The phrase Damnatio ad bestias refers to Ancient Roman practice of punishing prisoners by allowing animals to devour or maim them. This form of punishment often doubled as entertainment for spectators that filled the arenas and was reserved strictly for slaves and lower class citizens. (Capital criminals from the upper class were entitled to a more dignified beheading.) While these prisoners would sometimes be forced to unchain two animals, such as a bull and a bear, that had been tied together in order to delay the inevitable and heighten the suspense, the incarcerated would just as often be tied to a stake; wheeled out on a small chariot; and presented to a beast, such as a wild boar. Some prisoners would be simply, as the saying goes, thrown to the lions. Ian Fitzgerald’s new album, Empty Like The Lion Den, has surprisingly little to do with any of this.
Consisting of 12 original songs, Empty Like The Lion Den marks Ian’s fourth full-length album but his first label release: it is the latest from Connecticut-based independent label Dirt Floor Records. The album features the many musical talents of Eric Lichter (who also produced the sessions); Brian Battles; MorganEve Swain; and Ed Iarusso. Ian himself plays and sings on every tack, despite everyone’s best wishes.
From the opening track “Lillian,” which did come in first place at the 2009 Boston Folk Festival Songwriting Contest but which is almost certainly not about silent movie sweetheart and Birth Of A Nation star Lillian Gish; to “Night Train,” which does not detail the exploits of Detroit Lions defensive back Dick Lane, who intercepted an NFL record 14 passes in 1952; from “On This Road,” which bears no resemblance either to Jack Kerouac’s iconoclastic novel On The Road or to Willie Nelson’s signature “On The Road Again;” to “Borders,” which has nothing to do with the nation’s second-largest retail bookstore chain of the same name. These songs tell the heretofore untold tales of the unknown, unwanted, aggrieved, aggravated, twice-bitten, thrice-shy, and altogether lost. There are also some that aren’t about Ian.