“Don’t Think That I Can Say Goodbye,” from the Almost There album, is one of those new songs that feels like it has an old soul. During the writing process, I kept picturing a Nashville songwriter in the ’50s or ’60s… But I don’t know country music from that era very well at all, and I couldn’t pinpoint a connection to any specific songs or artists.

A couple of days before Almost There came out, I was getting ready to interview the brilliant guitar duo of Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge for Acoustic Guitar magazine. I was listening to their album Avalon, and the song “Keep Me from Blowing Away” knocked me out—at first simply because it’s a gorgeous song and performance, and then because it suddenly struck me that this song comes from a similar emotional and musical place as “Don’t Think That I Can Say Goodbye.”

Anyway, I did some research about “Keep Me Blowing Away” and the songwriter, Paul Craft, who was indeed a Nashville writer and a friend of Chris Eldridge’s dad, Ben (banjo player in the Seldom Scene). I shared this anecdote, and my new CD, with Julian and Chris when we met. And about a week later, I heard that Craft passed away. He arrived in my world and left so abruptly.

One unusual aspect of “Don’t Think That I Can Say Goodbye” is that it has an outtake verse that I like just as much as the verses that I sang on the album. I include it below. Which do you think is better?

We recorded the album version live in the studio, with me on lead vocal and guitar, Wendy Ramsay on harmony vocal and clarinet, Josh Dekaney on percussion kit, and John Dancks on upright bass. The only overdub was Rani Arbo’s fiddle, recorded a few weeks later in her house. The instrumental section, where the guitar and clarinet harmonize, is one of my favorite passages on the whole CD.

DON’T THINK THAT I CAN SAY GOODBYE

Words and music by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Don’t think that I can say goodbye
So I’ll just go
Can’t figure how to quite forget
So much that I know
Some silver lining
Is out in this storm, I’m sure
But all I see are clouds
So I’ll just go

We reach for the reasons
And find only traces and shards
Trifles or treasons
We can’t tell just what they are
As the days blow by
Let the pieces fall
And crumble to dust under our feet

We reach for forever
But nobody shows us the way
We think that we’re clever
Believe all the things that we say
But the painted lines
Are in shades of gray
Dissolving away into the night

Don’t think that I can say goodbye
So I’ll just go
Can’t figure how to quite forget
So much that I know
Some shiny morning
Out on a distant shore
Nothing to say
There will be nothing to say at all

Outtake verse:
We reach for the river
For washing the sting from our eyes
To be the forgiver
Is harder than we recognize
As the years flow by
Will we see once more
Open and clear into the light?