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Edge of the Earth

Bob's Album NotesApril 19th, 2014

This record, 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.

If you're interested to know more about the music, where it comes from and how it was recorded, read on.

Thank-you for listening.

The Guitar
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. H
is shop in Lewiston, Maine produces the finest hand-made guitars played by Bob's
                    Bourgeoismany 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.

I was 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.

On 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.

Hungry Goat Studio
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 especially Cate.

And thanks to Laurie Murison and Laurie Schreiber for generous last-minute help fact-checking and editing my notes.

The Tunes:

1. Planxty Fanny Powers (O’Carolan, 1670-1738) (02:42) Tuned ECGCGE
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.

Turlough O'Carolan:
At the age of 18, Turlough O'Carolan, son of 17th-century
Bob's Bourgeois -
                backlaborers 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.

O'Carolan wrote Fanny a poem, too. Here's a translation from the Irish:

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 feast.
I challenge the one who would ever ask a dowry for you,
O Pearl-Child of white hands.

2. 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:

3. Phalarope Murmurs (03:10)
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 parts.

Little 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.

When 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 rnphalaropes_sittinghave 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 before heading on to primarily tropical oceans off Africa, South America, and beyond for the winter.

The Copepods
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
rnphalaropes_flyingwater. 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 murmurations.
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.

4. The Butterfly, Kid on the Mountain (Irish traditional) (03:15)
Two well-known Irish slip jigs (9/8 time)
that I have played most of my life.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Planxty Nora (02:54)
1982. Honoring a brief, implausible infatuation.

8. Edge of the Earth (02:16)Southern Head
1986. A waltz, maybe better described as a slow jig, in DADGAD tuning.

9. The Road to Glassville (01:41)
1983. Commemorating a road trip with friends looking to buy a farm in New Brunswick.

10. 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.

11. Miss MacDermott (O’Carolan) (01:41) Also called "The Princess Royal"

12. 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 muffins.

13. Gallimaufry (02:39)
1975. Instrumental themes from four outgrown songs of teenage angst.

14. 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.

15. The Rights of Man (J. Hill ?, 1811-1853) (03:17)
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.

16. Margaret’s Waltz (Pat Shuldham-Shaw, 1917-1977) (02:48)
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.

Here's a bit more about Pat Shaw from an introduction to a book of collected memories edited by Brenda Godrich:

Patrick 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 England.

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.


17. Lament (02:47) Dropped D tuning
1998. I composed this simple little tune as a last-minute request for a Public Television documentary.
Since 2003, I have dedicated it to the memory of my crewmember and friend, Jackie Ciano.