In early 2020, Bart Moore tried to see the bright side of the pandemic.
The Grand Ledge, Michigan alt-folk singer-songwriter and guitarist noticed a burning desire to write new material and responded with a creative zeal. Instead, an unexpected feeling emerged.
“It’s interesting to me how everything is kind of shaped by the mood of the pandemic. When I would write a song, I would think, ‘This is pretty dystopian. I’d better write something that’s a little bit brighter,’” Moore said.
“Then, I would write another song, and it would turn out to be also kind of dystopian. I was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of a recurring theme here.’ It was hard to get out of that kind of dark tone to the songs.”
That dark tone produced Moore’s new otherworldly album, Graveyards Wind & War, which embarks on a storied folk journey through history and beyond.
Throughout his latest release via Nature Boy Records, Moore seamlessly transports listeners to Gettysburg, Dublin and San Francisco while encountering the spirits of Winfield Scott Hancock, Chris Cornell and “Marcelena.”
Immersed in acoustic introspection, Graveyards Wind & War’s memorable tales also land at the intersection of fantasy and reality and explore the possibilities of the future.
“That definitely influenced the content … the whole pandemic thing and going into the 2020 election thinking, ‘Good God, what fate is in store for us, depending on how this all goes?’ That fear and that tension were there,” said Moore, who expressed concern about the likelihood of another Trump-era administration.
“If I’m going to suffer through this, then I’m going to at least get some good music out of it. This is gonna inspire some good writing and push me to be as eloquent as I can be to write about this stuff or just get my thoughts out there.”
Wind, Fire and Pterodactyls
Moore eloquently shares his looming Graveyards Wind & War thoughts on the breezy, haunting political ballad, “I Will Go Where the Wind Blows,” as blustery acoustic guitar, tranquil flute and mystical percussion drift from one troublesome outcome to the next.
He sings, “We have no land, so we’ll live in the sky/We have no country ‘cause our country died/Got no power, got no home in this world/Tuberculosis trumpet wails in the night/The trumpet player plays a lullaby.”
“My mind just kind of goes. I’m an undisciplined thinker … a lot of this stuff comes to me in dreams,” Moore said. “‘I Will Go Where the Wind Blows’ is me thinking about how things could be just very, very bad, and I’m gonna duck my head in the sand. I’m just gonna go wherever the wind blows.”
Next, Moore rides the residual wind to tear-drenched Seattle on the earnest Chris Cornell tribute, “Fire in the Rain.” Reverent acoustic guitar, grateful percussion and contemplative electric guitar beautifully recall the late Soundgarden frontman’s bountiful grunge-era legacy.
He sings, “All of your days, black hole sun shines upon you/Seattle rain from black days falling on you/Glorious refrain/Burns in my brain/Like a fire in the rain/Like a fire in the rain.”
“I fight myself on this attitude that the great, brilliant bands are gone and died out with the dinosaurs … The Who are gone, The Beatles are gone. They just won’t be replaced,” Moore said.
“Soundgarden for me was as brilliant as that stuff was … that stuff hits you in your formative years. It’s different when you hear music as an adult, you don’t think of it in that magical context.”
Moore also brings a magical Graveyards Wind & War sensibility to the concise San Francisco-inspired instrumental, “Oak Street – Rush Hour,” as frantic 12-string acoustic guitar effortlessly maneuvers through packed lanes of stalled traffic.
“I worked down on the peninsula from San Francisco. I lived in San Francisco, but every day I would take Oak Street to the highway. It’s six lanes of insanity,” said Moore, who resided in the Bay area during the ‘90s. “I just thought for a change I would shut up and play the guitar.”
After venturing through the streets of San Francisco, Moore zips to the bucolic farms of the Midwest on “Pterodactyl (Color Wild the Sky).” Spirited acoustic guitar and anxious percussion celebrate the psychedelic myth of a winged reptile gliding along a north wind in the Michigan sky.
He sings, “Autumn winter passing/Planet dips and turns/Pterodactyl dances while the world burns/Star light in the Michigan night the pterodactyl flies/She colors wild the sky.”
“That was one of those dream songs … the power of intoxicants,” Moore said. “It recounts a vision I had while ingesting a few libations on my farm one summer afternoon. The animal weaves in and out of the story, ultimately meeting an unhappy fate.”
Despite the “Pterodactyl’s” unhappy fate, Moore found a promising, holistic pathway for Graveyards Wind & War. He spent over two years writing, recording and reviving the album’s nine vivid, imaginary tracks on his 18-acre farm.
“For this album, I did demo all the tracks just liked I did for Curse of Los Lunas,” Moore said. “But rather than use the demo tracks as the actual final tracks, I just used the demo tracks to get the parts and concepts. Then, I went into the studio and recorded the whole thing from scratch.”
Moore teamed up with engineer Corey DeRushia at Lansing’s Troubadour Recording Studio to finalize the tracks and add remote contributions from Brad Phillips (violin), David Mosher (mandolin), Skip vonKuske (cello), The Dangling Participles’ Tamiko Rothhorn (vocals) and Rie Daises (flute).
“What Rie did on the flute was pretty much a part that I wrote, and Tamiko did the vocal parts I had sung when I demoed it. I said … on my bucket list, ‘I’m gonna record with her before I leave this earth because she’s just such a wonderful singer,’” Moore said.
“But the guys who really improvised on that and gave the songs life … were Brad and David. I gave Brad some guidance on ‘The Third Day’ and on ‘Graveyard,’ and then he just went with it.”
Southwest Michigan to Los Lunas
Moore discovered his passion for music while growing up in the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph area. At age nine, he took guitar lessons, but didn’t start officially playing until age 14.
“My dad bought me an old Gibson J-50 guitar, and I still have it. I knew people in the area that played really well, and it was mostly country and acoustic stuff back then,” said Moore, who’s inspired by The Clash, The Pogues, Tom Waits and The Clancy Brothers.
“We were into the New Riders and the Grateful Dead and even the more traditional stuff like Merle Travis and Doc Watson. I cut my teeth playing that stuff, but what opened things up for me was Jethro Tull.”
Once he honed his country, acoustic and rock sides, Moore developed a love of punk and new wave and moved to San Francisco. By the ‘90s, he adopted grunge and joined several Bay area bands, including Slings and Arrows and Nine Mile Wolves.
With several Bay area bands under his belt, Moore soon opted to move back home after getting married and having a son.
“He’s a special needs guy, so we wanted to get back to Michigan for a couple of reasons,” he said. “For one thing, we were never going to be able to afford a house in California at that time. And the grandparents were back here, and we wanted our son to be around them.”
At the time, Moore purchased an 18-acre farm in Grand Ledge, put music on hold and worked full-time at Michigan State University. By 2010, he lived briefly in New Jersey while his son attended school there.
“And when I went out there, for something to do, I got a home recording unit and started recording the basic tracks for Curse of Los Lunas,” Moore said. “I was getting back into writing from an acoustic standpoint as opposed to rock and roll. I was just concentrating on the lyrics and trying to craft the songs and letting my imagination run.”
That imagination produced his enchanting debut album, Curse of Los Lunas, in 2014. The release’s title track is loosely based on a Los Lunas, New Mexico myth about lycanthropy, or the ability for people to transform into werewolves.
“From the legend of werewolves to the (American) Indian legends of the Manitou … the shape-changers … that kind of drove ‘Curse of Los Lunas.’ This character is riding out west, and he has this change come over him,” Moore said. “But there’s this other circumstance where this beast appears, and you can fill in the holes as far as what might have happened.”
Now, with two captivating alt-folk albums out, Moore looks forward to having a Graveyards Wind & War album release show and performing in Williamston, Okemos and East Lansing this month.
“Those plans are being formulated … there will either be an album release show or a livestream,” he said. “I’ve also secured the help of a promoter. I’m looking forward to getting some airplay on folk radio, and hopefully, doing some more live playing to support it.”