ABOUT THE ALBUM ROAD TESTED:
This record began with an organizing principle: to create an album that tells a story through songs. It’s about a guy who's tried to be a good man, has had his ups and downs, is heading into his last few laps in life, and is trying to do that with some dignity, humor, and peace. By the time we wrapped this album up, I really liked this guy
One Heart Acre
In the words of our album's hero: "You should know that I come from Midwestern farm family stock. As far back as we can check, my people were farmers. Though my Dad had moved into town, my brothers and I spent summertime on my Grandpa’s farm. Those sounds, smells, and rituals live in my bones."
Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Piano, Organ, Accordion
Upright Bass, Electric Bass
Pedal Steel, Electric Guitars, Jaw Harp
Grandpa’s gun was a simple one
Powder pushing steel
His weary plow did the job somehow
As he dragged it cross the field
Grandpa saw in my grandma
A woman made of steel
He took her hand, oh they worked the land
Brought home the evening meal
And the sun beat down on that dusty ground
Where Grandpa worked the seed
He turned his eye to the July sky
Smiled and thanked his maker
For one heart acre
Grandpa ran the farm,
Grandpa worked the arms
Of his five sons and daughters
They pitched the hay, oh they hitched the bay
Led the herd to slaughter
And the winter snow through the night would blow
And the wind could chill you hollow
But the firelight lit the house all right
She’s a giver, she’s a taker
That one heart acre
My dad heard a call of his own
And he moved into the city
He found the woman to follow him down
To take his name
But he still had the water running off the topsoil
Pumpin’ through his farm boy veins
Now if i die before my time
And my kids need to know me
Make sure they go where the tall corn grows
And smell the earth below me
And feel the sun beat down on that dusty ground
Where Grandpa worked the seed
Have them turn their eye to the July sky
Smile and thank their maker
For one heart acre
ABOUT ONE HEART ACRE:
My late friend and master songwriter John Stewart once opined, “I’ve spent so many years thinking about what to write about. Until it finally dawned on me, why not write about what I’m thinking about!” That’s pretty great advice, in my book.
This record deals with many of the ruminations that bob around at the interface of my conscious and subconscious self. The songwriting challenge was to create characters and a storyline to give them voice. And in order to situate the story in a time and a place, I’ve leaned on John’s advice and drawn quite a bit on my own life.
I come from midwestern farm family stock. The first of my branch of the McDermott clan, my great-great grandfather, came to the US from Ireland in 1820. He worked his way to the fertile farmland of eastern Iowa and planted roots (and corn, soybeans...) My father was born in the family farmhouse (absent the luxury of indoor plumbing or electricity) in 1920. Holding down as many as three jobs simultaneously, he worked his way through college and law school, married, and settled down in the nearest small city, Dubuque. That’s where I was born, the third of four children, and spent the first 10 years of my life.
Though born and raised in Dubuque, the family farm served as a “summer camp” of sorts for me and my siblings. After my grandfather stepped back from the rigors of farming, the operation of the farm was turned over to my uncle Clarence, known to all as “Mac”. To us, he seemed tall as a giant and strong as a bull. He held an almost mythical status for us since he performed all the superhuman physical feats of a farmer with only one arm– he had lost an arm to a jammed corn reaper, not an uncommon farm injury. We kids would visit for weeks at a time during the summer, helping out some and playing a lot. They remain indelible memories of my youth.
I have taken several shots at covering this part of my family’s history in song. Most failed. But I wrote “One Heart Acre” around the time of my parent's 50th wedding anniversary and it became a keeper. It’s never appeared on any of my prior recordings but it’s enjoyed “hit song” status within my immediate family. Since it felt right to assign the lead character for this album a midwestern origin story, this song finally found a permanent home.
Just to be clear, the lead character in this record is not ME. He’s his own man and his personal story differs from mine in several ways. But the themes in the story - the follies of youth, the assumption of responsibilities, the joys and failures of romance, the challenges of parenthood, and the unavoidable aspects of aging - are in fact what I think about. And I’ve tried to create a believable, lovable, flawed character to help me think through all of this. So you’re hearing his tale in “One Heart Acre”.