Tall Tales

by Josh Brooks

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about

This album was not raised by wolves. Its genesis is in the folk tales and myths I have been reading to my kindergarten students and telling my three daughters for the past fifteen years. Stories about the Pacific Northwest trickster Raven, Odziodzo and the origins of the Champlain Valley, and the local legend of the Dugway led the children and I to question the meaning of truth. Is a story true because you experienced it? Is it true because someone else tells you it is? Or is it true because it expresses a truth about life?

On my travels as a father, teacher and songwriter, this last answer has held the most water. Written over the last decade and a half, the nine songs on tall tales, for me at least, reflect this understanding. Some of the characters are inspired by family ('Tommy'; 'Queen for a Day'), some by public figures of ill repute ('The Ballad of Heather Home Wrecker'; 'One for the Money'), and some by historical enigmas ('Anastasia in a Commoner's Clothes'). Some are inspired by dreams ('Handsome Boy'), some by experience ('Josh Brooks' 115th Hangover'; 'You Remind Me of Her'), and some from the place where experience and imagination meet ('Frog on a Lawn'). What unites these nine story songs is that they aim for something like truth... whether they are true or not.

I recorded tall tales live on one mic, sitting on the edge of my bed, in stolen moments between basketball practices, grading papers, washing dishes, reading stories, loving my wife... you know the drill. The decision to record this way was both an artistic and a monetary one: bedtime stories for adults told on a father / teacher / grad student / songwriter's budget. After five years of making big noise with Grant Black, Panton Flats and The Benoits, it seemed like the right time to get back to basics for a number of reasons. Many thanks to Ryan Power of Stu Stu Studio for taking my rough drafts and polishing up the edges. Also many thanks to all of the reviewers, DJ's, fans, friends and family who have helped, are helping, or will someday help to bring this album to life.

It's a mad world out there. tall tales vol. 2 shouldn't be too far behind.

credits

released December 18, 2014

All songs written and performed by Josh Brooks, copyright 2014, Vowel Girls Music (ASCAP). Recorded at Edge-of-the-Bed Studios in Vergennes VT Oct-Dec 2014. Mastered by Ryan Power at Stu Stu Studio in Essex Jct. Vermont.

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Josh Brooks Vermont

Vermont singer, songwriter & guitarist Josh Brooks has been called “a storyteller and message-bearer whose word-smithery and hints of darkness keep you listening to the end” (Seven Days), and ’Vermont’s Johnny Cash’ (Northeast Performer). Fans of Steve Earle, Guy Clark and John Prine will all find something to like in Josh Brooks. Visit www.joshbrooksmusic.com for more info. ... more

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Track Name: The Ballad of Heather Home Wrecker
Chorus: Heather, Heather, you old home wrecker, the boys line up 'cuz you're a double decker. Your face is fine but your past is checkered, Heather, Heather, you old home wrecker.

Well she rolled into town on a ring of fire, shooting off sparks like an electric wire with a money-maker like a ten on the Richter scale. She said 'I come from Texas and my name is Heather, and I sure would like if we could all come together.' The men all sweated while their wives twitched and chewed their nails. She wore a necklace lined with wedding rings; for the next few inches she didn't wear a thing. You'd have thought all the boys in town had broke their jaws. Her dress was tighter than a plumber's vices; she was a walking talking mid-life crisis, and she shook when she giggled like some red-hot Santa Claus.

Now it wasn't long before the trouble started. Sheriff Owens and his dear wife Jane were parted, the picture of marital bliss for thirty years. Next it was Grace Debuke and Minister Sam, Chef Pete and Pauline, Mayor Cliff and Dianne. Soon the lawyer's office was in divorces up to their ears. Now I was a single man, unemployed and alone, and being new to town I didn't have nothing else going, so I decided to do a little digging...

Found a rancher named Buck, he come from Deluth, said he knew Heather well and he's got the proof, had her name branded right across his great divide. Said he met her one night when he was ripe for the plucking. She shined him like the chrome on his pick-up truck. Left him with nothing but that tattoo and a few scraps of his pride. Met another man, name of Blackjack Davey, used to be wild rich, now he's just plumb crazy. Spends his days bouncing pennies down the hospital halls. Every now and then when he pulls it together, starts talking about a woman by the name of Heather, then he's right back shuffling napkins and climbing walls. But the most interesting victim of all was Pete something-or-other, he's from up in St. Paul, said he met Miss Heather just after he won the state lottery. Said she took right to him like a kudzu vine and everything was moving faster than fine 'til he told her one night he'd given all his winnings to charity. "It wasn't," he recalled, "more than ten seconds later, she dropped me like I was a hot potato. Said she'd never bet a bigger fool in her whole life."

Suddenly the pieces they all come together and there clear as day I could see right through Heather: she was a gold digger, and this town was her new gold mine. Oh, the sheriff, the minister, the chef and the mayor; the lottery winner and the blackjack player- they all had the gold ticket to sit in her front row. Judges and generals, princes and kings- my mind went back to that necklace of rings, and I knew just what I had to do, and just how far I'd have to go... CHORUS

Now while Heather was off stroking the banker and all I ran through the back streets to the steps of town hall and I rang that old bell just as loud as I could do it. They all come a-running, the husbands and wives, and I said "folks, it's high time you took back your lives, and maybe saved all your failing marriages too." Then I told them my plan: we'd pool our money and I'd pack it all up and ship it out of the country. Heather's bound to do likewise once she finds out we're nothing but poor. Well, the husbands were weeping and their wives were smiling at the thought of the end of her buxom beguiling, so I told them to come back with all the cash that they had stored... and they did.

Now listener, I know it looks kind of funny, what, trusting a stranger with a town's-worth of money. You might shake your head wondering but take comfort, 'cuz you would be right. And by now I imagine you've got it all figured by the tone of my voice or how this story's configured that Ms. Heather and I are about to run off into the night. See, there's those who say money's the root of all evil, but I've never known a man to follow the devil anywhere he doesn't already want to be lead. You can blame it on the devil, blame it on the weather, but for every hell-fire on wheels like Heather, there's a hundred old boys trade their soul for one night in her bed. Now you can choose to ignore it or not to believe, but it's been this way since the good Lord made Eve. Inside every man there's an Adam looking for his lost bone. Oh the rich and the famous, the high and the mighty, they all come a-running for the fair Aphrodite, and like lambs to the slaughter she knocks 'em right off of their thrones.

Well she rolled into town on a ring of fire, shooting off sparks like an electric wire with a money-maker like a ten on the Richter scale. She said, "I come from Texas and my name is Heather, and I sure would like if we could all come together." And that my friend is the start of a whole 'nother tale...

CHORUS
Track Name: You Remind Me of Her
Maybe it's the way that you wear your hair, like you're trying to put out too many fires. Maybe it's the way you wave your hands in the air; don't them pretty elbows ever get tired? Your dress is a mess that a bull in distress made in a closet full of porcelain toys. I'd usher you out, but there's something about you girl that's keeping you in my employ.

CHORUS: You remind me of her. You remind me of her. I'm gonna drink 'til I'm sure, but be that as it were, you remind me of her.

You know, this kind of thing can get ugly, living life like it's a big silver screen. But ever since the day you turned your blue eyes my way I've been rewinding the same sorry scene. Like the one about King Midas' cousin, how he stuck to everything that he touched. So Betty get ready, I'm feeling unsteady, and I've already said too much. CHORUS

Didn't somebody promise this would never happen again? Sometimes the best place to land on your face is a place your face has already been.

CHORUS
Yeah I know that's no cure, but you remind me of her.
Track Name: Tommy
Tommy's got a problem that he can't explain. Got an axis of evil and a first world power picking fights in his brain. You walk down the street, you see the clear blue sky. Tommy's got mortar rounds lighting up his head like the fourth of July. You try talking to him and he might make nice. Then again, he might knock the teeth from your head and he won't think twice.

CHORUS: But Tommy's alright, he's just having fun. The voices are quiet, he isn't hurting anyone. It's a flip of the switch, a slight of hand... and the whole foundation just slips like sand.

You might say that he's famous; everybody knows Tommy's name. He's a picture on the wall, 'Small Town Hero Wins Homecoming Game.' Then they called his number; he took the field for Uncle Sam. Slapped a varsity letter on a tan flack jacket in his generation's Vietnam. Well they blew him to pieces, just too small to be seen. Now his mama can't tell if it's the war or the whiskey that makes her little Tommy so mean. CHORUS

Tommy's got a problem that he can't explain. He's a ghost conductor, a one way ticket on a runaway train. You walk down the street, you see the clear blue sky. Tommy's got mortar rounds lighting up his head like the fourth of July. It's like fire and shadow. It's like silk and stone, always trying to hide behind enemy lines before your cover gets blown. Now he's running for the exit, but he's running in place. Now he's waving a gun; if Tommy can't run, then by God he's gonna make some space... CHORUS
Track Name: Handsome Boy
The angels caught their breath on the morning of his birth. He was the most handsome baby that had ever blessed the earth. And that light shone from within him as he came into his youth. Only his mama and his daddy ever really knew the truth. They got him spots in big commercials, spreads in People, Us and Time. His mother mocked all of the critics; "Since when has beauty been a crime?"

CHORUS: You've got to hide your handsome boy

He'd lived in fifteen different places by the time he was 18. Yeah, he was bigger than the Beatles, scratch an itch and cause a scene. Yeah, he was Eros and Adonis all wrapped up into one. The girls all took him at his promise while the fathers oiled their guns. CHORUS

Their neighbors all complained about the strange unnerving sounds and the smell of fire and brimstone emanating from the grounds. His mother called a press conference: "He does not mean to destroy! It's just a shame containing him. He's such a handsome boy!"

His mother kept a secret from the morning of his birth: a life of fame and beauty, for whatever it was worth. And that fire burned within him as he came into his youth, scorching everyone that touched him; yeah that love was hundred proof.

No one knows just how it happened. He just disappeared one night. Some say a jealous boyfriend got him; some say that he just burned too bright. And the people all still wonder: is it a blessing or a curse to be handsome as the devil? Could a man ask for worse? CHORUS
Track Name: Josh Brooks' 115th Hangover
Hemingway was known for drinking whiskey. Kerouac, he loved his Poor Boy wine. A Jack and Coke at quitting time- quite risky. But a cold beer hits the spot most anytime. Whether worker, writer, hobo or big spender, his drink will tell you what a man's about. Me, I take my courage from a blender. Now, before you judge me, please just hear me out.

CHORUS: One glass of pina colada tastes so sweet, two and you're lighter on your feet, three and you swear you've never tasted better. Four and it's all palm trees and sand, five, six, you're under her command, seven is heaven- now how did you get there? Eight, nine, the whole room starts to spin, and if you get to ten my friend, you'll never touch the stuff again. Pina colada...

I wish that I could tell you how it happened. See, I was raised a red blood male, straight and true. I can dress a perch and tinker with an engine, and clogs are what you pull from drains, they're not shoes. One night my wife she had the ladies over, and in a drunken state I picked up the wrong glass. I had only took one sis, son, when that first drop hit my lips. Now every bartender in town wants to kick my... butt... and all because...CHORUS

I could have chose Glen Fidditch, Maker's Mark or Tanqueray, but it had to be Bacardi. Now my friends all call me... 'Happy.' Suppose you were to ask me, 'should I try it?" Well, I'd say... first there are some things you need to know... CHORUS

One glass of pina colada tastes so fine, one more approaches the divine, three and you're glowing like Hawaiian Tropic. Four your caged bird starts to sing, five, six there goes your wedding ring. Seven's a tsunami, there's no way to stop it now. Eight, nine, she got you on your knees, one more and you'll be begging please. That's one King Kong of a brain freeze, pina colada...
Track Name: One for the Money
It's 7AM. Jenny stands by the door. Billy sits in the yard in his rusted out Ford. She hands him his lunch in an old busted pail, then he heads off to work at the Springfield jail. She goes back inside and turns on the TV, and she watches the talk shows 'til a quarter to 3. Then her lover drops by and they give it a whirl. He lives a $10 tip by the bed for his girl.

CHORUS: And it's one for the money and two for the show, and three won't feel nothing if four doesn't know, and it's five sixin' seven and eight's nine'n ten. Then they wake up with nothing all over again.

Billy gets to the jail where he's working part time folding boxers and socks for six bucks and a dime. He takes cash from the dirty; he puts dope in the clean. He keeps their shorts white so his pockets stay green. CHORUS

Now, as luck wouldn't have it, one day Billy got caught and they took him to trial for his laundering plot. But when the judge sauntered in and asked the court room to rise, poor Jenny leapt up with a look in her eyes. She said, "Billy, sweet Billy! You're bound to go free, for that judge has already laid his gavel on me!" And so Billy got off with time served and parole, while the judge and his Jenny fold shorts in the hole. CHORUS
Track Name: Queen for a Day
There's a pink dress hanging on the back of a door. There's a pair of white high heels side by side on the floor. She knows in her heart they don't fit her anymore, but she keeps them anyway. It was a warm may evening when she was 16. Sometimes she isn't sure if it's a memory or a dream. She closes her eyes, and she's right there again, just like it was yesterday...

CHORUS All the blue and green and red lights shining on that silver disco ball, the gold balloons and paper streamers hung from wall to wall. Now the DJ's at the microphone; the class song begins to play. Now they're calling out her name... queen for a day.

It was a big old pink carnation on a white flag of a year. She lost her mama to cancer, lost her innocence to fear. Even now she wonders how she ever broke clear, just when everything was looking gray. Was it the grief that she kept hidden, all the smiles she pretended? All those nights she could not sleep, feeling uprooted and upended? Was it some secret brightness in her eyes, just when she thought all hope was gone away? Or...CHORUS

If the other girls were jealous, she didn't really care. They all went to college, married money and settled down somewhere. Her life was never easy; she took the hard, hard way. But the one thing they could never take away... queen for a day.

It was a warm may evening when she was 16. Sometimes it's like a memory; sometimes it's just a dream. She runs her fingers 'cross that crinoline and it all comes rushing back like it was yesterday. CHORUS

There's a pink dress hanging on the back of a door...
Track Name: Frog on a Lawn
I was mowing the lawn the other day, thinking 'bout a song that I wanted to play, when I heard this bone-crunching gurgling sound. Had to stop the motor, take a good look around. Well nothing to my left, and nothing to my right but when I looked between my feet it was a horrible sight- one leg over here, one leg over there. This big green bull frog, belly up in the air.

CHORUS Sometimes life is like a frog on a lawn. One bad hop and then you're gone. You move too soon or you wait too long. Don't it make you wish that you were back in the pond.

Now I've never been a fan of my four-legged friends, but something 'bout this froggy gave my cold heart the bends. I got right down on my hands and my knees and I said, "Hold on Mr. Froggy, don't you die on my please." Well I checked for a pulse but I found there was none. I thought about dialing up the 911. But just then he gasped and with his last breath he spoke. He said, "Can I get some peace and quiet here man, can't you see I'm trying to croak?" CHORUS

Now, in this life there are some things I have learned. Not every gift can be exchanged or returned. Your first breath is all; your last breath is it. This whole world is your castle; your throne's wherever you sit. And now when I'm mowing grass I make sure I'm really mowing grass, and I bow my head in reverence every time that I pass that sacred spot where my soul was released, and I say, "Thank you Mr. Froggy- ribbit in peace." CHORUS

You might be a prince, you might wear a disguise. You might eat frog legs, you might eat flies. Life always finds a way to cut you back down to size when you're a frog on a lawn...
Track Name: Anastasia in a Commoner's Clothes
She walks into the room, throws her coat to a man in the corner, takes a look at the crowd and wraps her arms tight 'round her purse. Gives the finger to two girls making fun of her 5-and-Dime necklace, smooths the wrinkles from the dress that she stole from the thrift store downtown. She sits at the head of a table for one in the corner. She orders a bowl of beet soup and she flashes her rings. The people all stare, but she doesn't care- she ignores them, and she rocks back and forth as the man on the stage starts to sing.

CHORUS: And wherever she goes she's a lady. It's not her fault that nobody knows that she is Princess Anastasia in a commoner's clothes.

There's a bowl filled with water laced with lavender petals beside her. She takes a long sip and she sighs, and she orders one more. Then she takes out her lipstick and she fixes her kisser, and she hums 'Moscow Nights' as the soft candle light starts to sputter and flicker. CHORUS

She dreams of the day when her father the Czar owned a fleet of white horses, back when he was in charge of it all. But the peasants took power and the palaces fell. Now she can't see the Volga from her two-star motel, and the past is a little girl stuck in a well where no one will ever find her...

Now the dinner is done and the guests have all left for the evening, save for one who is sitting alone with her head in her hands. She sits and admires the lights on the old candelabra, and the waiters all laugh but it's just 'cuz they can't understand CHORUS

Still she dreams of the day when her father the Czar owned a fleet of white horses, back when he was in charge of it all. But the peasants are dead and the palaces gone. Now she can't see the Volga from across her front lawn and the little girl long ago stopped hanging on, and now no one will ever find her...