As I assembled this CD I came across an old manila folder of typewritten lyrics (yes, bashed out on an actual typewriter). There was no notation, just chords, but even though some 30 years had passed since I wrote some of them, the melodies were still in my brain, and they came right back under my fingers. Some deserve to remain in dusty oblivion, but others were striking and called out to be recorded.
Peter Tillotson once again backs me on bass, with his usual inventiveness and sensitivity. He plays his fretless on nearly everything; its sustain fills in the sound beautifully.
Billy Novick also returns, not on his signature clarinet but on whistle. His break on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is wistful and wonderful.
Bronwyn Keith-Hynes enchants on fiddle, using harmonics and slides to evoke the despair of "Rachel" and "Slay the Dragons" she uses harmonics and slides to evoke despair. She got to be more upbeat on "Your Truest Friend," and on the title song, "What Is the Wind?", where she invokes the Scottish origins of the melody.
After making many CDs together, Larry Luddecke and I work together seamlessly. He provides great feedback and is unfailingly helpful as we work our way through the process. His alter-ego, Stingy Lapel, did great work on hand drum, adding just the right touch.
As we began work on Slay the Dragons we captured me saying, through semi-maniacal laughter, "Sit down, have a drink!" It's been rewarding to revisit songs by my younger self, but I'm happy to have reached a more peaceful stage of life. Much of the peace comes from my beloved partner, John, who has been a rock. Many thanks to him, and to all these amazing musicians.
1. What Is the Wind? traditional Scots melody, lyrics © 2011 Diane Taraz
Inspired by the beauty of the Isles of Shoals, a magical place I have visited for many, many summers. The sunsets over the mainland are blazingly beautiful.
2. Somewhere Over the Rainbow Harold Arlen and Yip Harberg, 1939
EMI Feist Catalog, Inc., license acquired
I was delighted to find that I could play this on the dulcimer, despite its limited range and few strings. It has just four, and two of them are the same, so there are really only three strings! Billy's whistle sketches some happy little bluebirds.
3. Slay the Dragons © 1980 Diane Taraz
I recorded this on a cassette tape and am intrigued to visit it again after all these decades. I adjusted the chorus a little, but otherwise it's as I wrote it when I was 23 and obviously could have used a little medication! I asked Bronwyn (who is just about 23 herself) to play a nightmare, and she obliged, with gorgeous fiddling that sets the perfect mood.
4. Riddle of the Stars Diane Taraz, © 2006
It's hard to believe everything they say is true about the stars. I wrote this reflection on believing six impossible things before breakfast nine years ago, for a pickup group of choristers at my church. Since then I've arranged it for our adult and children's choirs. Mozart wrote a highly versatile little tune!
5. The Demon Lover traditional Scots, Child ballad 243
For many years I couldn't finger-pick fast enough to achieve the arrangement in my head, but now I can keep up. I added two dulcimer tracks, one an off-center harmonic that heralds the otherworldly lover, and one a propulsive strum that gives the thing wings. Some far-off harmonies put the right ghostly spin on the final conversation from the lovers' watery grave.
6. The Berkshires Diane Taraz, © 1980
Another song from 1980, a valentine to my birthplace in far-western Massachusetts. I've driven the turnpike countless times visiting my family, who are mostly still there. The instrumental at the end is a more recent composition on the dulcimer that never seemed to want any words, so I tacked it on as a lively wrap-up.
7. Out of the Sighs poem by Dylan Thomas, 1922; music by Diane Taraz, © 1980
Thomas wrote this bitter lament at age 18; I set it to music when I was 23. We were both just a little depressed, don't you think? At the bottom of his notebook he wrote, "This has taken a hell of a time."
8. The Maid on the Shore traditional Celtic or English
Nobody seems to know exactly where this unusual song originated, but it's a lot of fun to sing. In performance I love watching the audience react when the mysterious maid says, Thank you, oh thank you! when threatened with a dire fate. She gains complete control of the situation through the power of song. Like our tobacco-chewing captain, be careful what you wish for.
9. Amazing Grace John Newton, 1779; tune "New Britain," 1829
Newton, a reformed slave trader, wrote these hymn lyrics after he saw the light. His words were set to many different tunes until they found New Britain, the anonymous melody we love today, probably of Scottish and African-American origin.
Diane Taraz, © 1979
For all mothers who mourn. We placed Bronwyn's amazing fiddle in a reverb setting appropriately called Midnight Chamber.
11. Drive the Cold Winter Away traditional English
From the early 1600s comes excellent advice on how to get on with it. Peter and I have played this very old song for several years at Carols by Candlelight, my annual holiday concert in Arlington.
12. Ashokan Farewell Jay Ungar, ©1983 Swinging Door Music
Songwriters Guild of America, license acquired
Another challenge on the dulcimer. It's so much fun to multi-track my voice! (Rehearsals are very easy to schedule.)
13. Your Truest Friend melody trad. Irish, lyrics Diane Taraz, © 2013
For a niece's wedding I wrote new words for Londonderry Air, or Air from County Derry. After 24 years of marriage, I approach the subject less in the spirit of buttercream frosting and more in the spirit of whole-wheat bread.
14. Air from County Derry trad. Irish
This glorious melody sits so nicely on the dulcimer, I couldn't resist taking one more stroll through it.