All Souls' Day is the fully cooperative sister EP to All Saints’ Day, Youngest Son’s 2012 concept album about grief, memory, nature and faith. In addition to playing on the EP, Youngest Son friends and collaborators Allison Van Liere and Lee Ketch (Mooner) each take the spotlight on a track, contributing their covers of two songs from All Saints' Day. The EP also includes two new Youngest Son originals, a hymn cover, an instrumental track by EP producer / web designer Blade Barringer, and a solo demo of the first song Steve ever wrote. Not to be outdone, Allison created original collages for the EP cover and each song.

Blank Face

Versions of Blank Face have been around since 2007, when I wrote it during a songwriters' workshop led by Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist in Santa Fe. After hearing a couple of my suite-length mini-pop-operas (see Lake Superior below), Karin challenged me to write something simple, so I went to a practice room and wrote Blank Face for the next day's class. Though we recorded the song for All Saints' Day, it didn't make the final tracklist (except in instrumental form as Marty & the Leonids). I'm glad it's finally seeing the light of day.

I want Blank Face to serve as a sort of spiritual overture, like A Simple Song from Leonard Bernstein’s mass, or Bill Callahan’s Jim Cain. For better or for worse, it also makes me think of Oh What a Beautiful Morning. I hate that song, but it’s definitely buried somewhere in Blank Face’s DNA.

- Steve

Words and Music by Steve Slagg

Steve Slagg (piano, wurly synth, vocals) Allison Van Liere (accordion) Cathy Kuna (cello) Lee Ketch (bass) Michael Schlotter (drums)

Recorded by Steve Slagg and Blade Barringer. Mixed by Blade Barringer.

Unroll another dawn and set me down
Both feet flat on this not-quite-holy ground
Like another new song
Like a wedding gown
Like a carpet
For another brand new saint to walk down
Unroll that for me now

I think I’ve seen a dozen dawns before
I hope I’ve got a dozen more to go
I know you ought to know
I need something more
But you don’t
So make me nothing
And unroll that dawn again

I know that you have gone before me now
From all the little things you leave behind
Though I am nothing
You leave all these little things
You leave me all these things
When you’re not around
To remind me
A candle for that sweet Damascus Rose
A paintbrush for that Sistine ceiling sky
And my own blank face
Needing more to look upon
Than some watercolor dawn
I don’t know where you’ve gone
But I can sing
Though I am nothing
And I can follow
Though I am nothing
So make me nothing
Cause I am nothing
To your watercolor dawn
I don’t know where you’ve gone

Hole in the Sky

by Allison Van Liere

"I think that it was not easy, and may have been impossible, for her to make peace with our experience of mortality and error, of owning what we cannot correct or save, of losing what we love."

Wendell Berry, “A World Lost”

What I remember most about recording the original Hole in the Sky is playing long, unpleasant notes on my dusty French horn until I was red-faced and breathless, dying to stop as after each take Steve said, “Great! Let’s just do that one more time.” It wasn’t my favorite song. It was repetitious, dissonant, unrelenting, and it made me uncomfortable.

So of all the songs I could have covered, why this one? I’m still not sure. I think I chose it because it was a challenge, musically and otherwise. It was uneasy in every sense, and I was ready for a confrontation. And as I grappled with this thing, it put its bony finger right on a major artery of human experience and felt the pulse of my own grief, the discomfort of living in the tension between presence and absence, ground and sky, visible and invisible, the weight of absence so tangible you can hold it in your arms, and the relentless repetition of grief that leaves us red-faced and breathless again and again, somewhere between this world and the world to come.

- Allison

To hear Steve's version of the song and read the story behind it, go here.

Words and Music by Steve Slagg

Allison Van Liere (piano, hammered dulcimer, banjo, accordion, vocals) Lee Ketch (bass) Matt Tanaka (drums)

Recorded by Allison Van Liere and Blade Barringer. Mixed by Allison Van Liere

You came again
with your wheels again
and your teeth again
and you took another brother
into the sky

So we cried again
All alone, again
In our separate rooms
We lit a candle for you
We lit another and another
To get us through
And we’ll probably run for cover
No matter what you do

There’s a hole in the sky
Where his body should go
There’s a hole in the ground
Where his body should go
There’s a hole in my arms
Where his body should go
There’s a hole in the ground

So we cried again
All alone, again
In our separate rooms
We lit a candle for you
We lit another and another
To get us through
And we’ll probably run for cover
No matter what you do

There’s a hole in the sky
Where his body should go
There’s a hole in the ground
There’s a hole in the sky
Where his body should go
There’s a hole in the ground
Where his body should go
There’s a hole in my arms
Where his body should go
There’s a hole in the ground

Anticipate Your Arrival

by Blade Barringer

Steve felt that Quiet Revival needed some kind of short instrumental introduction before the song could properly begin. So, taking bits and pieces of pre-recorded material from the song, rearranging and manipulating them, I started to do just that. But when my twenty second introduction turned into a two minute introduction, we realized that I had created a new totally separate track.

The process felt like writing a found poem, or blacking out the newspaper to find hidden epiphanies, only with music instead of words.

- Blade

Music Reassembled by Blade Barringer

Steve Slagg (piano, vocals) Allison Van Liere (harmonica, accordion, banjo) Cathy Kuna (cello) Lee Ketch (bass) Michael Schlotter (drums) Becca Kreutz (vocals) Blade Barringer (knobs)

Recorded and Mixed by Blade Barringer.

Instrumental

Quiet Revival

This song is about two funerals, one of which took place in rural Kansas and the other in rural Missouri. I wrote the first lines of the song in the margins of my notebook during a poetry class in college a few months before either of those funerals actually took place, which is a fact that has always bothered me, but there it is. The funeral in Kansas really was situated right next to the remains of a church that had burnt down a few months before.

Quiet Revival didn't make the album because I couldn't handle including yet another full-on dirge (in addition to 'Wake', 'Faith', etc.) but I'm still proud of it lyrically, and I think that whirlwind of a B-section is pretty neat. I'm also glad you get to hear Becca Kreutz's vocals. She was a great creative partner during the All Saints' Day era, but this our only collaboration to see the light of day (so far).

- Steve

Words and Music by Steve Slagg

Steve Slagg (piano, vocals) Allison Van Liere (harmonica, accordion, banjo) Cathy Kuna (cello) Lee Ketch (bass) Michael Schlotter (drums) Becca Kreutz (vocals)

Recorded by Steve Slagg and Blade Barringer. Mixed by Blade Barringer.

We had a quiet revival in the funeral tent
A couple lost would get found whenever someone went
Somebody's youngest son
Left behind another one
And we
We had a quiet revival as soon as he went

We had a quiet revival where the church burned down
Pallbearers shuffled their feet across the ashy ground
And while the baby cried
Other people testified
For the lost
Who all felt the altar calling, "Come on down"

We had a quiet revival, but you didn't come back
I half expected your face to split the sky in half
There were so many men and women there
Lifting up their hands and crying everywhere
We anticipate your arrival, and it breaks our backs

We had a quiet revival, and then we had a feast
A potluck feast of the lamb we ate through gritted teeth
We had a quiet revival in the funeral tent
You know, I still sometimes wonder where it is he went

Long Year

by Mooner

I found Steve's music my first month at Wheaton College when, alone in my dorm room, I filtered a MySpace search to find bands in Wheaton, Illinois. I found only three results: a pop punk band called Colored by Numbers, Wheaton's only death metal band Melchizedek and a band called The Miner Prophets. Melchizedek was pretty good and Colored By Numbers were not my thing but The Miner Prophets made me excited and confused. The only song on the page was called "Lake Superior" and it had everything: hushed vocals, clanging grand piano, flying violins and a drummer playing free jazz with brushes. I listened to the song a lot and then messaged the dude behind the madness, assuming he was a student at the conservatory. Steve messaged me back, said thanks and that he wasn't a conserve student which, in the weird Wheaton social culture, made him instantly approachable. Then I don't believe I actually met him until we started working together a few months later in the chapel, videotaping classical performances.

I think it was over a year later that Steve talked about playing some new songs and showed me a demo of 'Long Year'. I was astounded. It sounded like a lost track from Nilsson Sings Newman. I knew a little bit about Steve's father passing away from secondhand sources but the lyrics to this song tore open the time-space continuum and put me right next to Steve in the aftermath of the funeral. How can this guy be writing these lyrics about his dad and not just implode? "Let's say he made it / Let's just say that this was all some crazy dream / I wouldn't take it / and I know that if he could, neither would he." I couldn't handle that. It's a beautiful mix of poetry and nonchalant observation. The ascending piano line sounds like one of those hooks that you assume has already been written by someone famous. The atonal plinking in the second verse is weirdly moving. It's my favorite song of Steve's.

I practiced playing it a lot during the summer of that school year, trying to make the piano hook work on guitar. The guitar on the recorded version is basically unchanged from what I worked out almost five years ago. My wife suggested Steve's boyfriend David, who is an incredible violinist, play on the track and the rest is history. I'll say that I still feel a little weird playing a song that is so personal to Steve but I'm at peace with it now because I realized that covering the song is a really awesome way of sharing Steve's experience and getting to know Steve. I feel that through recording this song I've come to understand my friend a little better and I'm grateful that I had the chance to do that.

- Lee

To hear Steve's version of the song and read the story behind it, go here

Words and Music by Steve Slagg

Lee Ketch (guitar, vocals) David Rubin (violin)

Recorded and Mixed by Lee Ketch

There was a minute
(hmm)
at the beginning of the year
when everybody was alive
and everything was clear
I said I loved you,
think I said that you were everything to me
I thought I meant it
But in hindsight it couldn’t be true

It’s been a long year

Let’s say he made it
Let’s just say
that this was all some crazy dream
I wouldn’t take it
and I know
if he could
neither would he
You met me somewhere
and I know
somewhere now he is with you
And that’s what matters
And that’s always been, always will be true

Lord, it’s been a long year
It’s been a long, hard year without him
It’s been a long, hard year without you

For now I’m quiet
For now I’m still
I’m not too big
I’m like a child
For once I’m still
Oh, Israel

For just a minute
(hmm)
Before I’m finished with this song
When nobody else is around
and you and me are alone
I’ll say I love you
Think I’ll say
That you are everything I see
I think I mean it

Lake Superior

I wrote this--my first-ever song--when I was 18. The summer before I started college I participated in a pre-frosh wilderness backpacking trip in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. After 13 days of hiking, we reached Lake Superior, whose water is fresh enough we were able to dip our water bottles right in and take a drink. We really did take Communion on the beach, using Superior water and a hearty but tasteless trail food called bucket bread as our elements, and then we each set off in different directions and spent 36 hours alone, with nothing but the lake for company.

It was the longest amount of time I'd ever spent alone, outdoors, and away from the internet. After building a shelter out of a tarp and some driftwood, I spent most of my 36-hour solo writing these lyrics. Then I spent my first semester at college composing the piano arrangement, which I haven't changed much in the nine years since then.

I should mention that those 48 hours on the beach in Michigan were what I would now call a sort of religious conversion. Even though I'd been raised in the church, my experience of my own faith had always been marked by the feeling that I was an outsider, as though I were viewing something beautiful and warm through thick, frosted-glass windows. That day-and-a-half I spent on the lake, sitting in silence and writing this goofy song about a sunset, was the first time belief in God seemed to involve me in any real way, the first time all that warmth and light touched my own body.

Preserving it forever by releasing it is a bit scary for me, but the All Saints’ Day / All Souls’ Day story would feel incomplete without it.

- Steve

Words and Music by Steve Slagg

Steve Slagg (piano, vocals)

Recorded and mixed by Blade Barringer.

We hiked and hiked all day today
To find religion at the bay
Would the lake be big enough for us?
One fleeting glimpse--we knew it was

We took Communion on the beach
Lake Superior in reach
She was the altar where we stood
She was the makeshift blood of God

The sun collapsed into her arms
Was chased by all the other stars
We count them with our feet above our heads
The bloody sun turning water red
The universe from toe to heel
We are very big

All this undone when someone said
(Undone with words as we took the bread)
Skipping rocks and worship share a bed
(Beautifully absurd! We bowed our heads)

Just then, the Holy Poltergeist!
Our feet were washed in the blood of Christ

We Rest On Thee

This hymn, which is best known as the song Nate Saint and Jim Elliot sang before being killed by members of the Waodani tribe in Ecuador, has become a patron hymn for my family. My dad chose it when planning his own funeral, assuring us that we'd have trouble in the hereafter if we sang 'It Is Well With My Soul' instead.

Hymns have this strange power of dramatic compression. I once saw a production of 'The Crucible' where the cast sang hymns while they moved the stage dressings around between scenes--the knife-twist of watching Elizabeth Proctor and Rev. Parris carrying either end of a wooden table while singing the alto and tenor lines of 'Ah, Holy Jesus' was too much for me. Similarly, I will not forget singing 'We Rest On Thee' in a small church in Missouri along with my mom and siblings, some college friends, extended family members, and people from every church I'd ever been a part of, including plenty of people I didn't like very much. The hymn's loaded history, my own family's story and the lives of all the people in that church--all of it is now compressed and stored in that Finlandia melody, and even if my mind someday deteriorates due to dementia I think those associations will always be there. My grandfather was nonverbal for the last three years of his life, but he could still sing more verses of 'O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing' from memory than there were printed in the hymnal.

Allison and I wrote our own melody for 'We Rest on Thee' over the course of a week or so, sending emails back and forth with iPhone voice memos attached. We quoted just enough of the traditional 'Finlandia' melody to tie it to the version of the hymn most people know, but we departed from it enough that I can make it through the song without crying, which is helpful.

- Steve

Words and Music by Edith Cherry / Jean Sibelius arr. Steve Slagg & Allison Van Liere

Steve Slagg (piano, vocals) Allison Van Liere (banjo, dulcimer, guitar, accordion, vocals)

Recorded by Blade Barringer, Allison Van Liere and Steve Slagg. Mixed by Blade Barringer.

We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender
We go not forth alone against the foe
Strong in thy strength, safe in thy keeping tender
We rest on thee, and in thy name we go

Yes, in thy name, O captain of salvation
In thy dear name, all other names above
Jesus, our righteousness, our sure Foundation
Our Prince of Glory and our King of Love
Our Prince of Glory and our King of Love

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling
And needing more each day thy grace to know
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing
We rest on thee, and in thy name we go

We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender
Thine is the battle, thine shall be the praise
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor
Victors, we rest with thee, through endless days
Victors, we rest with thee, through endless days

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