Craig Cummings Music


New Year’s Thoughts From A Songwriter
January 2, 2015, 10:09 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , , , ,

Jan 1 beach scene

A new year encourages contemplation…What did I make of myself last year? What will I make of the coming year. Am I moving forward? Treading water? Losing ground? The answer for most of us is probably, “Yeah, all those things.” There are things of which we can be proud, things we could have done better, and some things we should not have done and would like to forget. I think that’s how life goes. So here is my “stuff.” What about yours?

Moving Forward

  1. I wrote some of the best songs of my career.
  2. Started working on my next recordings (yes, plural!).
  3. Worked with and met many new songwriters and musicians.
  4. I took multiple songwriting classes, each of which provided an expanded view on the craft and art of songwriting. I could write multiple posts about this – which I probably will in the coming weeks.
  5. Sought and received feedback on my writing from lots of sources, including thoughts from many people I barely know.
  6. Re-started a monthly performing songwriters’ showcase in Baltimore, which gave me the opportunity to hear and learn from a large group of very talented people. It was so much fun putting these shows together…kind of like making a live mix tape. But the biggest payoff – creating a better sense of community among songwriters and musicians. I think that happened and I got a lot out of that.
  7. Had a song selected for a juried CD compilation.

Treading Water

  1. Recorded some new music but did not get around to actually releasing it.
  2. Played a good number of gigs, but have not yet moved on to some of the more prestigious venues I’d like to be playing.
  3. Played with a number of really fine musicians but have yet to find that steady collaborator that I am looking for…you know, that one person with whom you can write and sing and play, and it’s all good.
  4. Even though I improved as a writer, there are many ways that I could have improved even more. I get impatient sometimes.

Losing Ground

  1. Well, I don’t think there are any ways in which I’ve actually regressed, but… time marches on and I’m not getting any younger. So the question (which is really impossible to answer but easy to fret about) is if my rate of forward progress as a songwriter is faster than the rate at which time is running out to do all of the things that I want to do as a songwriter. I try not to think about this too much and put one foot in front of the other… and write!
  2. I may be losing ground in keeping up with all of the new music coming out – especially some of the stuff that doesn’t interest me or strikes me as being contrived by music industry business people who only care about making money. I’ll refrain from being specific here because I’m not into dissing performers and songwriters. And, I am most certainly not against making money. But some stuff just seems so contrived and formulaic… like I said, I may be losing some ground here, but I’m trying. And I also realize that there is always something to be learned from new music no matter how I might judge it – because things change, don’t they?

My Resolutions For 2015

  1. Write better songs.
  2. Write better songs.
  3. Write better songs.
  4. Release some of the recordings I’ve already made and continue to work on (and release) some new ones.
  5. Find more co-writers.
  6. Write better songs.

Oh yeah… and I’ll keep wondering about my rate of forward progress. Happy New Year everyone. Care to share your thoughts on how you’ve moved forward, treaded water, or lost some ground? I’d love to hear them. We all need company on this journey. Is this your first time reading my blog? Then follow me to continue the discussion (click the follow button on the left). Conversation is a good thing.

Peace And A Cold Beer,

Craig

 



Best Double Albums of All Time?

Teavolve - Craig  & Mic
Rolling Stone.com recently posted the readers choices for top 10 double albums of all time (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/readers-poll-the-10-greatest-double-albums-of-all-time-20140108). I have to admit, the readers were pretty spot on with their choices. The White Album? In a class by itself. Quadrophenia? It’s always been my favorite Who album. The River? London Calling? I mean, these are can’t miss picks. And, I’m proud to say that I have them all in my collection.

There are a couple of other double albums that merit top 10 status – ones that I have always loved. So, I thought I’d throw them out there for readers’ comments, and because if you have not heard these double albums and you are a music lover, then you’ve got to pony up and get ahold of them.

Soul Of A Man

Soul Of A Man: Al Kooper Live
Soul OF a Man is a 1994 recording of a series of live performances at the Bottom Line in NYC. With standout songs such as I Can’t Quit Her, Somethin’ Goin’ On and My Days Are Numbered (all from the Child Is Father To The Man album),several tunes from Kooper’s Blues Project gathering, and a closing medley that includes the Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Donovan’s Season Of The Witch (see Kooper’s Super Sessions album with Stills and Bloomfield), this is an iconic recording that never grows old. Kooper deserves credit for being one of the earliest musicians to make horns an integral part of rock n’ roll. While many know him as the keyboard player on Dylan’s original version of Like A Rolling Stone, he was so much more than that. Kooper is an excellent vocalist, top notch keyboard player, and a fine songwriter. And the musicians that play on this recording…well, they are a veritable Who’s Who of terrific studio musicans, mostly playing out of New York. If you’re a Late Night with David Letterman watcher, bassist Will Lee and drummer Anton Fig are all over these songs. Even John Sebastian makes an appearance on harmonica as do Randy Brecker on sax, Lew Soloff on trumpet, and Jerry Douglas on lap steel. Jimmy Vivino’s guitar work shines throughout. This CD blends blues, jazz, and rock n’roll in a way that seldom happens anymore. It is still available here – http://www.alkooper.com/store_cd01.html

Its Too Late

Van Morrison – It’s Too Late To Stop Now
Listening to this live double album makes you sweat – in a good way. Recorded at the Troubadour and the Santa Monica Civic Center in California, and at the Rainbow Theater in London, this recording leaves no doubt that at the height of his powers, and before he grew increasingly melancholy and introspective, Van was probably the most compelling live performer around. Check out this version of Domino…you cannot sit still if there is blood running through your veins. The funky groove on I’ve Been Working rivals James Brown’s best work. A version of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me, channels Otis Redding as much as Sam himself. Even the slower numbers reach out and grab you…deep down. On this album, Van shows that he is truly the king of blue-eyed soul. You can still find this in print but you’ll have to look around. It’s not on iTunes and Amazon can get it for you but it’s pricey.

LW Live

Lucinda Williams – Live At The Fillmore
I’ve seen Lucinda Williams perform many times. One of the things that strikes me about her live shows is her fearlessness… to perform any song at any given time in her set. I mean, she walks out on stage with a kick ass rock band (for this series of live shows it was Doug Pettibone on guitar, Jim Christie on drums, and Taras Prodaniuk on bass) and while the crowd is jumping out of their seats to hear Changed The Locks or Real Live Bleeding Fingers, she proceeds to play an absolutely beautiful, personal version of Ventura or Fruits of My Labor, without little to no band involvement. Anyone who performs regularly understands the importance of reading your audience and giving them what they want. Lucinda tells the audience what she’s giving them and then she delivers it, sometimes crooning, other times growling and cursing, but always cutting to the bone. With her reputation as one of the best songwriters in Americana music today, some may think that her shows are more on the conversational side of things, and she certainly provides that element to her fans on this recording. But make no mistake – this record rocks! If I could choose one guitar player to hire for my recordings (and if money were no object) Doug Pettibone would be my man. The guy can flat out play. He is a star on this album, but as bright as he may shine, Lucinda Williams is transcendent. Nobody around can write like her, no one sings like her, and this double album lays it out for all to see. This recording is available on iTunes, Amazon, and through her website.

So…what other double albums do you think could have made the top ten?



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

Craig_Rob_Tom_S&W_7-24
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.



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

Senator_AC_Shadow#2

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.



Day #2 – Singer Songwriter Cape May Conference

congresshotel

Still Chilly in Cape May!!

The 2nd day of the music conference was filled with panel presentations by industry leaders discussing income streams, publishing possibilities, and recording tips. Folk singer Ellis Paul delighted the crowd with his keynote speech, presenting his “career by the numbers.” Mr. Paul is a very successful folk singer – much more successful than most. His easy manner with the audience and his incredible songs played in open tunings revealed much of why he has been so successful.

This was also the day of my performance. My set was arranged for 7:30 pm at Lucky Bones Grille, a local restaurant and watering hole of some renown. Sandy and I rolled into the place well ahead of the scheduled start time to find a line out of the front door and a stage the size of a postage stamp – well, make that no stage at all, just a tiny area near the front window with a microphone stand and a mixer mounted on the wall. There’s nothing like playing your songs while you move your guitar around to dodge all of the patrons moving back and forth in front of you as you perform. Only many years of playing bars and clubs helps you build that skill!

But, I’m not complaining, just describing the setting as it was. I played a set that began with songs from the first CD. I followed with songs from Whispering Low, and then launched into a couple of songs from my project in progress, “21st Century Poor.” I planned to finish with songs from another project in progress, which I refer to as the “CD I need to make” because I think the songs are very strong (Santa Fe and Natural Disaster among them). But time conspired against me so I never got to the last few tunes. The crowd was great…very attentive and enthusiastic. I talked with new friends from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, met someone who grew up in Towson and transplanted north, and worked the crowd as best I could. After the show, Sandy and I ate a clam and garlic pizza that was to die for…beers and a martini on the side.

It takes skill to play a show like this – it is not for the faint of heart. My strategy is to just go up there and command the stage, make people want to listen, and reward them when they do when a few words, a smile, and a download card they can use to remind them that they saw you perform and they liked it.

Time, to hit the road, south on 95 and back to Baltimore…”You’re in the front seat with the window down/golden curls blowing all around” Well, Sandy’s in the front seat but believe me, the window is not down. That won’t happen for another month or so.

Peace and a Cold Beer!



Day #1 – Singer Songwriter Cape May Conference

traceygrammar1

Good Morning From Chilly Cape May NJ!
Sandy and I arrived in town about 1:30 after an effortless drive north. Checked in at the conference after a great Tex-Mex lunch at Geckos, dropped in on a presentation by Paula Savastano on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the music profession (imagine covering that in one hour!), and then proceeded on the see the keynote speaker of the day, Tracey Grammar.

Tracey is a well-known folk singer who performs the songs of her ex-partner (in more ways than one), Dave Carter, tells great stories, and lights up the room with her presence, her voice, and her gift for flawlessly delivering a song. During the keynote, she mixed storytelling with song, allowing the attendees a chance to understand how she survives and thrives as a folk musician. She communicated the necessity of making music with a warmth and easiness that belies the constant challenges faced by indie musicians of all types.

During the question and answer period she shared the following insights:
When asked about the constant rejection that musicians face, she replied simply, “I have an audience. I find them and they find me.” It reminded me to stay true to what I do and pay attention to who pays attention.

Another musician asked her how she remembers the words to the countless songs she performs. Tracey explained that her technique for remembering words was making them into a movie in her head. As long as the movie is playing the words come along. “When you can’t see the movie,” she revealed, “It’s time to put it (the song) aside and come back to it some other time.” As someone who deals with the challenges of remembering words, I appreciate how difficult that can be…and I think I’ll try that technique.

In the evening, Tracey performed a set Dave Carter’s songs and ended with the one song of her own that she performs for live audiences. Her delivery was sure and sweet. Most songs were preceded with a story that led the listener to a deeper understanding of what they were about to hear. A performance like this is instinctive. There are plenty of things you can learn to do well as a musician, and there are some things you either have or you don’t. Tracey delivered.

Day #2 is coming up shortly as I emerge from the hotel room. I’ll be checking out some presenters and then listening a bit to today’s keynote, Ellis Paul. I’ll be performing tonight at 7:30 pm at Lucky Bones Grille, on Jew Jersey Rt.109. Stop by and see me. I’ll try to keep the lessons I learned yesterday in mind.

Peace and a Cold Beer.