Joel Mabus | Western Passage (Suite for Solo Guitar)

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Jazz: Smooth Jazz Folk: Fingerstyle Moods: Solo Instrumental
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Western Passage (Suite for Solo Guitar)

by Joel Mabus

Acoustic fingerstyle jazz on a classical guitar – meditations & improvisations on traditional American themes. Long out-of-print classic, now available for download.
Genre: Jazz: Smooth Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Big Scioty
3:16 $0.99
2. Waltz of the Lonely Shepherd
3:35 $0.99
3. Shenandoah
3:21 $0.99
4. Amazing Grace
3:05 $0.99
5. Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing
2:17 $0.99
6. The Cowboy's Dream
3:22 $0.99
7. Memories of El Dorado
4:58 $0.99
8. Days of '49
6:30 $0.99
9. Flat River Girls
2:30 $0.99
10. Wayfaring Stranger
3:22 $0.99
11. To Anacreon in Heaven (Star-Spangled Banner)
2:50 $0.99
12. The Healing River (Guadalupe)
2:49 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
The guitarist’s thoughts in 2013, seventeen years after recording “Western Passage – Suite for Solo Guitar”:

At the time I thought I was recording folk music, and in a certain sense I was. But listening now I hear only jazz. Not swing, bebop or avant-garde jazz, but definitely the liberties of a jazz approach to the wide sonic landscape of the classical guitar. A meditation on the old themes of nineteenth century American music, to be sure. But listen to the quick riffing blues changes of “Amazing Grace” or the minor seventh chords & clave rhythm of “Wayfaring Stranger” and you will agree this is jazz at play, good, bad or indifferent. Some other tracks fall squarely in the column of modern fingerstyle guitar, itself a fusion of folk and post-bebop jazz.

Someone coming to this album for a strict reading of early American music will be sorely misled. This is a modern take -- albeit an acoustic, cool, late twentieth century take -- on Americana. (Before “Americana” became a marketing term for new country music, the peg that it has become.) What I mean when I say Americana, is the raw democratic spirit, with all its flaws and inconsistencies, that blazed the trails, chopped the timber, mined the ore and planted the harvest. It is the transplanting of the old world into the new, and the mulligan stew of melodies and rhythms from every corner of that old world, whether brought to these shores in steamer trunks or in chains.

That’s one tall order.

This album fell out of print a few years ago. It had been recorded in the early days of digital recording, before iPods & telephones could hold entire libraries in your back pocket. Before CDBaby. In fact it was initially released as both CD and cassette tape! And now these digits on the disc are being flung into the clouds. And with a click or two, you can travel in time to 1996, when the internet was only for universities, Clinton was up for re-election, books were up on a shelf, and Amazon was a river in Brazil.

But seventeen years on and more than a dozen solo albums later, I am somewhat impressed with my younger self. Not bragging on talent – that is for you to judge. But I did show some chutzpah here. To hang a brooding minor resolution onto Shenandoah, and craft a throbbing rhythmic tone poem from four folk melodies in “Days of ‘49” – I want to meet the cheeky lad that had that kind of nerve.

I think the project holds up. And I still think it works as a 40 minute listen, straight through, as a suite. Of course few people have the time for that luxury in this “playlist” era. Listen at your own pace. I will add that part of the inspiration for this work was falling in love with my first decent classical guitar – a nice studio model from the Jose Ramirez company – that came into my possession in the year before the recording. Many quiet sessions alone on my back porch led to the compositions and arrangements here. I’ve always told my own students that the only way to learn guitar is to sit with one in your lap for long periods of time. And explore!

What follows here is the blank verse I wrote for the CD booklet back in 1996, and the original track notes included therein. Onward! -- Joel Mabus, November, 2013

Western Passage

I think of those who came before me --
Searchers in a foreign land
Bringing with them what they could
To improvise a new beginning.
They came with maps so dearly bartered,
A guide to show them one true way,
Neatly folded and consulted
Every day to reconcile
The path before them with the charter,
A touchstone for the trail ahead.

But every map is someone else's
Memory of another journey.
The map itself is not the travel --
The page remains to tell the tale.
And if that tale be full of fable,
Fantasy, exaggeration --
A dreamscape for the pioneer
To follow only as a skeptic,
How then more boldly fall the footstep,
Then more boldly roll the wheel.

As I make my western passage
I think of those who've gone ahead,
Left behind their maps and legends --
Stories of the world they knew.
But my new journey is my own.
Another's lines I read before me
Trace a landscape oddly different
Than the path I choose to travel.
Still, the maps my elders left me
Are the tales I know the best.

As I recite their tattered stories,
As I play their songs of old --
Songs of hope and songs of blessing,
Songs of anger and despair,
Songs of greed and exploitation,
Simple songs of humble labor,
Melodies for dance or sorrow,
The sacred harp for times of prayer --
Each song's a map I deeply treasure,
A guide for where I long to go.

My fingers search to find that passage --
The hidden path I must discover.
That way may be, for some, familiar
Yet for me a new beginning --
A meditation on the past
To better see the world before me.
And so I chart my observations
As I pass beyond the boundary,
As I make my western passage
Across the wild frontier.

-- Joel Mabus 1996

1 Big Scioty
A river that flows through Columbus, Ohio, and a fine American fiddle tune.

2 Waltz of the Lonely Shepherd
'Round and 'round he twirls on the grassy slope, alone of his species, dancing amid his flock, who look on in stupid wonder, deaf to the tune of the shepherd's waltz.

3 Shenandoah
An old song of the Voyageurs -- "The white man loved the red man's daughter."

4 Amazing Grace
The words, written by a repentant slave trader, were set to this older American melody. I play it here as a blues.

5 Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing
Banjoist Tony Ellis reminded me of the beauty of this early hymn. Several different melodies have been used for the same words. (tuning CGCGCD)

6 The Cowboy's Dream
An American fiddle tune, perhaps named for the old cowboy poem. I learned this tune from banjo player, Jan Ryan. (tuning CGCGCD)

7 Memories of El Dorado
The cruel conquistadors ravaged the Americas in search of gold. The rabid search for El Dorado ("the gilded one") and Coronado's Seven Cities of Cibola may well have been the first incarnation of the American dream. (tuning CGCGCD)

8 Days of '49
Four songs of exploit and danger are woven here: Days of '49, Jam At Gerry's Rocks, The Buffalo Skinners, and The Flying Cloud. "In the days of old, in the days of gold, how oft-times I repine -- for the days of old when we dug up the gold, in the days of '49." (tuning DADGBE)

9 Flat River Girls
The sweetest of the shanty boy melodies, sometimes called Jack Haggarty. The Flat River flows by Greenville in west Michigan. "I'm a broken-hearted raftsman, for me there's no rest. I'll shoulder my peavey and I'll go out west. I'm off to Muskegon, some pleasures to find -- I'll leave my old Flat River darlin' behind”

10 Wayfaring Stranger
An old American song that wandered it's way into the Sacred Harp tradition and beyond.

11 To Anacreon in Heaven
The setting for Francis Scott Key's war poem is this old drinking song, designed to stretch the revelers' throats. The melody still does that, for those who choose to try it. Anacreon himself was a Greek poet from the sixth century BC, known to wax rhapsodic about the grape.

12 The Healing River (Guadalupe)
The Guadalupe flows gently through Comfort in Kerr County, Texas.

All selections published by Fingerboard Music, BMI
Composed by Joel Mabus from original & traditional themes.
Original recording engineered by Gary Reid of DGA studios in East Lansing, MI



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