Lucky is the Vermont town that has its own pub; a warm, welcoming "public house" replete with sumptuous food, drink and live local music. And lucky our ragtag band the Holy Plow, thrown into the midst of such conviviality: Friday night at the Clear River Tavern (Pittsfield VT) and Saturday night at the Black Door (Montpelier VT). Thanks to bartenders Doug, Kenny and Sam for their hospitality and to all who came out in the icy cold to see us!
Sunday brought Steve Mayone and Jeff Berlin to Pepperbox Studio, for a ten hour session tracking four songs: our own original stew of lyrics, music, arrangements and production towards for a future (2012) album. Steve, who currently splits his time between Boston and Brooklyn, has been a band mate of Jeff's for years in The Perfect Trainwreck (singer-songwriter Bow Thayer's rock outfit) and together they brought a familiarity, efficiency and ease into the studio that felt like family. Actually Steve is family; he is my 2nd cousin and musicality runs in our heredity as does love of Italian food. I was in the driver's seat as recording engineer, but also managed to throw a few guitar/mandolin parts down with them, to keep a live groove.
I do have some catch up to do here as life has been playing tug of war with me and making me spin. It seems I can't settle down to do this one thing without another cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Let me get that now.
Better. Here is a brief retrospective of the last two months:
The month of December you could only find me if you looked behind a pile of pressed flowers in their cardboard towers (hello summer!) with my sharp scissors and glitter glue. This is my annual project for the winter season, which would not be possible but for the kindness of laminating plastic. Its an ambitious goal: to make more than 600 handmade bookmarks for friends and family in time for Christmas. Here again, I owe my inspiration to the poet Kenneth Rexroth, whose translations of ancient Japanese and Chinese poetry grace my tiny creations with their sparse imagery. And due to a prolific year on Facebook, I had a raft of my own guerilla haiku to harvest, a tentative first encounter between me, and my tiny creations.
As we continued to roll towards the solstice, a few surprise visitors arrived to my door, including painter and musician Micki Colbeck from Strafford VT, who introduced me to some Balkan music on her accordion and got me interested enough to purchase a book/CD of tunes called Eastern European Folk Tunes for Accordion (Schott World Music). I figured I’d be able to translate the music for playing on my mandola, and thereby support my emerging skills on the instrument - a premise that so far has not been disproved. The rhythms are challenging to my ear but I’m convinced that my Greek heritage will hold me in good stead, and provide some kind of intuitive roadmap to a folk repertoire not so distantly related to its own.
Another surprise visitor/client was Sharon Academy senior John Marshall, who was in a yank to get his college applications sown up by the new year, complete with recorded performances from his musical theater repertoire. He came in prepared, with his singing coach, and knocked off a bunch of very emotive numbers that had me riveted to my swivel chair.
But what could top the arrival of a maple crème pie to my doorstep on December 22, in the hands of band mate Patrick Ross at the occasion of the Holy Plow Christmas Party or let’s say it became that when Bow Thayer showed up, with his two boys, Rye and River.
So amidst the amiable ruckus, our meeting about a summer wedding gig became a legitimate festivity, chairs pulled round the worn kitchen table onto which was placed the giant pot of soup, the warmth and delightful company of (most of) our spouses added to (sorry Lori, you had to work that night!), and so burbled our appreciation for life into a night of laughter and mayhem.
Our gig the next night (12/23) at the Clear River Tavern in Pittsfield VT, one of the hardest hit towns in the state during Hurricane Irene, felt down-home good, and Bow’s residency there for the winter is going to bring us more nights making noise there. Some quick thinking came to the rescue, when I discovered I had left my mandolin strap at home, and at my husband’s suggestion, he pulled the bootlace out of his Sorrels and handed it over.
Then the last day of December, came one final surprise guest, from Middlesex NY this time: Sterling Klinck, a skilled banjo player, boat builder and friend of the family who dropped by to pick a few tunes with me and visit my husband Michael Millard, in his guitar shop, located just across the dooryard from the house. Evidently Sterling had a short stint as a banjo builder, and also as a band mate of Bill Keith, Jim Rooney and other folk stars of the 60s and 70s. His interest and talents in relation to all things musical and hand built make him one of our favorite visitors.
January began with my friend Anne Loecher’s MFA final presentation at the top of my to-do list: I attended a reading of her completed (relative term) poetry manuscript at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, amidst her fellow graduates and faculty luminaries, like Anne’s mentor Matthew Dickman. What a thrill to see and hear her read from her powerful work.
Studio work this month has included a few small, detail oriented remixes for Robert Resnik’s upcoming album, now titled: Under the Influence, which is leaving the mastering lab (Zampol Productions, Oscar Zambrano, NYC) and heading on to Discmakers for manufacturing; I truly savored the time spent with Robert and co-producer Mary McGinniss, and will not hesitate when his royal highness of the accordion calls me hither to play: let’s have a great CD release party come spring!
Singer-songwriter Julie James, whose newest release Mirror’s Glance came out this fall on Thunder Ridge Records, has not skipped a beat and is back in the studio working on a new cycle of material, which will once again engage some of my guitar imaginings: always a treat to play on Julie’s recordings! She’s also assisting me as I think through my next studio computer upgrade; Julie is well suited for this gruesome task as a long time video instructor at Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury VT., and as technological change always makes me nervous - her handholding keeps me somewhat saner!
This is the time of year I try to spend more time in the studio working on my own personal projects, and I’m gearing up to do that now. On the front burner is a collaborative album project that’s been in the works with my cousin Steve Mayone, a Boston singer-songwriter. Steve has taken some of my written lyrics and worked them into his musical ideas, and we’ll be recording our first round of tracks this weekend, with drummer Jeff Berlin of the Perfect Trainwreck, a band that Steve has been in and out of for years.
www.stevemayone.com (hey, wait: that's my mandolin!)
Steve has been super busy, living and working in both Somerville MA and Brooklyn NY, but his Vermont connection is strong; so it was no surprise to find out recently that he was spearheading a Hurricane Irene relief compilation CD, titled Big Rain Gospel, the proceeds of which will be dedicated to the Vermont Food Bank. My track “Flowing West”, from my album Raven (2011) is on there, a song that was inspired by the beautiful drive along Rte. 107 in Stockbridge VT that was so hard hit by the flooding.
Also in January, Burlington filmmaker Alison Segar, of Jwaan Productions, asked to include my recording “Homeward” in the soundtrack to her upcoming film on hunger in Vermont – what an honor – thanks, Alison!
A recent meeting with Vermont photographer John Churchman, whose arresting and almost mystical images of the Vermont landscape first caught my eye on Facebook, revealed some promise for the future of the Kristina Stykos music video empire (currently non-existent) and a potential extended reach for John’s extraordinary artwork. We expect to take a trial run at this music/photography collaboration this winter, so stay posted.
We’re putting finishing touches this week on a practice CD, recorded here at Pepperbox Studio, for faculty member Torsti Rovainen of the Wellspring Waldorf School of Chelsea VT, and including his performances and those of fellow teacher Kate Runde - who claimed never to have recorded her voice in a studio but her poise in front of the microphone told me she was no stranger to the music profession! Turns out she is a saxophone player of wide renown, both internationally and in the US; she and Torsti together make an strong musical team, and their talents will contribute mightily to this year’s all-school musical: Ramayana.
February will likely bring Central VT guitarist Doug Perkins’ solo CD to completion, with an exciting live recording session scheduled here at Pepperbox Studio for early in the month, featuring his “power” trio, with mandolinist Jamie Masefield and bassist Tyler Bolles. If time will allow, additional tracks from Doug’s other long-time collaborator, fiddler Patrick Ross, should put final touches on what looks to be an extraordinary album.
http://www.jazzmandolinproject.com/ (jamie masefield)
www.profiddler.com (patrick ross)
... more soon!