MASON JAR OF HOME
Mason Jar of Home is Black Agnes's first EP album. Inspired by T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, it asks the question "where do we come from?". The project was funded by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation and was produced by Brian Coombes at Rocking Horse Studio. The EP was released on September 12, 2014 and is available at Black Agnes' live performances or online here.
"Prelude" is a musical epigraph. It features Susanna Tetlow, grandmother of Black Agnes frontman Mike Dunbar, reading a 1901 census record from her own mother's ancestral home in Lylo, Ireland. The census lists the names, ages, and occupations of those living in the small Irish farmhouse at the turn of the century. The final name, "Mary McCluskey" is that of Susanna's mother (Mike's great grandmother), who was only six years old when the census was taken. As Susanna reads, a vintage Victrola phonograph plays a record of Irish tenor John McCormack singing "Come Back to Erin." The lyrics, partly in Gaelic, translate to "Come back to Ireland, my dear, my dear/ Come back to Ireland, the land of thy birth."
Lylo (All Will Be Well)
"Lylo" imagines returning to the site of that ancestral home in Ireland years after the McCluskey family had emigrated to America. Where the humble structure once stood is now an empty field. The song describes a ghostly encounter with Mary McCluskey, herself, who imparts the wisdom of an earlier time. The refrain, echoing both T.S. Eliot and the 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, assures that, although we will stumble, "all will be well."
Acid Reflux Blues
"Acid Reflux Blues" describes the struggle we all face to live in the present. It tells the story of one who is too caught up in worldly desire to know peace. Like T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton," the song is influenced by Eastern philosophy. Rather than thinking of "home" in terms of ancestry, personal history or even hopes for the future, "Acid Reflux Blues" depicts the struggle to find a figurative home in the present.
Mason Jar of Home
The title track, "Mason Jar of Home," is the cornerstone of the album. It describes an odd keepsake: a Mason jar filled with the soil upon which the speaker's childhood home stands. The song argues that, regardless of whether we have a literal Mason jar of "home," we all carry our personal histories with us wherever we go. Acknowledging the past and "keeping it in the sunlight" is a prerequisite to understanding ourselves and others.
Having looked to the past and present for visions of home, "House Keys" looks to the future. We all have ancestors who established their own homes. Most of us, in one way or another, will follow suit. Leaving one home to start a new home doesn't mean forgetting the past; it means slipping a new “house key” onto the key ring. This last song adds an important qualification to the album's celebration of "home." Cherishing home does not imply remaining forever in one place. Rather, it is often an experience of the exotic and the foreign that allows us to see home in a new light.