No Refunds for the Rain
Produced by Mark Greenhouse
Recorded and mixed by Bill McCullough and Mark Greenhouse at Track Recorders, Inc. (Silver Spring, MD); Bias Studios (Springfield, VA)
Arranged by Steuart Smith, Bob Brown, and Mark Greenhouse
String and horn arrangements by Tom Guernsey
Mastered by Bill Wolf at Wolf Productions (Arlington, VA)
Bob Brown - lead vocals, acoustic guitar, piano
Steuart Smith - piano, Rhodes, acoustic and electric guitars, vocals, percussion
Steve Dennis - drums, percussion
Jim Hanson - basses
Donnie Smallwood - synths
Marshall Keys - saxophone
Mark Greenhouse - background vocals
Brad Smiley - background vocals on "Hit the Truth"
Jon Carroll – background vocals
Love and thanks to:
"Big Al" Sevilla for his generosity of spirit and guitars
Gerry Wyckoff for substantial tolerance
Ron Freeland for top-drawer fabrication and technical support
Doug Percival for magical coordination and scheduling
Doug and Sam Long for copyright, publishing and album upload support
“No Refunds for the Rain” was mostly recorded in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Produced by Mark Greenhouse at various Washington area studios, it features somewhat fuller arrangements more akin to the Stormy Forest releases, though thankfully less obtrusive. Credit John Guernsey, whose strings and horn settings on several tracks don’t compete with the songs, but subtly underscore them.
The propulsive title track has a Harry Chapin/Jimmy Spheeris-like earnestness with poetics reminiscent of Eric Andersen as Bob meditates on the notion that seizing the moment doesn’t necessarily guarantee desired results, much less long-lasting ones, romantic or otherwise.
“Through the Years,” with lyrics by David Franks, is a melancholy meditation on long-term love and the challenge of surmounting temporal doubts, another recurring theme in Bob’s work: “I keep saying I don't need you/ And I know I do/ I keep thinking love's just a lie/ But I'm afraid my love is true/ When I'm finished with all my excuses/ When I'm finished with my fears/ I feel certain I'll love you/ If you love me through the years.” The song is adventurous and surprising in its melodic contours, in the manner of a Burt Bacharach tune.
Bob revisits “Hit the Truth,” with a small group featuring the outstanding saxophonist Marshall Keys, pushing it a little more up tempo to underscore the immediate gratification it celebrates.
The piano-led “Emotion,” another Franks lyric, is a wistful mood piece that manages to be both idealistic and realistic: “And when you find love's a rhythm and a flow/ And you don't know where that river goes/ where it's leading and where it ends as you try to bend and break in two/ But it's you, not love that ends….”
Bob reprises “Smilin’ Through” and the song’s genial jubilance is just as enjoyable the second time around with a different supporting cast that leads it more into Steely Dan territory.
Another Franks lyric graces “End of the Night,” a soft-spun affirmation that “What I want at the end of the night/ is to turn out the light and to love and to be loved by you.” Simple, direct, universal.
“Let Me Be Your Love,” first heard via Aleta’s reading on that namesake album, is here offered by Bob, exposing his own fragile emotions regarding commitment and reflecting both exhilaration and apprehension. As on several other cuts, of-their-time synths slightly to undermine the emotional power of the song.
“Asking You To Come Back,” with lyrics by Franks and a setting Jackson Browne would be comfortable in, addresses the lingering flame: “Sometimes I want so much to reach out/ sometimes I’m afraid to let you know/ sometimes we’re standing face to face/ and I can’t let my feelings show/ or you’ll go farther away.”
The closing “Quiet Waterfall” is a brilliant reprise of a song from Bob’s debut, “The Wall I Built Myself,’ this time softer and bluer-than-blue in its revised acoustic setting (with ghostly echoes underpinning the mood). Bob’s voice is softer and more vulnerable, the melody subtly shifting to a minor key in the chorus, and shimmering guitar evoking the intense melancholia. One hears a bit of Nick Drake in the song’s exploration of reconciliation and reconnection: “Somewhere in between the shadow and the dream/ I think that we might find somewhere a peace of mind/ Girl I'm only asking that you search with me…”
— Notes by Richard Harrington wrote for the Washington Post from 1980‑2008. His thousands of stories and interviews include pieces on a diversity of artists including U2, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Jay‑Z, Tim McGraw, Dolly Parton, James Brown, David Bowie, Miles Davis and others.
ADDITIONAL NOTE FROM STEUART SMITH
I’ve been asked to say a few words for the liner notes to this record. The hard part is going to be keeping it to ‘a few.’ This album occupies such a unique and important place in my personal history that there’s really just too much to say – so I’ll not say it all and try to keep it brief. But first, some background.
Once upon a time in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., in the late 70’s and early ‘80’s there was a recording facility called Track Recorders. If you wanted to make a record locally at that time you pretty much had two choices; if you lived in the southern suburbs of Northern Virginia you probably went to Bias Studios but if you lived north of the District (which I did) you gravitated toward Track. Track was my Polaris. As an aspiring ‘session player’ it was the shining point around which my life seemed to revolve. Many a well-known artist had at some time recorded there; Little Feat, Linda Ronstadt, Emmy Lou Harris and many others had all contributed to its reputation as a world-class facility. I even once stumbled face to face into Donald Fagen who was there scouting out Root Boy Slim, another regular client at Track who’s notoriously wonderful demos (recorded there) had begun to attract the attention of major labels on the other coast. There were many reasons to work there. They had great recording gear, the main studio room sounded great with a rock band or a string section and the Kawai grand piano remains, in my recollection, one of the best of its type anywhere. But the real reason to work there I think was the presence of two extremely talented and (for the time) accomplished pros; engineer, Bill McCullough and engineer, producer, musician and songwriter, Mark Greenhouse. This team had worked together on numerous projects and was able to give aspiring artists a chance to, with minimal financial investment, make high quality demos and local records that transcended the normal standards of such ‘products.’ I’m sure it was Mark who introduced me to Bob Brown (as he was then known).
‘Bobby’ was then an already established singer/songwriter who had toured extensively with Richie Havens. But it was his desire to make a record that could hold its own next to the best work being done by the rich and plentiful pool of singer/songwriters in L.A. at the time. Bill, Mark, Bobby and I idolized the work of Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Steely Dan and Rickie Lee Jones – not only for their writing but for the production and arranging as well. And so, I guess, this is where I come in and where my memories are the richest. We were really, all of us, just students. And it was in the role of students completing their final project that I see us now as I look back. Bobby had a body of songs in varying states of undress….some songs were nearly complete and some were mere skeletons. It was our task to get them written and arranged for recording and that was where the fun was. Bobby and I spent, I am sure, hundreds of hours trying things out, hovering over a piano for days on end trying out different chord progressions, chord-voicings, inversions, substitutions - writing and re-writing bridges etc. Being almost exclusively self-taught, it was probably the most intense and sustained study I’ve ever undergone. It was nothing less than a self-directed course in harmony.
(I should mention here that, though at the time I was trying to make a career as a guitar player, the piano driven nature of the material kept me on a keyboard for most of the sessions – there’s very little guitar playing here.)
And then there were the sessions themselves. We were so lucky to be graced by the presence of two outstanding players who provided the rhythm section - Jim Hanson on bass and Steve Dennis on drums. Both players were deeply serious about their craft and were very much in tune with what the popular and successful rhythm sections of the day were up to. But though they had absorbed many of the contemporary approaches to song support they never sounded glib or facile as so many other aspiring session players did. There was commitment in their playing which kept the standards high from top to bottom. I don’t remember how many takes we would do – I know they were often measured in days rather than hours. I’m sure the project ultimately spanned years – though not all in one campaign. Mark and Bill were as picky about the recording as Bobby and I had been about the music, thankfully.
Well, that’s as ‘few words’ as I can pare it down to. Not having heard this material for over 30 years until recently I must say that I’m surprised at how close we came to achieving our aims. I would not be so bold as to claim parity with the best of that generations work (Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne) but it is remarkable how much it favorably resembles its peers.
— Steuart Smith