In celebration of the Penguin paperback release of her debut novel, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, Carey Wallace has released a 5-song EP, Songs About Books: a group of waltzes, lullabies, and country rockers she wrote about some of her own favorite books.
The books “covered” by the record include a rock and roll homage to Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor; a waltz about Shaun Tan’s masterful picture book The Arrival; a lullaby for Ender, the title character of Orson Scott Card’s classic Ender’s Game; a country come-on based on the Tennessee Williams play Sweet Bird of Youth; and a delicate piano waltz inspired by So Long, I’ll See You Tomorrow, a slim but powerful tomeby William Maxwell, former fiction editor of The New Yorker.
Songs About Books celebrates The Blind Contessa’sNew Machine’s June 28 paperback release with a group of songs that reflect Wallace’s own wide-ranging taste in music and books. In her songwriting, Wallace plays with elements from the stories that inspired each song, punning on character names like Sweet Bird of Youth’s Chance Wayne, who asks a girl to “take a chance” on him in a track called ‘Heavenly’. Sonically, the album also mirrors the images in the literature that inspired them. In ‘New World Waltz’ a trombone mimics the sound of a foghorn on the boat that carries a character away from his family toward the new world. In ‘Ender’s Lullaby’ the hiss and thump of the grand piano pedal eerily imitates the sound of a pod door opening and closing.
The recording is a family affair. Her brother Mark provides bass, guitar, and lush string arrangements, with her father Rick on trombone. This isn’t Mark’s first outing in a literary-inflected musical production: a decade ago he was one part of a two-man band, ‘The American West’, along with a young “Johnny Foer.”
Wallace’s first love is books, and directing a band with a literary vocabulary provided some unique challenges for her brother, a classically trained musician. “Carey would come in saying things like, ‘It starts with the urgency of a come-on that then collapses into agony by the final verse.’ And I’d have to tell her, ‘Those are called quarter notes.’”
In June, Songs About Books will be available on iTunes, and also as a gorgeously produced album featuring a collection of antique photographs of people posed with books from Wallace’s own collection. The album is not for sale: Wallace will give it as a gift to readers at personal appearances and through literary blogs, and any proceeds will benefit Fount of Mercy, an organization that works with vulnerable Ugandan women and children, where Wallace sits on the board.
Wallace hopes that her readers and the world of letters will receive Songs About Books as a gift: her way of saying thanks for the warm reception to The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, and to the many authors whose work has both shaped her own and comforted her. “Songs About Books is a thank-you note, and a love letter,” she says. “It’s my way of saying ‘no writer works alone,’ and of offering something back to the writers and the readers who have touched my life.”