Themes of peace, dreams and living life to its fullest fill the live tracks on Joanne Rand's newest — and 16th — album, "Roses in the Snow & Drought."
This Arcata, California, songsmith's music is out of any mainstream box. It's folky, contemplative and a little psychedlic, and Rand's vocals lilt between playful and childlike to deep, throaty and earnest.
Rand and guitar player Piet Dalmolen, violin player Rob Diggins, keyboard player Tim Randles and drummer Jonathan Kipp recorded the album's songs in live takes at Dalmolen's studio, Universal Balance, in Arcata.
Rand says recording the songs live was important to her.
"This quartet has got a chemistry to it," she says. "We've been playing together for a few years now, and I wanted to capture that. I know, at this point in my life, not to take good players for granted. Piet was workin' the knobs (engineering) and playing at the same time. That way we could push and pull the songs and make room for one another."
Dalmolen is a founding member of long-lived rock, funk and psychedelic jam band The Nucleus, with bassist Steve Webb and drummer Pete Ciotti. This band counts about 16 years, many CDs and national tours to its credit. Randles (Joe Craven, Jane Siberry) and his jazz trio released its first album, "Reaching In," this year. Diggins is principal violinist with Portland Baroque Orchestra, Musica Angelica Barogue Orchestra in Long Beach, California, and the San Francisco Bay Area's Magnificat Baroque Ensemble.
Randles' keys and Dalmolen's slide guitar are standouts on the album's opening track, a passionate anthem to peace titled "Little People's War."
"I wrote that song after my daughter was slated to attend The Paris Agreement on climate change last year," Rand says. "The trip was cancelled because of terrorist attacks."
Dalmolen and Diggins stand out on the second track, Rand's "Where the Waters Flow."
"Rob can play just about anything," Rand says. "Jazz, psychedelic rock, classical, Celtic or traditional music."
The album's title song, "Roses in the Snow & Drought," is about dreams and feelin' free, the songwriter says. It's about making memories, living life to its fullest and leaving a mark.
"This one was inspired by the sound of a garbage truck going by my home at 5 in the morning," Rand says. "It stirred a childhood memory of seeing a garbage man on the back of a truck and thinking 'I want to be a garbage man.' The wind was blowing through his hair, and it just looked like freedom. I woke up and wrote this song about the dreams of a child and where I am now in the second half of my life, still blossoming and coming up with songs. That's what I want to do, keep blossoming, like roses. The snow is a metaphor for aging, and drought is the world going on around me."
"When You're Gone," featuring Rand on acoustic guitar and Dalmolen on electric, is another original about life's successes and setbacks.
"I had a mentor named Steve Young," Rand says. "He was one of the founders of the outlaw music movement, and I was smitten with his playing. I visited him in Nashville five times to absorb what he could do with his guitar and voice. He recorded one of my albums in his studio there. He died last year, along with so many other great artists. This song speaks to them and the realization that I've worn these career blinders all of my life. It's time to take them off, look around and live. I intend to live for a long time ... outside of the box."
The jazzy "Bees in His Walls" showcases Randles on keys and Diggins' playing old-time fiddle, and "Humboldt to the Bone" is a lyrical tribute to the spirit of Rand's hometown, "Arcataville," which is a "lefty, trendy and free" little burg by the sea, with more old-time fiddling by Diggins.
"That one just popped right out. I wanted to capture the town. It's a crusty, no-holds-barred town," she says. "When I was working on this song in the park, this homeless man started harasssing me. It was kind of perfect because you can't be surprised by anything you see in this town."
Rand's used music to champion the cause of peace more than once in her life. She first lived in Arcata in 1983 as a forest activist and musician.
"We had a huge movement back then, and a lot of us are still here."
Dalmolen and drummer Kipp play instrumentaion on "Circle at the Heart," a prayer for peace that evokes the feel of the yin and yang of peace and war.
"I wrote it the day the Twin Towers fell," she says. "I was on a hike with my family and thinking about a painting I had done of the world, with a family on one side and a bomb exploding on the other. I had the song finished in my head before we returned home."
"Johnny Cash Came Back," co-written by Rand and East Coast friend Peter Peteet, is about Troy Davis, a black man convicted of murdering a policeman and sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit, Rand says. She recorded the song at Young's studio in Nashville, but hasn't previously released it.
"The Parting Glass" is a traditional parting song of Ireland and Scotland. It was made popular by English singer, songwriter and recording artist Ed Sheeran.
"The song is dedicated to my father-in-law, Tom King, the last of his kind. I played it at his memorial service. It just fit him."
The album wraps up with "Rock Therapy" and the one-minute "Roses Reprise," with Dalmolen and Diggins weaving high, ghostly notes on slide guitar and violin.
Rand spent time in Ashland in '83, and again in '88, when she recorded her first album, "Home," with drummer Tom Freeman at his recording studio.
"That year, I was living on a remote piece of land on the Smith River," she says. "We had to canoe in and hike a mile in. The songs on 'Home' were inspired by that place."
Rand's first show was at The Beanery in Ashland.
When she's not touring and performing, she's teaching private lessons at her Arcata home.
"I teach whatever they want to know," she says. "Piano, guitar, bass, voice, ukulele, songwriting, theory, performance skills."