At 1 p.m., Michael Ray Little will be at Steve's to sign copies of "Boris the Tortoise & Bella the Girl," in which the first titular character goes missing and the efforts by the other characters to find him end up teaching all a valuable lesson.

​Sigh In The Night Grass, Music CD, by Michael Ray Little. Lyrics by Richard Higgs.© 2016 Dennis Bires

A breath of fresh air rises from fertile musical ground in Oklahoma this year--Sigh In The Night Grass, the fourth release from Michael Ray Little, composer, guitarist and singer of welcome authority, who reaches new heights adapting lyrics by Tulsa writer Richard Higgs. Ten tracks recorded by talented young producer Jung Jacob Song at Black Box Studio in Tulsa combine refined contributions from an array of Oklahoma musicians. Susanne Woolley’s atmospheric violin work stands out, as do Ray Vandiver’s creative acoustic guitar landscapes, J. Pat Murphy’s confident lead guitar work, producer Song’s oh-so-evocative piano, always tasteful percussion by Arthur Thompson, and celestial background vocals by Claudia (Toodles) Parr, Trish Roth, and Francie Bomer. And how long we have wanted to hear trombone work like this--thank you, Matt Leland. Legendary Nashville sideman Jim Hoke appears with sensitive harmonica playing.

This is not red dirt music, not outlaw country, not confessional love songs. Sigh In The Night Grass is not easily classified, but let’s call it country folk with real poetry, stirring melody, and first rate production. Now that Swedes bearing prize money acknowledge words set to music can rise to the level of literature (as Homer’s listeners well knew), sit back with this collection and take in some fine literature. There’s nothing obscure, painstaking, or dutiful about it (is there, Homer?).

Lyricist Richard Higgs’ patrilineal line passes through the Cookson Hills of the Cherokee Nation, hard by the Arkansas border. “Spade Mountain” relives the historic hardness and sometimes tragedy of life in those woods from a farmhouse porch at dusk, not far from the small grave on a hillside, “a lamb on the headstone, there’s a stand of blue iris.” Michael Ray Little’s voice manages the feat of carrying deep loss:
Hear the whippoorwill calling
Hear the rocking chair keening
There’s a sigh in the night grass
When a voice starts to singing
. . . Oh my child.

Out on the Plains” recounts with haunting melody the appearance out of the west of a Flying Dutchman on horseback at the narrator’s eastern New Mexico campfire. Long a fugitive on the high plains, “vengeance follows this man--everywhere that he goes.” By the fireside the rider cautions him neither to follow nor track back, adding “Come morning you must travel only crosswise to the sun,” warning of cities lying to the east and trouble crouching in the western mountains.
No one knows of my crime
No one knows my real name
Twenty years I have wandered
Since that windy night on the plain
. . .
From the Llano Estacado
Up to old Saskatchewan
From Jornada del Muerto
To Alberta and beyond . . .


And the following puzzling wisdom: “There is not a road--to take you where you are bound.” Puzzling until we recall the narrator sat at the fire with “blood on my hands.” It seems it must be the first night of his own potentially decades-long flight from vengeance across sparsely inhabited prairies. Whether the rider was real or a dream, the narrator travels north the next morning with the fresh knowledge “there is not a road to take you . . .”

“Lilacs and Wet Ashes” tells of a rain-soaked young woman, vaguely familiar, dripping at the writer’s door. A quick dash for a towel, but she is gone as suddenly as she appeared.

Don’t know just what she took
I can tell that something’s gone
I run out into the rain
And look back at my home


Into the storm flees a yearning memory of what might have been and a vision of what might be. Home is what is, what one has.

The treasures on this disk go on. In “Time,” this startling insight: “It’s all we really have at the end of the day.” In “Do It For Love,” about punching the clock, “You are what you are, son, not what you do.” And a particular masterpiece with haunting low violin, solo guitar and background vocals is “4th & Cheyenne,” where a street-and-tavern ministry unwittingly releases the real devil onto the streets of Tulsa.

Michael Ray Little’s compelling melodies and strong vocals, Jung Jacob Song’s superb production, and Richard Higgs’ eye-catching and mind-bending verse make Sigh In The Night Grass a collection one can’t help returning to. Perhaps for twenty years and more.

Dennis Bires chairs the Board of Directors of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa. He and his wife Marian raise grass-fed beef and free-range laying hens in Rogers County.

More praise for the songs on "Sigh In The Night Grass"
"The universe certainly lined up in a good way the night Richard Higgs and Michael Ray Little decided to collaborate. The watercolor-like imagery  of Higgs's lyrics, combined with Little's melodic sensibilities create a musical journey worth every  step. These stories and tales are impeccably written, performed, recorded and mixed. This record will be both inspiring and timeless to many people." -Jared Tyler, music producer, songwriter, and musician.

Sonny Boy

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