Jeff Cramer


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Northern 45

Release Date: Nov 14, 2018
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BIOGRAPHY

Jeff Cramer – Northern 45 – Track by Track

Open Road

The day I graduated from high school, I sat down with my Mom and looked at one of those old national gazetteers to plan my first big road trip from Wisconsin to the mountains out west. Growing up in southeastern Wisconsin, it’s hard to get a real sense of landscape – everything is flat, highways, houses, corn fields. I suppose at the time I didn’t know why, but I wanted to hit the road to get a visceral sense of the country. From my first big trip solo west in a 96’ forest green Toyota Tercel, to 5 years in my 86’ stick shift, apple red BMW 325es hitting 300k miles, to my current rig – a solar truck camper, I’m at home driving endless hours on American highways. My family and friends think I’m crazy when I say I’ll be there in 2 days, by road. The song is sort of a meditation on that theme, including some of the characters along the way down anonymous the highways.

Band of Brothers

I love adventure stories, and what’s a better story than Lewis and Clark. I watched the PBS documentaries as a kid, then read the accounts as an adult. It’s one of the universal American adventure stories where you can’t help but add yourself as a fly on the wall. Eating 5, 10 lbs of meat a day per person when they had a fresh catch, carving canoes out of Doug Firs and floating the class 5+ Columbia River before it was damned, encountering new species, cultures. I always imagined there was more to the dynamics captured in public accounts of the trip, from reasons for Lewis’s neurosis, to the relationship between the tribes and the explorers, to the relationships between Lewis and Jefferson – Band of Brothers is perhaps my account, and hints of historical fictions within it.

 

Forgive

Forgive was one of those songs that just came out all at once, in one sitting.  I’m still not sure where the images, lines come from other than an honest and immediate expression of experiencing rawness of sudden change and memorializing love.  I remember consciously writing “Forget not forgive” on the paper, then singing “Forgive not forget.”  Perhaps this song is an example of one of those moments where the inner, wiser voice that I can hardly attribute to my conscious self comes through.  I welcome that voice back anytime while songwriting, if it can hear me saying this 😉

 

The demo I have of the song from years ago is much more emotive, set in a big open room with an open tuned acoustic and my voice as the only two instruments.  Taking it into the studio with a rock n’ roll band was a different, if cathartic experience, letting it loose, and singing the same lines with a more confident and easy approach.  I’m looking forward to experimenting with the live version and seeing which version come out night by night.

 

Legend of Bo Tim

Supposedly, there’s a real dude that lives somewhere in the middle of nowhere Montana, who moved from the coast to find a more honest life, living off the land back in the 70s. I was up there with some friends in the woods last year and we all started riffing on the life this guy has lived after our grizzly bearded friend picked up an old copy of those local mountain culture magazines you find in stacks in rental cabins covering this guy’s life. He started impersonating what I imagine is his deep, deliberate, and ruffled voice, quoting his descriptions of his “Bo”, his company, his credo around wine, women, and song, etc. I was working on this riff, and the story just naturally fit the sonic theme, and from there I was off and running. Naturally, a dude that moves to the woods, trades his paycheck for his hands has succumb to the more powerful forces the woods, or creatures living in them – at least in my version of the rest of the story. For the record, I don’t wish him that fate, though I’d have to imagine he’d find it amusing. But perhaps now though the song has a bit of a deeper meaning for me that I’m just starting to understand a year after writing it.  The dream many have, including me, to disappear into the woods, live off the land in some utopian state is perhaps fulfilling enough as just a dream.  I think I’m ok with just telling the stories in song, rather than my early 20s desire to live them – at least for now.

Sweetheart Away

Everyone that’s been in love and lost it knows that raw feeling that comes along with the initial blow of losing it. The central scenes that embody the losing it that are personal to each love. It’s interesting how even more than finding or experiencing love, the losing it imprints these images and scenes on your memory and being in such a stronger way. In those moments, it’s like you’re caught in a trap – there’s no way out other than leaning in, and I suppose this song is just that, leaning in.

Big Man’s World

About a decade ago, just after graduating from college I was working full time at a mosaic tile factory downtown Worcester, MA and part time as a bar tender at a wine bar outside of town. I had a tendency to do about as much wine drinking as serving in that role, which didn’t work out so well for the owner. One day, after having some sort of blow up in a relationship and likely overserving myself as the bartender – immediately leading to a mutual agreement this wasn’t the right fit with the owner, I found myself alone in my room on Main South Worcester, MA, and wrote this song. I suppose coming out of college, working joe jobs, overdrawing your bank account every week, it’s easy to feel like a boy in a big man’s world. But even today, with a job, at least a good long without an overdraw, it’s just as easy to feel the same way – especially since mr. self-appointed “big man” started running the show in Washington. The key is to remember how absurd that all is, and I hope that comes out a bit in the song too.

 

Love is Crazy

I was on the phone with a great old friend and songwriter one sunny Saturday afternoon, sitting on my porch, and we started getting into our most recent tales of dating, relationships, etc. Inevitably in these conversations we’d reach a point where we throw our hands up in the air, deriding the absurdities of love. In that moment, I might have barely consciously said, “Love is crazy,” and my friend responded saying “yeah it is, it’s a big ole mess.” That was it. I ended up with a song that plays out like an old western / love story, with a shootout and all between the lovers, which I suppose is a decent metaphor, in my experience at least.

 

Light Inside / In the Garden

Both of these evolved out of a bit of a dreamscape – sort of a soundtrack to those moments immediately after waking in the morning. At the time, I was watching my grandparents, who were like second parents to me, struggle with aging, disease, and ultimately passing on. There were moments were you could almost see them drift to another realm, butted up against the precipice of this life into some next. Those final moments of a dream in the morning became immersed in some kind of similar journey.

 

Colorado Girl

I doubt I can add much more to the canons that have been offered on the greatness of Townes. Just something about his voice, his character, his way of subtly telling stories with simple words, but complex metaphors and meanings – all typically over 3 or 4 chords. The song Colorado Girl has always been a favorite, and I used to run it with a country band I played with while out east – including Jack Gregori who sings on the last two verses with me alongside Molly Parden. Then when I moved to Denver myself, it took on more, and I just loved to play and sing it on my old silvertone guitar, with a bit more of a driving beat and sort of eagerness. Seemed a natural fit to cover with the band we had for the record.

 

Eyes Open Wide

A natural fit for me following Colorado Girl, I started this song after diving head first into playing and listening to the Townes catalogue while living in Portland, OR. I must have listened to Loretta 500 times, an started to internalize these old, road worn characters, and melding them with where I was at the time. Maybe “telling lies, just to pass the time” had something to do with playing Townes, or Dylan, or Hank songs at bars rather than my own, or maybe it’s just some old dude, tired from riding his horse through the canyon all day, telling stories to his fellow riders with whiskey in hand. I’m not sure.

 

The Rebel

I feel like I’ve written this one three times over. As I never put out any of my own records until now, I could write a song, put it down, pick it back up and add or change some more. It has always felt natural to pick this one up and add a new wrinkle. It has 5 verses now, and maybe started with a verse or two over a decade back. Who knows, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one eventually turns into one of those 15 verse opuses. Standby…

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