The Gift of Music

This card, a gift I have treasured for years from a close friend, symbolizes a new track for me — renewed commitment to making music.

I’ve written a lot of songs since Love Is Hard came out in 2010, some of which are posted on this blog. What I don’t have right now are three things: polished, instrumentally complex recorded versions of these songs, many available venues to perform because of the pandemic, and money.

Why money? I was blessed to have Connecticut friends with a home studio produce my 2010 CD, friends who would accept nothing in return for their labors, save a party, which I threw to honor and thank them for their support of my work. Now living in Vermont, I have connected with musicians here who want to work with me and have the means to record me in a studio with all the professional trappings. This, of course, costs money.

It doesn’t help that the pandemic has cost me a new calling, and I am trolling the region looking for work in my field to pay the regular bills, never mind an investment to support the songs.

It is, of course, all about the songs. One, about a friend’s depression. A couple others, about betrayal in love. Yet another early one my life partner loves that has evolved into a rocking ballad I perform better today — a song one fan at an open mic referenced when she said, “You should do more of those!”

On my birthday on Nov. 8, before I lost my latest job to economic pressures from the pandemic, I pledged to myself to recommit to music by producing a CD or EP of my mostly unpublished new songs. Not out of a sense of vanity, but because the songs deserve it. And because an EP could help give me a path to securing my own gigs.

My life changed for the better when I embraced my identity as a lesbian and a songwriter. Friendships flourished. Risks transformed my performances. I found meaning in writing about love lost, love found and people’s complexities. And my heart opened.

Fellow musicians in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts are all struggling in this pandemic, but finding ways to thrive by writing about the challenges, sharing demos on Facebook and performing online to keep the spirit alive.

So maybe Kickstarter of GoFundMe is a path I take, as well as securing new employment so I can pay my own way. I also plan to feature more fellow artists whose work demands an outlet here, on this blog. And I am now practicing to a metronome, learning to play guitar tracks without singing, and preparing to come into my own again as a songwriter by making my best songs even better vocally, instrumentally and lyrically.

What I would love is your encouragement along the way. As the lyric says in “Come Back,” the song Lee loves:

“Go where you have to go/Take off like you know/Where you’re meant to be/Then come back to me.”

She Just Wants to Rock ‘n’ Roll

Sue Menhart is sassy. She’s sultry. And she’s sympathetic as the subject of a memoir that pulls no punches in detailing the trials and triumphs of a life led working a day job while founding and fronting a rock band.

Full disclaimer: I have shared the solo-acoustic corner of a pub or two in New London County, Conn., with this woman and joined her in the audience at occasional Sinners’ Circles where newcomers and veterans alike performed originals to a packed listening room. I also have seen her prance and project on stage with the Sue Menhart Band, ripping through some bluesy number with the energy and fury of her idol, Pat Benatar.

So too, have countless others, and when she belts out the tune, “Where’d You Come From,” her soulful presence rocks the room. But she is a singer/songwriter at heart, persisting in an unforgiving industry where streaming songs pay a fraction of a cent and competition is fierce.

They Made Me Play a Polka reads like a hybrid of stand-up comedy and a playful whodunnit: laugh-out-loud funny but fast-paced and driven by a mix of well-known and unnamed characters populating a world where Grammys are as elusive as (and not unlike) the lottery, and you keep waiting for an answer to the question: Why isn’t Menhart a star? A page-turner, the book invites you to uncover layer after layer of reasons for this stark reality — some her own doing and some the fault of a maniacal music industry that takes no prisoners.

Living through everything from Lyme disease to motherhood to husband/drummer Kevin’s life-threatening illnesses, Menhart has bigger wars to wage, mainly with her illusions about the viability of “making it” in the music world.

Maybe she should have stayed in California as a young wannabe instead of coming back East. Maybe she should have made an even more concerted effort than she did at self-promotion on Apple Music. Maybe she should have never accepted that gig at a local vineyard that didn’t exactly go as planned.

There is very little whining in this memoir, or regret. There is no glossing over struggles with alcohol or real human emotions of frustration, aggravation and the lust for lasting fame.

What there is is self-deprecating humor; a bold, scrappy commitment to her role as leader of a southeastern Connecticut band with rock ‘n’ roll roots; candid heart-to-hearts for those of us with dreams of fame or, at least, airplay on Sirius radio; and, in the middle of the book, a searing and well-researched assessment of exactly what it takes to produce and promote original band or solo material. The pitfalls, the behind-the-scenes manipulation and the sheer hard work.

She reaches several conclusions at the end, but — spoiler alert — one rings truest: “I like singing,” she writes. “And nobody’s gonna stop me.”

That conviction may have landed her her latest gig. Look for Menhart at the Maugle Sierra Vineyards in Ledyard, Conn., from 3-6 p.m. on Oct. 7. Then pick up this memoir and follow her on the Sue Menhart Band website. Why? Because she knows her why. She’s still at it, and thriving.



And Then There Were Three: Banjo Tribute

This … is my new banjo. And I’m discovering, as a longtime guitarist, that three’s a crowd.

For me, the allure of the banjo is how it stands out acoustically in bluegrass and folk music, and almost has a percussion-type role to play side by side instruments like mandolin and guitar.

But adding this instrument, with it’s challenging finger-picking style, to my more familiar Yamaha- and Ovation-accompanied repertoire is proving daunting.

My love affair with the banjo’s big sister, the guitar, began at age 10, when I learned to read music, but shyly hid little milestones —  playing nervously to family, with my back to them, fingers trembling, heart racing.

Fast forward 32 years. The writer in me won out. I began to write and perform songs in earnest, after having learned to fingerpick Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” at age 15 from a guy named Mark in a summer arts program at Wesleyan University and again, with more discipline, in my late 30s, focusing on classical works for several months with a professional teacher.

All of that finger-picking expertise figured into my songwriting, as I pulled melodies from the chords I dissected with hands not yet tinged with arthritis.

Fast forward another decade, and my songwriting spree began to dry up. This past year, as an anniversary with my partner approached, I began listening to classic banjo, clawhammer banjo, and whatever else I could find on YouTube. And my partner listened to my pleas and helped buy me a Gold Tone banjo starter kit from Hanover Strings in Hanover, N.H. (Full disclosure: Hanover Strings did not pay for my banjo or pay me to write this.)

The five-string banjo, as fellow musician and former bandmate Luke Selden advised me, has a mellow tone that suits my voice and folky style. Yet, although I’m playing a 30-minute set at the Springfield, Vt., Apple Festival on Oct. 6, I’m not planning to pull out my five-string.

The reason is simple: With the help of a chord chart in G tuning, I’ve only been able to pick out a few tunes so far: “The Rose,” “Let Her Go” by Passenger, and “Come Back,” an early original and my partner’s favorite.

What I really want to do is pull a Steve Martin and dive out of my comfort zone into that lightning-speed finger-picking style for which he and his peers have become known. The actor is incredibly accomplished and at ease on the banjo. As were Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley. And this youngster.

Until I commit to lessons, or spend some time using online video tutorials, you won’t see me playing my banjo publicly. But I am determined to make this banjo fit into a tiny space we have dubbed “The Music Room.” My third instrument. My next conquest.



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!


People’s Pick: Bill Brink

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.

Settling In


Nomads probably make music, but it must be hard, uprooting all the time and trying to focus on creating in a changing environment.

After 12 years in one place, the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since I left home for college, it was time to move to a new place, in a new direction. This takes extra hours and energy, and even now that I’m settling in, there are chores like motor vehicle updates to attend to, a stray box or two left to sort through and unpack.

What shapes the songs that I expect will continue to emerge from my head and heart as Rhode Island becomes home are the mementos left after shedding so much stuff. A framed photograph of my teen-age mother smirking as my grandmother helps her light a cigarette, from those light hearted days when cigarette smoking was a badge of renegade coolness. Mom has a couple of songs written for her already, as does Dad, and their spiritual presence years after they passed continues to give me solace and, somehow, inform and support the space to create.

A place has yet to be found for my guitar sundries — picks, capos and that silly but essential tool needed to unwind strings when restringing the guitar. But the music stand has found its place in front of a living room window. The signed Janis Ian poster from her Garde Arts Center performance and the Sinner’s Circle flier from my New London, Conn., days adorn one wall, flanking a metal sculpture of a guitar that I picked up with my partner, Lee, in Chester, Vt.

And the other night, quietly, I lifted my Ovation from its stand and plucked out a few tunes. Just because I could.

My new home is smaller than the Rogers St. house. Crammed with the most pertinent leftover effects of my life. A space awaiting inspiration and transformation. A space in which this blog, started in January of 2011, will continue to be crafted.

Please follow me here when you can. More songs, reviews, and links to amazing songwriters, events and places will follow!


Spare and Sweet: The ‘Loud Whisper’ of Vince Tuckwood

“When the room is dark, how come I see so clear?”

–“The Lights Are Out,” on Sparse by Vince Tuckwood

Vision is Vince Tuckwood’s obsession.

What is visible, what can be seen, how we connect or disconnect based on what we see.

And where the journey takes us.

In his new compilation, Sparse, you are not simply getting his take lyrically on sight and insight. You are getting a meditative musical landscape populated by bare-bones acoustic guitar, delicate keyboards and a gentle lead guitar solo by John Fries in “2 Pieces.” Eric Lichter and Josi Davis also make guest appearances in some songs on piano and backing vocals, respectively.

The bare-bones image of tree branches against a winter sky on the CD cover, shot from a view straight up in his backyard, captures visually the longing for connection in his words and the sturdy tone to his sweet voice.

Most compelling is “Be Still,” a plea for someone close to stop talking incessantly and pay attention. Vocally assertive in a gentle way (“Be still, just breathe, just be,”), the only instrument, guitar, is as hypnotic as it is clear and — here is that word again — delicate.

The fourth track, “Untitled,” could be called “Directed by Me,” since that refrain reflects imagery from film directing and a deeper calling, the calling that underlies all of these songs: the longing to affect others. If the songwriter cannot command stillness, well then, more subtly, as in “2 Pieces,” he might touch you while drifting, colliding, accidentally. Here melody takes over as “these two become one” — and pieces become people walking together and connecting, side by side. It recalls Rainer Maria Rilke’s description of marriage, not as two people staring into each other’s eyes, but looking out together in the same direction.

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them,” Rilke writes in Letters to a Young Poet, “if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

In this expansive vision, Tuckwood’s vision, relationships are not easy. But they are worth the trouble. Two people, or the world, take your pick. In either case, the journey demands looking beyond surfaces: “walking the backstreets in the rain, … hoping you’ll see past the blame.” So in “Footsore and Weary,” this difficult, taxing trip must be undertaken, even as we weather storms, precisely because we must weather them.

Influences include Radiohead and Pink Floyd, Tuckwood notes in an email.

If he borrows anything from these bands, it is a haunting, marvelously consistent tone, tenderly rendered, and infinitely appealing, like a fine sherry.

There are moments when Tuckwood seems to be reaching vocally, as he turns up the volume, moments that wouldn’t be so noticeable if it weren’t for the lovely, sparse nature of the work. However, given his goal of uttering “the loudest of whispers,” the strain of his voice fits, as if he is yearning to deliver his message in a way you’ll never forget.

Ultimately, this is an intimate work by a self-described “Brit-transplant who has come to rest in Waterford, CT.” Makes you want to get to know him better — which is inevitable, if you sit still long enough to absorb his vision.

Conceived as the first half of a two record project, Sparse was recorded with Eric Lichter at Dirt Floor Recording Studios, Chester, CT in late-2012. A sister release, Dense, is scheduled for late-2013. To get the CD, or downloads, which feature three extra tracks, go to

Come Hang with Us: Roots Duo to Rock Friday

“Hanging out and picking” is how Ian and Dustin Meadows make music.

Roots influences from bluegrass, folk, traditional and even blues mark The Meadows Brothers’ sound, from Dylan and Johnny Cash to Justin Townes Earle and The Old Crow Medicine Show.

Give a listen to this original, “Steamboat,” and tell me it doesn’t set your feet to stomping.

The boys will be sharing a two-hour set with me Friday, June 15 from 5-7 at Captain’s Pizza, 8 Bank St., New London.

I asked them how they came to be a duo during the past year, and they referenced the usual drama associated with being in a bigger band and the fact that they just click musically.

“The reason we work so well,” Dustin says, “is definitely the fact that we are brothers: our harmonies blend and we can always connect at crucial moments.”

Ian plays guitar, banjo and lap steel. Dustin, a drummer since age 6, has lately begun to master guitar and harp.

Ian’s songwriting encompasses every type of inspiration songwriters get: from that “I-don’t-know-where-it-came-from” windfall to teen angst and the power of a story in a good book.

“I used to not really enjoy the stuff I write,” Ian says. “… But as my songwriting develops, I’m actually starting to write songs I can stand to listen to and that I’m proud of.”

Ian has promised to play impromptu lead on some of my songs Friday as well.

Modesty coupled with musical chops makes for a powerful combination. Come out to hear these chaps. You won’t be disappointed.

A Little Housekeeping

Not to be mysterious or brash or anything, but my love life, which shall remain private, is blissfully alive.

You may have noticed, through the songs. Or not.

What I’ve noticed since then is that I’ve been too busy and otherwise absorbed to play guitar or write.

I also am rededicating myself to Weight Watchers and the movement and workout activity that requires.

It all takes time away from the beloved music. So I have to refocus to include it all.

Luckily, I have a gig Dec. 9 at Dev’s on Bank in New London: a Hoot for Hunger! Would love to see you all there.

Also luckily I have music friends I am, if not collaborating with, conspiring with, for the future.

And I do indeed have that $3 book of scales bought at the closing Borders a couple months ago.

Time to crack it open, as life cracks open in so many wonderful directions, all at once!

It don’t come easy

This songwriting blog is entering its eighth month and still I feel as if I have just brushed the surface.

I have to confess: I haven’t been keeping up with this blog of late because I feel my songwriting is stale.

Yes I posted that new song, The River’s Edge. I just think it’s bland, not inventive, dialed in.

Last week, I had the pleasure to hear a new duo from Boise, Idaho, perform in Provincetown with spot-on harmonies and flawless guitar and confident stage presence (Blaze and Kelly) and I am in awe and a little sheepish when I look at video of my own performances.

What can I say in these posts about songwriting that fellow songwriters might benefit from? I’ve been writing poetry, now in song, most of my life, and I have a bit of a knack for finger-picking chord progressions in new ways. But you know what it takes to write songs? A whole lot of listening. To the newbies, the classics, and everything in between, local and cosmic.

I’d like the next song that I post here to be something I want to record. Capture permanently because it’s worth it, not because it’s the next thing I’ve written.

So here is a tune worth listening to that might inspire you. (Click on the music player on the Blaze & Kelly website.) It hasn’t inspired me to write anything yet, but it has inspired me seek more inspiration. Pull out that book of scales and start learning again. Grad school is done! Interactive communications commanded much of my attention for two years. I continued to write songs. But I haven’t grown in the ways I’d like to grow musically.

Now is the time to earn the right to save for and buy that Cole Clark guitar that sounded so sweet when I tried it out by focusing on the little things. The breathing, the pentatonic scales, the time spent absorbing Kris Delmhorst and Catie Curtis and Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman …. as well as the new sounds the Internet makes it possible to discover every day.

Join me in listening to Blaze & Kelly and the truth in (y)our heart about what really matters: making a song so lovely a total stranger will call out, “Play it again!”