This week I made two new home videos revisiting the title tracks from the Humming My Way Back Home and Stop, Drop, and Roll albums. The studio versions of both songs feature band arrangements, so these videos brought the songs back to the way I wrote them.

Humming My Way Back Home

“Humming My Way Back Home” was the first song I wrote with the funky little three-stringed instrument known as the Strumstick, which years later also gave birth to “Eight Days in January.” As mentioned in my post about “Eight Days,” singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball inspired me to pick up the Strumstick in the first place, and in particular her gorgeous Strumstick song “My New Vow” opened my ears to the possibilities of using the instrument for a lyrical, emotional ballad like “Humming.” Where her song marks a relationship ending, mine is about reuniting and renewal.

Here’s the solo video.

For comparison, here’s the album version, on which I played cajón, guitar, and bass, and Hanna Richardson sang harmony vocals.

In concert these days with my duo or band, Wendy Sassafras Ramsay adds a lovely flute part to the instrumental bridge.

The lyrics

Stand by the window and raise it wide
Open your ear for a song
I’m turning the corner and coming inside
Weary but never so strong

I’m humming my way back home
Humming my way back home to you
Humming my way back home
To rest with you, as night rolls through

Living is longings and lessons half-learned
Our words tangle up in a knot
Let’s forget what we’ve given, forget what we’ve earned
Give thanks for the love that we’ve got

Chorus

Winter is coming, the leaves blow down
Daylight is slipping away
Stoke up the fire and gather around
There’s no place where I’d rather stay

Chorus

To rest with you

Stop, Drop, and Roll

The initial spark for this high-velocity acoustic rocker came from my son when he was in elementary school. His teacher had shared “stop, drop, and roll” as a lesson for what to do if your clothes ever catch fire (!). I’d never heard the phrase before and loved it—it sounded like a song to me.

Eventually I connected the phrase with a hard-driving minor-key guitar groove, and this song was born. (If you ever happen to catch me in concert in late October, you may hear me play a goofy story song called “A Dark, Dark Night of Halloween” that uses the exact same fingerings in a different rhythm. Always great to steal ideas from yourself when you can!)

In the lyrics of “Stop, Drop, and Roll,” I tapped into images drawn from a recurrent nightmare, in which I find myself in an unfamiliar dark room, alone, with no idea how I got there, and can’t find my way out. As suggested by the title phrase, there’s a fire in the building too. To add to the feeling of urgency and emergency, I wrote the lyrics so they drop into the middle of a thought, without explanation or setup; the first line is “Because the spark falls,” which seems to answer a question that is never posed.

As with many songs, writing these lyrics was all about translating into words the movie I could see in my head.

Here’s the new solo video.

I recorded the album version with drummer extraordinaire Josh Dekaney—just the two of us, live in the studio. I love the raw intensity of the acoustic guitar and drum combo. For me, it’s so much more visceral and powerful than electric instrumentation (or a bigger band) would be.

The lyrics

Because the spark falls
The wires are crossing
And the heat is thick
Your mind is tossing
You’re alone, awake
A figure on the fray

Because the smoke rolls
A slow train coming
And you can’t recall
When you left home and
In the room the lines
Are blurring into gray

One small window swollen tight
Can’t crack open to the night
You feel the singe, the choking air
No more wondering when or where

You’ve got to stop, drop, and roll
That’s all

Because the flame licks
The paint is peeling
And you can’t escape
The headlong feeling
Of the tick, the tock
The chances slipping away

Because you bang and bang
And bang your fist
Against the wall and still
The hard resistance
And there’s not a dent
You can make today

One small window, can’t jump down
Too far distant from solid ground
You feel the singe, the choking air
No more wondering when or where

You’ve got to stop, drop, and roll
That’s all

Because the spark falls
The wires are crossing
And the flame licks
Your mind is tossing
And the tick, the tock
The chances slipping away

Because you give until
There is no giving
And you lose the life
Inside the living
And there’s not a shred
Of reason to delay

One small break and you roll on through
You choose the exit that chooses you
When you do the thing you do not dare
You find yourself in the clearing air

You just stop, drop, and roll
That’s all