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,




Best Double Albums of All Time?

Teavolve - Craig  & Mic
Rolling recently posted the readers choices for top 10 double albums of all time ( 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 –

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?

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.

Whispering Low – Looking Back/Looking Forward
August 28, 2011, 3:35 pm
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , , , ,

01 Whispering Low

Well, the new CD, Whispering Low, was delivered to me in May and I immediately started my PR push. I was, and still am, extremely happy with this CD. I believe in the songs and I think they are well-performed and well-recorded. The whole experience was a blast from start to finish. I again worked with sound engineer Nick Sjostrom at Clean Cuts Music in Baltimore. Nick also recorded my first CD. You couldn’t ask for a better sound engineer. Nick is easy-going and talented. He is not afraid to offer suggestions yet he also remembers that his job is to help the artist achieve their vision – and not to determine that vision. The band played extremely well. Edward and Doug provided a solid rhythm section and Kurt’s guitar parts on the songs were great performances. Also got to bring in Mike Henley to play organ and piano, and my good friend Wall Matthews again provided some key guitar tracks – this time on the song Life Without Fear.

Initially the CD sold well. Lots of sales in the first couple of weeks. Then the real challenge of keeping sales of the CD going begins to set in. The CD release party was a blast. Had a good turn out for that show, and Joe and Daren, the owners/operators of Joe Squared (the venue) couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive. And now, where to go from here.

If you’re not touring, it is an even greater challenge to keep sales and interest in your CD going than if you are on tour. I’m playing a bunch of shows in September and continuing to work on adding additional shows in new venues throughout Maryland, northern VA, DC, and surrounding areas. You can check my website and Facebook pages for more information and locations of my upcoming shows. I think the best thing to do is put one foot in front of the other and just keep getting the music out there. I am also hoping to find some better ways to get my music in the hands of people who already have recording deals and are looking for songs. The songs on this CD are well-written. To show you what I mean, I’ve posted the title tune from the CD on this blog entry. Enjoy – and pass the word. I appreciate everyone’s support. I’m looking forward to playing more gigs and selling more CDs.

Recording Update #3
February 13, 2011, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , ,

Well I’ve finally finish recording all of the instrumental and vocal tracks for the new EP. This past week, I completed the lead vocals and I brought the wonderful Sahffi into the studio to sing background vocals. I am really excited about this project and I can’t wait to share it with all of you. I’ll be doing the final mix this week and when I am finished I will post a cut from among the final mixes. Once the mix is done, it is on to mastering and production. Hoping for an April release.

Recording Update #2
October 4, 2010, 9:29 pm
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , , , ,

We recently finished laying down the basic instrument tracks (electric guitar, bass, and drums) to go along with the previously recorded acoustic guitar and reference vocal tracks. We had a really fine time putting all of this together and the songs are starting to take shape, although there is still much to do. Nick, our engineer, did his typical fine job. The band was well-rehearsed and gave me the backbone of the tracks. Next up is refining some of the recently recorded parts and adding other instruments – fiddle, piano, maybe some dobro, pedal steel… Putting the songs together is an adventure. Each new instrument provides a different flavor to the songs.

This is going to be a country record. I’m looking for a fairly classic Nashville production – I’ve been listening to some of Billy Sherrill’s work to inspire me with the production work. I’m excited to make it happen. I am posting one track from the latest session. Keep in mind that it is raw, but if you have heard the totally acoustic version of Summertime Love at one of my shows, this version with the band will give you an idea of what is to come. Enjoy this peek into the recording process and let me know what you think.

Recording Update
September 14, 2010, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , , , ,

My newest recording project is moving along. I laid down the down the acoustic guitar tracks in late August and I’ll be taking the band into the studio this Sunday. My core band includes Kurt Hammond on guitar, Edward Graham on bass and Doug Workman on drums. I call them the Wildcards. We’ve been rehearsing for the past 2 weeks and I’m excited about the songs. I have high hopes for this CD. The songs have plenty of lyrical integrity (no silly stories about green tractors and such) and also have good commercial appeal. My current CD is getting airplay on country radio stations and I think many of the songs on the new recording will be even more appealing to radio programmers. I’ll write again after the recording session this weekend and will probably post a rough cut of one of the songs.

Craig Cummings Working On New CD
September 5, 2010, 9:46 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , , ,

Well, it’s been a while since I last posted anything on my blog (life is busy), but I’m back to write about the new CD I’ve started recording. Unlike my last CD (Road Trips and Relationships), which was a full-length CD, this one will be a 6-song EP. I’ll be featuring Baltimore area musicians on this recording. For those of you who caught my show at the Senator theater in March, the musicians who joined me that night will be featured on this new project. I’ve dubbed them The Wildcards. I’m sure there will be other guest musicians as well. In August I laid down the basic acoustic guitar tracks. The band is scheduled to join me in the studio in mid-September. We’ll be recording at Clean Cuts Music with Nick Sjostrum engineering. I’ll keep you up to date on how the project is proceeding and post some of the music as it develops. Stay tuned.

Beatles Box Set – Part I
September 18, 2009, 6:13 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: , , ,

I just celebrated a birthday and my family gave me The Beatles box set as a gift – lucky me! Yes, the girls are terrific. Anyway, I’ve had a chance to get through the first few CDs and I have to tell you – this stuff is really terrific. The box set contains the British releases so anyone looking for U.S. releases such as Something New or Yesterday and Today may be slightly disappointed – that is until they cut through the shrinkwrap and put the CDs in the player.

With The Beatles is glorious. I especially loved the clarity of Don’t Bother Me. I always thought the sound on that cut was so noisy – almost like they recorded it at the Cavern in Liverpool.

On Please Please Me, I was knocked out by how great the vocals sounded on Ask Me Why. I’ve always loved this song, and the version delivered on these remasters is just sensational. I mean, the Beatles’ vocals were always a highlight, but in these remasters it is hard to ignore just how important the vocals were to their sound and identity.

When I listened to A Hard Day’s Night, I was instantly transported back to the Westowne Theater in Baltimore (Catonsville actually)… the sounds and the visual memories associated with Can’t Buy Me Love are impossible to forget. Every note on the remastered version is so clear and precise…I played this cut multiple times to soak in the memories.

Well – that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Part II is on the way. Beatles For Sale, Help, Rubber Soul

The Problem with Digital Downloads
August 31, 2009, 10:30 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been pondering recent articles I’ve read discussing the not too distant future when digital downloads will replace physical CDs as the predominant way in which consumers will purchase recorded music. I think this is rather curious and sad. While it is certainly no big surprise, I can’t help feeling that music lovers lose a great deal in this technological development.

When vinyl was the the dominant form in which we purchased recorded music, there was a particular satisfaction gleaned from sitting down with a new album and carefully viewing the cover art and liner notes while losing my self in the music. This was a type of tradition… a routine that provided no small amount of enjoyment and allowed the listener to really explore the various creative aspects that went into the creation of a new record album.

When CDs surpassed vinyl as the main form of recorded music, many people (this writer included) complained that the size of CDs decreased the emphasis on quality album art and de-emphasized the importance of liner notes (they became much harder to read). Still, the CD maintained, albeit in miniature form, the joy of exploring cover art and journalistic contributions that placed the recording in a social, political, or musical context.

My problem with dominance of digital downloads is that we lose the artistic contributions of painters, illustrators, photographers, and journalists that once accompanied the music. When I download a recording I can still enjoy the music but I lose out on so much more that used to be part of the music buying experience.

Purchasing hard to obtain vinyl pressings of recent recordings is a fascination for some dedicated listeners, but it used to be the shared experience of all. Not all technological advances bring joy or make for a better product. As digital music downloads become the dominant way in which we purchase music, the art of creating a musical statement suffers a serious blow. I wonder why musicians aren’t objecting to the trivialization of what they create. Maybe their concerns about the bottom line (e.g., digital sales of individual tracks) trump their concerns for creating a more complete artistic package. And, this plays right into the hands of the corporate giants in the music business that we all supposedly dislike and reject.