About ‘Ballads with balls’

bwbI’m very happy, after a very devoted week of production, to put out ‘Ballads with balls,’ an all-ballad album whose concept originated from Marty Friedman saying in interviews that he could easily and would like to someday make such an album. I ‘borrowed’ that idea, and calling to mind past works of mine, put things down on record, with bass and drums to make it official.

It’s impossible to put into words a wordless activity such as melody, but it’s fun nonetheless to refer to associations I make in the process of musicmaking. So that’s all my ado before getting right to it:

Snow globe – Much of ‘Ballads with balls’ was inspired, title-wise, by decades-old movies. ‘Snow globe’ came from the 1940 movie ‘All this, and Heaven too,’ in a line said by Charles Boyer to Bette Davis. I like to think that the music, which I first devised in December 2010, gives a sense, as in the movie, of the rest of the world being “obliterated” from the present moment between humans.

Certainly richer – The title is from a line in Alfred Hitchcock’s early-color feature ‘Rope.’ I particularly like the melodies, created November 2010, where I unleash my unabashed love of Japanese-style music.

Courage here, too – This comes from a Tennessee Williams poem read in the play/movie ‘The night of the iguana.’ The rhythm has several influences, ranging from Dave Matthews to Alex Lifeson to Chris DeGarmo. This piece, when I played it in November 2010, signaled the start of a very motivated, prolific half year of improvisations.

First night – I’d recorded a couple of versions of the music contained here, separately in January 2012 and May 2014, and so you get a main part at a slow, even tempo, and a short, quicker coda, which reminds me of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on fire.’

Time in vain – I’ve had the basic idea for this as early as December 2000, and then I made a more complex version in November 2010. I don’t know what the title means really, but it sounds emo.

The pure of heart – An ode to Melanie Hamilton from ‘Gone with the wind,’ as portrayed by now-centenarian Olivia De Havilland. Written in February 2011. It was around this time that I put into practice a simple device to spur melodic creativity:  play a limited number of notes, and let the whole piece revolve around this pattern. That’s what I do here, with the notes D-E-F#-G played in succession.

Eyes closed, ears closer – The simple reason this is entitled ‘Eyes closed’ is that my eyes were closed when I first made this in June 2003. This first version was done without a pick, the difference of which I attribute the flow of ideas here. The ‘ears closer’ in the title was an afterthought in tribute to Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The godfather.’

Thrilled content – First composed in May 2011, but the phrase ‘thrilled but content’ is how I tried to capture a feeling I had in 2006.

Crutches – In September 2003, three months after ‘Eyes closed’ where I created something good without a pick, I tried going pickless again, hoping that doing so wouldn’t “become a crutch.”

All around – Originally created after the first version of ‘Crutches’ and another piece, within the same fifteen-minute period or so, in September 2003. In the first two notes, I hear the words ‘Good night…’ so it strikes me as a lullaby.

Men playing gods – Title from the 1932 movie ‘The man who played God,’ whose plot by now I’ve forgotten after having seen it in January 2011. I like how the piece is somewhat happy but carrying sadness.

White twilight – I might have gotten the words ‘white twilight’ from a book I opened randomly to find a title, or it might have just come to my head. The earlier versions I’ve made of this contained MIDI piano, whose melodies I did on the guitar instead this time around. Written October 2003, free from associations of twilight with vampire-werewolf love triangles.

Grin reaping – A dumb pun used on an early and rare display of me navigating through various key changes with little effort, in June 2006.

Valentine’s Day – Entitled so because it was first made up on Valentine’s Day 2011. The title seems much cooler since the melodies sound so heartbroken, are wrenching even.

Thin girl – First entitled pertaining to the wife of ‘The thin man,’ Nora Charles, played by Myrna Loy, I figured a simpler title would be better, so I got ‘Thin Girl’ from what Gary Cooper calls Audrey Hepburn in ‘Love in the afternoon.’ Written July 2011.

The bullfighter’s solitude – I don’t particularly like Hemingway, except maybe for his description of bullfights and boxing. I hadn’t even read ‘The sun also rises’ at this point in November 2010, but I had just seen the movie, starring among others Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner. The first time I played this was very solemn, from the simple strumming of the chords, to the delicate laying out of the tune, which starts off vaguely like Marty Friedman’s version of ‘Thais.’

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