Wild Rose Moon Radio Hour: Return to Normal
Wild Rose Moon Radio Hour Features the Laid-back Journalistic Style of Sophisticated Folk Band Return to Normal
This week’s episode of the Wild Rose Moon Radio Hour features the spousal duo, Corinne Becknell Lucas and Marty Lucas, of the band, Return to Normal. With more than thirty-five years of collaboration, this North Judson-based band has developed a large collection of remarkable work, with songs mythologizing the people, places, and events they've experienced in Indiana: the neglected cemeteries of the Midwest Diaspora, the ravages of the opioid epidemic, a chance encounter with an Argentine short-story writer in a coffee house in Bloomington. The stories they tell are revealed through the traditional folk idiom, with touches of jazz, rock, and electronica adorning a decidedly journalistic approach to songwriting. “We have songs that have roots in songs going back a long way – sometimes over 200 years,” Marty remarks. “We try to find ways to draw in this history and make it fresh and new.”
In their first song, “The Collector’s Dream,” Corinne uses a seductive alto to pull us into the archetypal story, “I woke from dreaming/ every little thing I owned/was piled up in the river's mud.” All that stuff collected, now what? Embracing change, Corinne continues, “Release these things/let them go. See the water/watch it flow.” Throughout the text Marty streams the hollow notes of a reverberating guitar, occasionally adding a harmonic bell note, punctuating the sacred refrain with church bells.
In “Dr. Pain,” the scourge of the painkiller, oxycontin, comes to the fore. Marty contributes, “We’re not making a judgment and we’re describing a real problem.” Indeed, the song chronicles the story of unbearable pain, real and human. It unfolds, slowly, in a long moan. “You were swapping out a tire, on a double axel dump, by the side of Toto road. But the frame was getting rusty, it must have cracked above the jack, and it shifted the load. Well, you tried to hold the handle, but you heard something snap, and got the biggest pain, you ever knowed. ”
The Briars and the Brome, their third song of the show, unwinds with Marty’s piano slowing the Jazz swing to a promenade and delivering the message in a hushed voice. This ballad, inspired by Corinne’s work in an old graveyard in the countryside, describes the story of a family forced to give up their farm. “The morning frost sparkled/on the briars and the brome/as they packed up the van/by a house in the corn.” With crows watching over this personal Diaspora, “the screen door slams shut in ’73,” while the chorus sighs in a lazy-voiced, matter-of-fact delivery of time pacing on, “and they never returned, no they never returned.” It’s an imagined and cinematic style of storytelling, with time flickering by like frames taken by an old movie camera. The careful drawing of the images, the choice of subjects, the plotting of the musical delivery, all add up to an inherently strong narrative structure. The reportage, through its dispassionate distancing, imbues the story with an archetypal significance.
Their final number, Coffee with Borges, is a working template of this journalistic style of songwriting, circumscribing its method as the story unfolds. The song tells the story of an actual event – that of Marty seeing the Argentine author, Jorge Louis Borges, in a coffee house, in Bloomington, Indiana. Marty first describes the scene: “With half a dozen round oak tables each circled by a dozen unmatched chairs, you’d sit right down with strangers, cool jazz and lively conversation filled the smoky air.” Then the writer walks in: “a studious gentleman in his late seventies, grey hair, and overcoat that billowed in the winter breeze.” The idea occurs in his mind to actually rise up and talk to him, but: “What do you say to the Latin Hemingway?" The stakes are high, after all, this is: “the navigator of our collective dreams, the polyglot translator, bending time, with just the secret magic of his mind.” And what does Marty, the observer, choose to do? Enter in? No. He steps back. He observes the historical moment, and whether he knows or only senses it, he realized that the recording of the event is what he is there for. It is enough to do the reportage – to let people see and feel the event and the pursuant tension in the scene.
These are songs that observe and tell. They reveal something deeper, in what can seem at first, a dispassionate gaze. But the more you experience them, the more they add up to a profound narrative sensibility, a sensibility of time passing, things changing, and moving along as they do – as they should. This is a songwriter’s landscape without quick judgment and moralizing, songwriting that avoids surfeits of emotion. “We enjoy talking about experience and relationships and how these change over time,” Corinne remarks. The overall effect is to imbue each song with a sense of timelessness that is truly unique and revealing.
Also on the show is The South Bend songwriter, Doug Harsch, who describes his music as “rockin’ Americana folk,” and delivers a spirited version of what he calls, “a love song in reverse,” “Save it for Another Day.” In addition, Becky and Kay Reinbold, play the musical quiz show, “Shoot the Moon.” It’s all part of this week’s episode of the Wild Rose Moon Radio Hour. You can listen on 88.1, WVPE FM, at 7 p.m., this Monday, April 4th.