You're at the Walnut Valley festival, enthralled with the magic of the music that permeates the grounds. You wander past a stage that is occupied by a couple of Texans whose music is as unpretentious as they are and you really like them. This, you say to yourself, is what country music used to be and still should be if Nashville hadn't embraced he more modern stuff some people call Nashtrash. The music of Aileen and Elkin Thomas seems perfectly harmonized although their voices are so contrasting. But what strikes you most is the human quality of the songs that seem to speak of experience in a way that is both personal and universal. And you want to know more about these songs. Now you can.
A songbook is a logical progression for Aileen and Elkin Thomas. After five albums, the Thomases have compiled a songbook that is more than just the printed music of many of the songs on their five albums. It is also a delightful collection of pictures, poetry, and the generally entertaining reflections about the songs, the background of the compositions, the meaning of the songs and their importance to them.
The book is divided into the sections that feature the songs from each of Thomases' albums. Each section is prefaced with comments from one or both artists about the setting, inspiration and/or personal meaning of the songs. This is what I found so entertaining about this book. The personalities of Aileen and Elkin shine on stage, of course, but here is an opportunity to get to know them even better. I think you may even like the songs more, too, as you read the comments about the creation.
For example, from the album, A Handful of Honeysuckle, Aileen writes about "Before We Say Goodnight:"
"Elkin and I have walked countless miles along the old dirt road that runs by the farm. One evening, I was walking out to meet him as he returned from a walk. My memory of the moment is vivid -- the sun was setting behind him, the dogs and cats and chickens were with me as we walked toward him. We also have a collection of rainbow memories -- I know we remember every one we've ever seen, and each one was a celebration. I have no memory of ever seeing a rainbow before I met Elkin." The last song included in the book is the medley Aileen and Elkin created about the Walnut Valley festival. They took songs by Sarah Majors and Mikel Frasher, added to them, and included them on their last album and in the songbook. It is their salute to the almost quarter decade of music making at this unique festival.
The folksy, intimate glimpses about the songs gives the songbook a special flavor. But there is also another value to the book. The songbook gives you the printed music of all five of the albums the Thomases have produced. In the "How to Use This Book" preface, Aileen explains that since they sing most of their songs in B and B-flat, difficult keys for any picker, they have used the "swirl" method of writing these songs down. They write in a simple key (standard tuning or open G-tuning) and with the use of a capo, anyone can become an instant maestro. So wherever the song is not written in the same key in which the Thomases perform it, they have put the chords that Elkin fingers in brackets next to the chords for the simpler key.
Shine On Me is a great companion book to the records of Aileen and Elkin Thomas. It's a definite must for Thomas fans, even if you don't intend to use the music. - L.C.