Review: Hal Cannon – Nothin’ Lastin’


Hal Cannon - Nothin' Lastin'

Hal Cannon – Nothin’ Lastin’
Format: CD – Vinyl LP – Digital / Label: Okehdokee
Release: 2022

Text: Fons Delemarre

One of a kind – that’s the lasting impression you take away from Nothin’ Lastin’, the new album from cowboy historian and ‘cowboy poetry’ collector Hal Cannon.

OK, there are sounds and bits and pieces that might recall Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and off in the distance, the voice of Johnny Cash towards the end of his life. Maybe even the whisky-infused, gravelly smoker’s voice of Williams S. Burroughs, as heard on the 1989 album Seven Souls by Bill Lasswell’s Materials.

But what is it in particular that makes Nothin’ Lastin’ such an intriguing album? Is it that hint of Doug McLeod, or is it maybe more the sounds that father and son Lomax collected, on assignment from the U.S. Library of Congress, on their travels across rural America for The Archive of the American Folksong, in the first half of the 20th century? Or are those far away whisps of British folk – Pentangle, Richard Thompson, and Bert Jansch — from a bygone era?

It is, for the most part, an acoustic album. So on track 3, the title tune Nothin’ Lastin’, you get an electric guitar alongside instruments like banjo, percussion, piano, organ, and strings (cello and violin). On Tarantula Mach an oboe is a featured actor. The backing vocals play an important role in characteristic call-and-response passages on in several tracks. On occasion (Years Go Down) the angelic voice of Victoria Lagerström hovers atmospherically over Cannon’s voice. Perhaps then “eclectic” is the best word to describe this album with its refined, poetic cowboy music.

Of special note, Silver Dove is absolutely gripping and moving. Cannon wrote it after encounters via Zoom, that he had with two women who had fled Afghanistan.

In any case, Cannon’s lyrics are of crucial importance. Clearly articulated and very evocative. Sometimes (Riding through the Burn) you wouldn’t really call it singing; it’s more sing-songy spoken word.

In the words of Cannon’s label Okehdokee: Nothin’ Lastin’ is truly gorgeous nostalgic-sounding global folk.

One additional quote: Fine work. All tracks have an elegant sort of cross between folk, cowboy and classical. –Tom Russell – singer-songwriter

Cannon himself on his music: I’ve been a folklorist, an explorer, all of my life. With Nothin’ Lastin’, I bare my soul, a territory balancing near the precipice. I only ask you listen to my songs with an open heart.


01. Thirty-Six Miles
02. Years Go Down
03. Nothin’ Lastin’
04. Marching Off to War
05. Johnny Come in from the Cold
06. Riding Through the Burn
07. Tarantula March
08. Moth to a Flame
09. The Journey
10. Don’t Look Back
11. Our Fathers
12. Plains of Odessa
13. Silver Dove


Hal Cannon has granted permission to publish all the information about Nothin’ Lastin’ on Bluestown Music, including the lyrics. Thanks Hal!

01. Thirty-Six Miles (3:03)
In 2003, the Zuni theater company, Idiwanan An Chawe, took a play to New York and Washington, D.C. When a Zuni actor dropped out of the tour, I was enlisted to play the monster Weweba. My experience at Zuni Pueblo has always been full of generosity and welcoming. I dedicate this song to my friend Edward Wemytewa, founder of the theater company, and to the memory of his son, Ethan, who lost his life on the highway between Zuni and Gallup. Shalako is an annual ceremony in early December that expresses thanks for the harvest and blesses the new homes in the village.

Thirty-six miles from Zuni to Gallup
Heaven to hell and in between
Watch those kicks on sixty-six
Booze and trains and lying lips
Shalako, Shalako
Thirty-six miles from Zuni to Gallup
Buckskin gloves, a thumb to the wind
Red rock and freezing light
Magic wings and coming night
Shalako, Shalako
Thirty-six miles from Zuni to Gallup
There’s blood on this highway
There’s love on it too
Keep those tears from soaking through
Shalako, Shalako
Thirty-six miles from Zuni to Gallup
Winter moon is coming on
Dancers pray to bless this place
Zuni thanks on every face
Shalako, Shalako
Thirty-six miles from Zuni to Gallup
The ancient ones don’t talk to me
Facing north, I’ve come apart
A humble guest with an aching heart
Shalako, Shalako, Shalako, Shalako, Shalako

HC: “May we move from the profane to the sacred”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, banjo, percussion, mandola; Greg Istock – piano, double bass, percussion

02. Years Go Down (3:19)
I wrote this for Teresa on our 25th wedding anniversary. Unlike most love songs based on infatuation, this is a love song seasoned by time.

I love you baby more and more
I love you till we hit the floor
And then sink down into the ground
Buried deep within the dirt
Two vines a growin’ then entwined
I love you baby more and more
These years go down, these years go down
These years go down, these years go down
I love you baby to the heavens
I love you baby to the earth
I love you baby far below
Through every season sun and snow
And how it works I do not know
I love you baby more and more
How can I tell you what it’s like
To love someone through dark and light
I keep on looking at the young ones
They are so pretty but so young
I’ll pick the grey and thoughtful one
I love you baby more and more

HC: “May our love grow ever deeper”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals; Victoria Lagerström – backup vocals; Dave Tate – electric guitar; Jessika Soli – Cello; Eli Wrankle – violin; Greg Istock – double bass, percussion, synth pad

03. Nothin’ Lastin’ (2:49)
These days everything flashes before our eyes and then we are on to the next diversion. This song is mostly complaint, but it has helped me search out that which lasts. Thank you, song.

Drink ‘em up and tell a joke
Used to tell them all the time
Seems we shout instead of laugh
Nothin’ lastin’ anyway
Slept the night without a care
I’m on the right, you’re on the left
iPhone helps me pass the hours
Nothin’ lastin’ anyway
Nothin’ lastin’ anyway
The words are gone, don’t really care
Nothin’ lastin’ anyway
Nothin’ lastin’ anyway
Waking up, the storm is near
Will it rain or will it blow?
Will it tear this big house down?
Nothin’ lastin’ anyway
Castle’s built with playing cards
Don’t look now the house is full
King is flush, his Queen is straight
Nothin’ lastin’ anyway
Toys smashed all o’er the world
We got it right, they got it wrong
Children cry, then settle down
Nothin’ lastin’ anyway

HC: “May we find constancy, truth and trust”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, Weissenborn slide guitar; Kate MacLeod – backup vocals, rhythm guitar; Greg Istock – drums, piano, double bass; Dave Tate – electric guitar; Skip Gorman – mandolin

04. Marching Off to War (2:50)
I envision a Civil War recruitment, muster and then the long march to a far-off battlefield. My ebony wood fife comes from that era. I wish it would tell me more stories

Daddy, can I go with you
March along, and go with you
Daddy, can I walk with you
Marching off to War
Daddy looks handsome
All the matching uniforms
See the shiny buttons
Marching off to war
Listen to the brass band
Grandma’s holding back her tears
Proud and brave, the drum roll
Marching off to war
See them in the distance
Daddy, I will miss you
I will hold your memory
Marching off to war
Daddy’s gone so long ago
Can’t recall his face at all
But all those men are in my dreams
Marching off to war

HC: “May we live in peace”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, banjo, fife; Martha Scanlan – backup vocals; Dave Tate – drums; Jessika Soli – cello

05. Johnny Come in from the Cold (3:15)
I don’t remember writing this song. I found a simple recording of me singing it. I’m not sure I want to know more.

Johnny come in from the cold
Johnny come in from the cold
Johnny your soaked right through the bone
Johnny come in from the cold
Johnny you’re shiverin’ so
Johnny you’re shiverin’ so
Johnny come in from the cold
Get you warm right now

Daddy called me his little man
Wouldn’t get close to me
Almost froze down by the pond
Since then, can’t get free
Johnny you’re shiverin’ so
Johnny you’re shiverin’ so
Johnny come in from the cold
Get you warm right now

HC: “May we survive growing up.”
Hal Cannon – lead vocals and xylophone; Martha Scanlan – backup vocals; Greg Istock – piano, double bass; Charlotte Bell – English horn

06. Riding through the Burn (4:38)
Paul Zarzyski is a brilliant poet and lyricist. I’m honored he allowed me put music to his words.

Riding through the burn right after the fire
Not one blade of desire alive
In a wasteland of gray and black lances
Does the seedbed of Eden survive? …survive
Riding through the burn of what’s left after love
Out of nowhere, a biblical wind
Runaway horses and snags crashing down
Does Satan give thanks for our sins?
Blow down, hail down, like spitfire bullets
Down, pound down, like towers of bones
Down, strike down, like javelin lightning
We rode hard for cover, but froze
Caught out in the open, we’re frozen

Riding through the burn of the wild unholy
Blinded still by sensual smoke
Runaway horses like runaway hearts
Are there ways to un-tame what’s been broke?
Blow down, hail down, like spitfire bullets
Down, pound down, like towers of bones
Down, strike down, like javelin lightning
We rode hard for cover, but froze
Caught out in the open, we’re froze
Riding through the burn buzzing with lupine
Honeybee nectar alive in the breeze
Nicker and bugle and chirping and caw
Does their song bring the dark to its knees?
Rise up, Rise up, dear seedlings in Eden
Up reach up
Through the clouds’ wilderness
Up, shine up, like earth into heaven
We found love in the wilds and lived
We learned what is sacred and lived
We made peace with the earth and we lived

HC: “May the world be born again from ashes”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, fretted oud; Dave Tate – electric guitar, electric bass, percussion; Jessika Soli – cello

07. Tarantula March (2:49)
Male tarantulas march up to fifty miles each fall looking for a mate. It’s not always a happy ending for the suitors. The ancient Italian Tarantella dance comes from a time when a hysteria, believed to be caused by a tarantula bite, could be cured by joining in this frenzied dance.

March, tarantula, march
March, tarantula, march
March for love, march to die
She might even eat you alive
Eight eyes knowing, eight legs going
And yet it’s love that brings you on
This spider marathon
This desert dawn that weaves renewal
And with the love there is the bite
That stings and stings and stings and stings
And yet we dance and dance and dance and dance
We dance the tarantella
We dance the tarantella

HC: “May we dance off the sting”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, banjo, cello banjo, guitar, xylophone, glockenspiel, slide guitar; Greg Istock – organ, double bass, percussion; Eli Wrankle – violin; Charlotte Bell – oboe; Dave Tate – electric bass

08. Moth to a Flame (2:31)
Lust can scramble a man’s navigational system. I make no claim to this malfunction.

Out in the unknown, out in the world
Out in a place where you shouldn’t be
Out on a limb – out on a quest
Knowin’ it’s wrong, but have to cut free
Out in a city, where you’ve never been
A risky street, and a lonely bar
You could walk by but you steer straight in
A Venus trap and a lone guitar
Moth to a flame
Wings on fire
Unleashed desire
Out of restraint, judgment’s all gone
Perfume and decay flooding your soul
Blue lights keep flashing – her skin is like silk
You’re a worked-up machine and out of control

HC: “May lust not consume us”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, banjo, mandolin, Victoria Lagerström – backup vocals, Dave Tate – electric guitar, Greg Istock – double bass, percussion

09. The Journey (2:44)
Is the world commonplace, ever unraveling? I vote for an enchanted world full of mystery and magic where things come together in beauty.

Bless this night with streak of stars
Give us Saturn, give us Mars
Scale the cliff without a sound
Stand on top on hallowed ground
Is this journey, is this dream?
Is the wind just what it seems?
Claim your faith and ye shall fall
Take it in – just take it all
Making talk will slow the way
Watch too close, you’ll go astray
Just walk on with even breath
Turning right, then turning left
You come upon a narrow crack
Turn to smoke, just don’t look back
Breeze will thrust you through the fault
Air is damp, you taste the salt
Praise be to the waterfall
Raven’s beak and man’s free fall
Dropping through the hourglass
Time is just a narrow path
Above the world we soar in dreams
Above the world we see strange things
Is it true or just a lie?
Is it heaven, is it sky?

HC: “May we live in an enchanted world”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, banjo, Victoria Lagerström – backup vocals, Dave Tate – electric guitar, Jessika Soli – Cello, Eli Wrankle – violin

10. Don’t Look Back (2:54)
This is not an easy song for me to sing. I’m a folklorist. Yes, I love tradition but I’ve seen it smother the life out of art, politics and conversation.

Don’t look back, slows you down
Don’t look back, don’t watch the ground
See ahead, smile bright
Trust your feet and face the light
Look around, a beauty day
Sun and air will lead the way
Just move on, let beauty flow
It’s your move, it’s yes, or no
Flows the water to the sea
We can fight or let it be
Just relax and drink it in
Feel the current from within
It’s the comfort of tradition
That can lead us to submission
Just stay true, and try to be kind
Truly seek and ye shall find

HC: “May we live in faith and balance, forward, one step at a time”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, banjo, Victoria Lagerström – backup vocals, Dave Tate – percussion and electric guitar

11. Our Fathers (3:10)
My people believed God sent them to live in an American Zion on the high deserts of Utah. We were admonished to make the desert blossom as a rose.

Our fathers, our mothers
You told us: this is not our home
Forsaken, deserted, you told us:
God does not live here
Forefathers came from green
They watched the rain pour down
The fog enshrouding
An ancient land
Our fathers, our mothers
You told us: this is not our home
We still dream of green
We yearn to smell the rain
Yet love this open land
Where we see far
A red land, a great sky
Alone here, this is now our home
You told us …

HC: “May we honor our forebears while respecting Mother Nature”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocals, banjo. Kate MacLeod – backup vocals, Phillip Bimstein – piano, Charlotte Bell – oboe

12. Plains of Odessa (3:57)
It was so windy at the Midland-Odessa Airport in Texas that planes couldn’t take off. I was homesick. Once we got airborne, I looked down out my little window and this is what I saw.

Iron mosquitoes cover the land
Sipping black blood, far under the sand
Over and over, they bow down to drink
They’re down to the dregs, in some blind demand
High on the wind o’er the plains of Odessa
The blue sky above, the brown earth below
Flying back home to my dear Teresa
The blue high above, the brown far below
Looking far down at the earth polka dotted
Unquenchable thirst of a people besotted
Fallow it lies with pivots awaiting
Deeper the well for the water allotted
The back of this land is crisscrossed with tracks
The whip of mankind from his constant attacks
The wheels keep spinning with aimless regard
Our mother is watching, but can we go back?

HC: “From the desecrated, may we find fertile ground”.

Hal Cannon – lead vocals, guitar; Mollie O’Brien – backup vocals; Rich Moore – guitar; Tim O’Brien – octave mandolin, fiddle; Greg Istock – double bass

13. Silver Dove (4:00)
This song came from a cultural exchange to a dictatorial country, Turkmenistan. There, I got to play music at many schools. Those lovely children, like children everywhere, were naturally free. As we age, we are conditioned out of freedom. Just look in a child’s eyes.

On the wings of a dove, on the wings of a prayer
It’s the hope of all people for a life that is fair
Where all God’s religions don’t shout so loud
And they all work together bringing hope to the crowd
Silver Dove
Come take our prayers
Lift them to Heaven
And lighten our cares
Where women walk freely and hold their heads high
And the rich man takes only enough to get by
Where leaders are judged by how much they give
And the government’s motto is live and let live
Just look in a child’s eyes then say there’s no hope
We must all take the leap and fix what is broke
On the wings of a dove, on the wings of a prayer
In the eyes of the children we’ll find what is fair

HC: “May the children help us find the way”.
Hal Cannon – lead vocal; Mollie O’Brien – lead vocal; Rich Moore – guitar, electric bass; Tim O’Brien – mandolin; Amy Paterson – flugelhorn

Credits and Acknowledgements
Dedicated to my everchanging grandchildren, Paul James and Juniper Jane Vollmann.
Loving thanks go to my family – to my darling Teresa, who lived through the making of this music; to my daughter, Anneliese, and her partner, Wolfgang. Thanks to my parents, Warren and Elizabeth Cannon. They put up with me and lived the value of free agency. Love to my brothers and sisters, Joel, Roger, Gayle and Carolyn.
Dave Tate engineered and mixed the album. He also played on it and recorded much of it. The cover is the work of two extraordinary artists – Edward Bateman created the front cover image and William Matthews took the photograph on the back. Graphic design came from Missy Sabastian.
The album was recorded primarily in Virgin, Utah, at Dave Tate’s Red Earth Studio, and also in my home studio. Others who recorded tracks were Rich Moore, Greg Istock, Tim O’Brien, Michael Greene at Funk Studio, Ryan Tilby at the Audio Lab at Tuacahn School, CedarHouse Sound and Gibson Hartwell. The album was mastered by James S. Anderson at The Bit Farm. Louisa Bennion assisted in editing copy.
Many people have been great supporters: Scott Andersen, Carole Anderson, Phillip Aaberg, Martha Banyas, Nathan Bell, Henry Bainbridge, Chris Bourdette, Andrea Carlisle, Tom Carter, Don Charles, Dudley Cocke, Carol Dalrymple, Candra Day, Sherre Delys, Gary Eller, Nick Forster, Mary Flitner, Judith Freeman, Meg Glaser, Andy Hedges, Ted Hinkley, Michael Hoeye, Brad Hunt, Schuyler Ingle, Carlie Jimenez, Rae Lewis, Ricardo Lovett, Elise Mitchell, Waddie Mitchell, Luciano Mulder, Courtney Oertel, Van Dyke Parks, Roly Pearson, Henry Real Bird, Paul & Gretchen Reynolds, Jim Rooney, Tom Russell, Alan Sacks, Chris Simon, Taki Telonidis, Loudon Temple, Bonnie and Dennis Timmerman, Joyce Thompson, Shelby Weaver, Dan Whitaker family, Russell Wrankle family, Steve Zeitlin and Sandra Zuidema.
Thanks to Utah State University’s Special Collections, where the Hal Cannon Collection is housed.
© 2022 Okehdokee Records. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication of this recording is prohibited by applicable laws. All songs published by HRandom Music/BMI with the exception of the lyrics to “Riding Through the Burn” by Paul Zarzyski, Bucking Horse Music/ASCAP.

Hal Cannon
Credit: William Matthews