John Fries: Soul-searching


He’s back!

And true to form, this singer-songwriter and accomplished guitarist is plying strings and vocals, with solid accompaniment, in a way reminiscent of his 2012 EP, “U.S. 50”  – yet taking the stripped-back acoustic sound and poetic messages to another level.

Whether it’s the haunting metal body Dobro resonator and softly swishing cymbals in “River” or the driving, rapid-fire strum, mixed with a steady beat and alternating time changes in “Straight to the Top,” songwriter John Fries combines guitar lovers’ acrobatics with intimate, frank lyrics and a voice both powerful and raw.

johnfries

I remember when I first heard Fries’ signature song, “Technicolor You.” Immediately loved the syncopated rhythm, the sweet lover’s apostrophe, and that voice – so natural, gravelly, and resonant. That was 2012. Now, five years later, there is an added urgency to the guitar work, particularly evident in his use of three different types of resonators, and underscored by solid drumming, piano and supporting vocals.

There’s urgency in the writing, too.

“If you’re living in the past, you can forget about your future,” he sings in “Friend.” Whether he’s addressing someone else or talking to himself, as songwriters like to do, the message is the same: “Months and months become years and years/ Without a change is your greatest fear.”

Get on with life, he seems to say. And he does – taking us into other lives and places on other tracks.

“On the Inside,” a quick foray into the worlds of love and friendship, is a poignant portrait. Exactly who the song is about isn’t clear, but what really matters is that this person is important to the singer, who is trying to “make some sense” of what he feels.  “Everybody knows how your story’s going to end,” he sings, interested and distancing himself at the same time from someone “stuck in your own mind/drowning in the sands of time.”

On the third track, guitar licks hammer mercilessly as a character who “Can’t Be Satisfied” moans to a woman that he’s got trouble on his mind. A conflicted, timeless, lament, sympathetic in its urgency, with an upbeat tempo that belies the angst.

It’s a good choice to end with “River,” a masterful tonic for “circumstances you cannot change.” His words focus on misleading promises and pain, the scene a desperate one. “Put your best foot forward,” he sings, “straight into your grave,/ tumbling backwards to an uncertain end …/ like a river … /picking up the loose ends and washing them away.” Fries’ voice is softer here, tender. He understands misleading promises and pain, making his art bend to reflect its influence.

The entire collection is a gentle embrace of the listener in songs riddled with a common man’s themes, sophisticated instrumentation, and a soul searching for – and finding – empathy and insight.

Here, then, is a taste, in his own words, of what drives John Fries:

Q: Does the music come first for you or the lyrics?
Almost all of the time it’s music first or a combination of music & vocal melody first.
Q:  Straight to the top is quintessentially you! Musically. Where did the idea for this song come from?
Lol thanks, that was a song that took a while to sink in for everyone in the band at the time…. For me this one is classic R&B. I’ve always loved this type of music and this song is my best shot at it!
Q: Who’s accompanying your guitar and vocals?
Corina Malbaurn: Bass & backing vocals
Ben LaRose: Drums & backing vocals
Eric Michael Lichter: Piano
Q: How long has it been since your last EP? What would you like your fans to know about what’s different this time around?
The last EP I released was “US 50” back in 2012. This one is quite a bit different in that it’s 100 percent acoustic and is largely live in the studio. Where there are overdubs, we tried to keep them to a minimum.
Q: Are you performing this EP? When and where?
I actually don’t play out any more, my time these days is focussed on my two kids. With that said I may make a comeback soon…. we’ll see!
Q: Who’s your favorite songwriter? Why?
That’s tough. To be honest, I like such a wide range of music; there’s no way I could pick one single artist. I try to listen to as many different genres as I can.
In any given week I could go from listening to Eric Clapton to The Black Crowes or D’angelo to the Allman Brothers or A Tribe Called Quest to Martin Sexton.
Last week I was on a Buena Vista Social Club kick.
So I really do love to mix it up!

To learn more about this artist or buy “John Fries: Unreleased Acoustic EP” visit:

John Fries Music Facebook Page

John Fries Bandcamp Releases

itunes or his website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paring Down Sweet Sound


Possessions. In music, they own you. But not in the way you might think.

Which is why, this summer, I embraced a faulty instrument and let go of a high-end sound system. It’s all about getting back to my roots as a songwriter.

In college, circa 1979, I ponied up $100 for a Yamaha acoustic guitar with a dynamic range whose voicing carried richly: no electronic boost required.

In 2012, after a layoff, having stowed away the Yamaha in favor of a stunning electric acoustic Ovation, and after a summer spent running an open mic hosted through the generosity of a local business owner, I had visions of more gigs and ponied up a $1,000 for a hand-picked sound system with a Behringer mixer, Alto speakers and Sennheiser and Shure mics.

Life has a way of disrupting the best of plans. That layoff forced me to take a job in Providence, downsize from a house in New London to an apartment in Pawtucket, and stow my sound system in a closet in my partner’s home back in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, I kept the trusty old Yamaha in its case, taking it out rarely and noticing that the action was so high it was nearly impossible to play.

I eased this spring into a new, though short-lived career as a full-time freelance writer, living with my partner near Hartford, the Providence job a distant memory, and no full-time work on the horizon. And I started to think about selling the sound system. Not just for the money, which I sorely needed, but because it deserved to be used, and apart from attending a few open mics here and there as a guest, I didn’t see myself making use of it long-term.

At about the same time, I took the Yamaha to a local repairman, who said the laminate top and high action made the guitar virtually worthless, though I could spend $60 to adjust the nut and saddle. The neck was another matter altogether, and the expense would cost more than the guitar was worth.

After talking to a second craftsman, though, I made an important change: I removed the medium strings that were pressuring the neck and put light gauge strings on it.

That guitar has never sounded fuller! And while the action is imperfect, it is manageable, especially with the help of a capo.

I wasn’t even thinking about the sound system, until one day, on Facebook, I noticed a young, talented fellow songwriter mentioning how she had to borrow a sound system for her last gig. A few instant messages later, she was planning to come check out my sound system and see if she wanted to buy it.

I set it up with care that night, and true to form, it took only a few minutes, it’s that lovely and well put together. “House of the Rising Sun.” My own anthem, “Through It All.” And for my partner, Lee, “Come Back.” I played and played and got that out of my system.

Kala Farnham came to our house, sang and played a song on my guitar, played with the mixer and listened to me play, then hooked her keyboard up to it. That’s all it took and she was ready to buy, discounted, the equipment I had so eagerly bought four years ago. We loaded it carefully into her car.

“I hope you get good use out of it,” I said.

“I’ll run it into the ground,” she said.

I knew my beloved, if underused, sound system was in good hands.

As for me, far from giving up music, I have placed the Yamaha in a guitar stand beside the Ovation in a small study Lee has dubbed the music room. I pick it up often.

A late-comer to songwriting and even later to performing, with a carefully crafted CD now dated circa 2010, I am in transition. I have a great deal of unrecorded material, some of which is worthy of an audience beyond SoundCloud and ReverbNation. I may next, now that I have a full-time job in Hartford, plan to invest again — in ProTools or whatever recording equipment would allow me to share another CD or two with my fans.

But for now, I have a wonderful electronic acoustic guitar for performances out, and my trusty, lilting, sweet Yamaha to write music on. Truth be told, I’ve used the “good” guitar for far too many run-of-the-mill activities and it needs to be babied more. But I’m not parting with either one.

(I did hang onto that Shure mic. You never can tell, once I adjust to my new job, when it might come in handy. I like to, as they say, keep a hand in.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acoustic Festival Acts: A Few Random, Obscure Facts


Performers playing at the 10th anniversary of the Shoreline Acoustic Music Festival on July 10 at the Hygienic Arts Park in New London have that acoustic vibe in common, but some also have agreed to share revealing tidbits about themselves that their fans may not know.

The line-up on Sunday includes 11 acts playing 20-minute sets.

Here, then, is a brief run-down of a few of the performers who want you to know something more about them.

The band, Blonde Furniture, has been releasing songs over the past several months as part of a project dubbed “Music For Early Century Modern.”  Four tracks are available on their website.

Band frontman Bill Dumas also shared a story that not may not be common knowledge. There is a mystery track on Blonde Furniture’s first vinyl release in 1984 of Dumas playing drums on “Wipe Out” over the phone with David Letterman’s band on “Late Night with David Letterman.” Letterman called Dumas during viewer mail and asked if he would play with the band over the phone. Here, then, about a minute in, is the recording of that live performance on the show:

 

Also, meet Jim Lampos, a singer-songwriter known for his insightful lyrics and finger-style guitar work. Entangled States, his eighth CD, was released in April and is currently getting airplay on nearly 100 stations worldwide, and charting on leading NPR and college radio stations across America.

Lampos has toured extensively across the United States, and made numerous appearances on network television, including two episodes of VH-1’s Midnight Minute.

What you might not know about this accomplished artist is that he also has published poetry and local history. His latest book is “Remarkable Women of Old Lyme,” published by the History Press.

And a new book will be coming out later this year entitled, “Revolution in the Lymes: from the New Lights to the Sons of Liberty.”

Then, there are the Carolans, a group of five musicians who enjoy arranging and performing music from a variety of genres, including folk, Celtic songs, traditional instrumental music and a smattering of country and pop. Arrangements blend vocal harmonies with guitars, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, dulcimer, penny whistles and percussion.

Jake Wysoski, Steve Fagin, Tim Lambert and Cathy & Paul Smith-Carolan make up the ensemble.

And what’s special about them? They radiate a joy while performing, they say, that the audience can feel. You have to come to the festival to soak up the experience.

Yours truly also has a slot at the show, and a bit of the poet coursing through my veins as well. In fact, it took a slew of rejections from established poetry journals and a couple decades of relative inactivity despite playing the guitar since age 10 before I broke down and wrote “Letting Go,” circa 2008. But what I am happy to admit here is that, since the CDs emerged in 2008 and 2010, I’ve grown a bit musically, even playing in a fabulous, if short-lived band called We Were Strangers in Rhode Island. So I promise: You won’t hear more than one song about unrequited love when I play my set.

Other subjects include the joy of childhood, inspired by my niece, the darker side of friendship and the complex uncertainties, comforts and pleasures of — what’s that? — a real, committed, loving relationship.

Join us!

 

Back in the Saddle (or is it Guitar Case?)


A few short months ago I promised major changes were coming to this blog, and to me, though I couldn’t reveal them because they involved relocation and a job change.

Okay, so I over-hyped a life transition. But, to be honest, my songwriting, and blogging, had taken a back seat to that overdue evolution for longer than I care to admit.

Well, I’m back to say, Yes, please come here to find songwriting stories and inspiration. Too much time has passed undocumented since I wrote about what moves me most in life and the comrades who likewise are making something of their art.

I commit here and now to breathing life back into both my music and this blog. As a show of good faith, I even ponied up the twenty bucks to add mp3 files for another year. I also published pix here of the wall in a shared study dubbed “the music room.”

So, what exactly is this momentous transition? you ask. In fact, it’s been a life-changer.

I have moved back to Connecticut and am developing a new freelance writing career along with a future with my lover — the subject of much long-distance angst until now and a few songs as well. I am also exploring new open mic venues, starting with one in Cheshire at C.J. Sparrow Pub and Eatery, where Ken Safety’s dynamic house band hosts.

And I’m trying to figure out what exactly to do with all the songs that have emerged since the lovable Mike Bailey, irrepressible Mike Ball and irreplaceable Ron Gletherow blessed me with production of the CD, “Love Is Hard,” an unfathomable six years ago.

As impetus for this re-dedication, of sorts, I am blessed to be collaborating again with bass guitarist Joe Cavanagh for the 10th anniversary of the Shoreline Acoustic Music Society’s Folk Festival at Sailfest. SAMS was the impetus for my musical growth as a songwriter and as a performer. We play Sunday, July 10 at 1 along with a host of other talented performers.

The newly resurrected Wailing City website has all the details.

Please continue to follow my songwriting musings and those of others here. We only go around once – how could I abandon my domain name, “userloseit”? Too symbolic. Too meaningful. As are you, my friends. Thanks for visiting. Come back soon!

 

2016: A Year of (Key) Changes


Minor keys have always attracted me, but major changes may warrant brighter tones going forward.

Without giving too much away, I just want to say what a pleasure the past five years have been in seeing the traction and interest in musical musings, shared songs and interviews here. More to come, so please stay tuned, and thank you for sticking around.

We Were Strangers At the Telegraph in New London


Here are three of the most talented, warm, funny, intelligent people I ever had the chance to bump into. We met at an event called Jamathon, sponsored by Music Town, a social networking site for musicians, and I and my music have never been the same.

Knowing them has changed some of my songs for the better. Now, I am no longer that shy girl “looking the other way,” as one of the songs says, but rather, as another song says,  I love who they are, and find I’m loving who I am more, too.

‘Trying to Make Everybody See’: Frank Nerkowski


There’s a guy with a guitar and way with a song, and his name is Frank Nerkowski.

Frank Nerkowski

His CD, “days gone by,” has got a country but roots-y feel and a strong persona defined by man comfortable in his own skin.

“Trying to make everybody see” is a line from the fourth track, “I’m Still Me,” and reflects the modesty of a guy who admits to struggling to fully express his vision, despite a desire to bust through society’s walls. His down-to-earth message is underscored by equally down-to-earth vocals.

Perhaps the introspection speaks to those of us inclined to reflection, yet that is hardly the scope of Frank’s repertoire. The opening “High and Low” is a foot-stomping lament in which the upbeat fiddle and drum belie the message of a man rejected by his woman. Adamant “she’ll come back to me … and see … I’m right for her and then she won’t say, ‘No,'” the singer has a passion and persistence in the face of obstacles that make it easy to relate to him.

“Since You Left Me” works in this vein as well, celebrating moonshine, Cubans and siestas — “doing anything I like” — with “everything I need in my backyard.” Tongue-in-cheek attitude accompanied by vivid imagery make for an amusing take, especially when he’s “still doing fine” even though “half the town in my vineyard [is] tasting all my wine.” Don’t we all have an ex like that, from whom we need, mostly, relief?

Nerkowski also isn’t above needing and asking for help: crooning about having a good life yet needing more in “On the Floor,” for instance.

He also calls on some melodic banjo and a chorus of singers to accompany him on the title track, “Days Gone By,” as he meditates on work, his grandfather and making a living.

Throughout this CD, Nerkowski, of Clinton, Conn., has dynamic accompaniment from Eric Lichter, wife Robin Nerkowski, MorganEve Swain, James Maple, Gordan Ingram, Tim Engle, Laura Funk, Nick Borzillo and Ed Iarusso.

Swizzle sticks and ice cubes clinking glasses punctuate the closing tune: “Drinking to Keep from Thinking (About You Babe).” This song’s country feel has just the right amount of bemusement mixed with relationship angst to keep from turning maudlin — and a rocking percussion that keeps the track tight.

Check out the full CD and take it for a spin on the open road. You won’t be sorry!