Craig Cummings Music

New Music From Baltimore Songwriters in 2013

Craig at El Nopalito

Baltimore’s stable of aspiring songwriters seems to grow by leaps and bounds every year. Acts such as J. Roddy Walston and the Business and Beach House get much of the national attention, and they have certainly earned their recognition. Unfortunately, there are many outstanding performing songwriters from Baltimore that do not receive the publicity they deserve. I put out a request through the Facebook page of the Baltimore Songwriter’s Association (BSA) asking for members to respond if they had released new music in 2013. What follows is a brief description of the 2013 releases of BSA members, and a listing without descriptions, of others who responded but are not BSA members. This is by no means an exhaustive listing of what was recorded and released by Baltimore artists, but if you are interested in exploring what is happening on the local songwriting scene, this will get you started. If you like what you hear, these artists would love to see you at their live shows.

2013 Releases by BSA Members

ilyAIMY – Another Life/Another Live

Another Life/Another Live is quintet ilyAIMY’s latest release. Rob Hinkal’s percussive guitar work and Heather Aubrey Lloyd’s grab-your-attention, silky-smooth vocals form the backbone of ilyAIMY’s sound. Kristen Thomas adds outstanding work on cello, Shareef Kellog is a solid piano player, and Rowan Corbett anchors the group’s rhythmic approach to “new folk” music with his inventive approach to cajon, and other assorted bits of percussion.

Songs of note include Oracle, Silent Little Bells, and Elephant Joke. Heather owns the songwriting honors for the first two songs mentioned, while Rob claims rights to Elephant Joke. One suspects, however, that all band members have significant input into the songs, as ilyAIMY presents as a true ensemble rather than a group that serves the direction of its lead singer or guitarist.

Another Life/Another Live is one of the best releases from Baltimore-based songwriters in 2013. It bears repeated listening. And, don’t miss their live show. They never disappoint.

Richard Walton – Cover Me or…/dp/B00BV9JDCK/ref=sr_1_1…

Richard Walton’s newest release, Cover Me, features songs by 60’s, ’70’s & 80’s recording artists including The First Edition, Poco, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, and, Badfinger. If you are searching for updated interpretations of classic songs from earlier decades, Cover Me gets you there. The production is outstanding and the numerous musicians who contribute tracks to these songs are all top-notch performers.

Naked Blue – Weightless

Jen & Scott Smith released their 5th CD in 2013. Weightless is a collection of pop music gems featuring Jen’s sweet voice and Scott’s classy guitar playing and intricate production. As long time members of the local songwriting community, Naked Blue continue to prove that they are one of Baltimore’s most talented and accomplished acts. Every song on this CD is solid. I especially enjoyed Tilt-A-Whirl, Left Standing, and Charm.

Queen Earth – Adult Contemporary

Missy Smith (AKA Queen Earth) has recently located to the left coast, but for many years she was a mainstay of the Baltimore songwriting community. Her latest release, Adult Contemporary, features spare instrumental arrangements of mostly guitar and percussion accompanying her soul-sweet voice. Her songs of personal empowerment, romantic relationships, and social justice are heartfelt. Now that she has relocated, the local songwriting community will miss her contributions. But it’s a small world these days – so I’m sure Baltimore will hear more from Queen Earth in 2014.

Woody Lissauer & Rachel Elise – Faded Name

Faded Name is a 4-song EP released by prolific songwriter/guitarist/producer Woody Lissauer and vocalist Rachel Elise. This is an intoxicating, dreamy collection of songs that would have been a great musical backdrop for the defunct TV series Twin Peaks, or any other dreamy, hard-to-grasp-narrative. And don’t get me wrong – I love these kind of stories, and I think the songs on Faded Name would be an excellent choice as a soundtrack for an art house movie or cutting-edge television series.

Woody also released numerous videos of his work in 2013. The list is provided below.

Will Jenkins – Earth Anthem

Earth Anthem is the latest single release from Will Jenkins. It reminds the listener of a 60’s era pop song that might have been released by Stealer’s Wheel (Stuck In The Middle With You) or The Cyrkle (Red Rubber Ball). While the arrangements and production are simple, there is a certain charm to this cut, and it will be interesting to see if Will has more coming for us in 2014.

Mosno Al-Mooseeki – Shukrah My Totem; No Kingdom (Faisal Goes West)

Third-world rocker Mosno Al-Mooseeki released 2 singles in 2014. Shukrah My Totem is a song from his upcoming full-length release, Novella. It features Mosno’s rhythmic guitar playing and soulful voice over a middle-eastern melody. No Kingdom begins with a spare rendering of Mosno’s voice and guitar, and continues, accompanied by djembe and beautiful harmony vocals. It will be exciting to hear Novella when it is released and performed in its entirety.

Other 2013 Releases from Baltimore-Area Performing Songwriters

Harlan County Kings

Firekite – Five From Five

Paul Nitzberg – As Far As I Know

Dave Cohen – The World Didn’t End Today

John Seay – Old New

Woody Lissauer – Video Releases
Woody Lissauer & Rachel Elise – What Are You Waiting For?

Woody Lissauer – Bent but not Broken

Woody Lissauer – The French Garden

Woody Lissauer – Send in the Clowns

Cubic Feet – PCTV Live from Park City, Utah

My Favorite Recordings of 2013

Craig at El Nopalito

Most major music publications are busy releasing their “Best Of” lists for 2013. It is quite subjective in the arts to say that one piece of work is “better” than another (except in extreme cases). Most songwriters and musicians don’t look at their art as a form of competition. Most of the time, musical artists compete with themselves to make their songs better with each recording. They are their own harshest critics, even though they may never let on publicly that they spend considerable time analyzing and overanalyzing their work and wondering if it holds up when compared to the work of other artists they admire. Writing songs and creating music is at once a joy and an exercise in humility. Creating something you believe in is an incredible rush of joy and satisfaction. Not being able to get that verse or chorus just right can bring the best of us to our knees in frustration.

For these reasons (and others), I will refrain from indulging in the creation of a “Best Of” list for 2013. Instead, here is a list of my favorite recordings from 2013. If you have not found time to listen to any of the music listed below, do yourself a favor and find some spare time during the holiday season to sit and listen to what these artists created this past year. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Jason Isbell – Southeastern
This is my favorite recording of the year. Jason’s work has been celebrated in many of the most widely read publications and for good reason. The songs on this recording are soul baring, yet warm and inviting. His story of a life-changing choice to embrace sobriety, and what came before and after, is story telling at its best. Jason’s voice is strong and clear, the arrangements are mostly spare, and these songs raise the bar for songwriters everywhere. Wanna know if your songs are great? Listen to this and ask yourself, “Am I there yet?” My personal favorites are Cover Me Up, Traveling Alone, and Songs She Sang In The Shower. But, every song is terrific. Buy this now.

Guy Clark – My Favorite Picture of You
Guy is in his 70’s now, and who knows how many more recordings he has left in him? His health has not been good, and I’m not sure that he is even doing shows around Nashville these days. But this CD is a masterpiece of songwriting. Guy has been the standard-bearer for excellent story telling for many years, and with this effort he proves that he has not lost his touch. The title cut, found on other recordings, is a love letter to his late wife Susanna. It is a tender piece that confides his love for her incredible spirit and gives some insight into the scope of influence she had over his life and musical career. Hell Bent On A Heartache tells the story of a man who can’t resist making the same mistake again and again in an effort to find love. Patty Griffin adds her typically beautiful background vocals and suggests that this affliction to find heartache isn’t limited to men. Rain In Durango, another song of pining for love, proves that the best songwriters can address the same topic from various angles and never seem repetitive. Guy will always be remembered as one of the greatest of American songwriters. This recording shows why.

Steve Earle and the Dukes & Duchesses – The Low Highway
As a fan of the HBO series Treme, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the scene in last season’s episode when Steve’s character, Harley, is shot and killed during a street robbery. I shouted out loud when it happened, which is odd. I mean, I know it’s a TV show, but thus is the power of Steve Earle to captivate an audience whether he is acting or performing as a songwriter. On The Low Highway, Steve shows that his many years working alongside such celebrated songwriters as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark did not go to waste. Steve has been telling the story of injustice in American society for some time now, and he is at his peak on this recording. On the title cut he sings of “…the ghost of America watching me, through the broken windows of the factories.” Burnin’ It Down is the story of a down and out soul who wants to burn the local Walmart down because of the damage it has done to his little town and the small business owners who suffer at the hands of corporate America. But Steve doesn’t wallow too much as he offers up the celebratory and defiant Is That All You Got, a song originally performed on Treme, where the New Orleans-based singers challenge the gods of fate to bring it on, because, well, we survived your best shot – is that all you got? Steve Earle has released more than 20 recordings throughout his career. The Low Highway ranks among his best work.

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell – Old Yellow Moon
Emmylou and Rodney were making music together back in the 70s, when she was touring with her Hot Band and Rodney was writing songs, playing guitar, and singing background vocals. After many years of going their separate ways, they are back together again and as solid as ever. Emmylou’s reputation as possibly the best harmony singer ever (not to mention her incredible lead vocals and skills in interpreting songs) is underscored throughout the songs on Old Yellow Moon. Rodney likewise shows that he knows how to move around a note in ways that melt the soul. Invitation To The Blues, a Roger Miller composition, shows how to interpret a standard country song. The rearrangement of Crowell’s Bluebird Wine, first featured on Harris’ Pieces of the Sky album, underscores the duo’s ability to reinvent previous work and make it seem new. There are other songs that jump out at the listener that are worthy of mention, but the prize on this record is the amazing harmonies that these two singers create. Nothing can ever top the Emmylou Harris/Gram Parsons duets that preceded Gram’s untimely demise. But this comes close.

Slaid Cleaves – Still Fighting the War
Slaid Cleaves should be more well known. His skills as a songwriter hold up to standards set by Steve Earle and other Texas songwriters such as Ray Wylie Hubbard and Robert Earl Keen. On this recording, Cleaves shows his spirit is infused by the efforts of Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, and others who write about the perils of the working class and the injustices that infuse American life in the 21st century. I especially like the storytelling and handclaps of Welding Burns, and the wistful sentimentality of Rust Belt Fields – “no one remembers your name for working hard.”

The Mavericks – In Time
As a performing songwriter, I know how important a good singer is to delivering a well-written song. Raul Malo is the bomb. This guy can do it all and if you don’t listen to this recording for any other reason, do it to remind yourself of the importance of great vocal presence and delivery in making songs stand out. The band is not too shabby either! My favorites on this CD include Born To Be Blue and Back In Your Arms Again. Born To Be Blue sounds like Raul Malo singing harmony with Roy Orbison. Back In Your Arms Again makes me want to have a shot of tequila and get up and dance! Buy this CD, turn it up loud, and have a party.

Happy New Year everyone! Can’t wait to hear what’s in store for 2014.

Screams and Whispers Showcase – September Edition
September 18, 2013, 11:16 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , , , , ,

The September edition of the Screams and Whispers Songwriters Showcase features well-known Baltimore performing songwriters Teporah and Mosno. Our theme for this evening is protest songs. Considering that there is no shortage of things to feel dissatisfied about these days, Thursday’s theme seems quite on point!

Teporah brings a bluesy/jazzy feel to her performances. Her sound reminds one of Laura Nyro or Karla Bonoff. Her smoky voice, adventurous piano playing, and her blending of jazz, blues, pop, and folk music makes her unique in Baltimore. For Thursday’s performance, she has promised to bring her own unique take on rather well-known protest songs.

Mosno, Baltimore’s third world rock star, is always a treat. His rhythmic approach to guitar paired with his soulful voice and thoughtful lyrics make him a favorite in the Baltimore music scene. I’m betting that Mosno may resort to some Marvin Gaye in finding a suitable protest song to perform for this night.

Your host (and yours truly), Craig Cummings, rounds out the evening with his east coast Americana sound. Craig strong voice, and powerful guitar playing support songs that put a smile on your face, a thought in your head, and a skip in your step.

The Screams and Whispers Songwriters Showcase happens Thursday night September 19th at 8:00 p.m. at Joe Squared North Ave. Joe’s pizza was just named the best in Baltimore And, the beer is always cold.

Back at Brewer’s Alley in Frederick Tonight
September 16, 2013, 9:53 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , ,

Craig_at BrewersAlley_9-19-11

Tonight I am stopping in to Brewer’s Alley in Frederick as the featured performer for the Monday night songwriter’s showcase. This is always a great gig – the hosts, Ron Deacey, Todd Walker, Tomy Wright and Ron Goad are exceptionally kind and all talented in their own right (as their weekly performances show); the music lovers who frequent Brewer’s are a listening audience, allowing performers to play songs not always well-received in noisier venues; and, the other performers brought in to play 3-songs sets prior to the feature are always fine songwriters. All of  this makes the feature performer have to “up their game” to the highest level in order to justify the honor of the featured slot. So it is with this in mind that I’m approaching tonight’s performance.

I’ll be playing selections of songs from my CDs Road Trips and Relationships and Whispering Low as well as threads of songs for 2 recording projects currently in development. My 21st Century Poor project is a collection of songs about what happens to good people who find themselves in terrible financial and social situations after living much of their lives somewhat predictably in the middle class (what’s left of it). The other unnamed project is a collection of songs I’ve been performing publicly for a while that remain in need of a unifying theme. Some of these songs are among the strongest I’ve written and once I clarify what they are saying about me (or to me), I’ll be ready to move forward with some recording of these tunes as well.

Stop by and enjoy the show this evening. The music begins at 7:30 pm with a piano prelude by Virginia resident Jim Moon. The 3-song slots are filled by the incredible Tom Dews, Frederick-area duo Basswood, and Jeff Ball and Greg Dillon. The hosts will get their licks in as well, performing either early in the evening or following my feature spot. I’ll probably go on about 9:00. Hope to see you there.

Here’s a song to get you warmed up for tonight. Enjoy.

Some Thoughts About My Songwriters Showcase at Joe Squared

ImageThis Wednesday, August 21st, the third edition of my Screams and Whispers Showcase takes the stage at Joe Squared in Baltimore. The August show features Sahffi and Heather Aubrey Lloyd and the theme for the evening is 60s soul music. If you are in the area, stop by for the show. It is going to be a great one!

This showcase is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve been part of lots of showcases hosted by others, and I always thought that it would be interesting to challenge musicians by asking them to play a few tunes that weren’t too familiar. This “stretch” makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the extended set of their own music they perform later in the show. It’s fun to see which songs are chosen by each artist. So, I create a theme for each show. The first show had the musicians playing Springsteen songs, and the second show, songs by Elvis Costello. Each time the featured musicians commented that learning the songs was a challenge as was deciding which ones to actually play. Interestingly, there has been no overlap of song choice so far. This  focus on the theme as a way to begin the evening is a way to make each show unique beyond the songwriters chosen to perform.

There are quite a few talented performing songwriters in Baltimore. I don’t think that the public really appreciates the talent that we harbor within the Baltimore/Washington/Frederick area. Baltimore in particular, can be a challenging market for songwriter shows. But being able to feature the likes of Tony Denikos, Ken Gutberlet, Rob Hinkal, Tom McBride, is an opportunity I’m not willing to miss. I like the challenge of making these shows successful. And on a personal level, sharing shows with these artists is a treat for me. I’ve been a performing songwriter for a few decades, and I’ve never had this much fun.

As a performing songwriter, I never get tired of sharing my songs with listeners and trying to earn new fans. I am sure that they songwriters that populate the Screams and Whispers Showcases would tell you the same thing. In the current age of faceless communication (thank you social media), we need more ways of sharing our thoughts, hopes, fears, and observations in person…unfiltered and “straight from the heart.” These showcases give performing musicians a way to do this – and they give the listeners a way to do it as well, by talking to us and telling us what they like, what they don’t (gently please), and asking for us to create things we may not have considering creating. This makes us all better – and closer.

So – I hope to see many of you for the show this Wednesday, August 21st, 8:00 pm at Joe Squared, North Ave. in Baltimore. And for some immediate gratification, I’ve provided a link to one of my songs – a preview of what you’ll hear Wednesday.  Enjoy.


Emmylou and Rodney Part 2

Emmylou and Rodney

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell brought their Old Yellow Moon tour to the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Maryland last evening. Yesterday, I wrote about them performing together again after many years. This post is just a quick review of last night’s show.

To put it simply, this was one of the best concerts I’ve seem in some time. The artists’ incredible taste and good sense in music was evident from their choice of songs (3 Gram Parsons tunes and one from Townes Van Zandt for starters), to their decision to put together a touring band that was the reincarnation of their 1970s collaboration, The Hot Band. The current version includes guitarist Jedd Hughes who at several points was channeling James Burton in a way that few would even attempt.

Emmylou and Rodney’s voices are a match made in heaven. From their decision to revist Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty to their soaring vocals on Roger Miller’s country shuffle Invitation To The Blues, the E&R show reminded us of what we’ve been missing all these years. While it’s certainly true that Emmylou can make pretty much anyone sound better, Rodney showed his own vocal chops throughout the show, and he reminded us all, with songs like Till I Gain Control Again and I’m Still Learning How To Fly, that he has been one of the finest songwriters in Country/Americana music for many years. If you’re not sure about this, just check out his 2008 solo release, Sex and Gasoline.

I suppose it’s hard to say how long their current collaboration will last. So, if you have a chance to see them when they come your way, don’t miss the show. I’m certainly hoping they come back this way.

From Country Rock Darlings to Americana Heroes


In the mid-1970s, I was a twenty-something singer-songwriter whose songs were properly categorized as country rock. As I continue to write and perform in the mid-2010s, my music is now called Americana. Same style, different descriptors. And just as country rock was one of the major genres of that time, so is Americana one of the most popular forms of music today. Along the way, I ventured into other musical genres, but I never could really escape the kind of music I was meant to make. I think this is true of many artists who have continued to write and perform over the past 30-odd years.

I was thinking about this as I am preparing to attend a concert tonight featuring Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. They just released a new recording, Old Yellow Moon, to rave reviews. Emmylou featured Rodney’s writing on her debut solo alum, Pieces of the Sky. Rodney then joined her in two subsequent releases, Luxury Liner in 1977, and Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town in 1978. On these latter two albums, Rodney is part of the legendary Hot Band, featuring James Burton, Emory Gordy, Hank DiVito, Albert Lee, and others. I still listen to these recordings on a fairly regular basis because I never tire of listening to their voices together.

Maybe they felt the same way just before they decided to embark on their current musical project. The country rock darlings of the mid-1970s have become the Americana Heroes of today, and my instincts tell me it must be because through all the musical twists and turns they’ve experienced, Emmylou and Rodney realized just how good they are together. And, that the music on Old Yellow Moon is the music they were meant to make.

Back in 2008 or so, I started writing songs without trying to be anything in particular – not country, not folk, not pop. What came out was a sound similar to the sound I began with in the mid-1970s. I realized that this is who I am, because it just comes out that way – effortlessly. Not that songwriting isn’t work…but the feel of what I’m creating doesn’t take effort. It just takes letting go.

Listening to Emmylou and Rodney sing on Old Yellow Moon, I am inclined to think that they sound so good together because they are just letting go. That country rock stuff they wrote and performed a few decades ago is now Americana music. But really…it’s just who they are, and what they were meant to do.

See you at the show – if you’re lucky.