Friday, August 29, 2008

Reuse, Recycle, Renew....Rewrite?

I believe in do-overs. Second chances. Making something new from something old -- redemption in the broadest sense of the word.

Maybe it's just a pragmatic, peri-menopausal coping mechanism, but finding utility in seemingly useless items lifts me up, gives me hope.

I'm a big fan of church rummage sales, garage sales and consignment houses. When I came across The Sacred Heart Thrift Store in Anderson, I decided that it was almost the perfect title for a song.

Almost perfect. But it didn't quite have the lyrical lilt that makes it musical. So I flashed my Poetic License and made a minor change:

Ah, that's better -- now it works.

I recycled the melody for the verses from a very old Scottish tune -- Child Ballad 173: Mary Hamilton. I used to love Joan Baez's rendition - I listened to it over and over on my father's monstrous reel-to-reel tape player.
My-oh-my... technology has come a long way.

Just finished recording and mixing this song on a digital workstation the size of corned beef brisket:

The Sacred Heart Secondhand Store
words and music © Erin Coombs Friedman
Buy, sell or trade
Find you some hand-me-down faith
The cast-offs are saved
In the name of the Lord
At The Sacred Heart Secondhand Store

The neon sign flickers to life
The second time she flips the switch
The Sacred Heart Secondhand Store
Is in good hands
Weekdays from 10 until 6
The demons she wrestled
Are all kept at bay
By the spirit that blessed her
With the power of grace

Buy, sell or trade
Find you some hand-me-down faith
The cast-offs are saved
In the name of the Lord
At The Sacred Heart Secondhand Store

She’ll wipe dust from the Lladro Madonna
Polish the gold wedding bands
Here among the unwashed and unwanted
She’s the angel of One More Last Chance
Hers came by the river
Where she lay in the dark
Was gently delivered
Into His Sacred Heart
Buy, sell or trade
Find you some hand-me-down faith
The cast-offs are saved
In the name of the Lord
At The Sacred Heart Secondhand Store

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The definition of a Gentleman:

One who knows how to play an accordion but doesn't.

I'm not sure what that makes me. I don't know how to play my new concertina -- but that doesn't stop me from trying to play it.

A concertina looks like an accordion:

but it's less complicated and smaller, and mine was a thoughtful birthday gift from my husband -- whose capacity for suffering seems to know no bounds.

And when the concertina is traveling in its handy-dandy carrying case:

it raises eyebrows and causes much consternation among the minions who monitor the airport security x-ray machines, at least according to a story told by Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen.

We saw the two of them in concert at Bernie's a few months ago, and that's when I decided that I really needed a new musical instrument that would tax my middle-aged brain to the absolute limit: 20 buttons...40!

When it's played right, the concertina has a sweet, long-ago kind of sound -- perfect for Irish songs. Right now I'm working on "The Wild Rover."

Here's The Dubliner's version. It really ought to come with a pint of Guinness, but I'm still waiting on that technology:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Heart Shaped Stones

I think of this song as another gift from the Sacramento River. I was walking on the shore at Anderson River Park, navigating the river rock, when I began a story song about a woman who collects Heart Shaped Stones.

I originally thought about making her a victim of unrequited love – filling her pockets with heart shaped stones and dramatically throwing herself into the river.

Yuck. I hate singing Poor-Pitiful-Me songs. I much prefer to sing about powerful women, so I came up with a more enjoyable storyline.

In true country music tradition, it includes the requisite elements: love, loss, revenge and a pick-up truck.

My kids consider this song “twisted” and “creepy.” I like that.

Heart Shaped Stones
words and music by Erin Coombs Friedman © 2004

She hoped for hearts and flowers, maybe wedding bells
Instead she got the valentine from hell
A year has passed, but it she pictures it like yesterday
The way he laughed, got in his truck and drove away

She walks down by the riverside collecting valentines
Heart Shaped Stones aren’t hard to find
Everyday she fills her pockets up
With stones that remind her of
The hard-hearted man she used to love

The river wields a mighty power all its own
Making pretty things from shapeless sand and stone
She washes out her wounds and heals her scars
Strolls along the shore searchin’ for hearts

She walks down by the riverside collecting valentines
Heart Shaped Stones aren’t hard to find
Everyday she fills her pockets up
With stones that remind her of
The hard-hearted man she used to love

They found his pick-up wrecked beneath the overpass
His battered body in a pool of blood and shattered glass
The case remains unsolved – motive unknown
But the cause of death was Heart Shaped Stones

She walks down by the riverside collecting valentines
Heart Shaped Stones aren’t hard to find
Everyday she fills her pockets up
With stones that remind her of
The hard-hearted man she used to love

A woman with an ax to grind
Can pitch a pretty mean valentine
Those Heart Shaped Stones work every time

Monday, August 18, 2008

Good Morning, Cottonwood

During those long weeks of dark, heavy skies, I promised myself that if the smoke ever lifted, I would NEVER take the glorious Cottonwood skyscape for granted.

Delightfully easy to keep that promise this morning.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Don't I know you from somewhere..."

Deja vu.... an inexplicable - but comforting - familiarity in a stranger's eyes.....the kind of stuff that surprises and mystifies.

At the ripe old age of 48, I'm willing to concede that there are a whole host of things I may never understand, but that doesn't keep me from writing about them.

Pretty Pieces is from our almost-ready-to-be-released CD: Sacramento River Whispers.

We're celebrating with a CD release party on September 27th at Little Filly's in Palo Cedro. Annie joined us on fiddle for this one.

Pretty Pieces

words and music by Erin Friedman ©2008

Not quite a mem’ry
More like a fever dream
Greensleeves, gray mist
Salt sea on our lips
White sails, golden cliffs
Pretty Pieces of a mystery
a mystery


All the Pretty Pieces gather
Fall through the dream catcher
Take their place in the design
Once upon a long ago
Fate spun her kaleidoscope
Scattered all the Pretty Pieces
Like stardust fallin’ from the sky

Minstrel sings of love
Hawk fells a mourning dove
Hidden dell, sudden storm
Ships bell, a distant shore
Fare-the-well, troubadour
Pretty pieces – nothing more for us
for us

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sisters Folk Festival - Songwriting Finalist

Congratulations and best wishes to Rita Hosking for being named a finalist in the Sisters Folk Festival Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Contest.

It's a prestigious contest and a well-deserved honor for this talented, hard-working singer-songwriter. She hails from Shasta County and plays in Redding often -- she has an Oaksong Society gig scheduled at Bernie's in December.

"Rita Hosking was raised in the mountains of eastern Shasta County, Northern California, where she internalized dusty woodsheds, the scent of springwater, forest fires and the troubles of rural economies. Her musical experience began as a child at church, and under the wings of an old time jug band made up of seasoned mountain characters. A descendant of Cornish miners who sang in the mines, Rita grew up with deep regard for folk music and the power of the voice."

And Rita does, indeed, have a powerful voice - one that makes you listen and believe. Wishing her all the very best in Sisters in September.
(photo from Rita Hosking's website)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


If you're planning to come out to MarketFest tomorrow night (8/14) please stop by the Shasta County Arts Council booth -- I will be there promoting the North State Songwriters Group, handing out fliers on upcoming performances and selling CDs.

Slam Buckra is the headliner - should be a great show.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Postmark: Sikeston, MO, 1946

I am reading, with joy, letters that my Great-Grandfather wrote to his son, my grandfather, back in the 40s.

My Granddad, Phil Leslie, had moved his young family to Hollywood to work as a comedy writer during radio's Golden Age. His father, Leroy Leslie, shared his advice and concerns in a series of long, eloquent letters.

I marvel at the wisdom and the timeliness of the words he wrote 60 years ago. And I'm tickled to see how history is repeating itself.

In one letter, Leroy applauds his son's plans for a fishing trip. My Granddad was planning a fishing trip with his own young son, and decided to let the boy take some time off of school, hoping that missing school might make the trip a bit more appealing.

Leroy wrote:

"Not every father would have shot that angle of it, and you made a good investment. I know that from my own experience. Such time and attention as I have given my boys in the years past not only gave me a lot of pleasure at the time, but continues to pay phenomenal dividends."

Earlier this year, my husband Craig grumbled a bit about spending $110 on fishing licenses for himself and the three kids. But as he wrote the check, he told clerk "It's really a small price to pay to keep your kids close." And I know he meant it, because any chance they get, the four of them are out trolling on Whiskeytown Lake.

Makes me smile, to think of carrying on family traditions, and I'm eating up these words that reach across time and give me a bit of the picture of where I come from.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Saving Western Civilization, One Video at a Time

Back home from a lovely trip to LA (ahh...fresh air)-- where my buddy, Bob, gave me grief for not blogging often enough.

"I'm a songwriter," I told him. I need to concentrate on songwriting and recording. If I blog more often, I'm going to end up at a CD release party in September with no CD.

So I'll blog a little, record a little, and see how it goes.

I just finished mixing The Rosary Ring. It's posted below with the lamest music video of all time. Why do I post horribly lame music videos with my songs? Because I can't for the life of me figure out how to post audio-only files.

The irony is, I have always said that the downfall of Western Civilization can be traced directly to MTV. Hollywood producers interpreting songs? Their job is selling stuff, for crying out loud! Music is a deeply personal experience and music videos rob us of the chance to have a unique experience with a piece of music -- to get lost in a song.

That's the beauty of the Horribly Lame Music Video -- you don't have to watch. And unless you've been recently lobotomized, you won't want to. But if you'd like to listen, well -- I'd appreciate it.

This was my grandfather's rosary ring - I wear it as a Good Luck Talisman to keep me safe when I travel. So far, so good.

The Rosary Ring
words and music © Erin Coombs Friedman

His suits were set out for St Vincent de Paul
Books packed in boxes stacked up the hall
Eighty-two years of memories – all spoken for
She only kept one thing: The Rosary Ring that he wore

A silver link on a silver chain
Rosary Ring -- Circle of faith
Over and over again
Begins where it ends
She journeys into the unknown
The Rosary Ring brings her home

When her courage is tested, her spirits are weak
She’ll reach for the necklace – count on the beads
Whisper the words she learned eagerly at his knee
Why it quiets her mind strikes of divine mystery