Song Premiere: Tom Irwin “I Have Wandered”
Called “a modern day troubadour” by John Stirratt (Wilco), singer-songwriter-musician Tom Irwin has spent a lifetime making music in the Midwest using his long standing (sixth generation) Illinois roots as his base for a world view of a life in the musical arts. On September 8th, Irwin will release his latest record, All That Love, which was produced by Stirratt (who also played on the album), and features esteemed players including Greg Wieczorek on drums, John Pirruccello on 12-string guitar and pedal steel, Scott Ligon (piano, organ, accordion, bass and guitar), Theresa O’Hare (flute), Paul Von Mertens (sax) and Irwin’s hometown band, the Hayburners. The eleven song collection includes tunes recently penned, a few that were written over thirty years ago, and what ever else John and Tom agreed to from the hundreds of original compositions in the prolific songwriter’s back catalog. Today, Irwin shares the second track from the album, “I Have Wandered.” Led by sparkling keys and a swinging rhythm, the buoyant “I Have Wandered” is an introspective tale of personal struggle – “Let me roll and rumble and curse with all my might/And fake and fumble until I get it right/I will stand and stumble and crawl towards sunlight/And take and tumble as long as I can fight” – that’s perfect for the dance floor.
Irwin had this to say about the track, “The second track on All That Love was originally titled, “Let Me,” and once called “‘Til I Get It Right” by my oldest son when he was about eight. Producer-musician John Stirratt of Wilco, kept referring to it as “I Have Wandered,” from the first line of the song, because he didn’t know what else to call it, and the new name stuck. The lyrics kind of came out of nowhere with no real story behind the meaning, though I get flashes of where they came from and what they related to in my life during different moments when I sing the song. Most of the time I have a tale to tell, but this one is a bit more mysterious as to what’s happening or what peculiar struggle the narrator is working through. Perhaps the words describe a fight against convention or a push back to those hoping that this guy will act a certain way that wasn’t particularly what he had in mind. Whatever the meaning, I have sang this song hundreds of times and never get tired of finding out what it means and where it leans.
Musically based around a G-Am-C, the chord progression that drives Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” those were about the only chords I could play when this one came out. John added a cool chord substitution of a B minor on the refrain, plus a little turnaround in the verse. All I could say was, “That’s neat. Wish I had thought of that,” but that’s Mr. Stirratt’s wonderfully musical brain in action. Then we all thought a whole step modulation would be a grand gesture to finish out the song with a jam and fade on the refrain.
Scott Ligon of NRBQ played the signature piano part on a 1898 Steinway upright, a house instrument at Wall to Wall Recording in Chicago. First, he asked John if he should play guitar, his main axe, and John suggested the Steinway to great success and shades of Floyd Cramer. Later Scott returned to the studio to overdub the electric guitar solo. John Pirroccello, who worked the pedal steel guitar, owns and operates the Lakland and Hanson guitar company our of Chicago and plays with John in The Autumn Defense. Greg Wieczorek of Norah Jones’ band, and also in The Autumn Defense, does the distinctive swinging drum rhythm, while Brad Floreth of Jacksonville, Illinois added some electric guitar rhythm on his Creston built Tele. I sang the lead vocals and played my Gallagher acoustic, while John added intermittent harmonies later.
Always a crowd and fan favorite, no matter what you call it, this song takes me there to where I’ve wandered time after time.