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Hello Starling


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(2003 – US: Signature Sounds, Ireland: Independent/RMG)
(2005 – V2 Records)

Recorded and mixed by David Odlum at Black Box studios, La Dionnaie, France: 17 Feb – 03 March 2003

Josh Ritter: voice, guitar, violin
Zack Hickman: bass, guitar, mandolin
David Hingerty: drums
Sam Kassirer: Hammond, Wurlitzer, piano
David Odlum: guitar, vocals
Darius Zelkha: drums on ‘California’, vocals

Mastered by Jonathan Wyman at M Works
Art & Design by Aesthetic Apparatus
Cover photo by Ed Braverman

Lyrics

Bright Smile
now my work is done
I feel I’m owed some joy
oh Imogene and Abelard
I’m your homeward boy
but there’s another one
who brings me to your door
and the boat she weaved from the tidal reeds
was always tied to shore
with bright smiles and dark eyes
bright smile dark eyes
everywhere I went oh
I was always searching for ya
bright smile dark eyes
I’m looking for some peace
but it’s so hard to find
with Calamity Janes and the Steamboat Casanovas
and Darling Clementines
if she’s your only one
then she is also mine
just pin your heartbeat up against my heartbeat
and you’ll see how well we rhyme
with bright smiles and dark eyes
bright smile dark eyes
everywhere I went oh
I was always looking for ya
bright smile dark eyes
man is only half himself
the other half is a bright thing
he tumbles on by luck or grace
for man is ever a blind thing
bright smiles and dark eyes
bright smile dark eyes
everywhere I went oh
I was always looking for ya
bright smile dark eyes

Kathleen
all the other girls here are stars—you are the Northern Lights
they try to shine in through your curtains—you’re too close and too bright
they try and they try but everything that they do
is the ghost of a trace of a pale imitation of you
I’ll be the one to drive you back home Kathleen
this party is made with the night air and the chance that a smile
will wind its way from your face to one of the boys in your line
you act like you’re hip to their tricks and you’re strong
but a virgin Wurlitzer heart never once had a song
I’ll be the one to drive you back home Kathleen
and I’ll have you back by break of day
I’m going your way anyway
and if you’d like to come along
I’ll be yours for a song
I know you are waiting and I know that it is not for me
but I’m here and I’m ready and I’ve saved you the passenger seat
I won’t be your last dance just your last goodnight
every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied
I’ll be the one to drive you back home Kathleen
so crawl up your trellis and quietly back into your room
and I’ll coast down the length of your drive by the light of the moon
and the next time I see you—a new kind of hello
both our hearts have a secret only both of us know
‘bout the night that I drove you back home Kathleen

You Don’t Make It Easy Babe
here I am standing at your window again
waiting for you to say go away or come in
I’m your locked door’s worst knocker
I’m your curtain’s best friend
I’m trying hard to love you – you don’t make it easy Babe
I’m trying hard to love you – I’m looking for an easy way
your friends ask about me you say I can be found
with the cheap romance novels with their spines battered down
oh the heart has no bones you say so it won’t break
but the purpose of loving is the pounding it takes
I’m trying hard to love you – you don’t make it easy Babe
I’m trying hard to love you – I’m looking for an easy way
the ropes that have bound me leave no marks by their knots
and though they’re your hair that don’t mean I’m not caught
I know the song of the handcuffs as they scrape across the floor
but that new thing you’ve got I’ve got no clue what it’s for
I’m trying hard to love you – you don’t make it easy Babe
I’m trying hard to love you – I’m looking for an easy way
with fortune’s rocks millstones you hang round my throat
and a brick for my window weighted down with a note
I hope you find someone just as hard as you come
in this hard world sadly that’s so easily done
I’m trying hard to love you – you don’t make it easy Babe
I’m trying hard to love you – I’m looking for an easy way
I’m trying hard to love you – you don’t make it easy Babe
I’m trying hard to love you – there’s gotta be an easy way

Man Burning
don’t stand so close to me
don’t be another tragedy
I’ve burned everybody who had a hand to lend
a man burning at both ends
no one put me in this hell
I lit a fire underneath myself
now I’m blazing the same old trail back to you again
a man burning at both ends
a dangerous thing to know about
no painless way to put me out
you either make a bed that’s cold
or you’re walking barefoot over coals
I regret the things I’ve done
bitter words and fiery tongues
and letters burned to smoke and then turned to wind
a man burning at both ends
a dangerous thing to know about
no painless way to put me out
you either make a bed that’s cold
or you’re walking barefoot over coals
we ran barefoot through the reeds
wetted down and with the need
the tide though high and getting higher
could not put out the man on fire
look look look look look down your street for me
look look look look look up your the window please
you’ll see a light where before no light had been
a man burning at both ends

Rainslicker
you had your red rainslicker on
your face was turned up into rain as you watched me
and I was crossing I was crossing
the street like my own Rubicon
coming back home to ya coming back Rome
and your eyes were so patient and calm
and green as the grass that might grow on the 23rd Psalm
the last forty days have been rain
the sun is a prodigal one that seems bent upon
giving itself a bad name
and leaving us deep in the lurch as we walked down the lane
it’s a long time oh such a long time
and I hope for your sake I’ve changed
and I hope for my sake you managed to remain the same
is it raining for you raining for you now
like it’s raining for me raining for me now
you tied your old bike to a tree
came in from the weather though not yet together
I felt your hand light on my sleeve
as light as a bird that might offer a sinner reprieve
we don’t know too much I know we don’t know too much
but love rains mysteriously
and behind every cloud is a purpose only now we can see
that it’s raining for us raining for us now
raining for us raining for us now
raining for us raining for us now
raining for us raining for us now

Wings
at night we crossed the border following a Black robe
to the edge of the reservation—to Cataldo Mission
where the saints and all the martyrs look down on dying converts
what makes the water holy she says is that that it’s the closest thing to rain
I stole a mule from Anthony—I helped Anne up upon it
and we rode to Coeur d’Alene—through Harrison and Wallace
they were blasting out the tunnels—making way for the light of learning
when Jesus comes a’calling she said he’s coming round the mountain on a train
it’s my home—last night I dreamt that I grew wings
I found a place where they could hear me when I sing
we floated on to Hanford on a lumber boat up river
past the fisheries and the milltowns like a stretch of future graveyards
she was driven to distraction—said I wonder what will happen
when they find out they’re mistaken and the land is too changed to ever change
we waded through the marketplace—someone’s ship had come in
there was silver and begonias—dynamite and cattle
there were hearts as big as apples and apples in the shape of Mary’s heart
I said inside this gilded cage a songbird always looks so plain
it’s my home—last night I dreamt that I grew wings
I found a place where they could hear me when I sing.
and so they came with cameras—breaking through the morning mist
press and businessmen—tycoons—Episcopal philanthropists
lost in their appraisal of the body of a woman
but all we saw were lowlands—clouds clung to mountains without strings
and at last we saw some people huddled up against
the rain that was descending like railroad spikes and hammers
they were headed for the border—walking and then running
then they were gone into the fog but Anne said underneath their jackets she saw wings

California
going out to California
gonna let the water warm my clothes
I’m alone but I’m not lonely
gonna trade the weather for the Western coast
no don’t cry
I’ll be back and I’ll
bring the sun to shine
in your eyes
on your shoulders
Sunset Boulevard will strip for money
Mulholland is a long drag for the lonely hearts
down along the Imperial Valley
runs a river of homelessness and cinema stars
don’t say
the trip’s been done
a hundred thousand times
cause this one
is mine
so I will work at what work finds me
and I will take what comfort I can get
I’ll be back when I’m good and ready
California doesn’t seem to think I’m ready yet
no don’t cry
I’ll be back and I’ll
bring the sun to shine
in your eyes
on your shoulders

Snow Is Gone
birds beneath my window dustying their wings upon the lawn
I hear them in the morning light giving last amen to a migratory song
they’re never looking round for me—their eyes are on the sky or the ground below
but I’d rather be the one who loves than to be loved and never even know
hello blackbird hello starling
winter’s over be my darling
it’s been a long time coming
but now the snow is gone
you were beautiful when I first saw your feathers and confectionery airs
like the earth it up and promised you the stars but you really didn’t care
I sang in exultation pulled the stops—you always looked a little bored
but I’m singing for the love of it—have mercy on the man who sings to be adored
hello blackbird hello starling
winter’s over be my darling
it’s been a long time coming
but now the snow is gone
OOOOOOOOH!
I’m underneath your window now—it’s long after the birds have gone to roost
and I’m not sure if I’m singing for the love of it or for the love of you
but I’ve flown a long way honey hear my confession then I’ll go
I’d rather be the one who loves than to be loved and never even know
hello brown one hello blue one
last night’s feathers exchanged for new ones
hello blackbird hello starling
winter’s over be my darling
it’s been a long time coming
but now the snow is gone

Bone of Song
just where it now lies I can no longer say
I found it on a cold and November day
in the roots of a sycamore tree where it had hid so long
in a box made out of myrtle lay the bone of song
the bone of song was a jawbone old and bruised
and worn out in the service of the muse
and along its sides and teeth were written words
I ran my palm along them and I heard
lucky are you who finds me in the wilderness
I am the only unquiet ghost that does not seek rest
the words on the bone of song were close and small
and though their tongues were dead I found I knew them all
in the hieroglyphs of quills and quatrain lines
Osiris—the fall of Troy—Auld Lang Syne
Kathleen Mauvoreen—Magnificat—Your Cheatin’ Heart
the chords of a covenant king singing for the Ark
then I saw on a white space that was left
a blessing written older than the rest
it said leave me here I care not for wealth or fame
I’ll remember your song – but I’ll forget your name
the words that I sang blew off like the leaves in the wind
and perched like birds in the branches before landing on the bone again
then the bone was quiet it said no more to me
so I wrapped it in the ribbons of a sycamore tree
and as night had come I turned around and headed home
with a lightness in my step and a song in my bones
lucky are you who finds me in the wilderness
I am the only unquiet ghost that does not seek rest

Baby That’s Not All
fold yourself against
me like a paper bird
tonight we’ll fly awhile
just give me the word
and hold onto me
like I hold onto you
a steeple holds a bell
the night sky holds the moon
melting flakes of snow
will catch you when you fall
Baby that’s not all
then like falling stars
back down to sleep will go
into our waiting arms
in orbits round the glow
cover lets and down
will catch you when you fall
Baby that’s not all

The Bad Actress
she’s a bad actress- but hey
you give her the big lines anyway
though her eyes are big as Canada
and the hips are South Australia
and the shoulder blade is Africa
looking out on South America
I’m out here on the sea
and her heart ain’t where it oughta be
she’s a bad actress- but hey
she’s got a big part in your play
now my apartment lies awake at night
it tosses every time she sighs
tries to take it easy on her eyes
but I can feel it giving up the fight
my whole building’s on its last floors
her heart’s not in it anymore
she said she gave her heart to you
if it was precious why’d you lose it
but if it was golden it’d shine
if it’s big it won’t be hard to find
if it’s real it stains your hands like wine
you can look but there is no use trying
cause no matter what she said the truth
is that she never gave her heart to you
she’s a bad actress
bad actress