Connie Dover: Dipping into Serendipity
by Jan Vanderhorst
It's amazing sometimes how life can present you with opportunities which can trigger creativity. How else can you explain a lounge chair overlooking a lake somewhere along the Interstate waiting for you, just when the words to a song about settling the American West come to you. Such was the case with Missouri singer-songwriter Connie Dover. She became intrigued by the old song "I Am Going To The West", which finds its origin in Alabama.
"I particularly liked the chorus and first couple of lines", she says, "but I ended up writing a whole new set of verses and composing my own melody."
"I was piqued by the chorus to the song and it seemed to encapsulate the sense of what this album was about. So when I was out in Wyoming one summer, I sat on the porch and wrote the words to the song and finished it up when I was driving to Nebraska".
It was there on the Interstate that serendipity seemed to step in as the rest of the words to the song came to her.
"I pulled over to a little lake and thought 'Wow I'll just hop out of my car and finish writing the song by this lake' and there happened to be this La-z-boy recliner sitting next to the lake - vacant! It had everything on it but an end table and writing tablet, so I thought it was the place to sit and finish the song, so I did."
Now if only they had La-z-boys set up every few miles along the Interstates!
"I'd be curious to see how many songwriters wind up along I-70, inspired by the scenery of Nebraska".
Her new CD "The Border Of Heaven" traces Celtic music from it's roots in the British Isles to the cowboy songs of the American frontier. They are the songs which arrived on the lips of eager immigrants looking for a new life, and became staples of the American cultural landscape.
The album's title come from John Bunyan's poem "Pilgrim's Progress". '...for in this land the shining ones commonly walked, because it was upon the Borders of Heaven'.
"(The poem) seems to have a lot of parallels about journeying", says Connie, "about the concepts we have of a frontier, or maybe a paradise or heaven on earth, that we're always aspiring towards, which is kind of what this album is about."
Connie is well-suited to explore the journey these songs have made. Her three previous solo albums were recorded in Scotland, where many of the songs originated. Every summer Connie works on a cattle ranch in Wyoming where she hears some of the same songs after they have made the transformation to their present form.
"Quite often there were so many similarities between the lyrics and the melodies", she says. "it didn't take a lot of figuring out to realize the songs were very related. In particular, I think about 'The Streets of Laredo', which is considered a cowboy song, and 'The Sailor Cut Down In His Prime', a British Isles version of the same song.
"I heard that (song) around the campfire one night, and it's one I had known for awhile as part of the United States cultural music I suppose, but there seemed an obvious parallel between those two songs. "In the United States eventually it just became applicable toward any young man who was in a dangerous occupation. It was a song that was sung sometimes in the logging camps. What happened in the United States though, was that most of the references to the young fellow dying of a social disease is pretty much eradicated. He just sort of gets in trouble in a mysterious way. He dies feeling remorseful and regretful."
On the album, Connie starts singing 'The Sailor...' and then makes way for cowboy singer Skip Gorman who comes in with 'The Streets of Laredo', "just the way we used to sing it around the campfire", Connie laughs, "except we didn't build a fire! We had a mental fire going."
"The Borders Of Heaven" is a different CD for Connie in that it was recorded in the U.S. instead of Scotland.
"We recorded it near the town of Franklin, Tennessee, not too far from Nashville, but it certainly wasn't what you'd call a Nashville recording. We recorded it out in the country in a beautiful wooded setting. I was inspired I suppose to make this record in the United States because of the nature of the music and also because I wanted to include some musicians from this side of the Atlantic to participate in this recording. In my previous albums I was the only American, but because of the nature (of the music) I changed that a little bit."
As with her other recordings, Connie has Phil Cunningham sitting in the producer's chair. So how did these musicians get along?
"The first word that comes to mind is hilarity", Connie says, "we all had a really good time together. When you start playing music together, cultural boundaries tend to disappear. What we found was there was a lot of common ground between musics that some people might consider to be terribly, terribly different. So everybody just got in and played their heart out doing what they do best and we let the results of that come together naturally."
The one aspect of Connie's life that is of great fascination is her shared time as a performer for most of the year and the work she does on a Wyoming ranch in the summer.
"It's hard, physical work and if (you) play or write or compose music for a living, you know a lot of the work that happens goes on between your ears. Just for balance in my life I need to go somewhere where I'm outside a lot, where I work hard and I set my mind dormant for awhile. I just don't even try to think about what I do back home and that tends to be fertile ground for me for ideas. So I guess I'm using reverse psychology on myself and it ends up being fruitful for me musically and offers me a change from what I do for the rest of my life. It's nice to go and be someone else for awhile, especially in such a spectacular setting. It's very beautiful in northwestern Wyoming, not too far from Yellowstone Park is where I've been working the last couple of years."
All Connie needs is a comfortable La-z-boy chair every few miles along the Interstate and she's all set.
To find out more about Connie Dover, her website address is: www.conniedover.com
Jan Vanderhorst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org