Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Deciding on 'Across the Water's' order no easy task

Posted November 8, 2015

It’s one of the trickiest parts of putting together a new CD – deciding the order of songs. I always wrestle with sequencing up until the last minute. My latest album, “Across The Water,” was no exception. I thought I knew the strengths and weaknesses of every song after listening to each one a thousand times from embryonic stage to maturity. But many times, the full bloom of a song will not reveal itself until it is sweetened and fertilized in the mixing process.

I decided to begin “Across The Water” with the title track for this album because it is a soulful and fresh folk melody. Also, the recording features almost all of the outstanding instrumentalists who played on the album. However, the strongest song on the album may be “Gaelic Ghost,” which I am featuring today in a music video. Special thanks to John Hall at for his poignant monochrome photographs that perfectly fit the mood of this song. “Gaelic Ghost” shows up as track six on the album. Why didn’t I play it higher? Several reasons. This is actually the second time I have recorded the song.

The first time was 15 years ago for the Celtic-fusion band Bragh Adair on an album called “Grace in Stone.” The newer version of the song has a bigger sound with at least twice as many instruments as the original version. Also, I wanted to create a seamless experience for the listener with this new album. The title tune just seemed to flow perfectly into the haunting piano melody “The Boatman” which became track two. After listening to the end of “The Boatman” over and over again, I determined that this song flowed best into “Connemara,” a tune with a strong guitar foundation. I didn’t want too many jarring transitions so I opted to go with the song “Miriam” next and then “Lorica” before finally landing on “Gaelic Ghost.” I think it’s important to have a strong song in the middle to keep the listener engaged.

There’s an interesting story behind “Gaelic Ghost.” The music came to me in the middle of the night in a dream. I was walking down a foggy road when I encountered a dark and moody man speaking in his native Irish tongue. The mysterious figure in the dream exhorted me to play and write Celtic music. It was a dream that I promptly answered. I signed up for guitar lessons on DADGAD tuning used by many Celtic musicians. “Gaelic Ghost” became my first tune written with this alternative tuning.

It's also important to have a strong song at the end of an album. I borrowed the philosophy of bluegrass idol Alison Krauss who likes to finish her albums with a spiritual song of hope. “Irish Blessing” is just that. The melody came to me after reflecting on the warmth of the people I met in Ireland. As I wrote this melody I pondered an Irish blessing that I have heard since childhood:

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Next week I will discuss the process of promoting a CD including critiques and reviews.


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Bill Leslie