Angels and Carols

For the holiday season enjoy the music video "In the Bleak Midwinter" with winter photos that my Dad and I took. Or join me live next week when I'll be singing Christmas music and original songs with Lucinda Lucas on December 16th at Eaglespeak coffee house in Charlotte (details here) AND Looking forward to reprising the Tony Abbot's "Angel Dialogues" (poetry and music) in Lexington with Staley Jordan as the angel on December 13. See below and prior post (Poetry Performance with Tony Abbott) about the event:

Angel Dialogues 2015

Music video for Veteran's Day

I had the great privilege of getting to hear this beautiful song, "Dear Sister" by Claire Lynch and Louisa Branscomb performed live at the International Bluegrass Music Association's conference in 2014 where it won song of the year. The song is a letter from a soldier to his sister that uses the image of home--a longing we all share--to call for peace for all humankind. 

Songwriters I love... Nancy Griffith

The song "Love at the 5 and Dime" describes the complicated "dance" of a couple's journey: from young love, marriage, infidelity, forgiveness through old age--describing the whole arc with brief but poignant details ("showing not telling"): "Rita...made the Woolworth counter shine; Eddie was...a darn good dancer". "...married up in Abilene, lost a child in Tennessee".

One of my favorite lines encapsulates the jealousy, insecurity, the "what if" of a midlife crisis in two lines: "One of the boys in Eddie's band took a shine to Ms Rita's hand; so Eddie ran off with the bass man's wife." And then regret and forgiveness; "Oh, but he was back by June; singin' a different tune. And sporting' Ms Rita by his side."

The whole song (and the couple's love) is held together by music--by dancing. And the poignancy of the dance grows deeper and takes on a slightly different meaning with every verse: "Dance a little closer to me.... 'Cause it's closing time and love's on sale tonight at this 5 and Dime". The first verse repeats as the last verse in a lovely return to the beginning.

Beautiful writing and imagery, lovely melody. Nancy has a wonderful intro talking about the harmonic being evocative of the Woolworth store's elevators. (She ends the live recording of this song "...going up.") When I was writing my song "When Dragons Were Real" for my children I wanted to use a harmonic chord to evoke magic, so I used tuning and a couple of chords from this song (knowing, too, I could pair the songs in a set!). Thank you, Nanci Griffith.


Singing with new jazz group

I've been rehearsing with a new band (Mark Larson, Duane Centola, Tom Hanchett, Paul Walker). We're calling ourselves "Latta Jazz." Old school jazz standards but some new stuff, too. Here's a peek at rehearsal--a "video selfie". I'm singing the end of "My Funny Valentine." 

Sally Barris: "Young Soul"

Sally Barris rocked the house last Saturday and then on Sunday led the best songwriting workshop I have ever attended. She returns to Charlotte in November with her new cd "The Road in Me" in hand (hosted by Charlotte songwriters Tim and Sarah Geis Williams who co-wrote songs on her upcoming release). Sign up for my newsletter to get invitations to house concerts like this, find out about projects I am working on, hear videos and more. 


My new song to premiere at a CD release party in August

It's not often new songwriters get to record their songs along with famous artists, but that's exactly what happened for me. Thanks to Si Kahn's invitation, I have a new song premiering at a cd release party on August 22. I will be taking the stage with David Childers and DeWitt Crosby--performing my song "Dark Clouds" AND premiering Si's new song, "Here in Gastonia" (Si had previous engagements he could not change) at Zoe's Coffee House in Gastonia. I will post links to buy tickets for the event on my Facebook music page and in my newsletter (sign up using the contact form on this page if you haven't already!). For more about Ella May and the event, see my post "Songs for Ella May Wiggins and the Loray Mill strike". To read about the song I wrote, see "Dark Clouds": my song for Ella May". Here's a link to listen to the song. Contact me to purchase the cd; all proceeds from cd sales and the event will benefit the Ella May Wiggins Memorial Committee.

Aug 22 event Zoes coffee Mill Mothers lament

Hosting Sally Barris August 29th!

Sally Barris returns to the porch for a house concert on August 29th and a songwriting workshop on August 30th. She will be singing songs from her new cd "The Road in Me" (which she is currently recording); see her pledge music campaign to learn more about the project and support it. Sally is not only a wonderful singer and writer, but a great teacher, mentor, and collaborator as well. Local Charlotte songwriters Timothy Scott and Sarah Geis Williams, who co-wrote the title track with Sally, will attend. Tim will join Sally in performing "The Road in Me," and I will contribute some harmony on a couple of my Sally favorites ("Wilder Girl" and maybe a new one!) Contact me for details! Listen to her song about her boyfriend (whom I've gotten to meet...the story ends well...) below.

"Dark Clouds": my song for Ella May

As I researched Ella May Wiggins in order to write a song for a cd commemorating her life and work (see posts: about the project, the cd release party, and the Gaston Gazette article), I was fascinated by the fact that Ella May Wiggins (a white woman) chose to live in Stumptown (a majority black neighborhood) during the segregated south. Her advocacy was not only for poor whites but poor blacks as well, so I wrote a song with a gospel, call and response feel. I used a simple structure with the repeated response "dark clouds are lookin' like rain" and a methodical, driving rhythm so that the song sounds as if it could be used on a picket line or in a field picking cotton. I recorded the demo using only finger snaps and mostly sing it a cappella. It’s meant to be sung by a group in a loose, improvisational style with people making up vocal riffs or even verses on the spot.

The verses I wrote do not directly refer to Ella May or the Loray Mill strike. I used general descriptions of injustice to refer to historical (as well as current day) problems such as the increasing disparity between rich and poor and the violence visited upon those without power ("shoot you down" referring to Ella May and numerous other historical activists as well as unarmed black men that have been killed by police). The oft quoted "Nothin’ to lose but chains...” is a direct reference to the Marxist roots of the strike. The song is unapologetically dark and defiant to pay homage to those who have lost their lives fighting for justice. But the last verse contains an edge of hopefulness that if we can all pull together we could perhaps avoid the coming storm.

New single: "Saving the Whales" (Saving the Humans!)

There are lots of issues I care about and support, and most (if not all of them) come down to this moral question: do my actions (or that of my community and nation and humankind) lead to abundance for myself and others or to destruction, fear and scarcity? Can we, as humans, learn to live more like trees (every part of a tree's life-span and even death creates more life) or will we commit the ultimate irreversible sin and destroy the very ecosystem that all life depends on? Five years ago on a Thanksgiving trip across the southeast, I spent hours looking at the changing leaves and the deep blue skies and thinking about how often we sacrifice the things we need for things we want. As I drove, this song, "Saving the Whales" began taking shape in my head. I tried to keep the song light and funny (with a peppy beat), but the message is serious (a poet friend of mine immediately dubbed it "Saving the Humans"). Can we save ourselves?

Si Kahn produced the recording. Si's current project is uniting musicians to sing out about protecting one of the world's last great wild spawning fisheries--the last best source of wild cockeyed salmon: Bristol Bay, Alaska. More info here.

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Taking photographs helps me to listen

I recently attended the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual conference: "World of Bluegrass" and picked up my camera more often than I did my guitar--a great week listening to many talented performers. Claire Lynch's performance pulled me off my feet to snap pictures of her enchanting interpretation of "Dear Sister" around midnight in the conference center (watch the youtube link of her performance--she gets a standing ovation in the middle of her set ): IMG_7436IMG_7421

The song (co-written with Louise Branscomb) went on to win "song of the year" at the Bluegrass awards ceremony later in the week.

Also wowed by Melody Walker of Front Country's singing and songwriting--lots of heart and soul along with interesting music, instrumentation and lyric writing.

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Way to go ladies! I'm a fan!

"Young lady, I believe you've got some soul in you."

I had the opportunity to sing this solo (Precious Blood Medley) in a shared Palm Sunday service between 1st Baptist Church West and Park Road Baptist Church in 2006 and 2007. It's a rough recording (you can hear the guy who recorded it singing along at times), and I am singing over a full choir (with no microphone). The acoustics in the church and the high notes at full volume helped. If you listen to the end you'll hear me sing a high C (the note at the very top of my range at the loudest volume I can muster--my entire body rocked back and forth with the effort).

Singing with an African American choir with a very palpable history of generations of blood spilled—murdered—during slavery and in the many years of injustice that followed, made me feel it in my bones. I am chilled by the thought of ancestors of mine who took part in oppression and murder (or stood silently by) and, perhaps, of my own ancestors who suffered and died in oppression. Who wouldn't want to be liberated from that evil?

And so when the elderly black gentleman approached me after the concert, I could see he had something weighty on his mind. He just stood there quietly looking me up and down; my heart sank a little. I thought maybe I had offended him. Why had they let a white woman sing that powerful solo? Finally he smiled and said "Young lady, I believe you've got some soul in you." He couldn't have summed up that moment more perfectly for me. I just beamed back at him and said, "Yes, sir. I believe I do."

Si Kahn producing "Saving the Whales"

I have had the good fortune to meet renowned folk-singer and activist Si Kahn who just so happens to live in my neighborhood. (Read more about Si here.) Si and I share a passion for social justice and music, and I am grateful for his help in recording my single "Saving the Whales." IMG_7419IMG_7443

Cheryl and I recently recorded the first song I ever wrote ("Saving the Whales") at Old House Studios with Chris Garges recording and Dan Hood playing every instrument you can imagine (guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, electric guitar). We're all very excited with the result and are looking forward to finishing the final mix and recording some more songs! Daniel Coston happened to drop by the studio and take these pictures. Thanks Daniel!