The writing of the songs that became Heart Like a Levee started in a hotel room in Washington, DC , in January of 2015 during a powerful storm that darkened the East Coast. At that time I was feeling-more acutely than I had ever felt before-wrenched apart by my responsibilities to my family and to my music. Forgetting, momentarily, that for me, each exists only with the other. How could I forget? Though maybe my lapse was reasonable: I had just quit my job, the most recent and last, in a series of deadend gigs stretching back 20 years, with the vow that my children would understand their father as a man in love with his world and the inventor of his own days. They would be rare in that regard. And then-driven by monthly bills and pure fear- I left for another tour, carrying a load of guilt that I could just barely lift. But in that snowy hotel room I found the refrain that became my compass: I was a dreamer, babe, when I set out on the road; but did I say I could find my way home?
Through the spring and summer, while traveling and when I was off the road and at home in Durham, I wrote about love-the teaching kind and the destroying kind- and about movement, and being moved, really and truly moved. I wrote about our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters-of blood and the road-and how easy it can be to abdicate those responsibilities at the slightest threat of bad weather. I reckoned with things that I couldn’t see, but I could feel; and in so feeling begin to understand as real to me and those whom I love. I carried my piece of the fire, or tried to. The heart is a beautiful vessel, prone to failure and breathtaking acts of grace. An impermanent, permeable thing, lovely for its changeabil ity, blameless for its fallibility. It’s hard to even begin to conceive of how to measure our boundaries. Heart Like a Levee is my taking stock of my universe, my span, my inventory, my leavetaking and return over back roads so blue they look black until the dawn.
Heart Like a Levee was recorded in the fall and winter of 2015. It was produced by myself and Brad Cook, who also played bass. Phil Cook played the piano and organ and guitar, and Matt McCaughan played the drums and percussion. Our friends Alexandra SauserMonnig, Tift Merritt, Michael Lewis, Matt Douglas, Chris Boerner, Josh Kaufman, Ryan Gustafson, Sonyia Turner and Jon Ashley all contributed in important ways that you can read about in the album credits.
I have dedicated every day to song. I have been traveling all my life. And I understand that I am so lucky, and I am thankful. Money is easy enough to find if you want it bad enough; but art, true deep art full of grace that shakes and terrifies the soul, is an elusive spirit and damn near impossible to come by. So sitting in this sunny backyard at the end of this journey that I took with my friends and family, everyone that I love and some of whom did not even realize they were on this trip, I’m thinking: We found it. Goddammit, everybody: We found it. And that’s a rare feeling indeed.
And it’s all just a moment.