Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The members of Roman Candle were in a hustle at the conclusion of their taping here in Rock Island earlier this spring, needing to get to Indianapolis before bedtime - not their own, but that of some of their children who were staying with family while mom and dad were out on the road touring behind a soon-to-be-released at the time album, "Oh Tall Tree In The Ear." It got me thinking about what kinds of songs lead singer Skip Matheny might sing to his children at night. My little girls get their mother singing "I've Been Working On The Railroad" when it gets to be 8 o'clock or so, tunes like those. There aren't many life lessons in those nursery rhyme-like songs and limericks. There's not really much rhythm or melody either in any of these ditties, just halting and pedestrian, one-size-fits-all cadences. They're filled with absurdities and usually small items about food or hurting oneself - sticking in a thumb, pulling out a plum, supping on cold peace porridge or breaking a crown for Jack or some blind mice having their tails severed off with a butcher's knife. There's much violence and much hunger in those nursery rhymes. Matheny and Roman Candle don't make nursery rhymes, but hearing him sing these gorgeous songs of affirmation and uncanny depth of character to little children would be touching and a lovely way for the tykes to end their days and drift off into their little dreams. Matheny would have to lower his voice just a little bit as the album shows him belting, projecting these songs of soft visitations, from the timid aspects of a lazy afternoon to the eventful dramas of a stormy one. There is an abundance of colorful reasoning, bright and starry touches that shine through his poetic words about humble men and women just doing their best to not get trampled in the stampeding rush of everything else that's out there on the other side of the fence. The music has a way of tearing us out of the present, despite such modern feels and scents, and into the 70s or 80s or earlier, when people still called bars watering holes and jukeboxes held 45s that were manually snagged from their placeholder and thrown down under the needle for that quarter's worth of music. It's when dartboards weren't computerized and you checked the pool table balls at the bar, leaving your driver's license as collateral. In every song, there is a discernable connections to the protagonist's surroundings, such as roads blanketed with fallen pine needles or a serenity that cannot be found in urbanized multiplexes, where everything's open 24 hours a day and people just get in each other's way all day long. Roman Candle are from Chapel Hill, North Carolina and they seem to bring that state's vast beauty into the words Matheny sings, when he does so about kisses on the mouth and the foolish things that happen when love gets all twisted, or right before love gets all twisted and indistinguishable. It's like taking hike into the woods, a woods that goes on and on and is always woods - with a dense undergrowth that makes the words stick better and assume more impact. There would be quaint little ponds, lined with water skating insects and water lilies. There would be a need to be there with someone else, someone you cared about, someone you could sing to sleep and then fall asleep next too, completely and blissfully. Matheny takes us there, in a moonlit coach with the words, "There's a beauty in every streetlight and every moth/But all I want to do is lay down in bed," in the stunning song entitled "Big Lights." And he leaves us there with all of our thoughts. He leaves us to our dreams and stinging sorrows and getting back is part of the joy as we have to pass all the same scenery.
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