Wichita

Here is a Wichita line, in homage to the late Glen Campbell and to Jimmy Webb, who is still on (and entirely of our) time.

Thanks to Trevor Dunn (heard here on electric bass), Jason Nazary (on the drum set), and Robin Macmillan (as recording engineer for our productive first day in Williamsburg).

Andrew and I are playing two duo concerts at this end of this week. Friday Oct. 6 in Montague, MA (details upon request) and Saturday, Oct. 7, at Barbes in Brooklyn. The Barbes show is the first of four Saturdays I’ll be in-residence at Barbes … presenting different ensembles each week at 6pm.

The entire month of Saturdays at Barbes includes so many of my favorite musicians, friends both new and old. I could not be happier:

Oct. 7 wi/ Andrew Dimola
Oct. 14 wi/ Taylor Ashton & Akie Bermiss
Oct. 21 wi/ Jennifer Kimball, Maeve Gilchrist, Daniel McDowell
Oct. 28 wi/ Wes Corbett, Brittany Karlson, Duncan Wickel

 

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College

 

There’s a funny shame–a discomfort with presumed privilege–in attending Harvard, that institution at the pinnacle of American higher education. So this is a very old joke: A liberal and civic-minded alumnus will speak only of having attended college in Cambridge, near Boston, and reveals even that information only when pressed.

I have enough comedian friends (professional and amateur) that I get to regularly enact a post-modern variation. I answer simply, straightforwardly, careful not to shy from the embarrasment of my own privilege. And they respond very quickly, “Where is that?” I like this joke a lot.

Privilege at Harvard is a complicated thing. All graduates benefit from the brand. To complete the basic requirements of a Harvard degree, even barely and with great difficulty, can still give one entry into a number of well-regarded professional schools. And, should a young man or woman tire, by age 22, of academic pursuits, the same piece of paper can be presented to employers as virtual proof-of-competence. The school helps by giving just about everyone who makes it through ‘honors’ (90% of students, last I checked.) But not all students begin Harvard with the same advantages.

I wrote this song inspired by a classmate of mine. Out of respect for his privacy I will not identify him by name. I should clarify, I did not know him when we were students. I do not know him now. But I did not need to know him to be inspired by his struggle.

For he arrived at Harvard after a very troubled upbringing. Raised amidst repressive religious orthodoxy, with a combative father who presided over his bickering clan’s contentious family business, he was only a mediocre high school student. Nor did he shine, academically, as an undergraduate. His studies were strained by all the time he committed to working (still the family business called!) those four years.

Upon graduating, when most young men would begin a journey of self-exploration, to pursue their own unbounded dreams, he faced a sobering reality. His disreputable father having been sent away to federal prison, he stoically took on leadership of the family business himself.

Never did his path become easy! Through his twenties he made numerous naive business blunders, as well as a not-brief-enough foray in the waning world of print journalism.

But, never once, did he admit defeat.

And today, through all this adversity, he has arrived at a position of influence and power few could have foreseen. He is poised now, to affect the lives of so many Americans, and people around the world, in awesome, truly consequential and potentially irreversible ways.

This song goes out to him.

It’s called “Anybody Can Grow Up to Buy the USA”

Performed and Produced by me (Alec Spiegelman)
Written by Alec Spiegelman & Christopher McDonald

Christopher and I began writing this song at his gorgeous grand piano, in his home, in West Philadelphia. It could be this is the first recording of any music composed at that piano since it arrived at its present address. It is on the open-plan first floor between the sitting area (right where you walk in) and the kitchen, where there used to be a dining-room table.

Illustration by Taylor Ashton

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new music for 2017

What can I say? — 2017 has been, thus far, an incredibly fertile year for songwriting!

Perhaps it was the unusually warm winter and corresponding ubiquity of massive outdoor social gatherings in public spaces. Or maybe it’s been due to the unusually boisterous online social activity, as it daily demonstrates a growth of interest in the grand traditions and so-artfully-constructed mechanisms of our aspirationally-representative democracy.

I really can’t say. But I can say that I’ve been writing a lot.

So I’m very happy to share with you the first fruits of that fertility, beginning with my own humble contribution to a hoary niche of the faux 18th-century library-of-ideas that is Americana:

the ode to a woman with two first names.

The canon of such songs is not insubstantial.

For instance, there is Bobbie Sue, from that Tennessee-bred gospel-to-the-mainstream close-harmony four piece, the Oak Ridge Boys.
Five other (beach) boys give us Barbara Ann, making similar use of a musical stutter.
In 1957, Buddy Holly loves Peggy Sue. In 1959, Buster Brown loves Fannie Mae. In 1982, toying with convention, Michael Jackson claims not have loved Billie Jean, and protests paternity.
Rod Stewart, from London, adopts the trope in Maggie Mae, among many questionably successful state-side borrowings.
Another Brit, reverses the gender roles: Recall Dusty Springfield singing to us of Billy Ray, who’d grown up in the church.
In all these classic songs the woman proudly standing in for American feminitity is designated in duple, with a compound name: two, separately commonplace, female first names beside each other.

Now I’ve written one of those songs: it’s called Kelly Anne.


Feel free to share it with whomever.

I’ll have four more tracks completed, family to this one, in a week or so, at which point I will post all of them together as an ‘EP’ on bandcamp, I think. I’ve heard that’s the least socially-irresponsible digital platform for the sale of recorded music, at the moment.

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Writing …

I’ve got new songs, which I’ll be playing in public. Wanna hear them? Show up to one of the following:

Club Passim, 3/22 – with Jennifer Kimball
The Owl Music Parlor, 3/23 – with Jennifer Kimball & Hannah Read
Three’s Brewing, 3/29 – with Taylor Ashton & Anna Roberts-Gevalt
Three’s Brewing, 4/16 – with Iris Lune, Rachael Price & Vilray Bolles, and Maddie Rice

For reference, here are some slightly less new songs:

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Miles of Music

I’m very excited to announce I’ll be spending the last week of June teaching (and learning) music on an island in a lake in New Hampshire. The 120 or so attendees, I predict, will all have a wonderful time and leave the island spiritually and physically refreshed, a little more ready for whatever challenges are to follow.

Act quick if you’d like to come. There are ways (working a few hours in the kitchen, for instance) to attend for less money. And there are straight-up scholarships.

http://www.milesofmusiccamp.com

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New Cuddle Magic

Here is music of which I’m immensely proud, made with 5 people who are among my closest friends and collaborators.

I hope you’ll listen.

https://cuddlemagic.bandcamp.com/album/ashes-axis

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New Album coming in January from Cuddle Magic

Here’s a taste of it, from NPR’s All Songs Considered. (We’re in good company, with Solange and Gillian Welch!)

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Baby States – New Old Time

Baby States is a trio I share with my very good friends Jeremy Gustin and Benjamin Lazar Davis. These guys are among the finest musicians I know.

It’s been a while now, since we commenced a collective obsession with old Appalachian fiddle tunes and murder ballads. It was more than a couple years ago that we began the process of re-imagining that material for our very non-traditional ensemble (at its core: drums/electric guitar/baritone saxophone). We recorded an album’s worth of that music maybe two or three years back, with Cedar Apffel.

Sideman obligations (all of us have been so busy, for which we are thankful!) kept delaying the release of that album. But, now, we’re finally letting it go into the world.

The Bluegrass Situation is posting a stream of the album right now!

We celebrate this release with a couple of shows: beginning at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, MA tomorrow night. Then we head to The Hoot, at Ashokan Reservoir in Olivebridge, NY for the weekend. And then we play a hometown show at the Manhattan Inn this Monday night, in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood.

In other, equally exciting news, I will be working with Pokey Lafarge & associates this October to record a new album. The songs, even in nascent (baby?) form, are good!

And, finally, I just spent a wonderful weekend with Mr. Andrew Dimola, of Montague, MA. In between hikes and creek swims, we began the process of editing and mixing and overdubbing-upon an collaborative album-in-the-works that features Trevor Dunn on bass and Jason Nazary on the drum set. It’s some tweaked-out music! Don’t know the music of Andrew Dimola? You should.

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New Single From Cuddle Magic – Touring with Pokey La Farge

Cuddle Magic has released the first single from our upcoming album. The British music magazine, DIY, broke the news first, and accompanied that with some nice words about our song:
We hope this early press coverage (from across the pond) portends international success. If it does not, we are all still very proud of the music, and we are happy to share it with everyone we know!
I have also attached myself, for the foreseeable future, to the Pokey La Farge organization out of St. Louis. I will be touring around the United States and Canada and Western Europe with that fascinating, out-of-time songwriter for the foreseeable future. We just returned from our first trip down the East Coast, and we will hit the Pacific at the end of this month. A detailed itinerary can be found here:
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Happy Valentine’s Day

… from me and Session Americana and Salt Stage

 

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