May 2015 Newsletter
Thursday, April 23, 2015
It's been a little over six months months since I released, Milltowns, my tribute to Bill Morrissey. As the weather gets nicer and I start to think of what comes next, it's tempting to lose myself in the promise of new beginnings. But just as spring means nothing without winter, it would be a mistake to push on without pausing to reflect on all I learned from Milltowns.
In the initial stages of the project, I had to work up the nerve to assume the mantle of the Bill's catalog for awhile. After all, if I couldn't believe that there was something singular in my interpretations of the songs, then there wouldn't be any point in making the record. There were plenty of others who knew Bill better or longer than I did. But I believe that my unique mix of innocence and experience, with both the man and his songs, helped me make a record that probably no one else could (or maybe would) have made.
For a collection of songs I mostly didn't write, I was also surprised by how much they felt like 'my' songs when I sang them. I guess, at least for awhile, that they were my songs. I felt as personally invested in "Long Gone" or "Birches" as any song I've written from personal experience, and I had to sing them through tears more times than not. I know many in the audience were crying too, and I felt a real responsibility to get us all beyond the sorrow, back to the music. Many thanks to Charlie Rose (pedal steel, banjo, guitar) and Richard Gates (bass) for helping to pull me through. All in all, the heady mix of tribute, reinvention and evangelizing for an artist and his catalog made me feel more like I folksinger than I ever have before. Perhaps that's the last gift, and most lasting, that Bill has given me.
I always knew there would come a time when I would need to move past Milltowns, to pivot towards both a new project and back to my own catalog, but I had no idea how exhilarating and scary it would feel. With Milltowns, I knew exactly what I was doing and the reason why, and now I have to find the same degree of conviction in myself, for myself. I've only done a few non-Milltowns shows thus far, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I felt a bit like a salmon going upstream. I know I've been to this place before, but I was a lot different the last time I was here. It ain't always easy going home.
I'll begin working on my tenth solo record later this month. Though I'll always keep a handful of Bill Morrissey songs in my sets, the only way to know if my new material is ready is to play the songs at my shows. I'll weave new material into all my shows this month, but I'll take that principle to its extreme on May 15th and 16th, when I'll do my first-ever shows of entirely yet-to-be-recorded songs in Northampton and Cambridge MA. It is, frankly, a slightly terrifying proposition, but audiences in those two towns have literally watched me grow up and I know they'll have my back. As ever, I'm grateful that all of you keep tuning in.
I write for me, but I sing for you.
MP3 of the MONTH: Usually I try to make the monthly track dovetail somehow with themes explored in the essay above, but sometimes it's a stretch. In keeping with this month's theme of...new beginnings (?)...check out my cover of Lake Street Dive's "Bad Self Portraits." It's available for free for the month of May over at my Bandcamp page. Get it HERE!
Sat May 2 - River Club Music Hall, Scituate MA - 8 pm
Sun May 3 - Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry NH - 7 pm
There are few things I like more than spending a weekend accompanying and opening for Lori McKenna. We've been friends and colleagues for nearly 20 years, and on her most recent album Numbered Doors (which I produced), I think that shines through. It's just two of us and an assortment of acoustic guitars, singing and picking--no gimmicks or fixes. That's the way these shows are too; a homecoming of sorts.
Sat May 9 - Ingraham House Concerts, Bristol CT - 7:30 pm
The 125-year old Ingraham House once belonged to the head of a local clockmaking factory, and is a great place to see (and play) a show. It's essentially an informal, down home house party, with concert held in the exquisitely crafted wooden foyer, which sounds incredible. I'll be solo for this one, just a bunch of acoustic instruments and songs both old and new.
Fri May 15 - Parlor Room, Northampton MA - 7 pm (Dietrich Strause opens)
Sat May 16 - Passim, Cambridge MA - 8 pm (The Western Den opens)
I couldn't be more excited about these two shows. I've played both rooms many times before, which is probably why I feel comfortable enough to play all UNRELEASED and UNRECORDED songs for these shows. Ok, if you twist my arm, I might play one or two you've heard before. I head into the studio the following week and need to figure out what works, so come be part of the process. Zachariah Hickman will join me on bass, pump organ and mischieviousness for both shows. Marco Giovino, who's drummed with everybody from Robert Plant, Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin to a pair of notable Joneses (Norah and Tom), will join me for the Passim show only. I've never really done this sort of show before, and may never again, so catch it while you can.
Barnstar! Rides! Again!
Sun May 17 - Passim, Cambridge MA - 6 pm (SOLD OUT) & 9 pm
**Thu May 28 - Kirby Center, Wilkes Barre PA - 7:30 pm **Supporting Josh Ritter
**Fri May 29 - Tarrytown Music Hall, Tarrytown NY - 8 pm
**Sat May 30 - Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center, York PA - 8 pm
**Sun May 31 - South Orange Performing Arts Center, S. Orange NJ - 7:30 pm
Barnstar! is saddling up for another rare yet epic stretch of gigs. At Passim, we'll do 2 shows at our home club Passim, the earlier of which is already sold out. Then we'll head out for 4 shows opening up for Josh Ritter, and we'll likely rush the stage and join him for some of his set as well. Our banjo player Charlie Rose is on loan to Elephant Revival right now, so Wes Corbett (formerly of Joy Kills Sorrow) will join us on banjo for the Ritter shows. I don't even need to say anything more about these dates.
May 1 - Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield ME (w/Lori McKenna)
ON THE HORIZON:
^^June 24 - Watermelon Wednesdays, Whately MA ^^Barnstar! show (4 & 7:30 pm)
^^June 26 - Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River MA
July 16 - Concert Happenings in the Parks, Ridgefield CT