“Over the last few years I’ve been obsessing over story songs and short stories, in general,” says Americana musician Shay Martin Lovette. “In my opinion, they are the hardest songs to write because you have to compress a story that would fill up a notebook into just a few minutes of melody and rhyme.”
Such a new-found fascination fuels his latest song called “For Rose Marie,” in which he unravels “the story of a troubled woman who has led an arduous life but has somehow managed to maintain a sense of optimism throughout,” Lovette tells American Songwriter. Rose Marie is “a wild spirit with a knack for party tricks, storytelling, and making close friends out of strangers. At the end of the song, she mysteriously vanishes, leaving the town to wonder if she’s found what she’s been seeking: the meaning of life and what comes after.”
Musically, Lovette turned to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album, as well as the work of Willis Alan Ramsey and Townes Van Zandt, for inspiration─all the while digging deeper into author Ron Rash’s vast collection of short stories. “I aimed to capture the darkness and beauty of [the song] and wanted every word to carry the weight of her story,” he says.
Now each and every night / The world is in a different place / Her mind runs an ancient race, he sings over a gently musical hum. New constellations come to view They help her make it through / They take her back to you.
There’s a reverence and warmth in Lovette’s performance. He sings as if he knows this particular character quite well, even if he’s simply acting as storyteller. Rose Marie disappeared in to something / Like the leaves of November / That’s how we remember Rose Marie, he sings, a heaviness escaping his lungs.
With its roots back in 2018, “For Rose Marie” emerges as the oldest song on Lovette’s forthcoming studio record, Scatter & Gather, produced by Joseph Terrell, famously known for his work in Chapel Hill string band Mipso. “[This song] grabbed me the first time Shay played it for me. Such a great lyric,” Terrell shares. “At its heart it’s a classic folk story song, which presents a particular challenge in the studio, because a story song doesn’t necessarily need anything to fancy it up.
“You don’t want to distract the listener from the vocal telling the story. I think producers need a sort of Hippocratic oath. Whatever you add shouldn’t detract from the heart of the song. First do no harm,” he continues. “So, we focused on recording a great vocal and guitar take, before deciding to bring in two extra elements, the clarinets and fiddle to add to the atmosphere of mystery in the song, and the halftime groove.”
Terrell pulled in acclaimed musicians Yan Westerlund (drums) and Wood Robinson (bass) to play, and the effect is a rootsy, organic arrangement to give Lovette plenty of room to simply tell a powerful story. Scatter & Gather drops May 14 and boasts 12 songs centered around a colorful array of other characters.
Lovette will be opening Mipso’s upcoming tour dates. More info below.
The upcoming Mipso outdoor/social distanced pod shows are as follows:
June 24 – Huntersville, NC – Historic Rural Hill
June 25 – Durham, NC – Orange County Speedway
June 26 – Galax, VA – Blue Ridge Music Center
Photo by Julianna Liegel