Sometimes a piece of music drops and fits neatly onto your latest playlist.
In the past week I’ve been listening to Jackson Browne and Buffalo Springfield after watching a documentary about the musicians who lived in Laurel Canyon on the American west coast during ‘60s/’70s. Recently, Los Angeles based musician Jon Dalton sent a link to his latest track ‘Out of the River’ featuring vocals by Sheila Ellis.
Dalton first appeared on the blog in October 2017 talking about his journey from Bristol playing in rock band Gold, then moving to California as a professional musician signing to Innervision Records. I got in touch with Jon and asked him how did the song come about ?
I was sitting around late one night doodling on my guitar – something I do a lot – and it occurred to me, with all that’s been going on this year, now might be a good time to write about how that’s affected my view of the world.
What were you looking to say in the lyrics ? I hadn’t written a song with lyrics for decades – I mostly write jazz instrumentals – but this one seemed almost to write itself. Some might see that as the land speaking through them or perhaps it’s a collection of memories and experiences that one day well up and form a cogent whole.
America has certainly seen its share of turmoil recently coupled with much division and fear but that isn’t my America. I have roots in this country going back a long way. Long before the US was even a country the land was here. Even though I grew up in the UK and didn’t set foot in America until I was in my mid 30’s, I felt a connection to the land the instant I arrived and that’s never gone away.
For me, it was always a foregone conclusion that I would eventually ‘return’. I sense that connection everywhere I go from oceans to deserts to the mountains and rivers, it’s always there and I’m always home. I’m sure others have similar feelings about their countries of origin. This is a song that tries to explore and explain that connection.
How did you end up working with Sheila ? I met Sheila Ellis several years back while we were both working in a volunteer jazz band playing for seniors in L.A. County. We hit it off instantly. Sheila seems to just get what I’m trying to say musically which is a tall order since I often don’t get it myself.
Sheila is a brilliant vocalist, she has a deep knowledge of jazz and other genres. Originally from L.A. she also lived and worked in Paris plus New York and London – her husband and our shared producer Richard E is originally from the UK. She’s also an actress and performance artist who has appeared in places like the prestigious Getty Centre here in Los Angeles.
Richard and Sheila are the core group members of Annabel (lee) who have recorded albums on the UK Ninja Tune label – which won the 2015 Dead Albatross Music Prize – and more recently here in the US on the Youngbloods label.
Who else worked on the song ? The final piece of the puzzle was my friend UK organist John-Paul Gard. I knew with his extensive knowledge of the instrument, he’d be able to convey the exact sentiment I was trying to express and he nailed it from 5000 miles away.
With the USA Presidential election only hours away what are your feelings about the future? Whatever is happening right now and whatever is around the corner, in this song I wanted to express the sense of strength and permanence I get from being surrounded by nature, though we could arguably take better care of it. We may create what seem like big problems for ourselves but, for the land, it just sits and watches and waits.
Listen to ‘Out of the River’ at:
Interview by Gary Alikivi October 2020.