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Promised Land liner notes

Postcard From The Promised Land

1. Alice and Ralph 4:18

While the war of the sexes is nothing new, a lot has been written lately about the socio-scientifically determined differences between men and women. It's not up to me to say if we have fundamentally different languages, or if we have entirely different brain wiring, or if we are from different planets. But everybody knows an Alice and a Ralph, and everybody knows they are entirely wrong for each other, and everybody knows they will always wind up together. They always have, since Adam was an ape.

2. Rivethead 5:39

Ypsilanti, Michigan. Until recently the home of General Motor's famed Willow Run Assembly Plant. For all the southerners who have moved north to work on the line, a lot of folks have called this town near Detroit, "Ypsitucky." That was the working title for this song, until I decided to name it for Ben Hamper's powerful autobiography. While I have never been a shop rat myself, and Ben Hamper's tale is not my tale, I think we're singing from the same hymnal.

3. Holding To The Land 5:09

I grew up with the lore of the midwestern farm. All of my family were farmers until my parents' generation moved to town to take city jobs. Still a few held to the land. They are the heroic figures in my personal mythology. The age of the family farm in America is surely our golden age, if ever we had one.

4. The Flowers Of Michigan (traditional) 2:15

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of tunes I have learned straight out of a book. This is one of them. From Cole's "1000 Fiddle Tunes" I found this intriguing title. I've never heard anyone else play it, but I think it makes a good banjo tune.

5. Freeport (FactoryOutletVille) 3:12

The first time I visited Freeport, Maine, I was in dire straits. I had parked my car a few miles south of town at a lobster shack. Though I didn't need to, I locked my car because I always do - my key was well worn from the habit. As I pulled the key from the door I got a sickening feeling. My key which had been as one, was now as two. Here I am, standing in front of my locked car with a broken key. The only other key to this car is home - a good thousand miles away.

I hitched a ride into the nearest town - Freeport. Across from the LL Bean store was the Western Auto, where all the local characters were hanging around telling stories and checking out the latest in spark plug wires. I walked in with my broken key and my tale of woe. After no small discussion, the fabled Yankee Ingenuity had it's day. We super-glued the key back together and then cut a copy on the key machine. One of the boys gave me a ride back to my car and I was on my way again.

A year or two later I found myself again in Maine. I thought I'd drop by the Western Auto in Freeport to see how the fellas were doing. It wasn't there anymore. Across from the newly enlarged LL Bean was a Ralph Lauren / Polo factory outlet store. I wondered where all my guys went to chew and spit and tell lies. So I wrote this song. And I carry a spare key.

6. Five Kinds Of Snow 3:08

This song was begun as a poem written at a laundramat in Okemos, Michigan on a particularly odious and bitter winter day. It's true, every bit of it.

7. Amnesty 3:46

In 1992, I was asked to sing at a benefit for Amnesty International. This is the song I wrote for that occasion. Unfortunately, I didn't finish it in time for the show. But it's ready now.

I have since become a member of A.I., and do my part by writing letters on the behalf of prisoners of conscience held in foreign countries. It's an activity I feel really good about. But more than the good feelings it makes for me, letters from The United States of America carry surprising weight in other countries. It's so often I feel apologetic for the actions of my country in the world arena. We're so often the bull in the china shop, the clumsy giant, the awkward wealthy uncle who is welcome only if bearing gifts. And me - I'm just a little cog in the great machine called America. What a joy then, to tap into a little of that might and power simply by putting a postage stamp on a letter - a letter addressed to a tyrant who might just pay a little more attention to an American postmark.

If this song touches you, I urge you to contact Amnesty International. The National Office in the US is at 322 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10001. Write a letter. You'll feel better.

8. Columbus Stockade (traditional) 3:25

I've known this song forever. It is one of the great folk songs of America. All too often, though, it gets a sugary, "perky" treatment by some well-meaning, but misdirected folk or bluegrass group. I hope you appreciate my darker take on the melody. Listen closely for the "Bill Monroe Memorial Lick."

9. Waiting For My Angel To Arrive 3:47

It seems that angels are "in" this season. Angels are everywhere. The popular culture would have us swimming in guardian angels. There at every turn, in every room, on every corner, dancing on every pinhead - we're simply lousy with angels. This guy's angel is of another sort. You don't want to mess with this angel.

10. Sea Of Dreams 2:30

This little cosmic lullaby of sleep and dream is what it is and no more. Perchance.

11. Promised Land 3:05

This impertinent little tune grew out of my banjo one day and just wouldn't go away. Then it got really testy and demanded some lyrics. Then the lyrics demanded attention. The next thing you know it's the title cut of my new album. Well, that's the way the world is.

Oh, there's a few more things you should know, just for the record. I wrote all these songs - except for the two traditional numbers, of course. All of my songs are published by Fingerboard Music, BMI, and all those rights are reserved, buddy. The front cover scene is from an old postcard of the grand canyon. Nope, never been there. My friend and banjo student, Diane Grettenberger, took the "postage stamp" portrait on the cover, and Gary Reid of Audio Magic engineered this recording. Please don't bootleg it.

This is my tenth album, and a milestone of sorts. When I started singing for my supper years ago, I never dreamed I would produce ten albums. But then, I never dreamed I would hit forty, either. But here we are, alive and well in the Promised Land.

Joel Mabus - August, 1994

[go back to Promised Land recording page]

(c) 1994, 2004 Joel Mabus


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