(2016 Warrior Songs)
The CD release event for If You Have to Ask – Warrior Songs, Vol. 1 is Nov. 5th: Funk’s Pub in Fitchburg
It took five years for the veterans advocate group and local nonprofit Warrior Songs to get to this point. They spent two full years organizing; setting up their Board, devising their curriculum and resources and obtaining 501(c)(3) status. That itself is a reflection of their intent and commitment. Their mission – to help veterans heal from the wounds of service through music and the creative arts – is a noble one and it lands on both sides of the fence. Veterans have an outlet to help them cope while the general public has access to programming that help them understand veterans’ plight.
The intent and commitment reside largely from the experiences of its President and Founder, Jason Moon who, after a failed suicide attempt and a PTSD diagnosis, turned to music to provide an outlet for his struggle. In 2010 he released his first recording while performing for veterans in particular and the public at large all around the country. The response was so encouraging that his burgeoning realization that his music was helping others to cope und educate themselves led him to undertake his newly-found mission.
Earlier in 2016 Moon won the 105.5 Triple M Project M, an annual and rigorous songwriting competition. None of the judges knew who Moon was or even that he was a vet, much less his remarkable commitment to help others. He wasn’t exactly heading toward victory even with his winsome demeanor. It really wasn’t until he played his song “Trying to Find My Way Home” a few weeks into the competition that his true self was revealed, particularly in his soliloquy that revealed the song’s origin. He may not have been the most proficient on the guitar or even the best singer but he was good enough, had survived earlier elimination rounds and his story became a paramount factor in his overall impression.
Moon also had this compilation in mind, collecting the stories he heard from other veterans and survivors in his travels, until he found the right amount and caliber of artists to transform them into songs. Over forty veterans and several civilians contributed in the making of the music. Eleven of the fourteen tracks were recorded and produced in Wisconsin, a few right here in Madison. Moon’s song “The Things We Carried” is a beautiful country shuffle and a folk tale of the belongings and private possessions carried as soldiers that transform into emotional and psychological weight to be shouldered subsequently. Sourced from a Warrior Songs retreat in Pennsylvania and recorded in Woodstock, NY in 2013, it features some prominent players including Jerry Morotta on drums, Memphis’s Ross Rice (Human Radio) on piano, and former JJ Cale bassist Duke McVinny on guitar.
“B.O.H.I.C.A.” is Moon’s other musical composition. It was also written in 2013 at another retreat in Spokane before being recorded in Wauwatosa featuring Madison’s Tom Haines on drums and Wauwatosa’s Jonathan Leubner on bass and guitar as well in addition to recording and mixing the track. It’s an upbeat, though nearly self-deprecating look at inevitable troubles in the vein of Dylan and John Prine. Moon has a real songwriter’s knack for turning a phrase and creating memorable lyrical refrains with uncomplicated chord progressions, the type that tend to stick in your head. There is wit and sly sensibility that rides underneath tales of suffering, redemption and resignation. His lyrics for CD opener “Things Will Never be the Same” establish the tone for the project. The track was adapted to music by vocalist and Appleton Rock School instructor Courtney Reynolds. Moon also co-wrote “I’m Still Fighting” with Army vet Kevin Bauer. The track was recorded in Rock Garden Studio in Appleton and is an acoustic-based rocker with some nice slide guitar.
Madison’s Kyle Rightley (who is also a member of no less than seven bands including the Civil Engineers, the Driveway Thriftdwellers, Beefus and the Big Payback) contributes “Brothers,” a muscular slow burner with tremolo guitars that contribute significantly to the song’s dark subject matter. This track is one of the album’s strongest with clear and powerful production and featuring Blueheels members drummer Adam Cargin (also Williamson Street Drumworks) and bassist Landon Arkens (also Blast House Studios head engineer).
Two members of the Getaway Drivers get in the act. Sheila Shigley’s extraordinary “Waiting for My Sun” sets a poem drawn from a women’s veteran’s reunion to piano played by fellow Getaway Driver Bob Manor. Shigley is a beautiful ballad composer and her multitracked vocal harmonies are exquisite. Manor recorded and produced a powerful track by Kris Sheehan (American Feedbag) entitled “Ying and the Yang.” An acoustic guitar track that recounts a Marine’s firsthand testimony, Sheehan’s plaintive vocal and guitar are augmented by Shigley’s harmonies and Manor’s additional guitar and mandolin.
“Why Are We Here,” is a moving composition by Army vet Todd Fahn whose tenor voice evokes the senselessness of war. This one could be the album’s anthem with its mournful lyrical content. “Think of this a song / Think of this as a poem / But think of this, my friends / These words might never make it home,” Fahn intones over the intro.
Not all of the contributors have survived their ordeal One song, “188th” was released in 2013 by Jacob George. A year later George lost his battle with PTSD. Understanding this gives the song an elevated sense of relevance.
As Todd Fahn sings in “Why Are We Here,” “No one knows the pain / No one knows the fear / Everyone says yes to war / As long as they’re not here.” Our ongoing failure to provide for veterans needs is shocking and disgraceful. This compilation CD should not be necessary. But it is and every one of these contributors deserves the small amount of support that purchasing this music provides. While you’re at the Warrior Songs site, consider providing ongoing support. Like so many things, it’s apparently up to us, as individuals, to take care of each other while the merchants of death, more powerful than any government or world leader, peddle their wares. Through all the wars and all the years there are still those who would say yes. Say no.