) -- 4/8/05. Recorded at Bruce Koball's studio before going up to Seattle to perform it at the Big Brother Awards, with spoken introduction. The song was written by Bill Steele in 1973 about Watergate: at the time, it had just come out that Nixon had been in the habit of recording everything that went on in his office, and what startled Bill was that no one was discussing whether this type of surveillance was appropriate or acceptable, just who should get the tapes. In the 30 years since, the song has become more and more relevant, as many of the things in it are now technically feasible where at the time they were science fiction. Bill always adds, "This is a love story." He recorded it on his album "Chocolate Chip Cookies" (Swallowtail). Played on the red autoharp in b minor.
- River (written by Bill Staines / O'Carolan) -- 4/8/05. Recorded at Bruce Koball's studio. I used to sing this song with a more or less uninspired guitar accompaniment, and then when I started playing autoharp again it seemed like that would work better. It turns out that it's become more or less an autoharp standard, which I didn't know; I assume its standardship has something to do with its being in waltz time, a popular time signature with autoharpers. The instrumental break in the middle and at the end is Planxty Irwin, by the Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan. For some reason it fits well with River, even though they were composed a century and a continent apart. Played on the red autoharp in D.
- Cold Blow and the Rainy Night (traditional) -- 4/8/05. One of seemingly hundreds of songs about the soldier on leave who seduces a young woman and then leaves. In this case, it's always seemed to me that the soldier was honest about his intentions from the start and she made an informed choice. I mean, "I'll never come back again-oh" seems pretty clear to me. This version was on Planxty's album of the same name. I've always loved the instruments they used, and always felt I couldn't do anything with the song (even though I sang it with guitar anyway) because their version was so definitive. But somehow on the autoharp it sounds to me a little more like I've got hold of it in a different way. The rhythm you need to get to play it on the autoharp is a little challenging; it took me about a day of repeated practice to get it going properly. But that's really the key to it. Played on the red autoharp in D.
- Coshieville (written by Stuart McGregor) -- 4/8/05. I originally learned this when Archie Fisher recorded it for his 1977 Folk Legacy album, "Man With a Rhyme", which I played on (dulcimer, banjo, and concertina, IIRC). It's a great song that's also been recorded by Nick Keir of The McCalmans -- a nice mix of lost love and following available work as it moves around. This key is actually a little low for me, but I like it best on the red autoharp, and that's the key the autoharp is happy in. Also, that was the only instrument I had with me when we recorded it at Bruce Koball's studio. For people interested in autoharp, this is an attempt to pick an autoharp more or less the way you would a guitar, which is what I played the song on (in open G, capoed up 2) when I originally learned it. Played on the red autoharp in G.
- The G jigs (traditional) -- 1982. Actually, these are Coppers and Brass (learned off the Dick Gaughan album of the same name), Drop of Brandy (no idea), and Bride's Favorite (ditto). The recording is a bit sloppy, but is probably the only time I'll ever again be heard in public playing any form of mandolin relative -- this was a Fylde Octavius (that I'd like to sell, actually, if anyone wants it). It was recorded in a studio for a short film being made by my friend Michael Bergmann. In the end, he used different music, and the original tapes were lost. This copy was Mp3ed off the only surviving copy, an old answering machine cassette, hence the poor sound quality. But I probably can't duplicate the playing, and it's a pity to lose it entirely. Banjo in open G, plus a load of other stuff.
Rough home recordings - autoharp
(Notes on buying and playing an autoharp, including the chord bar arrangement used on the blue harp, are here.)
- Hard Times (written by Stephen Foster) -- (4/7/04). I think I first heard this song sung by Caryl P. Weiss on her 1981 album "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm", and liked it but didn't think too much about it. Then I heard it again at Ithaca's Twelfth Night this year, and Redbird sang it at Twickenham, and I thought as how it would sound really good on the autoharp. I assumed it was English; had no idea it was actually written by Stephen Foster. Like all his songs, it's sentimental (I love the idea that a woman working is somehow sadder than anyone else doing the same), but these days with wealth being massively redistributed toward the rich, the gist seems sadly ever more relevant. Played on the blue autoharp in Bb.
- Planxty George Brabazon (written by O'Carolan) -- (4/7/04). I've always liked the music of the Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan. This piece in particular I fell in love with on a record of the hammered dulcimer band Trapezoid -- I think they played it with four, maybe five, hammered dulcimers (one can just imagine the pre-recording tuning session...). I never thought it went particularly well on guitar or banjo, and then when I was listening to the excellent three-CD anthology "Autoharp Legacy" (available from CDBaby at a very reasonable price, it occurred to me how much an autoharp can sound like a hammered dulcimer...(or a music box). Played on the blue autoharp in G.
One-pass home recordings