Notes on the songs (i.e., what they're about), as told through: A whimsical homage to Folk and Jazz album liner notes of the 1950s and '60s, as perfected by the peerless Nat Hentoff. John de Roo crafts smart, thoughtful lyrical ballads and story-songs in the American grain. The 15 original songs of LONESOME STATIC stand as testimonial to that effect. At turns demonstrative, contemplative, sensual, bittersweet, humorous, and arcane, these folk-blues are unified by de Roo's devoted attention to natural detail and straight-shooting delivery. Each tune is presented as 'Whiskey, neat' - smooth but with a lingering emotional wallop - primarily via voice, guitar, and mouth harp. The aesthetic fondly recalls the in-your-living-room intimacy of a 1960s Vanguard 'long-player' LP. Finally, by way of introduction, these are 'Montana Songs,' written in and around Missoula and Western Montana, poetic personal works colored by the mythic land and character of Big Sky Country, aka The Last Best Place. 'A Real Riverine' launches LONESOME STATIC in bold, forceful fashion: 'Found a rock that fits the small of my back/by the bank of the Missouri (punned 'misery')/all alone, just how I like to be.' Here comes the archetypal American Loner, who steadfastly remains true to his code of wanderlust. But this outsider, to paraphrase Thoreau, is no more lonely than the North Star, finding his own brand of sweet and tender society in the river, and no companion so companionable as solitude. De Roo comments: 'I was road-tripping from Kalamazoo to Missoula and stopped one afternoon in Chamberlain, South Dakota. I wrote that song facing west out over the high bluffs, watching the freighters go up and down the big river - it's a place where, coming from the East, I sense the landscape start to open up and first really feel the spaciousness and allure of the West.' 'Lesson in Tears' plays with notions of justice and entitlement and describes a person who has just received a deserved comeuppance in the school of hard knocks called Life. A memorable guitar figure and close harmony singing underscore the protagonist's newfound humility and the lesson learned, which seems to be a variation on 'Know thyself.' The tone turns irreverent with 'Ursus Horriblilis (Montana Hikers' Supplication).' The title derives from the taxonomical name of the Grizzly Bear, literally, 'Horrible Bear.' De Roo says, 'I ran across a Forest Service pamphlet titled 'Bears DON'T Like Surprises!' - so I wrote a song to sing on the trail in Grizzly country to let the bears know you're coming.' Numerous birds of the Northern Rockies make cameos throughout - including a Pileated Woodpecker drumming in time - imparting an outdoorsy and sometimes frenetic feeling to the track. Knee slaps ('Levi's thighs') and Reba Devine's choir-like vocals provide requisite complementary spices to the trans-Gregorian melody. Bearanoia! 'The Talking Raven' is a remarkable narrative ballad that chronicles the story of a Raven who falls in love with a man. The tune is sung from the perspective of the bird itself. There may be overtones of colonial power in this Raven's blue-eyed stranger, shedding light on the mysterious obstacle to romance that recurs in the refrain: 'This mountain wasn't here before.' The melodic harmonica line, a hallmark of de Roo's style, serves as an integral part of the composition rather than mere accompaniment. In live performance, de Roo is known to introduce this number as 'a tragic tale of unrequited interspecies love,' a disarming witticism reminiscent of the absurdist score notations of Erik Satie. The spoken introduction to 'Miners' echoes Muddy Waters: 'Aw, sail on little honey bee, sail on.' The singer is reflecting on a soured relationship, which he likens to a treasure mine that has gone from a Carnival atmosphere to one of Lent. Now 'the silver's all played out,' and the couple are metaphorically blasting closed the mine shaft. Ultimately, the explosions will be cathartic: 'the dynamite will be my friend.' The improvised guitar passage that provides a transitional bridge between the second and third stanzas is noteworthy for it's terpsichorean descending line and chiseling onomatopoeia on the mining theme. 'In the Desolated Spaces' finds de Roo tilling ever deeper in the fertile fields of Duende. A remote Great Plains truck stop. Midnight. Thunderheads building, fierce lightning. Words of a love poem, magically transformed to raindrops, come tumbling earthward in the inevitable downpour. 'I have business with you, I have whispers with a lover/and the truck stop's grinding, and the air brakes sighing/and the scent of thunder, and the scent of diesel...' De Roo's best work constructs a backdrop, describes the scene from variegated angles, and delivers the play with passion. This epic, haunted road-ballad concludes with an extended, emphatically shouted blues couplet: 'I wish I was a knife, in my baby's hand/I'd rip right through this hard night...' The playful and flirtatious 'Must Be Comin' Down With Something' launches the second half of LONESOME STATIC. In spite of his crush on a fuzzy-legged barista, the singer's ennui threatens to overtake him here. Musical quotes from John Denver and Dr. Seuss punctuate the bridge, and 'a rusty cowbell from the Michigan farm where my mom grew up' keeps time on the choruses. 'Rain Becomes You' opens with the gentle chiming of housekeys suspended by fishing line from a coat hanger, an instrument de Roo devised as a child. A lovely fingerstyle guitar pattern augments the mood, and the tune is sung tenderly with chains of lyric imagery building to the dénouement. 'Let the Whirl Begin' is a frank and elegant poetic documentation of a transformative sexual experience. The song bursts forth with propulsive guitar and hushed voice, building through the second verse into what can best be termed an aeolian-avian musical orgasm: 'the east and west winds meet and swirl/in flocks of larks and swallows.' This is the elation of flight inside a hurricane romance, finally returning to Earth in the concluding verse: 'Lost in stalks of prairie grass, like crickets in September/I will keep you deep inside my pockets and remember...' De Roo's performance displays an impressively wide dynamic range from loud to soft and back again. This song is as close to folksong eroticism as it gets, folks. '7 Cups of Wine' is a fine achievement, as de Roo manages a fresh take on the universal but clichéd story of the unpremeditated one-night stand. 'I just tried to make it truthful and plainspoken. I always do my research: 6 cups empty the bottle; the 7th cup is the emptiness felt at the end of the song.' No ironic detachment here, just a star-crossed evening and early-morning honesty. The rhyme scheme is, oddly, suggestive of both Blakes, Blind (the bluesman) and William (the poet). The blues 'And So We' evokes the setting depicted on the album cover, a striking, moody, marvelous painting by Montana artist Stephanie Frostad entitled 'Night Navigators.' The lyrics trace the singer's internal dialogue (or is he speaking with that migrating Bluebird?), which is mirrored by the instrumental counterpoint between guitar and harmonica. The overall impression we as listeners receive is one of chilly evening peregrinations and the ephemeral nature of passing time. Rounding out this cycle of Montana Songs is 'Butte Is Short For Beauty,' de Roo's paean to the famed mining boomtown. 'I love Butte - it's a fascinating, and to me a very beautiful, place. There's this tangible feeling of human history present in the old Uptown. The tremendous mining wealth taken from the Earth there was gained at a terrible price, and that makes Butte very poignant. It's a unique post-industrial ghost town. Plus, it's the hometown of Evel Knievel - I never missed one of his jumps when I was a kid.' Daredevils aside, this writer once visited Butte, and the place IS oddly compelling: underground mine headframes and decrepit Victorian homes dot the hillsides; it's colorful history includes the Wobblies' labor struggles and a (still-functioning?) red-light district; and the colossal, egregious Berkeley Pit and 'Our Lady of the Rockies' statue dominate the landscape. Perhaps fittingly, the song inspired by all of this opens with an incongruity: a public telephone rings, and the party calling is the Copper Kings - the mining barons - instantly returning us to the halcyon days when Butte was known as 'The Richest Hill on Earth.' Here lies Butte as metaphor for the human condition - there is an air of resignation tempered with glowing pride in the wounds received on what must finally be understood as a beautiful journey. The commentary lent by the harmonica, or 'tin sandwich' as the miners say, is particularly eloquent in this regard. The three Bonus Tracks on LONESOME STATIC form a triptych complementing the main body of songs: A most unusual premise provides the underpinning for 'Porpoise Calling Flathead Lake.' While engrossed in a 'seemingly endless' Prajnaparamita sutra on Emptiness (Sanskrit Sunyata; Pali Sunna), de Roo became intrigued by the story of a sage who practiced the vocation of 'Porpoise-Caller.' 'I took that idea, kind of updated it, and wrote this song from the perspective of a guy who goes fishing at Flathead Lake. It brings back thoughts of childhood days fishing with my dad, where I first experienced the sort of meditative mindset that fishing can provide. Montana is probably the only state where fly-fishing could be called an organized religion. I wish there were still jobs like that in this world - porpoise caller, shepherd, fire lookout, lighthouse keeper.' Symphonic music lovers will be delighted to hear the mouth organ quoting Charles Ives' 'The Unanswered Question' toward the end of this song, which is book-ended with a minor-key melody 'inspired by some gypsies I met in Croatia.' The opening verse of 'Moonlighting' conjures up a moonrise over the Missoula Valley with lyrics that nearly suggest a time-travel collaboration between Lawrence Ferlinghetti and 8th century Chinese poet Tu Fu: 'Up comes the Friday moon/full and set to roll/down mountains, between the clouds/a tangerine in a pinball machine.' The song, according to de Roo, was inspired by a blues band called The Moonlighters and their regular Friday-night gig at Missoula's Union Club: 'At their best, those guys sound as if they've never heard a record made after 1954.' 'Myth Let Me Down' can be heard as a sort of morning-after companion piece to '7 Cups of Wine.' It sketches a Dostoevskyan scene: A bottle of Beaujolais is savored while outside the window snow gathers on the tree branches overnight. The singer's faith is challenged by a disappointing tryst with an iconic woman, who is personified by the 'dancing' harmonica. De Roo comments: "Myths can uplift and also devastate. For everything you create, something must be destroyed. It's the second law of thermodynamics and the first law of songwriting!' Let us leave Mr. John de Roo with the last word on LONESOME STATIC: 'These songs are my concentrated prayers to people and animals and landscapes I have known. The guitar, vocal, and harmonica are meant to be of one piece. I try to write words and make sounds that express something about our shared experiences, and I hope the result touches your feelings in some way.' HATTIE HOFFNET New York City, 2010.