About the writing and recording of the single track "Hotel By the River" (reposted from Fa
“Hotel By The River” was a song I originally wrote back in 1999 or 2000. When I wrote it, it was oneof two songs written on the same day, the other being “Jump Into the River.” I had seen an online notice for a songwriting contest hosted by The Point, a coffee shop in Bryn Mawr PA well known for its amazing open mike nights. The theme of the contest was “TheRiver.”
While “Jump Into the River” was a scathing break-up song, “Hotel By The River” is a softer, more reflective piece. Also focused on the breakdown of love, "Hotel" focuses on the vacillation between resignation and impassioned pleas for forgiveness that one feels in the aftermath of a failed relationship. “JumpInto the River” was a song I wrote with either ar ough-around-the-edges blues singer such as Etta James or Susan Tedeschi to sing, or possibly P!nk, should it ever find her publicist's desk (she was the only pop singer I felt who had the interpretive skills and vocal power to carry it off). “Hotel By the River,” on the other hand, came at you like a collaborative song written for Linda Ronstadt by Mary Chapin Carpenter and LeonardCohen. I entered the two songs and never heard back; The Point has since closed.
It first appeared on my MEMOIRS OF A MANWHORE: THE REELING WALTZ OF A DRUNKEN LOTHARIO album in March2013. At the time of recording for that album (2011 & 2012), Iwas suffering from severe vocal damage due to coughing fits I'd had in 2009 that left me with a ruptured esophageal sphincter (and subsequent acid reflux damage) as well as vocal nodules that are still healing. The story behind that injury is one in its own right, but it involves a horrible landlord who rented me a room that had been turned into a lovely summer guest suite but wasn't winterized and in fact served as a cold air dump – directly over my bed –for the house's heating bump. Consequently, though, Adam Silverstein and I had to lower the song from its original demo key of C to a more comfortable (but still not fully comfortable – listen to the original album version and hear my notes falling flat in the upper register) B-flat.
While I always held a spot in my heart for the song, I also felt it was too complex, too full of oblique religious references and iconography, and too dense in its use of meaning to pare down the lyrics to serve as a radio single. Others finally convinced me differently. Most notably, my friend Shelley Belusar, who works in bookings and promotions and was for many years the publicist and booking agent of the world renowned Peter, Paul, and Mary, told me on several occasions that she'd love to hear “HotelBy The River” on the radio.
Meanwhile, my upcoming albums (one thatI'm working on in the states and two that I'm recording overseas withAdam Silverstein) had yet to reach completion due to the complexity of the music we were creating and the inherent time involved in proper arrangements. I had penned a several very easy folk songs (“Oh Marie” and “Open”) that sounded reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot and Johnny Cash and needed a home. I had also been teasing my dear friend Barbara Gurskey with the idea of dueting, as I had had to replace her in a prior duet a year later when she was recovering from vocal damage and unable to sing. After a weekend inCalifornia visiting my godson and his mother (my best friend) yielded one more countryish song (“I'm Told You Never Sleep”) and two moody, introspective pieces (“The Bed That Froze” and “Ars Poetica”), I decided that it was time to revisit the idea of a single-edit recording of “Hotel” accompanied by these easily-thrown-together pieces.
As my voice has been slowly recovering from the vocal damage over the past six years, I felt it might be time to re-explore this song in the key of C, especially as a higher key would give Barb more of a chance to shine. (In fact, I wish I'd taken it even higher for her and found a second, lower melody line for myself. She performed wonderfully, but this track hardly showcases her amazing talent in the range it deserves.)
Keeping Adam Silverstein's piano but altering the key, the band met in our home away from home, Jankland Studios and banged out this and “I'm Told You Never Sleep” over the course of about two or three hours. I came home and added some new piano parts at the end to better match what the band was doing at that point in the song, and then Tom Briant came to my home studio to add extra guitar parts and solos.
Finally, Barb Gurskey showed up to record this song... Except that she thought she was recording something else! So she learned the song in one night, and we made a preliminary recording but decided to book an extra hour at Jankland to bang it out for real after rehearsing it on her own for a week. Besides, Steve's microphones are so much better than my own! The rest is history... Steve Jankowski did his typically superlative job of mixing and mastering the track to create a real gem of a song here. It sounds nothing like anything on the radio right now, and there isn't a single lick of autotune to be found anywhere on this track (or any other track on the album, for that matter). Oh, and those high falsetto notes at the end? Those are me.
Well the rain falls slow and steady asI make the long drive home to a room lit up in neon and a bed I fill alone. I've got a lamp nailed to the nightstand where Gideon makes his keep and the sound of running water to soothe my soul to sleep. I could not make you love me because I could not let you in. I'm ina hotel by the river to wash away my sin.
You said my heart was like the Jordan, drowned in a Dead Sea, and you spat out salty anger and returned toGalilee. Now there's a cross above the southern skies to mourn the sailors lost unsaved, those whose hearts, submerged like mill stones, took them to an early grave. I could not beg forgiveness so I took it on the chin. I took this hotel by the river to wash away my sin.
So little separates the sacred from the scared, the holy from the wholly unprepared. And I bowed before another to prove I never cared.
Well the rain falls on the river outside my window pane. I've got a thesis on religion. I've got a heart that's filled with shame. I could not make you love me becauseI could not let you in. I'm in a hotel by the river to wash away my sin. I could not beg forgiveness so I took it on the chin. I took this hotel by the river to wash away my sin.
Drums: Paul Galiszewski
Bass: Jacque Jobes
Piano: Adam Silverstein, Rand Hubiak
Guitar: Tom Briant
Additional vocals: Barb Gurskey
Engineered, edited, mixed &mastered by Steve Jankowski.