Sue Menhart on Love: ‘Let It In’


Singer, songwriter, musician, or band leader … whatever you call her, Sue Menhart knows a little something about music. And she knows even more about love.

“Love Ain’t Hard” is her latest compilation, a bluesy mix of songs that touch on love lost, love re-discovered, love that lasts – and love that just plain explodes! Based in Stonington, Menhart says the title’s meaning is pretty simple: “Just have to get that chip off your shoulder and let it in.  Life’s short.”

Leap, for instance, into the power of the music itself, strongest and most poignant in “Can’t Feel the Rain.”

Listen to this: 

“Highway’s one more mile,” she says. “What am I doing this for?  I can’t feel the rain no more.”

A traveling troubadour? a lover of dreams, still chasing them, but numb from the weariness of the journey?

Her gritty take on loving that journey, backed by piano, guitar, and drums, is a lament. “Where did my fire go?” she wonders as sax takes over instrumentally, underscoring the gut-wrenching message. And as she belts out, “I can’t feel it!”  you can feel it — the passion, the frustration, the endurance, and yes, the love.

So is the CD’s title also tongue-in-cheek? A sort of sarcastic disclaimer for someone who knows more than she’s letting on?

Well, if you’re thinking this song represents the CD’s main groove, you’d be wrong. As moving and insightful as “Can’t Feel the Rain” is, it’s the tribute to the Brian Wilson song, “Party on the Beach,” that has more of the vibe Menhart is after: “Just good old fashioned fun.”

Judge for yourself:

“When you see Brian Wilson … trying to have some fun … have a party on the beach!” she demands. And who couldn’t resist that invitation?

As a whole, “Love Ain’t Hard” is a solid, cantankerous, rocking good time, with a kind of earthy realism mixed in on the moodier numbers.

Here’s one more taste of Sue’s wisdom, couched in wonder in this beautiful ballad, “Moving On”:

“Wherever you roam, you’re never alone,” she promises. Despite life’s lonely, alienating tricks.

Whether the song’s tone is heavy or light, Menhart’s lyrics are so straightforward, yet heartfelt, analysis seems disingenuous.

As for the voice, it’s got depth, rasp, conviction, and resolve. A resolve, in fact, patterned after the sax that lifts, accompanies, underscores and capitulates on most of the tracks. Credit saxophonists Don Packer and and Tommy Mahfoo with getting it right.

Besides Menhart’s contributions on electric guitar, band members include husband Kevin Clark on drums,  Dave Foret on bass,
Don Bergeron on lead electric guitars and Dan Spano on the keyboard.

Persistence, plus patience, produced “Love Ain’t Hard.” Dennis Walley, who runs Stone Wall Studios in North Stonington, CT,  recorded, mixed and mastered all the songs.

“Half the songs were recorded three years ago and the other half earlier this year,” Menhart recalled. “We released ‘Can’t Feel the Rain’ from that first batch in 2015 and it won a New London Whalie Award for Best Roots Rock Performance.  We took a break in between due to band members’ illnesses and I think somebody quit and came back, lol.  Dennis was able to meld it all together.”

And meld it, he did – with the kind of fabulous finesse reserved for true artists.

To order this CD, visit Sue’s website.

And to catch her live, riffing on artists like Bonnie Raitt and the Tedeschi Trucks Band, check out Menhart-Bergeron Acoustic Madness on Dec. 27 at the Steak Loft in Mystic. And request an original. “Love Ain’t Hard” is just the tip of the iceberg in this woman’s repertoire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Crossing: The Musical”: How It Came To Be


Songwriters and musicians Mike Bailey and Ron Gletherow have written “The Crossing,” a magical musical that will soon be performed in the greater New London, CT region, if not beyond. Here is the story behind their story.

Ron Gletherow, left, and Mike Bailey, in costume for their musical, “The Crossing.”

How did you two collaborators decide to put together this musical?

RON: It began with Mike’s song, “Crossing,” that he wrote for the last album put out by [their music group] Maggie’s Guitar. Apart from being the strongest song on the album, making it the obvious choice for title track, it also came with such an incredible story, that it was Margaret [Ron’s wife] who first said to me, “You know, this would make a great stage musical.” The gears in my head immediately started turning. A musical is something I’d wanted to do for ages. I broached the subject to Mike, and found he was as enthusiastic as I was.

What is gist of the story?

MIKE: My great-great-great grandfather was a wealthy merchant in Edinburgh. His son eloped with the maid. His father didn’t approve, had the marriage annulled and sent the woman away. The son threatened to leave if his father didn’t bring her back. He didn’t, and the son ran away to America. A few months later, the woman returned with a baby boy. She was dying, and the grandfather raised the boy and his son.

When the boy turned 18 or so, the grandfather told him the story of his father, and the boy set off for America to find him. After a few years of searching across New England, the son was working in a mill. He was telling his story to his foreman, who said, “I’ve heard your story before. I know your father. He’s the man who owns this mill.”

Father and son were reunited. It’s an incredible coincidence, but it’s true.

What kinds of audiences are you hoping to attract?

RON: I believe the show will appeal to all kinds of audience, young and old, and not necessarily just the ones who would normally attend stage shows. The music is so diverse, there’s something for everyone. There’s the traditional show-type songs with full orchestration that you would expect, but there’s also some folky stuff and even some soft rock.

Mike, you wrote the opening song, “Don’t Wait for Tomorrow.” This song has a message of perspective born of experience. Why did you make this song the opener?

MIKE: The play is narrated by George Morrison, the grandfather, and it opens with him towards the end of his life, telling the audience he has a story to tell. He talks about how he worked his way up from nothing, how he’s proud of a lot of what he’s done, not so proud of things he’s missed. So, it sets up the message of loss.

“Je t’aime Toujours,” of course is a love song. The refrain is delicate and memorable. The instrumentation elevates the feeling of intimacy. How did you decide on the arrangement?

MIKE: I just wrote the song and told Ron I envisioned a rock power ballad. Then Ron worked magic. He contacted Jack Moriarty to do the guitar work, which was just superb.

RON: Mike wrote this, quite rightly, as a gentle, acoustic love song. I thought that a piano and some strings would help bring out the emotion in the song, and then of course we were fortunate to have the immense talent of Jack on guitar to add that “something special” like he always does.

Ron, how do you decide on instrumentation and the arrangements?

RON: No two are ever the same. I get ideas in my head as I’m listening to the “bare bones” versions. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Fortunately for me, mostly it does work and I’m able to convey what I hear in my head to the finished arrangement.

Of course, Mike plays a very big part in the musical arrangements, too. Generally, with a song he’s written, he points me in the right direction. He comes up with some great ideas, like the ukulele part on “Captains of Industry”.

Of the remaining songs, “If I’d Only Known,” “Son & Heir” and “Finding My Destiny” which was the hardest to craft and why?

RON: I think Mike would probably agree that most of the songs virtually wrote themselves for this show. The story is that good that you couldn’t fail to be inspired by it.

“If I’d Only Known” was not the hardest, but the one I got most pleasure from writing. It’s such a poignant moment in the story, when George and Violette both realize what might have been. I wanted to write a real, Broadway type show tune, the kind you’d hear in “Sunset Boulevard” or “Les Miserables”. I knew I couldn’t hope to reach those heights, but I was determined to go for it anyway, and I was pleased with the result.

Where will the show be performed?

RON: We have a show confirmed at Unity Hall in New London, the home of “Friday Night Folk” for Dec. 8.

We’re also lining up shows at The Katharine Hepburn Theater in Old Saybrook and The Granite Theater in Westerly. The dates of those shows are yet to be finalized, but we’re hoping for some time in the fall.

How are you working to publicize the show?

MIKE: We’re posting a new song every week or so on our “Crossing: The Musical” Soundcloud page and linking to that from the Maggie’s Guitar and Crossing Facebook webpages. We’ll reach a couple of hundred people that way, but to tell the truth, Facebook is becoming so saturated, its value as a marketing medium is a little questionable, I think.

Beyond social media, we have been playing some of the songs in public here and there, at fund-raisers and such. That fact that we’re working on a musical has created a surprising amount of word-of-mouth interest.

What is the biggest challenge in working as a team?

RON: Mike Bailey? Can’t stand the guy!

No, seriously, it’s always a pleasure to work with someone as talented as Mike. We’re mostly on the same page, so much so that quite often we both come up with the same idea simultaneously. We have a kind of telepathy.

MIKE: I wish we had more time.

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.