Monday, June 17, 2013

Music Review: Deciduous - New album by Megan Keely

Megan Keely – Deciduous
Album review by Nina Jo Smith © 2013 Redwood River Music   

I planned my first listen to this album to accompany my morning movement practice.  But Megan’s album is so good I had to sit and start taking notes immediately and dance around when I couldn't resist moving.

The sound and lyrical maturity of Deciduous is remarkable – Megan is clearly an old soul steeped in musical tradition. She swam out of the womb into a family where dad toured in a psychedelic rock band with family in tow. My advice is to completely disregard her disclaimer of being a late starter.

From her Acorn release to “dropping leaves of maturity” here in Deciduous, here’s what Megan has to offer Dreamers and friends. I’m going track-by-track why? Because these songs deserve it.

1 – Oh, Come And Sing – Reassures with a calm, steady voice, strong lyric plays on tradition but is ever current. Energy builds along with the imagery of feather and bone, contrasting soft and hard. And you can move to it.

2 – Easy – The vocal entrance is strong but not overpowering. Understated percussion supports a loping rhythm as words tumble over eachother. The effect is that of a rhythmic not-too-Celtic tapestry. I’d promised myself not to make comparisons with other artists but I’m thinking Norah Jones meets Glen Hansard somewhere in the course of this song.

3 – I Met You – Right about now I’m grateful that this is a young artist who doesn’t begin every song with “I” because that makes me pay attention to the first person voice introduced here among the spare bass accompaniment. It’s a simple direct lyric that builds the message, hail love, well met.

4 – Just Enough Time – Sweet syncopated strumming introduces folky poetry sung by a wise young voice. Spare picking to richly bowed strings supports character-based verses. It’s deceptively easy-going and original. Did I already mention Norah Jones meets Glen Hansard? Charming. That may be the word I’m looking for here.

5 – Rules – Spare introduction with driving rhythm from which emerges that voice we’ve come to depend on for making our lives instantly just a little bit more bearable. “Don’t just feel what you’ve been told to feel.” If you’re listening properly you’ll be dancing around the room well before the final verse.

6 - Dream It Now – Kai’s superb muted trumpet opens, and the line is supported seamlessly by keyboard sounding somewhere on the border of Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer. O, Say Can You See I hope I can be forgiven for thinking this song is about me (born on the 4th of July). For the love of God, buy this track and not only because 10% goes in support of Dream Act folks, some of the brightest stars of our country’s future.

7 – This Night - This easygoing country waltz has just enough brass to conjure images of gypsies in cowboy boots tapping tambourines in a vaguely legal New Orleans speakeasy – “I’ll bring this song with me.”  Willie Nelson, are you listening?

8 - The Story Starts With You – Ominous antihero ballad carried along by incredibly thoughtful string arrangement and supported by keys with a mysterious wash of sound, the source of which I shan’t divulge (you’ll have to guess.)

9 - Nashville, Tennessee – Good ol’ fingerpicked rag – “I fell in love with Nashville, Tennessee,” (But will it last?) I hope so because I’ll bet Nashville couldn’t help but fall in love back. Megan didn’t have to go to Nashville to record such a fine album but I’m glad she did.

Finally let me say something about the mastering. Full disclosure, Eric Conn also mastered my recent release and he’s done as fine a job here. I think of mastering as the firing of a work in the kiln to seal its final luster. Megan’s attention to this finishing step contributes yet another detail among so many that makes Deciduous stand out.

writer credits
Oh, Come and Sing 
written by Megan Keely, Brandon Keely, Kai Welch, and Brittany Haas 

Easy, Just Enough Time, and Rules 
written by Megan Keely and Brandon Keely 

Dream It Now 
written by Megan Keely and Kai Welch 

The Story Starts With You 
written by Megan Keely, Brandon Keely, and Brittany Haas 

I Met You, This Night, and Nashville, Tennessee 
written by Megan Keely

musician credits
Megan Keely - Vocals, Guitar, Tenor Ukulele 
Brandon Keely - Guitar, Harmony Vocals 
Kai Welch - Trumpet, Guitar, Keys, Harmony Vocals 
Brittany Haas - Fiddle 
Jamie Dick - Drums, Percussion 
Jon Estes - Bass, Pedal Steel 
Nathaniel Smith - Cello 
Shelby Means - Bass 

Produced by
Megan Keely, Brandon Keely, Kai Welch, & Erick Jaskowiak 

Engineered and Mixed By: 
Erick Jaskowiak at J Studio, Nashville, TN, February 2013 

Track 6 mixed by: 
Gordon Brislawn, Bad Habit Recordings

Mastered by: 
Eric Conn Independent Mastering 

Releases 12 July 2013 
CD Release Party July 12 at The Chapel 

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Friday, June 14, 2013

SummerSongs West 2013 – Inviting My Ghosts

I’ve been thinking about turning sixty. It’s one of the reasons I decided to take Alan Thornhill’s advice and treat myself to this songwriting camp in Cambria, California, “I think you might like them and they might like you,” said Alan last summer.

I’ve been thinking about turning sixty because For Lee it was such a big deal. His father had died at 59, alone in a small residence hotel room, an abandoned alcoholic. On the eve of Lee’s 60th he confessed he was superstitious he wouldn’t make it. I told him he already had and not to worry. He wasn’t alone. He’d found love and family and community. He featured at his beloved Hotel Utah Open Mic and the City of San Francisco even proclaimed January 10, 2005 Lee Mallory Day. Lee Mallory turned 60 but for lack of a liver transplant, he returned to the Universe a scant two months later, where his soul and music and loving spirit still reside.

I’ve been thinking of Lee all weekend, knowing I’m now living music for him too, inviting his spirit to shimmer through me and beautiful Ophelia, his great Ovation12-string. I brought her out to play Sunday night at the silent coffeehouse so you all could know a bit of Lee.

I’ve been thinking of my brother Alan Smith. He would have loved the brilliant young people and he would have especially loved seeing young and old working together so sweetly. On New Year’s eve 1979 Alan was beaten while trying to protect his new girlfriend from her violent ex-husband. Alan didn’t survive.

Music is all about vibration and performance, all about moving energy. Body, mind , emotions, spirit in an exchange of energy in community. I’ve been surprised by those at SummerSongs who could see that in my performance. I don’t know how your own journeys gave you that vision, but I’m so grateful to those of you who felt it and said so.

I invited my ghosts, had to step out of activities to commune with them now and again. I carry a heavy load but I try to hold it lightly.

 On Monday morning when Penny Nichols sang the song she wrote with her brother, all my tears broke through. That evening at the house concert came more tears and I allowed myself to feel the depth of music that I could not bear for almost ten years after Alan died. Because, you see, I’m defenseless against music. I’m so grateful to Penny and all of SummerSongs for creating a space safe enough for my tears.

See you in the music!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nina Jo's First Songwriting Camp

SummerSongs West 2013 - Orientation
The first thing that caught my attention was on opening night of the camp, when we all sang together at the end of orientation. I was singing a harmony line and started hearing someone directly behind me singing the same line. Only this voice was big, rich, warm, enveloping my small voice in its resonance. When I turned to look, I found Sloan Wainwright. Well.

In her vocal workshop Sloan asked each of us what brought us there and I said I was hoping to integrate my physicality with my singing and it turns out that’s exactly what she’s about. And that’s exactly what she helped me do with her embodied vocal workshops.
Boom! Right place, right time.

Did your cat get lost during the storms?

Fourteen little faces from Central Oklahoma

The tabby kitten with startled big blue eyes,
The suspicious gray and white,
The pale Siamese huddled in fear,
And a tiny orange fluff reaching out a paw,

A big black panther, ID #87, shining bright,
Precious little ginger perched on a woman’s hands,
ID #90, come and get her,
Big orange, white paws, amber eyes,
Another white-bibbed tiger needs his people too,
Sad-eyed fluffy baby leans against the wall with quiet tears
I fear he knows his people are not coming home,
#93 and so alone,

A dignified light ginger with whiskers white and long,
Strong big tabby, where’s his daddy?
#97, calico from heaven, can’t tell if she’s shaven; Melissa Ann sent the pic to her friend’s phone because so far their kitty Ashlee
hasn’t come back home.

#103, who can this be, I LOVE orange Kitties too!
A gray Siamese with sapphire eyes, Oh man I wish I knew
Who he belongs to

Fourteen photos on the Central Oklahoma Humane Society
Facebook page today

Fourteen found tornado cats
In an album of displaced friends

Everybody hopes for fond reunions
Of people and feline friends.
We share these photos and hope for the best,

For shelter, for family, for home.

--Nina Jo

Sunday, June 02, 2013


Notes From MUNI

Pink bandana around her neck
Nestled against her
Light skinned man
With long black hair
Red skateboard by his seat
In the back of the bus.
I walk back
Take a seat with my side facing,
"What's her name?"
Giving her a little room
And time.
Across the aisle with
Deep indentations in a thin dark face
Golden horse head atop his wooden cane
Discussing the relative merits of
German Shepherds and other dogs we've known, the
Young black woman facing him
Says she wants to get her kids s dog
For graduation.
I say I heard on the news
You can adopt one for free
This weekend. San Francisco,
Maybe Oakland, Alameda.
She says she'll check it out.
Gypsy lying at my feet, 
Rolls over,
Lets me rub her belly
Then leans against my leg.
Her skater man says
Wow that's real unusual
Man, that's really rare. A man who
Just got on with his wife and daughter asks,
Does this bus go to the the Allemany Farmers Market?
We three raise our arms and point in the opposite direction. 
Skater man: "You have to get off at the next stop." We all
Laugh and wave as they step off at
30th and Church, calling out,
"Thank you!" Another turn, up and over,
Bus stops after a steep downhill run. Somebody falls down.
Big. Old. Dark. Zipperdown.
The man with the cane, wiry, he's
Skinny enough to move through the crowd.
Picks him up. I can't help
Because of my shoulder and
The man is drunk deadweight.
Somebody else
Finds him a seat.
Asks if he needs to go to the hospital.
Cane man sits back down.
We talk some more about Gypsy
How she pulls skater man
Down the street
And gets a good workout.

For the next ten blocks
We're part of her pack
And one by one
We leave.

Gypsy with her skater man
The old black dude with his cane
The lady on her iPhone now
And me.