Freedom Ring actually started taking shape in the spring of 2018. I had slipped back into a song writing place in my head. I began putting together arrangements with a piano track and drums with Rick Hinkle once again. I don't know exactly when we began seeing eye to eye about putting together an Air Raid record but we must have been throwing it around for a while. We were both aware of a forty-year ear mark that would be at hand in 2021. I'm sure there was a thread in the talks about the fact that we weren't getting any younger! Rick had really come into his own as an engineer to be reckoned with, especially for guitar and bass and his new home studio and control room were my heart's home as well! We had finished Perihelion there as well as tracking Seven Wonders there in its entirety.
"Time, it seems has in no way dampened the energy and enthusiasm for all involved. It's fresh and full of vitality, and I've not encountered an album for some time that is so rich in its pure storytelling" - Malcolm Smith
Rick saw this album as a return to Les Paul/Marshall, Grand Piano, bass and drums. In other words, a real band sound. Seven Wonders was a study in subtle layers of guitars and keyboard colors. This would be for the most a part a much more stripped-down affair. Of course, the Orchestra and Brass sections would bubble up from time to time but the real heart of it was one guitar and piano! Everything played through great amps and cabinets. Miked with a lot of experience and turned up for killer tone. That's Air Raid!
It's an important historical fact that I remind all that Rick Hinkle tracked me down in Santa Fe in fall 1972 and begged me to come home and join the Paul Davis Band. Paul was a charismatic and utterly charming singer song writer from Mississippi. The line up was Rick and me, low and behold Tom Walker and Rick Brown on drums! We became friends the day that we met. A real chemistry happened between us right away. I was overjoyed!
"The pomp and circumstance are still there in all its splendor. Grand piano taking centre stage as well as some quite thrilling guitar work from Rick Hinkle to compliment the keyboards perfectly." - Malcolm Smith
For the new album we wanted to do our old song 'Air Raid' that I wrote shortly after the band got together in 1973 and 'Island Song' from the same era as well. Both were canceled as a choices for our first album by Eddie Kramer. 'Derby Day' comes from the same time as well. Rick didn't remember it all that well but I had always liked it. The wonderful thing about Rick Hinkle is he always game for anything!
'Air Raid' was my earliest attempt at writing a real rock anthem. Paul Kantner was my God in those days and his work with the Airplane was a major inspiration for this song and so many others from those years. I was so psyched to be actually writing about the three new friends I was working with. I wanted poetry and images that were as wide screen as I could get it and the hook line 'Science is in the Sun' had been rolling around in my LSD drenched skull for quite a while. I felt the whole band were 'men of many lives'. I certainly was so thrilled and proud to be a part of it.
'Let Your Freedom Ring' is a new song that has a line that has been in my head for years constantly, 'Most of all, 'Most of all Let Your freedom Ring'. I got going on the verses seriously after the Douglas high school shooting. Those young people got unified and incredibly well motivated for badly needed change. I described a narcissistic con man as the demon who freed the hate genie to ravage the land. Suppression and malice were in the air and our nation was completely divided against itself in those days. We had lost our way and I wanted to inspire all to re-remember who we really were. If you don't practice the joys of freedom, you will lose it!
'Island Song' is a grand tip of the hat to my other life hero, Gary Brooker of Procol Harum. I went through a tough time when I was let go from an earlier locally successful band called Radar. Angst and alienation were very real for the first time in my life in those days though all of that vanished as Air Raid got together. To my surprise this new band really loved the tune. I remember re-writing the ending of that poem to finish on a more positive note. I also remember working harder on my poetry. I wanted more clarity in the descriptions of places and how to move through them. Keith Reid (of Procol Harum) and Kantner were really my go to beacons of constructing a powerful scene back then and sometimes they still are.
Derby Day had a great first half in its lyrics but for some reason I could never settle into the second half with any luck. I loved the imagery! Daniel and the lions! Look! The evil emperor! Then I realized chariots were thundering down and there was also a polo match in galloping progress! My first mash-up! When we revived it in 2018 the elusive second half of the poem fell right into place as by then I knew well what was really happening down on the floor of the Arena. That arrangement went through many shifting gears and moving parts. Ricks slide work gave the song an entirely new set of colors. He worked alone to figure out the Derby Day alive in his head and heart.
James Cobb is one of my oldest dearest friends. A Bass guitar virtuoso, a brilliant song writer and a symphonic wizard. Though he has moved on to his symphonies and classical arrangements he was and will always be a world class rocker. I brought 'A place in the Northland' from Radar to Air Raid and right away we opened all of our live shows with it until we stopped playing in late 1981. It is flawless song craft in so many ways. Its structure is heavily involved yet it's storytelling and melody are so inviting and to the moment that you are there, standing in a field of flowers looking out at the snow topped mountains falling to the river below. For me it is one of the finest, most majestic pieces of music I have ever heard. All of us in Air Raid loved it and thought it belonged to us in some way. What an honor it is to record it here. The poem here is so simple and sublime it is forever written on my soul.
I had the music and melody for Lost horizon back in 1975 or so with different lyrics except for the first two words. To sing 'Planetary Wonderer' fit the melody so well that I knew it would always be there. So, in wanting to get a new set of lyrics the second line became 'You know this world is now your Lost Horizon' and I immediately thought of James Hilton's wonderful novel about Shangri-La. Writing those words brought the whole tapestry to life in my mind.
Gradually through the summer of 2018 I began to put together the pieces of a story. I knew I was thinking of a race of explorers and scientist who as galactic travelers would visit worlds to learn of species and cultures strictly as peaceful visitors. When they were finished their studies and interactions, they took nothing with them except stored knowledge of the world they had experienced. A cosmic anthropologist/historian might be working title to describe their mindset.
At Jimmy Porters house in Myrtle Beach, I started a piece of music that became 'A Bridge of Gates'. Jimmy and I would spend a few days going over everything I had at the moment. He was an amazing catalyst as a drummer. He knew where I was going so much of the time because he is a superb pianist as well. I would always leave our rehearsals knowing very well what musical area I needed to polish or what missing. Most importantly I went away with the knowledge that I had seen giant holes here and there in the layout that needed words and music badly!
I had a poem about a Strategic Air Command style crew and how they interacted with each other in their global jaunts and long hours so I decided to work in the first sighting of a Saucer descending with our intrepid scientists on board. That piece became Black Ship Landing. It was the first time I ever had any luck writing about thunderheads and cloud formations as kingdoms with history's that tell a story in the blink of an eye and then they're gone!
Walk the Streets A God is the huge welcome for our visitors and their team. With all things considered such an astounding entrance with machines from the heavens landing at the edge of your fields and villages can only mean much preparation by our visitors was already in place. I did place in the words a private remembrance of a crewman thinking of friends he had already lost on their journeys to show a sense of mortality underneath a steely dedication. This some of my favorite poetry on this album. It really connects so vividly with how to move the story along yet have time to see 'roses and ribbons mark the ground where we trod'.
I needed 'A Bridge of Gates' to show how the walk toward a Temple city would reveal many wonders that seemed to come from nowhere and that any turn might start a brand new day or Mountain tops and temple turret were there as well. Were they always there? One young man of the team is transported toward a high garden and his experience is as internal and of the soul as it is in his own reality as a living creature. His arms wide and his heart open, thus 'The Incantation' is not so much spoken as it is sent as a high regard of The Shinning one who has waited long for the young man's arrival. His team knowing he is in the good hands of a teacher vow their return after planed explorations in 'The nearby Unknown'.
A Klaxon sounds in the distance over the wind. After many years of a life filled with love, prosperity and a of mastering the arts of His Calling a Mighty ship with comrades has returned to assure he must keep his own promise and return to the stars from whence he came. The crew, gone for only a full day return to find their friend unaged and joyful though an eon has passed by on the face of the world they visited.'100 Years or More' ties all of these themes together so that the tale will close with one blessing that all will be able to follow.
On practically every album I've done Rick Hinkle would inevitably tell me that I needed to come up with a "closer". A song that would pull all the themes together with a last word or thoughts for the current song cycle coming to a close. I had the poem 'The Silvering' already written and hoped to maybe use it later in a book of poems I am hoping to publish in 2022 but there it sat on a piece of paper on my desk. The piano arrangement literally wrote itself in many ways because the poem was in such a finished state. Everything added to the rest of the song was already set in motion and I loved the fact no lines were changed or abbreviated. This track has such a great feel thanks to Jimmy Porter and his undeniable groove and Ricks amazing guitar work.
I always try to depart every album on a high note. I have my own ship of assorted characters and visions and hopefully all of my words and music will convey a life well lived that I certainly wished to share with all. At the end of the day when the sun is a fading molten fire, we return home to find the house alight with candles aglow and the sound of laughter on the wind. Look! The Rottweilers are bounding out to greet us! Heaven!