Louis' 3rd Solo Album
I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING
an album in three acts
Music, Lyrics and Arrangements by Louis Rosen
Produced by Louis Rosen & Scott Lehrer
Premiere: Birdland, NYC, January 26, 2020
CD available for purchase and downloading at Louis' Store (top of this page),
"I've been listening to Louis Rosen's new album, I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING (Di-tone Records), and it's nearly impossible for me to express how moved I am by it. The songs are knowing and powerful and the composing and orchestrations are some of his best yet. And as always, the production is pristine, intimate and seamless. Bravo!" Jeremy Gerard, Broadway News and Theater News Online
"A philosopher-poet, [a] highly literate singer-songwriter whose lyrics address past and present with one foot in each...a meticulous orchestrator." Alix Cohen, Cabaret Scenes
"I recommend this album to every music lover out there. You will feel as if you have been on a journey of the soul and are renewed and ready for more." Suzanna Bowling, Times Square Chronicles
Click on LR's Juke box at the bottom right of the site to hear four songs from the new album: "Before the Window Closes", "Limitless World", "Morning Soul" and "I Sing This Song For You."
All Songs — Music and Lyrics by Louis Rosen, © 2019 by Louis Rosen/Lullwater Music, ASCAP, except “Kathleen O’Toole” and “What Are the Odds?” – Music by Louis Rosen, Lyrics by Louis Rosen and Arthur Perlman, © 2019 by Louis Rosen/Lullwater Music, ASCAP and Arthur Perlman/Forest Knolls Music, ASCAP.
(Lyrics for the songs are attached to each track at the top of the page.)
I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING is my ninth album. It includes fourteen songs and two instrumental interludes played by a terrific roster of musicians, most of whom are long-standing collaborators. The songs were written over an intense and exhilarating period from February to April, 2016. Recording began in January 2018 immediately upon the completion of the recording of PHENOMENAL WOMAN: The Maya Angelou Songs, and was finished this past summer.
When 16 songs come in a burst over a compressed period of time – in this case, about 10 weeks – with no literal story being told, they create a collage of that particular moment. The songs fit together. The album’s title, I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING, along with its sub-title, “An Album in Three Acts” (as well as the title of each “act”), offer initial clues to the arc of the whole work.
Act I: “I Don’t Know Anything”
Act II: “My Third Act”
Act III: “A First Farewell”
The art design also hints at the album’s themes. The cover photo was taken when I was 17, the year I began writing songs. That photo reappears on the back tray opposite one taken when I was 61, the age when these songs were composed. There’s a suggestion here of the two fellows looking in each other’s direction – at least the older fellow seems to be looking at his younger self – which suggests the possibility of a circle closing, some integration of then and now. Then there’s the background texture in the art design, the infinite repetitions of 2016-61 – code for being 61 years old in 2016, the year these songs were written. It’s a numbers quirk of being born in a year that ends with a 5, which means that if I’m still around I’ll be 72 in 2027, 83 in 2038 and… well, no need to tempt fate.
Now, about the songs…
The opening track, Before the Window Closes, begins “Act One” and serves as a type of prologue. It’s about the creative act itself, that moment when the window is open, and as with many first songs in a cycle, was the last song written. Musically it nods to a type of music that I loved when I began songwriting.
Kathleen O’Toole tells the story of a 17 year old’s affair with an “older” woman of twenty-two, and was written under the age-old theory that one never lets the literal truth get in the way of telling a good story. Shortly after finishing the song, I received a Facebook message from the woman who inspired it. After 40 years, she was just saying hello. Even stranger, the message had originally been sent in 2012, but was only delivered by Facebook after the song was written in the Spring of 2016. The Universe is a trickster. (Too bad that Facebook wasn’t this slow delivering Russian propaganda during the 2016 election.) The orchestration for this one sets the tone for most of the album. You could describe it as folk-chamber music.
The title of the title song, I Don’t Know Anything, sums up the essential fact of my current perspective. The meaning of the song radiates out from the bridge. The arrangement is rich in atmosphere, a conversation between guitar, violin, cello, electric guitar, vibraphone and drums.
Guru, Please Tell Me is the only song I’ve ever written that I wish Elvis were still alive to sing. Some of you might recognize the music as a variant of the song Preacher Don’t from the 2018 release, Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs. I was still assuming in the spring of 2016 when I wrote Guru that I would never get the rights to record the Angelou songs, and saw no point in letting a piece of music that I liked go to waste. It’s also an example of how the voice I’m writing for – in this case mine – strongly affects the way the musical idea gets expressed. Preacher Don’t is jazz, which is right for Capathia; Guru, Please Tell Me is rockabilly, more up my alley. No chamber component on this one – just the fundamentals: guitar, electric guitar (David Mansfield), bass (Dave Phillips) and featured drums played with panache by Gary Seligson.
Limitless World was written the day after the 45th President of the United States secured his party’s nomination. Hard-driving and groove based, it seemed both a good and unusual opportunity to combine a trio of vibraphone, acoustic bass and drums with a classical string trio of violin, viola and cello (performed by the string players of the splendid new music ensemble, yMusic.)
“Act One” ends with the instrumental interlude, Acquainted With Night, a song without words for clarinet solo (stunningly played by Andrew Sterman), accompanied by guitar and string trio. Acquainted With Night offers a moment of reflection before we move on to “Act Two.”
“Act Two” begins with its title song, My Third Act, another song that doesn’t let truth get in the way of telling an entertaining story, especially when there’s a punch line to land. No chamber component on this one either. Same instrumental quartet as Guru….
Lonnie, one of the main characters from my first album, South Side Stories, reappears in The History of Friendship. This was the second song written for the album/cycle, and once it was completed, I knew that the window was open.
Unknown Name, Unknown Number began this 16-song run. Here reality meets a bit of contemporary commentary with a touch of fantasy and a cosmic twist – in other words, a tongue-in-cheek blues befitting one’s third act. This is the third and last of the songs with no chamber-style arrangement – just two acoustic guitars: David Mansfield’s terrific lead guitar, and me in support.
New York City doesn’t make too many appearances in my songs, but it’s a key character in You Came, Too, the first of two loves songs on the album. The arrangement for a ten piece chamber group – flute, bass clarinet, French horn, trumpet, vibraphone, guitar, violin, cello, electric bass and drums – is one of my favorites on the album. (Note Max Moston’s expressive playing of the written violin solo during the instrumental, and Hideaki Aomori’s flute and bass clarinet playing throughout.)
With Slow Goes the Night, a character named Jill makes her first named appearance in a song of mine since being introduced as one of the main characters in a musical theater piece that I co-wrote thirty years ago titled Book of the Night. Slow Goes the Night picks up Jill’s story these thirty years later. (Jill also makes a series of unnamed appearances in the song cycle/albums, South Side Stories and Dust to Dust Blues.) The arrangement is the second one joining a classical string ensemble – in this case a string quartet (two violins, viola and cello) – with drums.
Later Than Never, the second instrumental interlude, concludes “Act Two.” Another moment of reflection, Later Than Never is a folk-chamber response to Charles Ives’ remarkable piece, The Unanswered Question. Ives’ trumpet seems to repeatedly ask a question. The trumpet here (played with a perfect, understated beauty by C. J. Camerieri) periodically intones the instrumental’s title.
“Act Three”: A First Farewell” begins with I Song This Song for You, the first among these “first farewells”. I wish that I had time in the Coda to name-check all of the songwriters who’ve written songs that I love and inspired me to write. Hopefully, you get the idea. My Dad would have liked this song. He danced a smooth cha-cha.
What Are the Odds?, the second of these “first farewells”, is also a first farewell of sorts to the character, Jill. This one is co-written with my friend and periodic collaborator, Art Perlman. (Art also wrote the lyric with me for the first half of the refrain of Kathleen O’Toole.)
In the Hour of His Leaving offers the third and last of these “first farewells.” To me, it’s a first farewell because it opens the door to new possibilities. In the Hour of His Leaving is arranged for guitar and string quartet.
Morning Soul, the second love song on the album, was written about a year after the album’s cover photo was snapped at some long ago forgotten party. The song was forgotten to me as well until something brought it to mind during this 2016 songwriting roll – perhaps the trigger was stumbling across that photo (which I didn’t know existed) on the internet one evening, or the writing of Kathleen O’Toole…. I can’t say. But once Morning Soul came to mind I couldn’t get it out of my head. I proceeded to rewrite a handful of lines and decided that the song made a fitting Coda to the album, an appropriate closing of this particular circle. As the only pure love song on the album, it also suggests a new beginning. Glen Campbell died shortly before I made the arrangement – thus the written guitar solo’s tip of the hat, (played here by the gifted multi-string player, Rob Moose.)
And finally, thanks to all of the remarkable musicians who played on the album – each credited in detail in the album booklet – and to my favorite co-producer/engineer, Scott Lehrer.
Louis Rosen · Lead and Harmony Vocals, Acoustic Guitar; Nylon String Guitar (Tracks 12 & 14)
David Mansfield · Electric Guitar (Trks. 1 & 4); Acoustic Lead Guitar (Trks. 7 & 9); Nylon String Guitar (Trks. 8 & 13)
· from yMusic Ensemble:
Rob Moose · Violin (Trks. 3, 5, 6, 11, 15); Viola (Trks. 2 & 6); Electric Guitars (Trks. 3 & 16)
CJ Camerieri · Trumpet (Trks. 1, 8, 10, 12, 13); French Horn (Trks. 2, 10, 14)
Hideaki Aomori · Flute (Trks. 8, 10, 12); Clarinet (Trks. 2, 12, 14); Bass Clarinet (Trks. 1, 2, 10); Alto Saxophone (Trk. 1 & 8); Tenor Saxophone (Trk. 13)
Nadia Sirota · Viola (Trks. 5, 11 & 15)
Gabriel Cabezas · Cello (Trks. 2, 3, 5, 11, 15)
Max Moston · Violin (Trks. 10, 11, 12, 15); Viola (Trk. 12)
Sarah Roth-Hewitt · Cello (Trks. 10, 12, 14)
Clarice Jensen · Cello (Trk. 6)
Andrew Sterman · Clarinet (Trk. 6)
Erik Charlston · Vibraphone (Trks. 3, 5, 10)
Dave Phillips · Acoustic Bass (Trks. 4, 5, 7); Electric Bass (Trks. 1, 8, 10, 13, 16)
Gary Seligson · Drums & Percussion (Trks. 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16)
Marialena Difabbio · Harmony Vocals (Trks. 2 & 13)
Recording and Mixing Engineer: Scott Lehrer
Recorded and Mixed at 2ND STORY SOUND, NYC
Mastering Engineer: Oscar Zambrano
Art Direction & Design by Derek Bishop
Louis dedicates this album in three acts with tremendous gratitude and affection to a remarkable friend and angel, Joan McKay, without whom neither these songs nor this recording would exist.
Louis thanks all of the extraordinary musicians who appear on this album and inspired him to make these instrumental and vocal arrangements. A heartfelt thanks, too, to the indispensable man, producer/engineer Scott Lehrer, for 30 years and counting of an always invigorating collaboration; Ben Miller for his last minute mixing assist; the following Patrons for their deeply appreciated ongoing support: Jason Brett, Lauren Streicher, George Petty, the late Marilyn Katz, Susan Friedlander, Elizabeth and Walt Bachman, Mary Ellen Geiser, Doug Hughes and Margaret Moore; Derek Bishop for once again surprising and delighting me with his imaginative art design; Oscar Zambrano for again sharing his superb mastering gifts; to Charlotte Maier, Teddy Rosen, Jason Brett and Thom Bishop for generously listening along the way; and to Maria Difabbio for helping me solve the structural puzzle of this album in three acts. Much love to all.