Barker grounded in reality while ‘Adrift on a Star’

The Freedom From Religion Foundation released its third musical CD in January, “Adrift on a Star,” featuring Dan Barker and friends. The title song is Barker’s arrangement of a Yip Harburg poem. 

The album’s showpiece is “Poor Little Me,” a collaboration between Barker, who wrote the lyrics, and Charles Strouse, the Broadway icon (“Annie,” “Bye Bye Birdie”), who’s also an atheist who received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2011. 

“I had the pleasure of sitting next to Charles at the 2011 FFRF convention dinner,” says Dan. “We chatted about music, the many Broadway and other composers who are nonreligious, and he said if I sent him some lyrics, he would put them to music. So I did and he did. It’s truly a collaboration, because Charles threw away about half of my lyrics, and it’s a much better song for it!”

What’s left are subtly humorous lyrics and rich music blended into a winning song.

Dan, who had a musical ministry as an ordained minister before “seeing the light” and is still receiving royalties for his Christian musicals for children, has now written scores of freethought songs in what he calls “reverse penance.”

Other new songs in the album include “Get Off Your Knees (And Get to Work),” dedicated to “Gov. Rip Van-Perry Winkle, who has slept not 30 but 2,030 years,” “Reason,” inspired by the D.C. Reason Rally, and Dan’s humorous “Unfaithful.” Dismissing belief in a deity, the lyrics say: “I want you to know it isn’t me — it’s you.”

Susan Hofer, a talented jazz vocalist in Madison, Wis., performs Dan’s jazz ballad, a love song, “It’s Only Natural,” inspired by Richard Dawkins’ book Unweaving the Rainbow, which makes a plea to integrate science and art. The song has been oft-requested since Dan wrote it in 2006.

He’s also set to music several poems by Harburg from Rhymes for the Irreverent, a collection of verses reprinted by FFRF. Another musical icon, Harburg, a nonbeliever who openly scoffed at religion, wrote “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” among many, many enduring classics.

To showcase many of Harburg’s witty rhymes about religion, Dan set them to music in “Somewhere Over the Paper Moon,” performed as a duet with Hofer.

Dan also performs Harburg’s song “One Sweet Morning,” a lovely but rarely recorded peace anthem with a freethought perspective. The music is by Earl Robinson (“Joe Hill”). Dan set plaintive music to poet and lyricist Philip Appleman’s cautionary “In a Dark Time,” written in the mid-2000s. Dan also recorded “Experiment,” a little-known paean to science and critical thinking by Cole Porter, who was nonreligious. By popular request of FFRF’s staff, Dan recorded a G-rated version of “Merry F&*#ing Christmas” from “South Park.”

Cameo appearances include Australian freethought/feminist troubadour Shelly Segal, who graciously gave FFRF permission to include her haunting song “I Don’t Believe in Fairies,” and Joe Taylor, formerly a Christian rocker, who recorded his first freethought song, “Be Still My Child,” for the album.

Also included is “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” sung by Hofer and arranged by Dan with a local band. Bonus tracks include a few extras.

FFRF Rob Shepherd plays the saxophone on several songs, and FFRF member Buzz Kemper, announcer of Freethought Radio, engineered the album at Audio for the Arts in Madison.

FFRF members may order the CD “Adrift on a Star” for a discounted $15 postpaid ($20 postpaid for nonmembers). “Adrift on a Star” joins FFRF’s two previous CDs, featuring Barker and friends. “Beware of Dogma” is also available for $15 to members.

The 34-song “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,” with many contemporary and historic freethought songs, also featuring Kristen Lems, is available for $20 to members via the mail or (Note: The online shop calculates postage based on weight and location, so final online price may vary slightly from mail catalog price.)

Freedom From Religion Foundation