I have little idea what most of the songs on Burlap to Cashmere's self-titled 2010 album mean, but it doesn't mean they're not memorable. Out of the blue, in a restaurant or from the back seat of the car, my son may sing "I will ride my bus" and my daughter echo "my bus," and the song "Digee Dime" is summoned (oops, sorry, that's from their 1998 album, "Anybody Out There?") and that unforgettable chorus, "digee dime, digee dime, digee dime," rings out, which, whatever it means, we love. Or there is my wife's favorite profundity from (it seems like) several of their songs, Steven Delopoulos's "hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey," her less robust version issuing forth when I least expect. Or there's that great line from "Orchestrated Love Song, the wistful "I wanna live on a boat and sail away with my children," once again sung by daughter, and we all nod inwardly in agreement. It's like a shared lexicon, shorthand album-speak --- one quip, one phrase, and the entire song, the entire album is conjured up. Their music has become a sonic appendage to our family life, shared space.
I don't know what I was listening to in 1998, but it's my loss that I missed hearing BTC's debut release. But when last year's album came out, it immediately resonated with me. The love affair with their sound was sealed when I heard them in concert, an even better rendition of the songs on the album, and in respect to the songs played from their more produced 1998 album, more organic. These are guys you want to invite over for a meal, take home, keep around for awhile, guys obviously in love with making music, enjoying being with one another. Fronted by Delopolous and his cousin, Johnny Philippidis, with a beat laid down by long-time friend Theodore Pagano, this is family music, soaked in the sounds of the Mediterranean, mixed with a little Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel, and simmered in the stew of what I imagine to be a big, lovable, sometimes loud Greek family, with cryptically profound lyrics that won't leave your head. Digee dime, digee dime.
In the end, it doesn't really matter so much that we don't pick up the meaning, as phrases themselves carry meaning, settling down in the context of our lives and working into our own circumstances. Do I "wanna live on a boat and sail away with my children?" You bet I do. Sometimes. Sometimes when life is overwhelming I want to gather my family and go away, away from media, from problems, from phone calls, from toil. It captures a longing we must all feel at some point. To "ride my bus" seems to speak to me of the place where I am, to the comfort of the mundane (but familiar) lives we all live. "Love Reclaims the Atmosphere" is a gentle exhortation to "crucify your fear. . . send blessings to your critics. . . be careful with the least of these. . . ," channeling Simon and Garfunkel through a prism of faith. Coming to "Closer to the Edge" I find myself hitting repeat, repeat, repeat, as Delopolous sings "Closer to the edge I found/ I was standing in the second round/ I was laughing but I didn't make a sound/ Now I'm flying with my feet on the ground," and while I don't know what he's talking about I want it to be true of me. It bouys me, fills me with joy.
But it's the album closer, "The Other Country," that I find myself waiting on. In direct gospel lyrics, Delopolous sings:
Do not be afraid of this earthly city
Do not be afraid when the Pharaoh's nigh
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Even though I sink through the ocean
You will rescue me
I am standing in the fire
But I can hear the choir singing
I was a blind man stumbling
But now I see
The phrase "the other country" makes me think of C.S. Lewis's reference, more than once, to that "other country," as when he said, "I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same." But perhaps I return time and again to this song because the night I heard BTC in concert was just days after I placed my dying mother in hospice care and one week before her death. That propinquity etches the song on my heart and carries the aroma of hope that she is enjoying that "other country" even now.
But that's my story. You have your own. And God knows Steven, Johnny, and Thedore have their own. It was, after all, Philippidis's near tragic beating in an episode of road rage that, in part, brought these two cousins and friend back together to write and play music again. Hearing them, I have a sense that they're in it for the long haul. And we're the better for it.
Buy it. Listen to it with your family. Let it seep into the corners of your life. Get a whiff of the other country.
Opa! (translation: an exclamation of joy).