This is my ninth album and the first with a theme. All of the songs on Splitsville were either inspired by or written during my many travels to Croatia since 2003.
The basic tracks were cut at Tetrapak studios by Ivica “Pipo” Covi c in Split, Croatia with Vinko Dodovi c on akordian and Zlatko Bodari c on guitar in the summer of '06. Then I brought the files home and a cast of illustrious musicians including Jonathan Segel and Victor Krummenacher of Camper Van Beethoven spruced up the tracks, along with maestro Matt Darriau of the Klezmatics. Jonathan also added some luminous violin later on when he got back to San Francisco. A trip to Milwaukee in the winter of 2007 produced a few more gems with Jeff Hamilton, Paul Kneevers (who also engineered and co-produced the tacks as well), John Sparrow, Josh Tovar and Lodi Capri all playin' their hearts out.
“Darko's Waltz” was inspired by my sweetheart Marilyn's cousin Darko's face as he recounted the experience of defending his hometown of Sibinek from the Serbian onslaught in the early nineties. I was so moved by his story I began to write a song about it but no words would come, just this old world melody.
Usually somebody says something or I'll read something somewhere that inspires me and the next thing I know I'm writing another song. With “Beyond the Mountains” it was the first time the process ever happened in reverse. I was in Istria, sitting beside a sparkling turquoise swimming pool on a hot summer day, strumming my mandolin when the opening line of “Beyond the Mountains” popped into my head and I wrote the rest of the song right then and there. About a week later I was down in Split, talking with the director of the mandolin school when I said something to him about the wide diversity of Croatian music. He replied that the mountains often act as cultural dividers. “Behind the mountains there are strange people that play strange music and have different customs,” he said. I nearly fell off my chair again.
“Anchovies” was inspired by the sad-eyed lady of the ribarnica (fish market) selling a small plate of anchovies with a far-away look in her eyes. I saw her every morning on my way to the café for my morning cup. I hope one day Marianne Faithful with her singular voice will do this one justice.
Although Croatia is a country of many operators it's not always easy getting anything done. Hence “Manana Land.”
Wherever I went in Hrvatska I noticed the omnipresent image of Saint George, atop his noble steed, striking a bold pose with his lance drawn, about to slay the dragon. But I never actually saw a picture of him where he finished the damn beast off. The “Song of the Old Saints” attempts to answer “why we're in this mess today.”
“You can go to Hungary, Italy or Greece but you're never gonna find a love that deep.” A bit of rock ‘n' roll for my ‘Bra c Girl.”
The first time I heard the saying Bog Je Rekao Laku No c - “God Said Goodnight,” I flipped. Although the lyrics are filled with images of New York decadence, the sentiment is timeless and world wide and never would have come into being without the dry wit of the Croatian people.
Was Josip (Marshall Tito) good or bad? “It depends upon who you ask.”
“Leaves” is a country waltz inspired by a classical pianist I know in love with Franz Liszt.
“Yellow Ellen” was inspired by Darko's daughter, Jelana, who has caught the eye of many a passer-by in the village of Sibinek. I had recently met Donovan at Heathrow Airport and between the gentle rhythm of the rocking boats, trying to pronounce Jelana's name correctly and having made the acquaintance of the cool cat who once cooed “Mellow Yellow,” “Yellow Ellen” was born.
“Tin's Tango” is for the Tin Supreme – Tin Ujević, poet laureate of Croatia. I wrote it on the plane home from the “old country” and recorded it in my kitchen one fall afternoon with my friends Jonathan and Victor from Camper Van Beethoven and clarinetist Matt Darriau of the Klezmatics.
The jovial graphic artist Pavo Majic of Naranca Gallery in Split told me about the adventures of the avant garde artist Pave Dul c i c and his defiant act of painting the square in front of the Diocletian Palace red in January, 1968. Protests raged in the streets from Chicago to Paris to Prague that year. Thus a proletariat rocker was in order. This “Ballad” was recorded with a funky green Framus guitar and the crunchiest amp I've ever heard.
Every summer Marilyn and I make a pilgrimage to Bra c , to visit her father's ancestral homeland. We have a favorite corner of the isle where we like to relax and swim, where the Adriatic is particularly magical, warm and salty. Marilyn calls it “the emerald bathtub.” It's a bit of a hot, dusty hike to get there but it makes it all the more worthwhile. Over the last five years none of the cars that go whizzing by (mostly with Czech, Hungarian and Italian license plates) have ever stopped to ask if we'd like a lift. One hot July afternoon an old bald guy with a jutting jaw behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Beetle did just that. “The Lone Croatian General” was soon telling us his story. We went for a delightful swim and then I wrote this song. A couple hours later I grabbed my banjo and went looking for him where he sat outside the hotel to play him his song, but he was gone.
“Sonya (Sonja)” is dedicated to the lovely wife of the great Croatian sculptor Dusan Dzjamona.
While at a museum in Zagreb I saw an unusual figurine of the “Raven-Headed Hunter,” undoubtedly some mascot for a hunting club, but my take on the supernatural crow/man aiming his rifle was that he out for revenge on those who killed his friends and relatives for sport. (Dig that Jew's harp solo by Jeff Greene!)
In the city square in Zagreb they sell some hellacious homebrew that will make your head spin. “The Rakia Song” was inspired by such purveyors of moonshine. On New Year's Eve they hole up in little wood shacks, determined to party with no regard for the weather.
With 10 solo albums to date, multiinstrumentalist, John Kruth plays a variety of stringed instruments including guitar,
mandolin, banjo and sitar as well as flute and harmonica. Kruth has performed with Ornette Coleman, Allen Ginsberg and Sam Shepherd, Rick Danko and Violent Femmes, and worked with producers Joel Dorn and Hal Willner. He co- leads the other-world music group TriBeCaStan...more