Bill Carson is a busy man. His contributions include arranging the Groundhog Day Concert, writing music for film and video projects at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, and performing with other local musicians. He's also an elementary school teacher. With all of this in mind, it's hard to believe he found time to record a new album, but he has. It's called Mockingbird, Mockingbird, and Sunday Carson is performing a special album-release show at O'Hara and Flynn.
"I do feel overcommitted sometimes, but at the same time, it's a really good balance," explains Carson. "As long as you manage to keep all the balls in the air, once it's over, it feels really good."
Mockingbird, Mockingbird is a masterfully crafted compilation of adapted traditional and contemporary covers. "All the songs and tunes are either traditional tunes I've adapted or wrote new words for or songs written by friends," says Carson. "A lot of them are traditional American songs that I've found from old recordings or books."
But perhaps the most notable thing about Mockingbird, Mockingbird is the fact that it is largely a one-man affair. "By far, most of it is just me," admits Carson. "I recorded it all in about five or six days."
That said, Carson did enlist the help of a few friends — Lindsay Holler, Michael Flynn, Nathan Koci, Jonathan Gray, and two of his nephews. In addition, a few songs feature a small chamber orchestra. "If it's just me working on something, it never quite seems real," says Carson. "As soon as I get other people involved, it's great. It's beautiful — like, 'What that person did is beautiful.'"
Listening to Mockingbird, Mockingbird is like picking Carson's brain. "Sometimes we compartmentalize — like, this is a traditional song, this is an original song, this is a cover song. I like sort of blurring all of that," he says.
The fourth track on the album, "Two Little Blackbirds," is a song with special significance to Carson and his family. "That's a song that my grandmother used to sing to my mom, and she sang it to us," recalls Carson. Meanwhile, the song "Village Tune" has an interesting backstory. "I was in Mexico a couple of years ago, in Oaxaca," says Carson. "There was this elderly man with little stone figurines. He was whistling this tune over and over. I stopped and talked to him and asked to record him. His name was Eugenio." Carson adapted the tune and played it over the sound of chirping birds.
The track "Nineteen People" is a song written by local musician Nathan Koci, who wrote three songs using quotes from Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. "The text is from an interview with Tony Blair about the War on Terrorism," explains Carson. "Tony Blair defended the choice to go to war, and Jon Stewart questioned that if 19 people hijacked the airplanes on September 11, it doesn't seem like it's possible to go to war long enough that there wouldn't still be 19 people who were upset."
The song "Bright Summer Morning" is an adaptation of a traditional tune from western North Carolina that was recorded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who collected folk songs in the 1930s and '40s. "I always thought the lyrics of that song are kind of psychedelic," says Carson. "A lot of those really old folk songs are really far out. I like that kind of trippy ambiguity." The song features paradoxical lyrics such as "Some boys and girls were skating/ on a bright and sunny day/ The ice broke through and they all fell in/ And the rest they run, yeah, the rest they run away."
"It's a record I've been wanting to make for a while," says Carson. "It feels good, because even though most of the recording was done by myself, because the material comes from so many different places, it does sort of feel like a collaboration."