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!

Shining Her Light: Joanne Lurgio’s Latest

Intoned intimacy. A likable lilt. And a powerful pull.

Well-written lyrics speak for themselves. Instrumental flourishes complement one another and ring out. But how do words, reviews, blogs like this do justice to a voice that compels?


There’s a show that purports to find “The Voice.” Well, here is one artist who doesn’t need the hype of a televised self-congratulatory competition to justify her identity.

Just listen to “Young Summer Hues,” on Joanne Lurgio’s latest,

Rise From the Storm

Rise From the Storm. If you haven’t bought the CD yet, here is the link to a tease: the cdbaby site with snippets of the songs. “Young Summer Hues” is the fourth track.

Sultry almost does it justice, but not quite. So click on track No. 10: “Shine Your Light,” and the voice becomes percussive, upbeat, crooning. Rock in your seat listening to this one: the message of a light shining on the singer’s “darkest day” elevates with the tone.

Still need a bigger vocabulary? Yes! Because Joanne Lurgio’s range is not just vocal. It is intellectually rich and deeply empathetic.  All of these lyrics and melodies are her own, enhanced with a roster of performers that includes Vance Gilbert, Duke Robillard and her son, Joe, on mandolin. But it is the slide guitar of Mike “Scatman” Sullivan on Track 12 that best approximates the careening journey of “the slow hard ride down the road to hell” of a drifter who “lost his money, … lost his mind” in “Gun Metal Sky.” And when Joanne sings of other lost souls whose “slivered hearts all have a story to tell,” the cry, a lament, wails like the prayer embedded in these lines — “not too loud” — now a call, now a whisper, for mercy.

Vocals aside, most of the tunes on this CD lift the spirit and mood, buoyed by fiddle, harmonies, mandolin, percussion, upright bass, keyboard and accordian. The themes, nuanced and articulate, are familiar: lost love, beloved family and friends, regret. And the bonus track, an anthem for breast cancer survivors called “Won’t Ever Quit,” includes a rousing chorus from the Friends of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.

Often, we don’t know who a singer is singing to, and that is the case in the title song, “Rise From the Storm,” but we can tell it’s somebody close, someone who inspires hope and can be a trusted companion in “a place we can go, nobody knows,/ Set down our heavy lodes….” The heart that is kept “in a sacred place,” beyond hurt, is a heart full of feeling. And maybe that’s the best description of this special voice that touches us in ways too unique and special to articulate: it’s a voice full of feeling, that makes us feel cared for and embraced.

For more about Rhode Islander Joanne Lurgio, including two earlier CDs, visit Joanne Lurgio. Or come see her through Rhode Island Songwriters’ Association events, or at her CD release party: April 19, Pub on the Park, Cranston, R.I.

Rock Poems

Imagery and themes of fragility and pain might get lost in Vince Tuckwood’s newest CD, “Grope,” beneath the electric, hard-edged rock. Except that the voice is so clear, the messages resonate and slip through, purposefully.

Vince on Electric

“Don’t ask me how I’m feeling,” he sings in “Centre of My World;” “you might get the truth.”

To understand the vibe, give a listen to “Walking in Circles,” the last track and one that sums up the feeling implied in the title of searching uncertainly for touch, contact and connection.

As in most of these songs, Vince’s voice retains a trademark sweetness, reminiscent of the vocals in his acoustic folk CD “Sparse,” never ranting loudly to make a point. No, the piercing leads on electric guitar, the heavy power chords and driving drumbeats make the point for him. Lyrics are repetitive and deceptively plain. This could be any bewildered voice — groping for meaning and centeredness in a world without a center.

Underlying the search is frustration and intimidation, as when, in “What Do They Know?” others are “laughing at me,” or when hands and gut are aching and powerless in “Painkiller Morning.”

A sense that these songs were written by a younger songwriter comes from the concerns with what others think and the desperate desire, as in “Hollow,” to be “everything” to another. In fact, Vince says that the songs come from his late 1990s band, “Grope,” a group he played in with bandmates Scott Haughie and Matt Hines. Apart from a 3-track EP, “the majority of our set was never captured,” he writes — until Vince picked up his 90s Strat years later and began — by his own accounting, “possessed” — to reinterpret them.

Though Vince here eschews the acoustic instrumentation that made “Sparse” so meditative and gentle, his wayward riffs on electric guitar and percussive underpinnings echo the best of Green Day’s rock anthems. One that comes to mind is “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”

In the most down-to-earth, plaintive song, Vince does sidle up to a gentler introduction: “You Send Me Over the Moon, Brian,” starts out with a soft electric guitar and the intonation, “Did you really think I would walk away?” before cymbals clatter and announce a full-throated Tuckwood crooning, “You send me ….” A kind of chorus reverberates in the background. Not as intense as the rest of the CD, this tune  — with a great solo on lead guitar — is catchy: riddled with doubt and a happy insistence on that ever-so-evasive connection to someone else.

In fact, all of these songs are apostrophes, lamentations to the universe as well as to the individual for whom the singer is “waiting for you to call me out.” And all the elements of songwriting are here: longing, wistfulness, fear and regret. And while angst dominates, the singer gets past it through the music.

“You are one up on me,” he sings in “Tequila in the C Field.” “You are churning inside me. I can’t focus.” And we feel his isolation and confusion, but somehow the wailing guitar and rock beat make it tolerable and win out.

When taken as a whole, the CD is a tour de force, with Vince on vocals, drums, guitar — and powerful accompaniment vocally on just one track: “Sheep (One of Those Days)” features Isabelle Dunlop, Mark Henning, Anne Castellano, Tony Castellano, Elise and Kyra.

With his feet planted in music, no matter the genre, you can find Vince Tuckwood’s uncommon sensibility as a rock poet in these songs.

Dig in.

“Grope” can be heard and purchased here.

Sweet and Soulful

Arlene & Dana

Ear Candy for the Soul is a 12-song CD by Arlene Wow! and Dana Takaki that lives up to its name.

Strings meld seamlessly — whether its rhythmic accents from Dana on violin punctuating Arlene’s syncopated guitar strum on “Breathe” or the stretched out strains of violin sustaining a Melissa Etheridge-like anthem about the anguish of losing a lover in “Wrong Side.”

Arlene has recorded a couple of the songs on this CD before, without the elegant underpinning of Dana’s violin. The addition is at once striking and subtle, here a wail, there an echo, and pulling out just shy of any exclamation, staying pleasantly in the background with Arlene’s guitar. In those songs, and others, that violin lets the voice lift words into a happy place, and “leave the ghosts of the weary world outside/ ’til it feels like spring,” as in the song,”‘Til It Feels Like Spring.”

It’s not always the case that I get to review a CD by people I know well. But with these two I can safely say there is a reservoir of joy and vitality that informs their individual personalities and union as artists. That, in turn, infuses the work — if you could call it work! — effortlessly.

A word about the words: they explore tension and trouble, but avoid desperation, embracing instead understanding and passion, preferring to point to “something to live for.”

The two Spanish songs, “Cielo” and “Si No Me Quieres” — the former rousing, the latter soothing — speak to the soul, leaving translation for us non-Spanish speaking people to the imagination.

Of all the tracks, two share a quality at once universal and existential.

In “Train Song,” Arlene croons softly as the haunting finger-picked theme cedes to the rumble of a real train, leaving us in the “stillness of the night,” in another dimension, alone through life’s passage, though you can still hear her sing.

In “Lullaby,” the gift is both maternal and metaphorical: a song embracing the promise of sleep-time and heaven as home, tomorrow but a thought away, love a promise kept.

And a word about the voice: it is everything that a true virtuoso possesses: power, dynamism, range, and tenderness — whether the message is about overcoming angst or offering the human heart for inspection.

“When you look in my heart, Do you see something there?” Arlene asks in the song, “When You Look In My Heart.” “Something you need to find ….”

Yes, Arlene and Dana: and that something is your music. Thanks for the nourishment.

To quote “Breathe,” it’s “lifting me up.”

Buy “Ear Candy for the Soul” here.





Relaxing Into It

Got a 40-minute set at The Mediator Stage and this is what it looked like from the balcony…


[Photos Courtesy of Scott Lewis and Don Tassone]

When I say “relaxed” I mean, I was chatty and having a good time …


but enough about me,

I want to say that when you over-prepare, and get inspired by new bandmates in a whole different venue (which I’ll blog about another time) and then get to share with a small audience on a rainy night at a familiar venue where you can be yourself…

Well, that’s the way it gets done, mates!

Guess that’s still about me … but:

Look for another blog on the music of Abel Thought — Coming soon!

Those No-good Oldies

I’ve been updating my set lists in anticipation of three upcoming gigs (more about that in a bit) by digging out a few old tunes I thought might be worth resurrecting.

You know the type: songs that hold some sort of sentimental value, be it for content (a song about camping with a lover), that old love affair with metaphor (“Strangers will knock you off key/Sing anyway”) or the happy knowledge that the melody (to a tune called “Dance”) is in fact catchy, and as “danceable” as folk music gets. … Or maybe that’s just my memory of little girls dancing to it at one Shoreline Acoustic Music Festival performance a year or two back.

No matter. Truth is, the songs you write but never play usually remain unplayed because they aren’t very good.

The camping song is nice but repetitive, lacking a bridge, and so wordy I don’t think I could memorize it (and yet, I wrote it).

“Dance” is just the opposite. It evokes happy memories of dance parties with close friends and would-be lovers. It’s easy to play and memorize. It’s just too darn short!

So I added a verse. And may add more. Because this song, unlike the others, deserves an audience.

Speaking of which, I hope you’ll be part of one of the following small crowds I’ll be serenading:

  • Oct. 23 The Mediator Stage, Providence: I will be featured after an open mic
  • Nov. 1 Brooklyn Teahouse, Providence: I will be one of three performers
  • Dec. 11 R.I. Songwriters Association Songwriters in the Round (location to be announced): I will be one of four singer/songwriters.
  • Details will be announced as the dates approach. I will post an mp3 of “Dance” before then, once it’s ready.

    Come listen! And dance!