I wrote this song, “Little Girl, Dream,” for my niece, Sophia.
The lyrics just came to me, until the third verse, when I tried to work in details about her recent experiences in after school sports. But swimming, which she just won an award for as a player with most improved race times, did not fit in with these lyrics.
Knowing I had a critique to go to with the Rhode Island Songwriter’s Association spurred me to write my way through the rest of the song. Here it is:
Little Girl, Dream
Once there was a little girl
Danced through the night
Woke up a happy little girl, bright, happy and bright
And she sang, Oh– Oh — Oh,
Little girl sang, Oh — Oh — Oh
Little girl sang, Oh — Oh — Oh
Little girl bright.
Sang her songs, little girl
On the radio
Knows when to come in little girl and go, come in and go
Wonders about life, little girl
Worries and cries
Grows up fast, this little girl, wise — fast and wise
WELCOME to “People’s Pick.” Each “pick” is an interview with a songwriter and guitarist popular with the public, mostly from places I’ve met them in Connecticut, Vermont or Rhode Island. But they come from everywhere, full of verve and insight into what it means to write a song, pluck a guitar, pound the ivories — and make a joyful noise.
This month’s “pick,” Bill Brink, played in several small bands over the years, moving to Vermont in 2001 and playing in a jug band complete with washtub bass, washboard, kazoo, harmonica and mandolin. The CD “The Pen Is Mightier than the Sword” followed, featuring original and traditional material. For the past two years he has focused on performing solo, playing small clubs, Town Greens and farmers markets. He started a music series in Weathersfield, Vt., as well as a coffeehouse series in Springfield, Vt. and a public access show called the “Acoustic Living Room.”
PEOPLE’S PICK: What is the first song you wrote and what does it mean to you today?
BILL BRINK: The first real song I wrote was a song of unrequited love called, “Unfaithfully Yours.” It was actually a rather angry song and more therapy than music, at least for me.
PEOPLE’S PICK: How important to your formation as a songwriter was your membership in the band Grand Junction and the jug band?
BILL BRINK: When [fellow musician] John asked me if I wanted to join Grand Junction, I was really excited because he was impressed with my writing. I ended up writing a number of the songs that were released on the album, “Mountains and Valleys.” When I moved up to Vermont, I wanted to do something laid back and with as little rehearsal as possible so I figured I’d do a jug band and knock off a few “fun” songs that we could do on someone’s front porch.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Why a jug band, anyway?
BILL BRINK: My love for jugband music came about after seeing Washboard Slim and The Blue Lights and John Sebastian. From there, I picked up a washboard and played with the Dan Vece Sunday Singalong in Westbrook on Sunday afternoons. It’s just fun and rhythmic music that anybody can play.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Where is your favorite place to perform?
BILL BRINK: I really enjoy farmers markets and small taverns. I’m fortunate to have a sound system that will allow me to do small venues yet be able to handle Town Greens. If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the Woodstock Farmers Market. There’s always kids dancing and a real festival atmosphere.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Why did you go solo?
BILL BRINK: I took a hiatus for a couple of years after the Black River Jug stompers. And when I pulled my guitar out to play, I realized I would have to reinvent myself as a performer if I wanted to get other folks to gig with me. So, now that I’ve regained my confidence, I’m actually performing with other musicians in the area on kind of a pick-up basis. I’ve gained quite a roster to choose from.
PEOPLE’S PICK: How did the coffeehouse and music series come about?
BILL BRINK: Well, I wanted a family-friendly venue that was alcohol-free and that anyone could attend regardless of cost, so I contacted the Unitarian church in Springfield, Vt., and they jumped on it. It’s grown ever since and is basically running itself.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Your drinking song, “One Is Too Much,” is a lively blend of bluegrass and country. How did you come to write it?
BILL BRINK: I wrote it after observing a fellow at a bar who was a wee bit tipsy trying to talk to the woman sitting next to him. She got up, went out onto the dance floor then danced her way into the ladies’ room after he tried to dance with her.
PEOPLE’S PICK: What is your favorite chord progression and why?
BILL BRINK: I would have to say c-a-d-g-e c-a-d-g.
It’s just fun and easy and the basis for so many great songs.
PEOPLE’S PICK: Who is your biggest musical influence?
BILL BRINK: Lately, I’ve been listening to Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople. But I’m also influenced by Pete Seeger as well as Bruce Cockburn.
PEOPLE’S PICK: What inspires you to write songs?
BILL BRINK: Well, it varies. Sometimes, I’m inspired by a situation of social injustice; other times it’s just sheer silliness.
PEOPLE’S PICK: What is your next goal as songwriter and performer?
BILL BRINK: I seem to have found a niche up here [in Vermont] and helped foster an acoustic music scene that brings together performers of all levels. I’m working with a couple of groups in Springfield to start a performance space so we can host national acts; that way, I can use local talent as an opening act. As for myself, I’m happy performing locally up here though I’ve had invitations to come to New London and perform, which I plan on pursuing at some point.
Wisdom tinged with hope does not come through thoughtfully-written lyrics by accident.
Nor is pop Americana that is catchy, rhythmic and yet somehow still contemplative particularly common.
To this deliberately uncommon place the EP “Never Grow Old,” released in January, beckons with wise words, memorable melodies, and a five-piece ensemble sound that makes listeners rock in their seats.
The Rivergods, if you don’t know them, are the ever-so-personable Dan Spano on keyboards; Mike Palazzolo on bass; Ben Parent, guitars/vocals/harmonica; Nancy Parent, guitar/pedal steel/vocals; and Trevor Chandonnait on drums.
Just when you want to pin cynicism on the losses recorded in the imagery-rich song, “When Times Were Good,” or on the “betrayal” in the raucous tune “The Curse,” you have to step back and acknowledge a lack of regret or or a a twinge of desire. Just when you think you understand from the title track that it won’t “be alright” or in “Rush Hour” that “what was lost along the way/ [was] Better off gone for good,” songwriter Ben Parent brings us full circle. His wish for us “climbing high,” to “never come down,” or to, when times aren’t so good, “learn to get along,” give his message a buoyancy and optimism that cannot be dragged down by circumstance.
Beguiling but hard-bitten, and deceptively easy to digest, Parent’s lyrics pack that hard-to-find combination of power and poeticism. Nancy Parent’s harmonies, as always, elevate the vocals and infuse them with a lightness that is just the right counterpoint to Ben’s gravelly voice.
Instrumentally, the band is as tight as ever.
If I had to pick one tune for my time capsule, it would be “Rush Hour.” From the lilting instrumental opening to the soft harmonies and subtle ironies, it’s a keeper.
Pick up your copy of “Never Grow Old” here. Treat yourself to a timely and yet timeless arrangement of music and words that, like their award-winning single, “Budda On the Road,” will never grow old.
Sailfest 2013, like open mics run by Bernadette Golden and Larry Kern and a fabulous fall Hoot organized by Sherry Stidfole and Hugh Birdsall, turned out to be platforms to play with Joe Cavanaugh, Mike Ball and Dana Takaki.
I also had the pleasure of playing with some rocking guitarists, vocalists, drummers and keyboard players at the Common Ground Open Mic in New London on more than one occasion and at the Barn in East Lyme.
I learned a lot by practicing and performing with these gifted musicians.
Rhythm is something to be respected.
Violin can accent anything — up-tempo tunes as well as the more melancholy ballad.
Bass builds a base that elevates.
Instrumental solos by backup guitarists, particularly Mike, stitch the whole song together and make it memorable.
As luck would have it I’ve moved to Pawtucket, and Mike and moved to Oklahoma. This particular collaboration probably can’t happen quite the way it did this past year.
But if I learned anything — as Joe so lovingly told me and my first producer Ron Gletherow always reminded me — the songs I write lend themselves to other instruments and voices. Call for it.
As I look back on 2013 and these posts I am filled with joy, wonder and gratitude.
As I look toward 2014 I can only hope to meet new collaborators, and maybe, with some luck, reunite with Mike, Dana and Joe as time and geography permit. I had even come up with a name for us, though all of these musicians perform actively with other people. I called us Side Effects.
For now, performing solo at open mics will be the way I roll. But if it is meant to be, building a band that approximates the respectful, dynamic, jelled connections made with the three pictured here is what I’ll be up to in 2014! Collaboration has turned out to be a side effect with good indications.
Don’t you just need to grab those compilations some days and play Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” all the way through just for old time’s sake? Or “Thank You” in Led Zepplin Complete? or “O Holy Night”? Or Jim Croce’s “Photographs & Memories”?
Writing originals is daunting some days but getting favorite tunes top of mind can help inspire new material. Working on one now and damn if it doesn’t start out like a song by Kris Delmhorst before veering into another dimension.
Made it to the SAMS Shoreline Acoustic Music Society gathering earlier this month! Missing that here in Pawtucket, but going to venture out soon. Who’s with me?