Jeff Talmadge
talks about "Blissville"
by Johanna J. Bodde


talks about “Blissville"
(CoraZong Records)

"Blissville" is my fifth CD, and my second one for CoraZong Records. ("Gravity, Grace and the Moon" was the first CD of mine that CoraZong released.) "Blissville"’s got some songs on it that also appeared on my first three recordings, since for the most part those songs were new to the European audience. I also had a batch of new songs, so we combined them to come up with "Blissville", which had six brand new songs and seven songs that were selected from some of my earlier records.

I’d written and recorded those songs at different times, in different studios, often with different musicians. But in the end, I was really happy with the way it came out, and I thought it had a nice flow to it.

I’m really lucky to have been able to work with so many great musicians, both in Austin and in Nashville. The Nashville players are some of the best, although they’re probably not as well known in  Europe as the Texas players are. But they’ve worked on all kinds of award winning projects and have their own share of grammys and other awards. The Texas players are, for me, the essence of the Austin sound. Bradley Kopp produced this record, and he’s good at getting the best out of everybody in the studio. I’m grateful to the musicians and grateful to the people who listen to and enjoy my music.

Anyway, here are some comments on a few of the songs.

I spent my teenage years out in West Texas, where it’s dry and wind-blown, kind of like the image a lot of people have in their heads of what Texas must be like. The people out there are tough and hard-working, and some of them have been on the land for generations. So on the one hand, they are very tied to the land and are proud of their heritage, and on the other, they face real hardships year to year depending on nature to give them a decent crop. There’s a temptation to sell out and move away, and the younger people are attracted to a different kind of life in the cities. Of course, the whole idea of the hard work then “sometimes you just get thunder, when the rain is what you need,” works as a metaphor for all kinds of things. I love Tim Thompson’s electric guitar work on this track. He really captured what the song was about.

This idea for this song came from a poem by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There are lots of days we celebrate in common with each other – various national holidays, or days of remembrance. But there are some days that come around every year that only we know about, and Longfellow called those “secret anniversaries.” This was on my first CD, and it was made almost entirely with acoustic instruments. Glenn Fukunaga’s bass line on this song is beautiful.

I was on tour in the central US, and I saw a sign very late at night pointing toward Blissville, which, of course, was where the idea for the song came from. But to my surprise, when I got back to Texas, I found from looking at the maps that there’s no such place near where I was, so obviously I misread a sign or something strange was happening. We’re accustomed to saying, “I have to see it to believe it,” but the opposite is sometimes true. Sometimes you have to believe it before you can see it.

This one’s always an audience favorite, and as I say at the live shows, it’s dedicated to the proposition that the truth can be an overrated virtue… That’s Mark Hallman on harmonica.

This is probably the oldest song on the record. It was written with David Rodriguez, who now lives in The Netherlands. The first line of the song is “The midnight flight is leaving for Atlanta.” It seems a little ironic now that I actually live in Atlanta, but I was living in Austin at the time.

Washington Island is an island that is part of the state of Wisconsin. It’s in one of the Great Lakes in the United States, Lake Michigan. The ferry to the island (and back to the mainland) stops every day around dark and starts up again the next morning. On this song, and some of the others, Chip Dolan’s accordion adds an atmospheric touch that I really like.

This was written around the first Christmas of the Iraq war. It’s written from the soldier’s perspective. At the time I wrote it, I didn’t have any idea that it would still be so relevant years later. The production on this song is very, very simple. Just guitar, bass and vocal. That particular approach seemed to serve the song best.