“Detours To A Better Highway” by bill mallonee

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(Bill Mallonee is a singer-songwriter with over 50 albums to his credit. Rolling Stone has said: “Mallonee the troubadour has remained fascinated with the shadowy emotional toils and struggles inherent in the American experience; compelling, insightful, he continues to probe through Americana rock and roll proving that sometimes the only story worth telling is that of the journey.”  – Rolling Stone
Releasing as many as 4-5 album/EPs a  year, he  is constantly engaged with an inner dialogue that seeks to be made manifest. “I’ve been writing, recording & touring for 20 years,” he says. “The songs still come because the journey is still new & alive. If i do my job right, I assume it’ll resonate with others experiences. We’re all basically living in the same skin.”  The excerpt below are liner notes from a compilation album of songs he recorded on a 4-Track recorder. These songs were recorded in cabins in Appalachia, adobe casitas in the high-deserts of New Mexico and in his hometown of Athens, Ga.)

“Detours To A Better Highway” by Bill Mallonee

“The WPA series of recordings (there have been 20 installments over 4 years) was born out of situations both external & internal. Life, in its ideal, is lived by compass points & co-ordinates. Having something to navigate towards is a blessing, I suspect, we too often take for granted. After the dissolution of my first marriage & the “disowning” of my work by a certain cross-section of previous fans, I found I was without label, manager, booking agent or any of the resources that I had to make records & tour with. I had labored long & hard for over 10 years, writing, recording & touring. Now, it all appeared to be in shambles. There is no doubt life as an artist can be “hard.” The life that seems so alluring & fulfilling often has unseen “price tags.” For artists there are “never any guarantees” about how things will fall out. These things happen daily to all of us, of course. I am under no illusion. No one is exempt from life’s harshness.

Still, as one who at that point had spent 10 years in a van, young, hungry and willing to please, the overwhelming sense of dis-ownership by fans over my divorce was heart-breaking. All of this was taking place while each new release was being praised, each new tour was seemingly successful. Call it a “run of bad luck, ” but the litany of other betrayals both personal & professional was sobering. All of it? A wake up call.
There was also such a thing as disgust with one’s own self. Not a new issue, but a chronic, if not neurotic, sense of guilt and failure had been driving my psyche all through college and well into my first years as a husband and new father. The unsuccessful attempts to tune out & stare down such dark intrusions was a candle burning at both ends. I suspect songwriting was always an attempt to “make sense” of a world within in which I often felt invisible, if not outright dammed. “Bad religion?” The most destructive thing on the planet.Sometimes you make songs just to keep the dark away. That was one of the impetuses behind my approaching song-writing differently. With no band to help or abet the fleshing out of new songs, song composition was to become a more solitary venture.
Anyway, in this desert-land of self-doubt & discouragement the Works (in) Progress Administration EPs were “born.” I have always written a great deal.  These recordings, consisting of 5 to 8 sings each, emerged about every 3-4 months. A limited, simple Zoom 4-track recording device became a path out of the sad terrain.
The songs came fast. The lyrics, faster still. Quick audio-sketches, hit with authority. Postcards from the terminal ward. Suddenly, (and almost effortlessly) a new world opened up. I now had the chance to write & record secondary & tertiary guitar parts, weaving them harmonically and responsively with one another. For hours on end I would play parts over & over (driving Muriah crazy, I’m sure!) until some new aspect, some new musical statement was realized. Lyrically, I wanted vulnerability & immediacy to be the hallmark in these songs. whether they were of a confessional, or grieving, observational or cathartic nature, I was having fun again. Songs were fleshed out, more parts added. I experimented with what sort of melody lines should be allowed to “speak” in a song, what weight to give to vocal phrases. Things like this opened a whole new world of just “what” makes a song a wonderful thing.
Initial ideas grew, took shape, and finally were recorded as well as i knew how back then and released in the WPA format. I sorted through the vast treasure trove of Americana art, posters, and nostalgia works. I began to read in depth and at length the great works of American authors of the period in our nations rise & expansion. Hundreds of histories, myths, legends, photos & diary excerpts found their way into my hands. Stories we should be proud of, stories we should stand in awe of…and things we should be ashamed of.And Music? It became a challenging & joyous thing a again; something full of promise, beckoning; And yes, something healing. (Eventually, many of these songs would up on very large plains indeed! The national releases of “The Power & The Glory” & “Amber Waves” received fantastic press & garnered “fab” reviews.)Though we may feel only the stumbling & inconstancy of our steps in day-to-day existence, m

aybe God “loses” nothing in our lives. Perhaps the place where our new-found “wisdom” and experience meet, while intensely personal, is something that has to be journeyed through in order to become real and lasting.
I know that the best “sermons” are the one’s you write and preach daily to yourself.

Whether it was through my guitar arsenal of an ancient Gibson,  a beat-up old Spanish guitar, or a 50 year old arch-top that one had to wrestle into submission, or raw Neil Young “Harvest” era electrics, I was becoming free inside and more confident with each WPA offering. In the process, I was able to trust my intuitive sense, my gut level. All became effortless again.
“Renderings” is by no means the totality of musical landscapes that I was traversing, locked away in a small room with guitars & coffee. There were easily 50 to sixty songs written during this year. But these selected tracks from Volumes 1-4 do represent some of the mile-markers that I crossed as I tried to regain a sense of self.

Call this all a “small” experiment. “Self-absorbed” was putting it mildly. Still, the anodyne these songs yielded brought confidence back and were the catalyst to creative growth and my soul’s integration.
It goes without saying that the themes of grief, wayward humanity and (finally) hope surfaced here.
After all the work, and the settling of dust, I found I could draw an affirming breath again. I’ve never lost sight of whatever gift or grace was extended to me during this time. I don’t know whether it was something wrestled from the hands of angels, as I was driven to create something new from the wreckage of my past, or it was something more like pure gift making itself manifest in my work. I was able to breathe something that was invigorating…and full of new possibilities.

If you choose to drop in on the record (It’s up for free listening at the site below) I hope you enjoy the excursion as much as I did.
~ bill mallonee
credits
released:  January 2013
Bill Mallonee: acoustic & electric guitars, vocals, bass, drums, harmonicas, piano.
Muriah Rose: piano, accordion

credits

released January 2013
Bill Mallonee: acoustic & electric guitars, vocals, Bass, druns, Harmonicas Piano.
Muriah Rose: accordion
WPA vol. 1-4/”RENDERINGS”
RENDERINGS (A WPA vols.1-4 Retrospective) cover art

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