If you enjoy new interpretations of class tunes from the American Songbook, also see my album Hard Place to Find. It was my follow-up endeavor after recording Song of Myself.
Song of Myself was my first "cover songs" project: reinterpretations of songs I've sung for decades, just me at the piano, playing for myself (and my wife). The title is from a work by Walt Whitman, the first poet I tried to emulate with my own early poetry.
In his poetry collection "Leaves of Grass," Walt Whitman wrote about his own death for many years before it actually ocurred. Similarly, these are song I'd love to be able to play at my own funeral. Perhaps my recent health issues with A1AD and related lung problems brought the idea to mind. It makes using Whitman's title "Song of Myself" all the more fitting.
I was unable to sing for over a year. The next few years (months?) may be a small window of time where I'm able to sing again. My voice lacks the strength, control and range that it had before my lungs began to shrink and fail and discomfort became omnipresent, but the aged quality of the vocal performance has a depth and poignancy a younger voice may not be able to achieve. ("Frozen Man" may be the boldest example of this idea.) One of the criteria I used to chose these songs was that the lyrics work with my "new" voice.
I spaced out the recordings over eight months because I experienced severe chest pains following most sessions, and once suffered a lung collapse, and therefore needed recovery time after each. But, as I tell myself, this gave me time to work on the arrangements.
These are songs that Mueller would like to be able to play at his own funeral. Although this concept sounds a little grim, songs are made more poignant by Mueller’s cough and vocal struggles. I’m not sure I’ve heard more heartfelt versions of some of these songs. Listeners looking for an artistic exploration and interpretation of some favorite songs will find much to like in "Song of Myself." Check it out!
The main purpose of each arrangement is to bring out the meaning and depth of the lyrics, highlighting them in inventive accompaniment phrasings, shifting harmonic settings, etc. Please pay special attention to the piano.
Two tracks are hydrid songs. "Blue Tattoo" combines material from 5 Joni Mitchell songs under a single emotional concept, using the structure of her song, "Blue," as the organizing principle. The other hydrid, "I Have Been Decieved," combines 3 Elton John songs into a single story line, although the main framework is his 1969 "The King Must Die." My version of "Blackbird" integrates a moment from Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," as well. In all cases, I'm trying to get at a deeper reading of specific lyrics, not merely trying to be clever. For those of you who know the originals, it will be a fun kind of audio treasure hunt, identifying the song a specific lyric comes from.
I've also altered lyrics to a few songs. Changes to Anderson's lyrics in "Let's Pretend" add an additional layer of meaning for me, make them more personal. I included his original lyrics for comparison on its lyrics page.
Track 11, a fantasy inspired by Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow," is an instrumental, a duet for piano and soprano sax (Woody Mankowski). A fitting final track. Plus, it was the first song I arranged on my new grand piano after it arrived!
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|1||Impossible Dream [Mitch Leigh/Joe Darion, from Man of la Mancha]|
|2||Dignity [Bob Dylan]|
|3||American Tune [Paul Simon]|
|4||Blue Tattoos [Joni Mitchell]|
|5||Blackbird [Paul McCartney]|
|6||Being Alive [Stephen Sondheim, from Company]|
|7||Frozen Man [James Taylor]|
|8||I Have Been Deceived [Elton John/Bernie Taupin]|
|9||Let's Pretend [Anderson/Wakeman/Bruford/Howe] (altered lyrics)|
|10||Oh Danny Boy [traditional, lyrics by Federic Weatherly]|
|11||No Place Like Home [Arlen/Mueller]|
|12||Before There Were Gods [lyrics by Tobin Mueller, music by Mueller/Hedges]|