Recorded and mixed by James Schroeder at ARC in Omaha, Nebr., September 2020. Adam Roberts helped engineer and was an all-around problem-solver.
Kevin Donahue: drums, percussion Stefanie Drootin: singing on “Phaethon” Colin Duckworth: electric guitar, dobro Dan McCarthy: guitar, piano, accordion, singing James Maakestad: upright bass, singing, string arrangements Morgan Nagler: singing on “Phaethon” Megan Siebe: cello, viola, violin, string arrangements
Horn arrangements by Luke Annis Luke Annis: trombone Lauren Milbourn: clarinet, bass clarinet Brian Nelsen: trumpet Hector Tornez: saxophone
Mastered by Doug Van Sloun at Focus Mastering in Omaha, Nebr.
All songs by McCarthy Trenching (SESAC)
Cover photo by Harrison Martin
Layout by Micah Schmiedeskamp
In the week leading up to the recording of this album, I went out to mow the lawn and found that the red maple tree between the sidewalk and the curb had cracked in half. Not from a storm or any other violence, just from the way it had grown. Until that day, I believed it was healthy and that it would outlive me. The red maple was still standing, its leaves just starting to turn in mid-September, but it was badly injured. I had planted it twelve years before, after the previous resident of that spot, a large linden tree, was uprooted in a severe storm.
I called Jack Phillips and asked if he would come take a look. He did right away, and told me the situation was dangerous. It was likely that the tree would fall onto a car or a pedestrian, maybe very soon. He called his associate Keith to tie a rope around the limbs and trunk to stabilize the tree for the time being, but there was no option other than removal. The city foresters came the next day, and it took them about twenty minutes to remove the tree that I had looked at nearly every day for a dozen years, the view out my window when I practice piano.
Thanks to Jack for his book The Bur Oak Manifesto, and for providing me with a new tree for the front yard, a red oak grown from an acorn harvested in an old grove in Iowa.
Other debts and books:
I wrote “The Glorious Giving In” for the band High Up, which starred the Fink sisters, Christine and Orenda. At their second performance, I heard them singing a dynamite version of “Lovely Still” and thought, I want to write a song for this band. The phrase “glorious ‘giving in’” is from David Foster Wallace.
“I Didn’t Come to Town to Get a Haircut” is something I heard my uncle Jerry say once. Jerry started the actual business called McCarthy Trenching, which does water and sewer projects in Iowa. I wrote this song for Dolores Diaz and the Stand-By Club, and I hope that band can perform it someday.
Some details in “Russian Olive” came from my grandma, Marie McCarthy, but any errors of fact or feeling are mine. Grandma is honest, and her memory is good. The musical quotation at the beginning of the song is, of course, Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1.”
“Asking for a Friend” owes something to Sigrid Nunez’s book The Friend. A tactic, maybe, and an awareness of a dog audience.
“Phaethon” owes some of its story to Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, an essential reference.
The Sibley Guide to Trees is another essential reference, most every day, when I haven’t lent my copy to somebody.
Just before making the album and quite a while after “Fruitless Beauty” was written, I read this in Eula Biss’s Having and Being Had: “I wade through the field of wild raspberries, the thorns tearing at my clothes, and this task seems newly impossible. The pursuit of beauty is fruitless, I think.”
The god of the sun had a son But the kid didn’t see his dad much The dad had to be at work at dawn And was high overhead at lunch But mostly, he just didn’t make time And though he wanted to keep his son out of danger By the time he showed up, the kid was grown up And didn’t want advice from a stranger
It was a fairly typical death The kid in a fiery wreck Kind of unbelievably tragic And kind of what we expect What I like is what happened next His sisters gathered down by the river It was there that their bodies turned into poplar trees And their teardrops turned into amber
I like having friends who write songs You can summon them whenever you want They’re easy to get on the phone Even when they’re long gone I wanted to write you a song To preserve our friendship in amber Between you and me, the tears of a tree That’s an image I’d like to remember