Mipso, “Red Eye to Raleigh”

There are about a million Carolina string bands out there in the Americana-sphere. Young, lightning-fast fingers picking or bowing four, six, eight, or twelve strings, with caramel-smooth lead vocals and seraphim-like harmonies.

This is not a bad thing…

As much as I love the variety of this type of band, I do enjoy hearing one that stands out among their brethren and sistren, and Chapel Hill based Mipso does just that.

I love the way that their instruments dance with each other, with one or another of them coming forward for a verse, then fading, to let another one have a go. The vocals are fun and accessible, with lots of stuff you don’t hear often in a roots tune.

Take “Red Eye to Raleigh” as an example (sorry, Mipso, this song should be titled, “Body with a Broken Heart”.)

The tune starts with a strummy acoustic guitar, with a slide resonator adding color. The bass comes in late in the first verse, and a mandolin boom-chuck and subtle fiddle join the crowd by the time the first chorus kicks in.

Or is that a chorus? More like an extended refrain. After another verse, a real chorus kicks in. I really like it when songwriters play with song structure in ways that draw the listener in.

This song is about a broken heart, and the dream of repairing the love that blew apart. Not an especially original idea, but the lyrical approach is.

“It feels against my nature, just put me in the zoo; I’m not a mammal that can handle getting over you”.

And when was the last time you heard something like “experimental laparoscopic cardiology” in a string band song?

This band is easy to listen to; there are a few other great tunes on their ReverbNation site. I’d recommend “A Couple Acres Greener”, and “Rocking Chair Blues” as well. Check them out at https://www.reverbnation.com/mipsomusic.

While the band does not mention it on ReverbNation, Mipso just released a new album this past April, called “Coming Down the Mountain”. You can hear some tracks and order it on their webpage, https://www.mipsomusic.com/

A New Song by Bob McKillop: “Surrender to the Sea”

Inspiration comes from many sources, as all of you songwriters know. Often, a song is the product of more than one source of inspiration.  That is the case with my most recent song, “Surrender to the Sea”.  This song will be revised – I don’t consider it finished – but you can hear a work track on my ReverbNation page (see the widget at the bottom of this page).

I’ve always had a very romantic notion about the seagoing life, especially regarding the days of the great sailing ships.  I’ve had a song percolating inside of me for a long time, about a young man leaving home to spend his life at sea.

A recent maritime disaster, the El Faro, reminded me that a life at sea has its risks, as well as its romance.  That disaster touched me deeply.  Having been a merchant marine officer as a young man, I have a small inkling of what it must have been like on that doomed ship, and naturally, I had the urge to write a song about that.

These two sources of inspiration combined to bring this one song into being, which I entitled “Surrender to the Sea”.  I imagined a young officer on a sailing ship in the early years of the last century, declaring that he has no regrets about his decision to go to sea. He surrenders to what he feels was his destiny: to live and die aboard his ship at sea.

I wrote the first two verses to sound, to the listener, as though they were letters sent home  by the young mariner, in which he attempts to reconcile his life choices to his loved ones who are left behind.

The final verse to take the song in an entirely different direction.  This ship’s officer reveals that he is writing in the log of a doomed ship, and he describes the peril he is in and the destruction happening around him. In the light of this new information, the first two verses and the chorus take on a new meaning and a new mood.  This young mariner knows he is going to experience a cruel death; he is saying goodbye, and his declaration that he has no regrets begins to sound a little less convincing.

There are some problems that remain to be solved.  The transition to the last verse seems a bit to0 abrupt to me.  One songwriter friend suggested that I could indicate earlier in the song, either in the chorus or in the first verse, that the sailor is on board the doomed ship, writing to his family.  Another songwriter’s thought was to change the order of the verses, and put the final verse first.

I’m not sure how I’m going to solve this problem, but I know it will be probably take several more rewrites.  That is the path to success in songwriting (however one defines success): keep rewriting the song until there isn’t any part of it that bothers you.

Thanks for listening to my thoughts on my new song!

Bob McKillop


Cole Washburn, “Wanderer”

Once in a while, when I go in search of folk artists unknown to me, I want to be reminded of Woody and Arlo. Nitty Gritty Dirt. John (gasp!) Denver. Certain Pure Prairie League songs. The Band. Joe Crookston. Songs that owe their DNA to mountain music, and which evoke the common person’s integration of music into their every day lives.

Today I found Cole Washburn on ReverbNation.   His featured song “Wanderer” fills that need for me. Though the South is baked into Washburn’s work, this track reminds me of my family’s Appalachian roots and working experiences, and of our history of wandering from place to place.

A muted snare drum and a shaker hold down a steady shuffle beat under an acoustic guitar strum that makes me think of the broken lines on a blue highway flashing by my car window. Electric slide guitar ghosts around the melody but never gets in the way. And Washburn’s authentic, unvarnished vocals deliver the honest, simple lyric, like your uncle Sam telling one of his road warrier stories.

Washburn may be singing about and celebrating the road, but there’s something else going on. Is he feeling his Texas roots in San Antonio, buried under the Alamo? Does he need to prove to himself that someone could love him by running away to see if they would follow? There are hidden depths in this simple song.

“Wanderer” is just one of several of Washburn’s songs that I enjoyed. Give him a listen on ReverbNation.