I'm excited to be back at Zippah Recording this fall doing studio pre-production on some brand new material. I've also been working on a special arrangement of a 19th century hymn that my great-great grandfather William Laban Brown used to sing as a Union solder in the Civil War, which I recently discovered from his wartime letters to my great-great grandmother back in Knoxville, TN. Thanks to the amazing Andy Santospago for lending his talent on banjo, mandolin and lap steel. Stay tuned for more news!
I grew up in South Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a house surrounded by large oak trees and filled with music, live and recorded, which growing up gave me a conviction that the world was a sturdy, melodious place that would always make me sneeze. My earliest music influences were the R&B tunes from my brother's glorious stash of 45's - Bill Withers, The Brothers Johnson, Stevie Wonder. A few years later I discovered folk and bossanova from my parents' dog-eared record collection, playing their Joni Mitchell and Astrud Gilberto records until we had to buy replacement copies.
For me, music has always gone hand-in-hand with dancing. In high school while formally studying dance, I started playing guitar as a way to decompress after long rehearsals. Worried that with a professional dancing career I'd just end up a barista in a coffee joint, at college I opted for a more financially secure future and majored in Latin. At that time my alma mater Brown was enjoying a lively singer-songwriter scene (Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Lisa Loeb, Catie Curtis), so with added inspiration in my headphones from Joni and Jobim, I began experimenting with alternate tunings on the guitar and formed my first band with three college friends, playing clubs in and around Providence.
After graduation I headed to the folk music epicenter of the eastern seaboard, Cambridge MA, immediately landing work as a barista in a coffee joint. I also began playing in the subways and coffeehouses around Cambridge, including the venerable folk mecca Club Passim, and recorded my first solo acoustic CD Volcano in 1996 - six songs written in six different tunings which proved impossible to play all together at shows. A couple of years later I teamed up with members of the Boston-based rock band Groovasaurus to record and independently release my second album, Living Room Dances in 1999, a fusion of folk and jazz and a snapshot of my experiments with alternate tunings.
Whereas the songs of Living Room Dances have the feel of composed poems set to music, my third album Good Again, released in 2005, is a set of living conversations with people and events that have deeply impacted my life after 9/11, especially from my experiences teaching refugees newly arrived in Boston from war-torn countries all over the globe. With the tunes on Good Again I also started moving away from my acoustic folk roots towards a jazz/R&B influenced sound, having the good fortune to collaborate with some of the best rock and jazz players in the Boston music scene.
In 2010 I traded in my acoustic Guild for an electric Ibanez, began exploring the Blues, and with my fourth record Come and Gone, a retro-inspired journey through songs of nostalgia, change and letting go, I traveled further backwards to the spirit of the R&B 45's I danced to as a kid under oak trees. My latest album Wilderness, released in 2016, again invokes the R&B vibe in a groove-oriented return to the era of tube amplifiers, soulful harmonies, and smoke-filled dance clubs. I guess it's the music most deeply rooted in my body, memory and soul. Comfort food for uncertain times and places far from home.
We are on hiatus this season while we're back in the studio doing pre-production for some new tunes. More news to follow! February 2017
photo: Karen Hendrickson-Santospago