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It was Hawthorne Boulevard in close-in eastside Portland, on a sunny day in the mid-90s, with a cup of coffee and a chance to visit with an old friend, the artist and activist Melanie Weidner (sample some of her extraordinary catalog here). I was excited to share a new song with her, one in a series of God-songs I was writing to share with our Quaker community, and she said, y'know that's just lovely. It's a very nice song, but what happens, she said, in the song, if you change the gender of the pronouns...? You mean from Him to Her, I said. Yeah, she said. So we tried it, and you know, it's a better song. The piece was nice before; this change made it important to people, so thanks, Mel. (Not for the last time.)

The history goes on, and starts to involve others: West Hills Friends really enjoyed singing Rose Hips on Sunday morning with me; what was extra cool was coming back from Africa in 2007 and discovering old f/Friends Jill and Aaron Townley-Pruitt playing a piano vocal duet version, and the church liked that one two.

When Nate Macy and I were producing my new anthology, A Month of Sundays, in 2021 and 2022, it was a natural to invite Jill and Aaron to record their arrangement of Rose Hips. The session went really well, the mix went down, the album was released last June; and now I tell people: I made Rose Hips straight and true and sweet - Jill and Aaron made it exquisite, all true.

Regards this new foldable: As Sue and I finished work on the album cover art, we started working on "foldable songs", and after we did Pastor's Daughter, and Blue Pony, and it became clear we were going for a series, again Rose Hips was an easy choice. I feel now, holding this piece in my hands, such pleasure folding and unfolding, revealing one extraordinary Sue Scott picture after another, juxtaposed with the lyrics to the song. As a foldable, the art reveal is sequential which makes it a different more dynamic thing in some cool ways. We're learning as we go...

What really comes up for me today, reviewing this little song's history with you, is how ephemeral it all is, a matter of breath, a matter of vibrations in the air; the spectrum of visible light, and how strong and magnetic it proves music and art can be to express our love, and our spiritual aspiration, and bring people together, and that's not ephemeral....

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(Sample the song and more pictures of the broadside here.)

I think there’s a loneliness to the story that appeals to me, has always appealed. It’s in the Em7 chord motif of course, and in the story and characters too. The guy is interesting in being alone and in his single-minded focus. I recognize him as simply acquisitive; he wants to catch this creature for a reason, then - big surprise - gets carried away. I do like my characters getting confronted with forces larger than themselves.

The visual sequences and contrasts too in the narrative images are appealing to me: desert, jungles, waterfalls, horse, moon. Action, action, action, contemplation. (I’ve criticized the lyric too, in my head anyway, for exoticism: desert, jungles, waterfalls… all we need are some native dancers…)

Did you know this was my childhood? Um-hm, there was a Blue Pony, he was fast and very sweet, and he was very young as were we all. He could just about levitate, for real.

Like my character, my first surprised response would be to hang onto my lariat too; and suddenly swept many yards up into the air, I too would want to release my sensible terror for all the cold delight of the wind on my face and the moonlight and the elemental being plunging up into the moonlight, flying away with me at the end of a long long string. Ahh me, the pirate’s life…

I figured out this Blue Pony song, like so many of the better ones in this last crop, after Africa but just before Ruba Byrd; so 2008 or 2009 is my guess, if anybody’s interested. (I like to take data.) I remember playing it for some evening West Hills Friends gig, and folks liked it. 2010 maybe, as amplified acoustic, running a big Martin through phaser FX on the acoustic amp, and Ruba singing harmonies. That was fun. But the best fun is on electric guitar in ensemble, with Bill and Rich, and April leading the Quakettes, or whoever we were that night, late spring 2022 when we gathered at WHF to record this song. So, Nate Macy to record, Bill Norris-York on percussion, Rich Vanderwal on bass, me on acoustic and lead vocals; April Vanderwal, Melissa Thomas, and Ruba Byrd, on backup harmonies.

April and the crew did what they have always done so brilliantly: they heard it, and they heard themselves in it. All there was to do after that was hang the notes up there… Listen to April’s design of those backup vocals. There’d been a draft of a structure: she led the crew in dressing it up to go flying…

We got our basics at that session, I took them home. Over the course of the spring I worked on electric guitar parts, and practiced recording from home. One sunny afternoon I laid down chunks of three electric guitar lead lines and a couple of rhythm patterns, and I liked what I had. I sent all the tracks to Adam Sweeney in Portland; and still later when he sent it back I took the mix to Slim Novak out in West Eugene, who put more hours into it. This is what you’re playing. It is surely one of my favorite collaborations. Go for a ride…

(Every month into this next year, I am featuring another song from our June 2023 final release of A Month of Sundays. Last month we featured April Redmond Vanderwal’s production of Angel, Big Black Wings, the final cut on the album. This month we’re focusing on Blue Pony,the second song on the album and a bit of a rocker.)

Before you leave be sure to go check out the William Jolliff review of A Month of Sundays, out in the Nov Dec issue of Western Friend magazine.

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Updated: Nov 16, 2023

…settled down on my park bench in that rainy spring…

(Sample here.) Words and music, © Derek Lamson (2010, 2023). Produced January - June 2023 by April Redmond Vanderwal.

Lead / backup vocals, April; piano, backing vocals, Aaron Pruitt; electric guitar, recording engineer, Nate Macy; bass, Rich Vanderwal; percussion, Bill Norris-York. Mixed by Rich Vanderwal.

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Angel, Big Black Wings started out funny, I mean like goofy funny: a swooping half jazz, half folk, gospel-y thing about what appears to be a weeping angel escapee from the Good Omens set.

Anyway, the first verse was cool and fun and the second got serious. I kept working on it…

I never figured out why the Angel was crying, though her mascara is surely running… but when she offered me the feather, I started to get it that at least part of the song was about addiction; my addictions anyway. So in the song, she offers the guy one big black feather, and she says, “You can have anything you want if you can carry this away…” One gets it what a backbreaking task that one feather could be.

I have to date enjoyed 11 years alcohol free and 9 years tobacco free - both of which I fought with most of my life, including in 2008 when I was writing this song. I never could carry it, BTW. though I assert, with joy, that my experience is that God can carry it away, and will if God is sought…

So the song started out funny, and then thank God, got funnier still; for one, I decided I liked the way the complicated lyric in the slo-burn cabaret part sutured into the simple-minded sweetness of the chorus. It was sort of cool how the lyric seemed to move with the music, by turns sophisticated and very simple.

I struggle to write music that’s more than 1-4-5 folk, so when I get interesting music, I pay attention…..

I listened to this song, coming out of my mouth and off of my fingers, and I watched other people too when I played it.

In maybe 2018 I got a chance to try this in ensemble with an audience, and in an inspired moment invited mon vieux April Vanderwal to sing lead. She killed it (that is "did well" in music talk) in performance that night at West Hills, so in 2021 (for all the reasons noted above) the song made the list for this project.

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We gathered to record at the church on a quiet summer evening: me on acoustic guitar, April as lead vocal, Bill percussion, Rich bass, Jill Townley and Ruba Byrd and Melissa Thomas for harmony backup vocals. Nate was our recording engineer. We were going to at least take a shot at recording it ensemble-style, that is, all together (that is, the hard way).

So… this is where the story gets interesting. The facts are bald enough: for one, we figured out it was a piano song, not a Derek-on-the-guitar song. With Nate on keys, we tried a couple, of recordings, and frankly, I thought we got it… but…

What worked out over the summer and fall was that April was saying we can do better; I want to do better; I want more time with this, and so I asked her to produce it, and she did, and this is what we got back: and isn’t it amazing? It’s absolutely one of the important reasons I wanted anthology-style: room for people to stretch out.

There may be more to say about Angel, Big Black Wings down the road; I can stop here today. Keep scrolling: meet April, and Nate, and all the people who made this song happen.

  • Derek Labor Day Weekend, 2023 Eugene

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