Soul, Stone & Sundry Song Notes

Song notes by Braden Canfield

Braden Canfield Soul CD

“When I Fall from the Grace of God”

This is a song about intellectual freedom and religious faith. Although I have remained in connection to the Christian Church and have been profoundly affected by the institution and the people within, I cannot deny information that challenges the premises of religious “faith” nor will I ever surrender my ability to search freely for what is true unfettered by presumption and to the best of my ability. If this is what “falling from grace” is, then I have fallen with passionate abandon. Yet this song expresses my hope that love will transcend even these belief systems that bind so many into sects of arrogant certainty, fear of the “other” and violent retribution. This is why I am fond of saying, “Abide these three things: Faith, Hope and Love…” but two out of three ain’t bad. Hell, according to St. Paul, if you choose the right one, it appears that one out of three is more than sufficient. Thanks to Lisa Baker for the cool synthesizer and Marshal Davis for the soaring bass at the climax of this one.

“Like a Buffalo on the Highway”

I live in a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul, which is largely a forest, infested by houses, roads and strip malls. We frequently see deer and foxes roaming our hood. However, on very few occasions, I have seen the briefest glimpse of a mangy old coyote. The phrase “Like a coyote lost in the suburbs” has been ringing in my head for years until it finally evolved into this song, a true story of contemporary suburban life.

“Jesus and Darwin”

The first line of this song, “Darwin was a Christian, Jesus was a Jew”, occurred to me one day as I was reading a book on Darwin’s life and how he struggled with his particular bite on the apple from the tree of knowledge. It started out in my mind as an exercise in reconciliation of world views, but I think it ended up as a satire. Marshall Davis, whose talents shine through all of these recordings, brings particular life to this one with some fine walking bass and wonderful percussion.

“Dakota Sunflower”

This is for my wife who is from North Dakota and insisted on carrying a bouquet of sunflowers for our wedding. When she told me of her intentions, I imagined my bride coming down the aisle toting a huge sunflower stalk in both hands like an infantryman with a rifle. It was, to my delight, a tasteful display of smallish sunflowers. Thanks to Brian Wicklund for the marvelous string arrangement. The addition of “Lord of All Hopefulness” (the tune is called “Slane”) at the end came about when it occurred to my musical subconscious that the melody worked well with this guitar progression…

“Searching for the Sun”

This was written in midwinter while longing for the twist of our planet that allows the days to begin to lengthen again. The first line, “I think that I could use a change.” is something of a mantra to my midlife doldrums.

“Gentle Sailor” (Norman’s Song)

My wife’s father, Norman Ringstrom (2/24/1924 – 4/8/2005) was orphaned early in life. As a very young man, he joined the Navy and spent a good portion of the Great War serving on a Destroyer in the Pacific (the USS Converse). After the war, he came home, got a job at a local power plant and began raising a marvelous family with his wife, Lil who is named after the Lily (All of her sisters and one brother were similarly named after flowers). In the absence of his own family of origin, the crew of his Navy ship became his extended family through their yearly reunions and a strong social network.  He remained a sailor his whole life even if landlocked to his Midwestern homeland. He was a gentle man who embodied all that is good about the brave men and women of his generation. Two of his talented grandchildren, my step son Alex, and step daughter Margaret join me on the chorus. Lisa Baker on piano is marvelous as always. This one’s for Norm.

“Gone All Wonder”

In his book The Demon Haunted World, Carl Sagan speaks of the “Marriage of Skepticism and Wonder” as a way to navigate the world of overwhelming information and conflicting ideas. He argues that we must never lose our capacity for one (skepticism) for the sake of the other (a sense of wonder) but must strive to marry the two together in our pursuit of truth. As one who has a tendency to go all skeptical, I often envy those who have the capacity to go “All Wonder”. I’m actually for it… in moderation. But if you have ever seen footage of Jonestown before the Kool-Aid, you will understand the need for serious scrutiny of anyone who goes ALL wonder. Regardless, I believe we can experience moments or have revelations that profoundly transform our lives. The trick is to ground it in reality and make it last.  

“Maundy” (God’s Broken Feast)

I was asked by Iver, the choir director of my church to compose a song for Maundy Thursday a few years ago. I ended up composing two. We performed one, “Bent to the Basin”, which didn’t go over very well. The other I kept working on and fell in love with. It is in the form of a hymn and, to my liking, speaks in the language of mystery and metaphor, using resurrection as symbol more than dogma. The creative process started, as with many of my songs, with a compelling first line, “This is the season of God in the grave”. It seemed to me an apt description of Lent.  The song blossomed from there. This is one for the agnostic hymnal.

“I Spent Eternity in Target Yesterday”

I went into the local Target one sunny summer day and found myself wandering the aisles in a materialistic trance. I have no idea how long I was there. All I know is that I bought nothing and upon emerging into the light of day, was actually surprised that the sun was still shining. The rather ironic phrase which makes up the title of this song occurred to me then. Over the next few months I fleshed out this little tune. Thanks to my wife’s brother, Bob Ringstrom formerly of the infamous “Gremlins”, for adding the snappy brush snare.

“River Kyrie”

This one was inspired by the men, women and children who have had to fight back the spring floodwaters of the Red River where it runs down the border of Minnesota and the Dakotas. There have been numerous stories about how communities have come together to support one another through the devastation. Many choose to blame people who live by rivers for the devastation, but humans have found it necessary to camp by running water for untold generations. It just happens that contemporary culture has rendered our tents into permanent structures. I always wanted to work the Kyrie into a song of mine and it found its way into this one which is very cool. Thanks to Lisa Baker for adding the majestic cathedral organ.

“Mother Earth and Father Sky”

This is another hymn-like tune that began (and ended) as an attempt to bring together “sky cult” (Father in Heaven) with “earth cult” (Mother Earth) religious metaphors.  It is inspired by the 20 year friendship of two men: David Mohn, the Pastor of Holy Nativity Lutheran Church in Minnesota and Basil Brave Heart, a Lakota Indian Spiritual Leader from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota. David has been bringing people of all ages to Pine Ridge for the past 20 years to camp on Basil’s property and work on the Rez. The trips started out as “Mission trips” to the Reservation but have evolved into supportive cultural exchanges which David now calls “Vision trips”. Basil comes to Holy Nativity a few times every year to hold seminars on Native American Spirituality. These are “Mission trips”. Both men find no conflict between the Christian faith and traditional Lakota spirituality.

I use a couple Lakota terms in juxtaposition with Christian terms:

Heyoka= the trickster spirit, often represented by a Coyote or Raven. Holy Ghost= the spirit of God, also a trickster in many bible passages, often represented by a Dove.

Hokahey= a word of encouragement in Lakota Hallelujah= a word of praise in Christianity.   

Thanks to Kim (Akimbo) Boursier, David (Father Sky) Mohn and Iver (Iver) Hubert for adding their voices to this one. Thanks to Lisa Baker for the stunning piano work and to Marshall Davis for working overtime to make this anthem come to life.

“Prairie Thunder”

I wrote this 6 verse poem as a way to explore spirituality in the power of nature. I was feeling particularly vulnerable to the forces of nature at the time and found myself imagining a conversation with a thunderstorm as I stood on an open prairie.  Although I have always liked the words, I wasn’t sure what to do with this rather repetitive tune until I asked Brian Wicklund if he could breathe some life into it. He blew my socks off. Thus, I end the CD with a song about death.