David Massengill

My Home Must Be a Special Place

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On his last album, 1998's Twilight the Taj Mahal, David Massengill included two spoken word tracks in which he recited actual letters, one written by an ancestor and another by himself as a child. They turn out to have been something of a precursor to My Home Must Be a Special Place not so much in form -- this is a musical album, although it begins and ends with spoken remarks by Massengill's father, also named David Massengill -- as in content, in the sense that every song has been inspired directly by events in the songwriter's childhood or the lives of his relatives. Fans and critics of singer/songwriters long have agonized about the degree to which their songs are autobiographical, but here there seems to be no question at all (or very little, at least). Beginning with "The Girl from Nebraska," an account of the courtship of Massengill's parents, and ending with "My Hometown," in which he laments interesting characters he's left out ("O well, next time"), this is a concept album that is unafraid to name names, very much including the songwriter's own. "My First Kiss," for example, goes into such detail about the physical encounter between two second graders ("O there was just a touch of tongue") that it would be shocking to discover that a young David Massengill did not really plant one on Jane Keany. And "Aunt Fanny and the Yankees" (about an 11-year-old who tells off the invading army during the Civil War) has the quality of a family anecdote that has been passed down and only set to verse and music by this descendant. Massengill as usual sings in his courtly baritone over his own string dulcimer playing and some added instrumentation mostly courtesy of co-producer Mark Dann; background vocals by Maggie Roche and Lisi Tribble sweeten the proceedings. The stories are light and gently humorous, with a back-porch quality, and things never get too dark, even when Massengill's father goes lost in the woods at one point ("The Great Holston Mountain Rescue of 1954") and, at another, gets his fingers rapped by a baton-carrying music teacher ("Culture Hurts"). Still, despite their heart-warming nature, the songs often have a wistful quality, if only because the people and events they depict are mostly long in the past. Nothing terrible happens, for example, in "Cousin Jackie and Mamaw's Hedges," but the very idyllic nature of the reminiscence leads to sadness, as Massengill concludes, "Far away, long ago/I miss you so."

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