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Surviving World War C:
Music to Span the Social Distance

March 24th, 2020

Last week’s post offered a list of “Podcasts for Shut-Ins,” which included what was then an unreleased installment of Inside The Hive. Although I had expected that podcast to feature an interview with screenwriter Scott Burns (Contagion), it instead offered a conversation with radio host Kai Ryssdal (Marketplace). Titled “Coronovirus against the World,” the interview concluded with Ryssdal giving some sage advice: “You got to know what the news is, but you don’t have to know what it is all the time. Just check in once or twice a day and then take care of yourself.”

So let’s assume that you have addressed the latter. You are stocked up, settled in, and asymptomatic. Situation stable. Now what?

This time, I’d like to offer some music recommendations. And, in keeping with this blog’s consideration of the writing life, we’ll focus on the work of contemporary writers who are also musicians.

Image: “Typewriter + guitar = steampunk,” guitarpang.wordpress.com

Up first: The Theatre of Time, an album of ambient music featuring the ethereal guitar of fantasy artist and author Martin Springett. I’ve written about Martin’s music before, in the posts “The River of Stars Suite” (April 2014) and “Ready to be Reborn” (October 2015).

Lately, I’ve been playing his collection The Theatre of Time in heavy rotation. The album opens with “Gypsy Caravan (Soul Of A Rose)” – a shimmering blend of eastern sitar, electric guitar, and acoustic twelve-string. By turns meditative and rollicking, the tune — like much of Martin’s music — has the power to lift the soul and take it for a cosmic spin.

You can listen to Martin’s music for free online, but you’ll likely want to pay the piper for the benefit of downloading and taking the magic with you. The music is the perfect accompaniment for a solitary walk, sitting in the grass — or any of your favorite social-distance activities.

You’ll find six of Martin’s albums available for instant play and permanent download at his Bandcamp page.

Keeping with the prog-rock vibe, I also recommend the album Symphony for a Million Mice from the band Horsefeathers. Featuring lead vocals by writer, director, producer Mick Garris, Horsefeathers began in the early 70s with a sound that the band describes as “commedia dell’arte rock.” Their vintage recordings (largely unreleased when they were together) have now been remixed, remastered, and released as a full-length CD that is as much fun as the band’s name implies.

You can hear the entire album at the Horsefeather’s website, where you can also order the CD in either a regular or signed edition.

If you’re interested in the work singer-songwriters, you’ll want to check out the music of sf writer Sarah Pinsker. According to the Windy City Times, “Pinsker’s original songs are catchy and hummable. They will lift your spirits […] and then set your spirit free.” I first heard Sarah when we performed together at the Baltimore Book Festival in 2013. I’ve been a fan ever since.

You can hear excerpts, download tracks, and order CDs at Sarah’s CD Baby page. You can also catch a terrific interview/performance recorded live at Paste Studios in NYC.

Another singer-songwriter dominating my playlist is Craig Spector, whose life story is as inspiring as his tunes.

After graduating with honors from the Berklee College of Music, Craig went on to become a New York Times bestselling author, screenwriter, editor, and songwriter. His solo albums Resurrection Road (2017), Outposts (2018), and Kicking Cans (2019) are distinguished by virtuoso guitar playing, soulful vocals, and powerful lyrics. Consider the opening lines of  “Gratitude,” from his forthcoming CD Dangertown: “Just as it seems that all is lost and everything is ash / comes a feeble bit of light like a preternatural flash, /and in that moment we can see the cost / and everything is clear.”

According to his website, Craig began living with stage-four cancer in 2016. Of the experience, he writes: “The last few years have been a journey, and what a strange trip it’s been.”

And what an inspiring one, considering the musical output that began with Resurrection Road and promises to continue with Dangertown.

You can read more of Craig’s story on his website, where you’ll also be able to play and order his music.

Finally, I’ve just received a preview CD from P.G. Sturges and R.C. Matheson, the writer-musicians who (along with Craig Spector) brought us Smash Cut, (reviewed here in August 2018). Titled Fool Skool, the new CD features Sturges on guitar and vocals, Matheson on drums, and a cadre of fellow musicians who together call themselves Pearly King & The Temple Thieves. The CD features ten tracks of indie rock that are about as solid as anything I’ve heard.

Executive producer David Pascal of Pascal Records reports that Fool Skool will be available within a month or so, and I’ll be posting a complete review with details on where to find it soon. In the meantime, their previous album Smash Cut is available on YouTube. Click here to play, and I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as Skool’s in session.

One final note (a public service announcement, if you will):

These days of social distance have been particularly tough on musicians. I speak from experience since the Celtic-influenced music of both the Laughrey-Connolly and Connolly-Davis Bands usually keeps me hopping on and around St. Patrick’s Day. For years we have played March shows to SRO crowd. But not this year.

Moreover, although there might have been a time when a reasonably successful band could rely on recorded music to earn its keep, these days the money is mostly in live performances.  Recognizing the challenge, the music platform Bandcamp recently held a sale to raise awareness regarding “the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere,” during which they waived their revenue share to “put much-needed money directly into artists’ pockets.”

So … if you enjoy the music featured above, and if you have the ability to do so, you might consider purchasing a few downloads. You’ll be supporting original music, and the tunes will be yours to play wherever you want.

For now, I’ll leave you with a video featuring the music and art of Martic Springett from the album The Gardening Club — sights and sounds to span the social distance.

Putting on the Music Hat

October 7th, 2017

The 21st-century scop wears many hats. It’s not like the old days, when the traveling minstrel-storyteller showed up at the mead hall with a repertoire of poetry and epic tales uploaded to his personal memory. Today stories are delivered through books, films, digital downloads, spoken-word and musical performances. The most recent posts at this site have covered some of the former … now it’s time for the music hat.

First, a few words about the actual hat (left).

It’s what haberdashers call a stingy-brim, but what makes it special is the Shure microphone wired into its brim, a set-up that provides cushion from the mike’s wire clamp while freeing the singer from the tyranny of the mike stand.

Last night, I got the chance to don the hat once again when long-time musical-collaborator Duane Davis joined me for a full-band show at Riley’s outdoor pavilion, adjacent to Riley’s Pour House, now in its fourth decade as Pittsburgh’s go-to place for music and Irish culture.

Backed up by new drummer Eric Lamm and featuring special guest Lauren Connolly-Moore on vocals and mandolin, Connolly-Davis celebrated the mild autumn night with four hours of Irish and American folk-rock (right.)

In all, I can’t think of a better way to spend four hours on a Friday night.

Duane and I have been making music for going on 20 years now, first teaming up in the late 90’s when we were backing my brother John in the John Connolly Band.  That band broke up when John moved to Hawaii (early retirement for a successful frontman), but Duane and I continued working together, teaming with Christopher Laughrey, another one of my longtime collaborators to form The Laughrey-Connolly Band in 2005.

When Chris relocated to Denver a few years later, Duane and I continued collaborating, first by teaming up to create the high-concept instrumental CD Veins: The Soundtrack (released in 2008 by fantasy publisher Fantasist Enterprises) and to perform as a duo at places like Riley’s.

Between us, we’ve created a lot of music over the years, and some of that music is making its way into the digital realm, becoming available for listening and downloading from a variety of sources.

Tracks from our days with The John Connolly Band are available at John Connolly’s YouTube channel, where you might consider starting with the track “Ever Longed for Love,” an original that Duane and I both regard as one of John’s best. Also, if your into vintage vinyl, John’s first record Just Arrived is available from Craig Moerer Records. I understand the copies are in mint condition, and I can attest to the fact that the music remains as fresh today as if was when the record was pressed in 1977.

But the really big news this weekend is the Bandcamp release of The Best of The Laughrey-Connolly Band, featuring twelve tracks (plus a bonus) from our out-of-print CDs Home from the Field and Two Seas. The tracks feature Lee McGinn on Drums and special guest Bob Banerjee (The Corned Beef and Curry Band) and production by Al Snyder (The Corbin-Hanner Band). If you like what you hear, consider supporting your friendly 21st-Century Scop and fellow collaborators by springing for a download. The tracks are far less expansive than a cup of coffee, and refills are free.

I’ll be back next time with some updates on the forthcoming film Nightmare Cinema. Until then, enjoy the music … and scop on!

Images

  • Wearing the Mike Hat.
  • The Connolly Davis Band on Riley’s Outdoor Stage: Duane Davis, Eric Lamm, the 21st-Century Scop, Lauren Connolly-Moore. October 2017.
  • The 21st-Century Scop and Duane Davis perform with The Laughrey Connolly Band. March 2007.
  • Cover art for Veins: The Soundtrack.
  • Cover art for John Connolly’s Sound of Mind.
  • Christopher Laughrey and the 21st-Century Scop of The Laughrey Connolly Band in 2005.