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my first, is a collection of my compositions spanning
more than 40 years. I also include a few folk melodies
that mean a lot to me. I hope you enjoy them.
interested to know more about the music, where it
comes from and how it was recorded, read on.
The music on Edge of the Earth is performed on a
venerated guitar built for me by Dana Bourgeois in
1986. Today Dana is one the most respected luthiers in
the world. His
shop in Lewiston, Maine produces the finest hand-made guitars played by many
of the very best recording artists. But back then he
was famous locally, building outstanding custom
guitars and doing repairs in the basement of his home.
He kept my various antique Martin guitars and Gibson
mandolins repaired and functioning. One day while
finishing work on my 1930 Martin OM 18, Dana told me
about a new project he had in the works with master
guitarist and collector Eric Schoenberg. They planned
to build OM-style guitars with a cutaway – unique at
the time – inspired by the Selmer Maccaferri manouche
guitars of the 1930s. We started planning my new
guitar that day.
extremely fortunate that Dana encouraged me to
participate in my guitar's creation. I had a hand in
choosing the specific pieces of wood from which it is
built, a process that went from tap-testing the
tonewoods to suggesting certain design ideas. This
collaboration with Dana and his then-apprentice, TJ
Thompson, created a magnificent instrument from wood
specifically chosen for its tone. The pieces include
Brazilian rosewood cut a century ago, red spruce
collected by Dana on Maine’s Roque Island, ebony
pyramid belly bridge, bar frets, layered wooden
purfling, curly maple binding, and abalone rosette.
this recording, my guitar was strung with Newtone
Heritage strings. Handmade in England, these
round-core strings have a reduced and virtually equal
tension when tuned to pitch. I started using these
strings in 2013 to give my hands a break when my
performance days became particularly long. I love
their feel and sound.
The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered by
the skillful and patient John Kurgan. He somehow
cajoled these performances from me during the long,
cold, snowy winter of 2013-2014 at his Hungry Goat
Studio in Bar Harbor, Maine. I am so very grateful
that he was willing to work with me to make the record
that I imagined. Email me
for info if you'd like to record on Mount Desert
Island – I highly recommend it.
Appreciation and thanks to so many friends,
musicians, artists, and family who inspired,
encouraged and advised this project including:
Michael Hughes, Eric Schoenberg, James Van Nuys,
Mark Kanter, Brian Smith, Kathy Lauder, and
And thanks to
Laurie Murison and Laurie Schreiber for generous
last-minute help fact-checking and editing my notes.
Planxty Fanny Powers (O’Carolan, 1670-1738)
I suppose this is my favorite O'Carolan tune. I've
played it forever. It's often played as a jig, which
is nice, but I think it's suited to a slow, stately
pace. It's lovely for weddings. Fanny (Frances)
Power was the daughter and heiress of David and
Elizabeth Power of Coorheen, Loughrea.
At the age of 18, Turlough O'Carolan, son of
17th-century laborers in County Meath, Ireland,
went blind from smallpox, a disease that was usually
fatal in his day. A wealthy local family, the
MacDermott-Roes, came to his aid and provided him with
music instruction, a harp, a horse, and a guide.
Thanks to this early patronage, O'Carolan began a long
life as a traveling musician and composer serving the
wealthy families of Ireland, staying in their estates
and castles, and often composing music in their honor.
“Planxty” is his word for the compositions he made in
honor of his patrons. His tunes are generally very
melodic and are really well-suited to guitar.
wrote Fanny a poem, too. Here's a translation from the
I wish to
speak of a gracious young lady,
A loveable lady of beauty and reputation,
Who lives in the town near the bay of Loch Riabhach.
I'm thankful that I had the chance to meet her.
She's lively, airy, - a cultured fine maiden,
The love of all Ireland and a nice cultured pearl.
O drink up now and don't be slack!
To Fanny, the daughter of David.
She is the swan at the edge of the bay,
Crowds of men are dying for her love.
She's nice gentle Fanny of locks and braids,
Who often gets the prize for beauty.
May I not leave this world, if I may be so bold,
Unless I can first cheerfully dance at your wedding
I challenge the one who would ever ask a dowry for
O Pearl-Child of white hands.
Chummy’s New Boat (02:21)
2011. I spent one winter many years ago working for
famed Maine wooden boat builder, Robert “Chummy” Rich.
When I was asked to score a short documentary about
him, I came up this tune for the main theme. You can
watch the whole film (33 minutes) here, if you like:
1985. This tune was inspired by a phenomenon in
nature called a murmuration, which I was fortunate to
observe frequently while studying seabirds and and
marine mammals in the Bay of Fundy and coast of Maine
in the early 1980s. It's an interesting story—not
mine, but nature's. I try to tell it in three short
birds in the big sea
Phalaropes are tiny,
sparrrow-size birds that spend 11 months of each year at
sea as they migrate between the Northern and Southern
Hemispheres. Two species are common in the Gulf of Maine
during the late summer and fall – Red, Phalaropus
fulicarius and Red-necked, Phalaropus lobatus.
They breed along the northernmost edges of land in the
high Arctic. Up on their tundra breeding ground, the
brightly-colored females lay their eggs in a simple
hollow in low vegetation near the shores of pools and
lakes. Once that job is done some females may search for
a second mate and lay another clutch, but most
of them head back out to sea. Their mates then incubate
the eggs and rear the chicks alone. Either way, only
days after arriving in the Arctic, the females turn
around and begin their southern migration. By mid- to
late July the females have traveled 2,000 miles south to
the offshore waters of the coast of Maine and the Maritimes.
up on their Arctic breeding
grounds phalaropes look and behave very much like “sandpipers.” Yet they
differ from other
shorebirds in a
number of remarkable ways. Most shorebird/waders rarely swim, if at all, but phalaropes have
oddly lobed toes for swimming and swim nearly all the
time. When they arrive
back in the
Gulf of Maine, they do not come to the land at all. Instead they
settle upon the water, sometimes in massive flocks, to feed on zooplankton. Phalaropes do not
dive, so they must find food at the surface. They often spin on the
water creating little whirlpools that pull tiny
crustaceans in so they
can catch them more easily. In the late summer and
fall the males and their
young also arrive in these waters to rest and feed
on to primarily
tropical oceans off Africa, South America, and beyond
for the winter.
For several years in the late 1970's into the early
'80s, the northern Gulf of Maine experienced a boom of tiny planktonic
crustaceans called copepods—specifically the
species, Calanus finmarchicus, an especially large, nutritious variety loved by fish,
northern right whales, and seabirds. These concentrations became so dense in regions where strong tidal upwellings
are found in the Bay of Fundy and offshore ledges like
Mount Desert Rock and Matinicus Rock, Maine, that
huge patches of the light-sensitive copepods appeared at the surface both day and night. I remember scooping up thousands at a time in
my hat so guests on my boat could have a better look.
The early 80's
Gulf of Maine copepod boom had a significant effect on migrating
birds, including the phalaropes. It's estimated
that perhaps one million Red and
Red-necked phalaropes came to feed in
the Bay of Fundy annually during those years. I was
studying whales and seabirds from my boat the Island
Queen during this period. Many late-summer days
we would come upon flocks of 10,000 to perhaps 50,000
birds spinning and pecking on the water. On calm days, I would often shut
down the engine and drift into these flocks. They
would part in front of us and close in behind us until
we were completely surrounded by tiny birds and their
constant peeping sounds. Some days, they would take to
the sky in a huge swirling mass that could be seen for
miles, moving in remarkable unison and harmony like a
fantastic school of fish or a living cloud of smoke.
"Murmuration" is the term for large flocks of birds
behaving in this way, named from the humming sound
their wings make. Phalarope murmuration videos are
uncommon, but the Web has many videos of starling
Here is one of my favorites:
By the mid-'80s, phalarope numbers began decreasing in the inshore areas of
the Bay of Fundy and continued to decline through that
decade. Their disappearance was likely linked to changing copepod distribution
and abundance during the same period. Thousands of birds
are still found in the late summer in the Bay and offshore
Gulf of Maine, but the huge
murmurations of tens of thousands of phalaropes
flying as one have been a rare sight in coastal
waters for decades.
The Butterfly, Kid on the Mountain (Irish
Two well-known Irish slip jigs (9/8 time) that I
have played most of my life.
Farewell to the Isles (01:58)
1980. In the dead of winter, and with very mixed
emotions, I packed everything I owned into a
small boat and sailed three miles to the mainland from
the little island where I mostly grew up. Then I made
up this tune.
The Recycled Rag (03:13)
2013. Another homemade tune, but it feels so
familiar and full of ragtime clichés that I
wonder if I put any original ideas in it at all. Some
of my favorite fingerstyle guitarists – Eric
Schoenberg, Dakota Dave Hull, Guy Van Duser, and
others – are virtuosos and scholars
of ragtime guitar. I am not. At all. I know almost
nothing about it.
Planxty Nora (02:54)
1982. Honoring a brief, implausible infatuation.
Edge of the Earth (02:16)
1986. A waltz, maybe better described as a slow
jig, in DADGAD tuning.
The Road to Glassville (01:41)
1983. Commemorating a road trip with friends
looking to buy a farm in New Brunswick.
Mrs. Judge (O’Carolan) (03:17)
This tune and the one that follows were my first
arrangements of O'Carolan's music from the 1970s.
Miss MacDermott (O’Carolan) (01:41) Also
called "The Princess Royal"
An Order of Blues to Go (02:39) Tuned ECGCGE
1980. One hopelessly bad morning, I walk into Jordan's
Restaurant in Bar Harbor, Maine just as Rita
calls out these words to the cook. Jordan's is
world-famous for its wild blueberry pancakes and
1975. Instrumental themes from four outgrown songs
of teenage angst.
Till Tomorrow (02:27)
1985. When this tune appeared in a Public
Television film about the marine research station on
Mount Desert Rock, Maine, Kim, the research director,
called it the “happy song.” Yup.
The Rights of Man (J. Hill ?, 1811-1853)
I loved this beautiful Northumberland hornpipe even
before I first saw Norman and Nancy Blake play it on
guitar and cello decades ago: then I loved it more. My
arrangement has expanded over the years as I've stolen
licks from Eric Schoenberg, Duck Baker, and everyone
else. Probably composed by James Hill, a
Scottish-born, Northumberland fiddler.
Margaret’s Waltz (Pat Shuldham-Shaw,
One of my favorites from my days in the Bass Harbor
String Band and Kitchen Junket during the '80s; we
learned it from Bill Spence's playing. "Margaret's
Waltz" was composed in 1959 by Pat Shaw for his
friend, Margaret Grant, upon her retirement from the
English Folk Dance and Song Society in Devon. Pat Shaw
was a most interesting and remarkable folk music
collector, composer, and dance master, whose life and
work should be better known on this side of the
puddle. The tune is included on my record by kind
permission of Pat Shaw's brother, Christopher, and
EFDSS, where his collection is housed.
a bit more about Pat Shaw from an introduction to a
book of collected memories edited by Brenda Godrich:
Shuldham-Shaw was a man of many talents. He had a
thirst for learning and had not only an
encyclopedic knowledge of most subjects (including
whiskey and food) he was an authority on the folk
music, song and dance of many countries. He played
many instruments and spoke many languages –
indeed, it was said that there were none he could
not just pick up and play or converse in. He was a
fine singer, natural teacher and a lover of puns
with a sometimes wicked sense of humour.
Pat collected traditional tunes – most notably in
Shetland where he noted down tunes which had
previously been passed on orally. He edited The
Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection which was
published in eight volumes after his death. He was
a ‘Roving Ambassador’ for the Sing for Pleasure
movement. Most of all he was an authority on and
composer of English Country Dances.
It was his prodigious output of dances in all
styles and levels of complexity which has led him
to be labeled the Twentieth Century Dancing
Master. He took his dances to Wales, Scotland,
Holland and the U.S.A. as well as all over
But Pat was also full of charm and enthusiasm and
had a charisma which led to him being loved and
well remembered by all who knew him.
Lament (02:47) Dropped
1998. I composed this simple little tune as a
last-minute request for a Public Television
Since 2003, I have dedicated it to the memory of my
crewmember and friend, Jackie Ciano.