Rafael, Mraz and Natter wrote "Strong" via email. "(Mraz) had a snippet of something he got started and never finished," Rafael says. "He sent it to me, I added some things and sent it back to him. We did that three or four times then got together for a couple of rehearsals before we went to North Dakota." And when it came time to assemble Rose Avenue, Rafael felt like "Strong" still had some legs even after the protest.
"We wrote it for the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, people who risked all they risked to make an issue visible to other people who weren't aware of it," says Rafael, who co-wrote another Rose Avenue track, "Under Our Skin," with Mraz. "I put it on the record because clean water is an issue now. We all need clean water."
"Strong" certainly fits with the rest of Rose Avenue, out June 21 on Inside Recordings and named after the street where Rafael resided while recording the 10-song set with Marty Rifkin in Santa Monica, Calif. Rafael's 10th solo album blends protest and personal ruminations, while the lone cover, Dick Holler's "Abraham, Martin and John," opens the album and sets the tone for what follows.
"I think this album is very much motivated by the times we're going through right now," Rafael says, "so the songs that I wrote and put together kind of reflect my general feeling about that, on a few different levels. It wasn't something planned -- 'Oh, I'm gonna make social commentary in my songs.' I just kind of ended up going down that road because of who I am as a person, and probably because of people that inspired me."
After a performance April 27 in Pasadena, Calif., he has an album release show planned with Jack Tempchin and Jude Johnstone on June 21 at the City Winery in New York. Rafael will also play at Mraz's LIVE ART from SPARC show in Richmond, Va., and at the Clearwater Festival in upstate New York, both during June.
"I've always been kind of a dreamer in that, for me, I've always felt like there's an opportunity around the corner somewhere -- I don't know how far it is to the corner but I've never lost that feeling that I've got to keep going to get to what I'm really seeking.”