It's August, and in a tiny Arizona coffeehouse the A/C strains to keep the temperature below 100. On the stage, a slight woman picks her guitar and sings in a slow, clear soprano: Clock's face is a mirror, and the numbers begin to melt/ Into the smoky mem'ry of the hands that you've been dealt/ Earth wind fire and water, she has given you this day... Later in the set she seizes an Arabic drum and launches into a bouncy tune based on Homer's Odyssey; then finishes with a splashy blues number about a lady dragon's jones for her "very perfect knight", complete with vocal pyrotechnics.
"That song went off in a direction I wasn't expecting" is a common response of the first-time listener, but singer/ songwriter Nancy Louise Freeman (aka Nan) flatly denies that her songs take place in an alternate dimension, despite a tendency for werewolves, jackalopes, and other supernatural creatures to sneak in the side door: "We take the world too much at face value these days. The mythology of any culture says so much about the society, and it speaks to people at a deeper level than if I just took a literal description of something I saw or heard on the news, splat, there you are. If I say a guy's a vampire, you know exactly where I'm coming from."
Nan's involvement in filk - an obscure musical genre that grew up in the after-hours party rooms at science fiction conventions - might also be responsible. Although its roots lie deep in the folk tradition, filk is defined by subject matter rather than musical style. "For me, it's all about the music serving the lyrics - I've worked in everything from Celtic to C&W. In fact, Blues for Dumuzi, the album, is a bit of a departure for me, with its focus on blues and rockabilly. It's a more limited palette than my first two albums, and I think it gets you in a subtler way.
"Usually I perform solo - an album is an opportunity to work with other arrangements, other musicians, than might be practical in a live setting. Dumuzi gave me a chance to work with [producer] Jeff and [singer] Maya Bohnhoff, who live in the wilds of northern California - a bit of a commute from Phoenix. Jeff did a bang-up job providing me with a backup-band, while still maintaining an intimate atmosphere." Maya and Louisiana transplant Debbie Baudoin also provide vocals, notably sharing the lead with Nan on the title track.
Blues for Dumuzi opens with a lament for the shepherd-god of ancient Sumer, and closes with the story of a 20th Century family struggling to survive hard times. In between is a journey across an emotional landscape tempered by sorrow and lit by flashes of humor and compassion. "There's no strict narrative to the album," says Nan. "The only recurring character is the listener, who, I hope, finds themselves a little further down the path by the end."