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about

When you return to a garage to pick up your car after repairs, you are handed a bill for “parts and labor.” The “parts” are things like spark plugs and oil-drain pans, while “labor” is the hours spent by the mechanics. But you seldom see the mechanics at work, so it's tempting to think of the gadgets and workers as interchangeable cogs in the great machine that keeps society running.

“Parts & Labor,” the new album from Letitia VanSant & the Bonafides, fights that temptation with all the considerable skill and passion the folk-rock band's four members can muster. The ten original songs—eight by lead singer Letitia and two by drummer Will McKindley-Ward—work hard to illuminate the workings of privilege by removing the invisibility of the human cogs in the machine, to give them the distinct personalities and irrefutable dignity that should be their birthright. These songs proclaim that we are all much more than parts and labor to the machine of our economy.

They do so not only through the lyrics’ evocative dramas but also through the give-and-take between traditional acoustic instruments and their buzzing electric successors. Out of that negotiation emerge striking melodies, and when those tunes blossom into four-part harmonies, it’s as if a solitary voice has become a community.

Baltimore’s Letitia (known offstage as Sandy Robson) released a lovely indie folk album, “Breakfast Truce,” in 2012, that showcased her intimate vocals and poignant songwriting. In the wake of that recording’s local success, she formed a band with Will, who had played on “Breakfast Truce,” his guitar-playing brother David McKindley-Ward and Tom Liddle, their bass-playing neighbor in Mount Rainier, Maryland. Calling themselves the Bonafides, the four musicians created a sound that straddled the border between acoustic and electric, between folk and rock, between ancient and modern.

The catalyst for those songs arrived when a man named Jimmy knocked on Letitia’s door in Baltimore’s Hamilton neighborhood one morning. He had walked nearly eight miles to return the driver's license that Letitia’s friend had lost during the band's show the previous evening down by the city’s harbor. Jimmy knew how important a license can be, because he had worked as a truck driver before an illness robbed him of his job, his savings, his home, and most of all his sense of self-worth. For Letitia, who works for a peace and social justice advocacy group in Washington, the specificity and emotion of this man's story struck home.

“I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could find a way to make this guy's story available to more people,’” she says. “The policy world has a necessary focus on theories and statistics, but theories and statistics rarely change people's minds. The world needs more exploration of the emotional side of these issues. And I realized that that's what music can do. I had always hesitated to write songs about social justice because I didn’t want to sound self-righteous when I don’t have any more answers than anyone else.”

The breakthrough song became the title track for this album. Letitia sings not from Jimmy’s perspective but from her own, wondering whether there is a way that can create a place for everyone in our economy. She ends the song with parallel images of hope and despair: Someday ringing bells will announce a utopia where everyone is equal at the same table, but in the meantime, “all we are is parts and labor to this engine's indifferent hum.” That balancing act is echoed by the arrangement's push-and-pull between the acoustic and electric guitars and by the hints of empathy and anguish in the chorus's lovely, high melody.

The song set the template for the rest of the album. There are numbers about abusive husbands (“Go Darling”), poisoned water (“Push My Rock Up Forever Blues”), vanishing family ties (“Tea Still Sweet”), the experience of homelessness (“Caught Between the Times”), climate change (“When I Was Your Age”) and cancer (“Rising Tide”). What’s remarkable about these musical stories is that they don’t try to coerce a particular response from the listener; they create a scene and characters—as much through the music as through the words—and invite the listeners to come inside and draw their own conclusions.

credits

released February 27, 2015

Step in Line - recorded & mixed by Alex Champagne of Scenic Route Recordings at Negative Space Studios. TL on harmonium, WMW on slide guitar.

Rising Tide - recorded & mixed by Chris Freeland at Beat Babies Studio


Tea Still Sweet - recorded & mixed by Steve Steckler at Asparagus Media.

Master Plan - recorded & mixed by Steve Steckler at Asparagus Media. Ahren Bucheister on pedal steel.

Caught Between the Times - written by Will McKindley-Ward, recorded & mixed by Steve Steckler of Asparagus Media.

Parts & Labor - recorded & mixed by Alex Champagne of Scenic Route Recordings at Negative Space Studios. DMW on piano.

Push My Rock Up Forever Blues - written by Will McKindley-Ward. Recorded by Steve Steckler at Asparagus Media.

Go Darling - Recorded by Will McKindley-Ward, mixed by Steve Steckler at Asparagus Media. Fiddle by Anna Roberts-Gevalt.

When I Was Your Age - recorded by Nicholas Sjostrom at Clean Cuts Studio.

Promised Land - recorded by Will McKindley-Ward, mixed by Steve Steckler at Asparagus Studio. WMW on resonator guitar.


All songs mastered by Randy LeRoy of Airshow Mastering, Inc.

Album art by Katherine Fahey of 2 Hawks 2 Fishes.

Layout and design by Scott Dennison.

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Some rights reserved. Please refer to individual track pages for license info.

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about

Letitia VanSant Baltimore, Maryland

Letitia VanSant & the Bonafides are a Baltimore & Washington, DC -based quartet that straddle the boundary between acoustic string band music, roots rock, and the confessional folk of a singer-songwriter.

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Track Name: Step In Line
Oh my dear you look so tired in the pale morning light
Chin hung around your chest and all those bags hanging from your eyes

Oh step in line, step in line
Oh step in time, step in time

The lines on the calendar are the bars on my cage
This train thunders through my weeks and all the years bulldoze through my dreams

We’ll find a way out of this prison baby with only the shirts upon our backs
Green pastures of plenty are waiting outside

My path is laid out there before me, and my back a sheet of steel
All my breaths now whistle warnings, blow me by, and stand you clear
Track Name: Rising Tide
This disease and its gnashing teeth
It brings me to my knees makes me bow before God
I'm not proud that that's what it took
To make me believe what's in every good book

All these chemicals that made you sick
Wanna find the man who made them and show this to him
The long lonesome hallways and the ruined plans
The look in your eyes and the trembling hands

I tried to be patient like my mother but I can't be
We ran aground now honey sit tight and hope we'll float out on the rising tide

You said the breeze it feels oh so sweet
But you must be getting old 'cause it's something old folks say
As a measure of time, well, what good is age
It takes so many years to learn to hold on the days

They can pour all this money down the hole in your side
All the money on Wall Street, these tears can't dry
they've got plans for our pockets, cigarettes for our lungs
Poison for our babies and bullets for our guns

I am a cog in this machine that ruins lives of people unseen
I can't stop it but Lord let me try
It's a sad sad feeling comes to visit at night

I tried to be patient like my mother but I can't be
We ran aground now honey sit tight and hope we'll float out on the rising tide
Track Name: Tea Still Sweet
THe long rows of cotton turn to soybeans and corn
And what was once gravel is asphalt
Well I think our vices our bound to transform
with each starry-eyed generation

The tea is still sweet and the crickets still sing
But termites they threaten foundations
The river takes a piece of the bank each year
The thicket advances each spring
The chess set misses its queen

We city folk long for our roots in the fields
But it’s such a long drive to the country
I barely find time just to eat with my family
Seems that it’s just too soon monday

The bible’s now the self-help section
With prices we’re willing to pay
The meaning of my resurrection
Is the fact that I get up every day
Track Name: Master Plan
Wind is high where I”m going
i can’t say where I’ve been but
We are made out of clay
Shatter and start again
I’m not a threat to your freedom
I'm defending my own master plan
From the nightmares that used to bite at my heels
Before I learned how to dance

I don’t know and neither do you
YOu can’t see and neither can I
The landscape repeats, an old-fashioned cartoon
Still we continue to ride

Knee high by july
Something borrowed and something blue
All these rules fool the fools
I don’t need a frame to picture you
If you think that you’re at the helm of your destiny
That I hold the world in the palm of my hand
Just watch the mountain bow to the valley
See the ocean defined by the sand
Track Name: Caught Between the Times
Listen to the underfunded high-speed rail, oh my my
Half speed thunder, really should run pell-mell to show you what your money buys

just another soldier left on second street
no commuter type will make our four eyes meet
Only thing left to take is a seat

and twenty dollar shines
I’m caught between the times

My angel fell off the nine when the doors blew back on the new high track
She came fluttering down into my boot black lord she looked a nervous wreck

Now good glory, I have a shelter friend
Everyone should have at least one buddy to defend
Somebody you shows up at the end

when you make it out alive
I’m caught between the times
twenty dollar shines

This is the new train / swing low / good or evil / I guess we’ll know
by the direction of your swing / and by what drives the thing
Will you pull up at our side / Dollar fifty and you open wide
Or will you promise leather seats / for thirty bucks a piece

This is a new train / swing low / good or evil / I guess we’ll know
by the direction of your swing / and by what drives the thing
Will you catch me in my back / have you jumped your fancy track
Were you offered a nod and a wink / a nod and a wink
Track Name: Parts & Labor
In clothing sewn in crowded rooms
Eating food picked by weary bones
At table cleaned by tired feet
A meal served from fatigue

I act like it’s my birth right
To stumble round like a drunken fool
But some know this is hallowed ground
Don’t deserve our dirty boots

Well I wonder where those feet would go
Wonder what those hands would do
If they ever had a row to hoe and a moment to choose
Well move along, don’t care where you go
But we need this sidewalk clear
Loose parts in the back of some forgotten drawer

Is there anywhere on God’s green earth that I can pull my weight
A place for everyone and everyone in his place

I buit a house of mud and straw
It cracked in the freeze and thaw
So I retreat on my knees
To the city I withdraw

Someday the Lord will open all the doors
All the bells a-ringing true
A place at every table waiting there just for you

Well all we are is parts and labor
To this engine’s indifferent hum
Scrape the bottom of the barrell
Track Name: Push My Rock Up Forever Blues
Where I’m from the water table’s high
When April comes can’t find one basement dry
We call it an inconvenience
Then Tim Rose came to run this town
Stuck fifteen oil tanks deep in the ground
The paved over creeks started streaming

Storms keep coming rain or shine, no matter what i say or do
I can’t stop my hurried mind, cold on the shoulder and my eyes on you
I shacked up with the sunny kind, impending sense of doom
one must think of me satisfied with the push my rock back up forever blues

Sixty miles from the Chesapeake
Off the shore and somehow we still sprung a leak
Forgive my disbelief
Drop your buckets, boys we can’t be saved
My house sinks down into its early grave
No army corps engineering this time

Put a bridge on it, never say why
Put a bridge on it, big media fly by
Track Name: Go Darling
here’s wrinkles in my shirt sleeves and dishes in the sink
And nothing but ham on bread for nigh on a week
You left your worn-out apron and took your brand new boots
In the suitcase I bought you for our first honeymoon

Go darling go, it’s a long lonesome road
But the fire in your heart, and the trouble it would start
Would burn this old house down

Round the time I lost your temper you stopped curling up your hair
You’d go out by the fence post just stand right there and stare
Well you ungrateful woman, you made me play the fool
Well I could teach you more than you will ever learn in school

Left the door wide open, cold air blowing in
I don’t bother to shut it, cause you’ll come back again
Well you ungrateful woman, by now you ought to know
You should swallow your pride my dear and come back home
Track Name: When I Was Your Age
When I was your age
We would play by the side of the bay
Made forts from the driftwood and pies from the clay
My mother would smile from a beach chair all day
When I was your age

But child you can't get there anymore
The bridge washed away long ago
The house blew to splinters in a terrible storm
Now it is driftwood on faraway shores
Oh child you can't get there anymore

When I was your age
There was snow on the mountains as pure as the rain
There were creatures by the millions, many more than I can say
No ark to save them they all died away
When I was your age

A fairy tale to you it must seem
I suppose that it might as well be
But I want you to know all these things you'll never see
I want you to know that I'm sorry
I'm sorry

They told us it was coming, it was coming very soon
They told us it was coming, I did not know what to do
Didn't know what to do so I wrote this little tune
I wrote this little tune, a prayer for you
Oh God bless you
Track Name: Promised Land
Once I was a fly, flew from room to room
Now I am a pen, write the story of a greater hand
I am a road and I'm headed for the promised land

We've all been told there's not enough for everyone
We guard what we hold dear with laws and with guns
Instead of all these walls, let's build the kingdom come

Used to knock on all the doors that shut us out
Now we build our own house
One with no walls that will shelter us all