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Standout Track: No. 5, “Private Honeymoon,” a tender antebellum ballad in which Ferree gives voice to Thomas Jefferson as he laments the historical jilting of his paramour, slave, and purported babymama Sally Hemings. A delicate string section quietly puts the “cello” in Monticello while Ferree pleads, “Sally, please don’t you leave/Your hands are tied onto the West/On Plymouth Rock.”
Musical Motivation: “I don’t really know what they mean—sometimes I write a poem, sometimes I’ll write while I write the music,” says Ferree, trying to describe the origin of his songs. But the singer clearly remembers the inspiration for “Private Honeymoon”: kicking back to watch a little PBS. While taking in Ken Burns’ biography of Thomas Jefferson, Ferree was struck by the controversy surrounding the DNA tests that attempted to prove that the Founding Father sired children with his African-American chambermaid. “I was so fascinated by that—that the only history you can really trust is passed down by word of mouth, by blood.”
It’s Raining Yeomen: Evidently, many of Ferree’s listeners are unaware that Monticello is the song’s setting. Ferree says a lot of his fans, on hearing the chorus (“Here comes a big boy, freckles just like mine/Woolly red hair sticks a spear in my side”) assume that the singer is heading toward Philadelphia—where Jefferson went to declare his independence from Colonial oppression and Elton John fell in love with the freedom that brought him “knee-high to a man.”
“People from the blogs thought that it was a homoerotic song,” says Ferree. “I don’t really know why—maybe they were hitting on me?”—Aaron Leitko