Programmer, Host of “Music My Mother Would Not Like,” WPKN Radio, 89.5 FM Bridgeport, Conn. and

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April 1, 2018

Danny Schmidt … A Conversation About Fatherhood, Writing, and Touring

Hanging up the phone, which today is more the click of a mouse than returning the handset into the cradle; I was reminded of how lucky I am. Perhaps fortunate is the better word. Luck is the perfect intersection of preparation and hard work. A favorite uncle of mine often said that chance favored the prepared. I think it more than a coin toss as to which is the more correct.

The Swan report this month visits a singer/songwriter whose body of work has produced seven studio albums, high placement on several tribute albums, one live album, and a duo with his wife, Carrie Elkin. His accolades are found in many other prominent publications, praises from respected journalists, and chosen by many DJ’s as top records for the year in multiple years. He is a gentle and humble man whose peers also deliver high praise, “Everything about the man is gentle, except his capacity for insight, which is crushing.”

— Songwriter Jeffrey Foucault.

It was not the first time that I had interviewed Danny Schmidt on the phone and in preparing for a previous interview; I read that he was included in an impressive list of fine songwriters. Host of “Midnight Special” at WFMT 98.7 in Chicago, Rich Warren compiled his list of the fifty most significant singer-songwriters of folk in the last fifty years. I was pleased by finding Danny’s name on the list and commented to him that I was impressed to see his name included in this prominent list. I went on to say that I personally felt that Rich should have placed him higher up on the list. Now part of this was meant as some flattery and part of me felt that that while thirty nine is good, I might have placed him higher up. After a moment of silence, which was slowly creeping towards the awkward or uncomfortable zone; Danny politely pointed out “well, Bruce, the list is alphabetical”.

Our conversation this time picked up where the previous one seemed to have left off and continued with his thoughts on being a new father, singer-songwriter, and a touring musician. We talked about everything and nothing and topics easily bridged to the next one. The last time our paths crossed was actually the first time we spoke in person. It was after a fantastic sellout of legendary Club Passim in Cambridge, Mass. on a very hot summer evening.

Schmidt’s songs run the gamut. His topics contain open frustration towards issues of societal problems and the clear lack of progress towards a solution as in the song from Owls, “Guns & The Crazy Ones,” to songs of personal loss in relationships like “Bad Year For Cane.” With his wife and performance partner, Carrie Elkin, one can find in their album For Keeps the optimistic song “Two White Clouds” that concludes with a third cloud in the mix. His songs touch us and get to the core of an issue or emotion profoundly. I find that his lyrics don’t just tug at your heart strings but reach through your chest barehanded and clutch your heart; for days. I remember preparing for a radio program about a year ago and thought that a Danny Schmidt song would work well in the set of songs I had selected and stumbled upon “Stained Glass” from Parables & Primes. It is a powerful song about a stained glass window in a church being broken by a falling tree a month before Easter. The strong imagery of parishioners reactions to the loss of this icon that certainly all of them had gazed upon, meditated on, and prayed towards was destroyed is so dramatically portrayed that it brought tears to my eyes. After hundreds of listens, it still does.

The addition of their first child, Maizy, has changed the day-to-day dynamics and plans of the touring couple. “She’s a ball, delightful; we’re not very well slept, with each stage being more fun than the previous. We spent the first year of Maizy’s life touring,” Danny began. “We spoke to a lot of our touring musician friends whose experience taught them that touring before the child starts becoming verbal is the easiest. So we spent a year on sort of a Maizy and music tour; introducing her to her new family and friends.” And on being a new father and how that has changed his life personally: “Nothing puts it all into perspective like a child does; your sense of what matters and what doesn’t matter as much is changed. The whole process is about finding the balance.”

If you have visited the website,, you will find the genuine giving of the artist that continues to impress me and draw in others to him. The site is full of gifts to the fan and enthusiast. When I asked Danny about the reasoning for giving away the information or why he has codified much of what he has written it was partially out of a need to give back to fans, but it became apparent that when there were many consistent questions that a specific topic needed to be addressed. For example, Danny’s commentary on the best way to help musicians from a fan’s standpoint is clear, specific and well explained. He speaks openly about the value of purchasing music directly from the musician. Most offer their music on line through various services, but a great way “is to buy albums, singles, EPs, etc. directly from the artist’s website. Of course, the best way is meet them at a show and purchase the albums at that time.”

“When I was younger and before I got into making music, I was passionate about music and went to a lot of shows. With the music industry in turmoil people have the sense that art is in danger and is not being supported by a whole infrastructure the way it had been, so people that are passionate about the music have this underlining concern that if they don’t support it consciously, then it’s going to start to fall by the wayside,” he explained in greater detail. To paraphrase the balance of the discussion on the topic, the underlying theme in this evolution of the music and recording industry is finding the balance in the “ecosystem.” What was once a music business model of selling, where the record industry fronted musicians money to create music for sale, has turned into a model of questioning the value of recorded music where much of society feels that it has no value at all in the marketplace.

These sentiments begged the question of, “are you optimistic about the future?” With thoughtful pause came, “In short, yes. One of the things that I am intrigued by is the whole emergence of ‘house concerts’ and artists employing kickstarter / crowdfunding campaigns. In some respects similar to several hundred years ago where the arts were supported by patrons and ‘salon performances’ were the norm.” This method can put an artist often in an awkward position of soliciting funds to create their next project; but it is a much more organic way than the previous model.”

There are so many aspects of the business in its current state that were formally removed from the plate of any touring performer. I wanted to know what Danny’s favorite parts were. “I enjoy the creative process. The creating of a song is not the bolt of lightning, but more a spark or a seed that takes time to curate. For those that have not experienced the creative process be it in print, canvas, or ceramic; it is hard to explain, but it is not in the form of lightning bolt! Touring is wonderful also for some many reasons but it has taken me a while to be comfortable on stage. It takes me out of my element.”

Certainly on the minds of many will be when they can expect to see a new Danny Schmidt record; well I am happy to report that early ’19 is the expectation. Schmidt is working on a new record and has recorded some of the material with more work to be done and then it is the entire editing process that is so time consuming, but all important.

For me, the brilliance of any art form, be it paint on canvas, drama on screen, or recorded music is its ability to capture and maintain our interest consistently. We expect to cry when George Bailey walks into his home full of renewed faith in his own relevance to his community in “It’s a Wonderful Life” or captivated by a painting by Matisse, or in a novel from Mark Twain. It is masterful. But, even more significant is when a work can allow you to find one more thing that you did not see, hear, or feel every time you experience that work. “You need the song to be compelling enough and accessible enough in the first listen to draw the person in, but not too complex to alienate someone but that it maintains the interest. It is a balancing act.”

Finding the balance between work and family is age-old, making it happen is the balance achieved. My time with Danny showed that at least for now he is making it all balance. And as I always feel, as the click of the mouse finalized our conversation, that I had only peeled back a little of what is Danny Schmidt and would quickly be looking forward to our next conversation.

Until next time…

March 2, 2018

The Meadows Brothers  |  Brothers, Friends, Musicians

Part of the fun of getting out  and seeing live music is the personal discovery of an act that you did not know anything about. The first time you see the band or performer you feel that there may be something “there” in this act. And over time, your paths cross with them at venues, festivals, etc. and often you get to watch the progression of the musicians. For some, the music matures, the lyrics grow in sophistication, and the confidence begins to develop.

As part of the annual CT Folk Festival and Green Expo, a portion of the main stage time is dedicated to emerging artists. An established process of application to festivals admissions committee can be rewarded with an invitation to perform on the “Auditions Night”. The number of performers, ranging from singer songwriters to full bands averages about ten. Each are then afforded ten minute performances with which to wow the audience and committee. For those that have attended NERFA or other folk conferences, it can be equated to a “Guerrilla Showcase.” The process is then whittled down to a few acts that will be invited to return to the festival in the fall.

My introduction to Ian and Dustin Meadows came at one of these audition nights. They were two young, eager musicians hailing from Chester, Conn. They exhibited great confidence in the green rooms and performance space. It would be several weeks before they would be declared as one of the finalists. There was a pureness to their sound that clearly resonated for the committee.

Over the years I have watched the duo grow in sophistication of lyrics. Let not their youth belie the wisdom of their words. From their 2017 EP Truth, the song “Introduce Me to The Blues” paints the misfortunes of a love gone south and everything else in the persona’s life following suit quickly thereafter. In a radio interview with Ian and Dustin, the question of being old enough to have had first hand experiences that would enable them to write this song came up pretty early in our conversation. Ian offered pretty quickly “I think that those types of experiences come for most of us pretty early!” He went on to offer, “neither Dustin nor I are going to come out with a song that is completely autobiographical. We’re st

ory tellers, just not necessarily our stories; but things that everyone can relate to.”

As a duo, the brothers share many of the responsibilities collectively and some have been allocated over time as their individual skills have developed. Most of the songwriting is initially done by Ian, the elder of the two and then often handed over to Dustin to edit and begin working on the music. The overall end project is collaboration between the two. “We are brothers and there is always going to be an inherent level of bickering. But we are best friends. Our goal is to have fun with the music and have a good time,” offered Dustin when the topic came up in conversation. The respect between the two is clear and always mutual. While both share in taking the lead vocal in a song, Dustin will sometimes take the back seat on the lead vocals and take over on the harp, rounding out the sound.

The Meadows Brothers are receiving recognition for their work and their spheres of experience and influence are expanding. It is no secret that I enjoy and am lucky enough to attend music festivals. Last spring, I had the privilege of watching Ian and Dustin perform at MerleFest, held annually on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. Ian’s song “Faithless Preacher” was a finalist in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. He had the distinction of being the first competitor to perform on the finalist’s stage that afternoon, with his accompanist and best friend, Dustin. This would be the same stage that Jorma Kaukonen would perform on a little later that afternoon. Sadly, victory would not be theirs that weekend, but the exposure was invaluable and on that afternoon, they stood with some of the best.

I am always interested in knowing if musicians came from a musical family; if their abilities are born out of following in the footsteps of parents. “Our dad plays a little piano and sings in the choir at church, but we grew always hearing music in our house. Our first concert was Deep Purple with our father! But we listened to everything from metal to progressive rock, traditional folk and the Laurel Canyon sound, to classical and even hip hop. There was always something playing in the house. We were both encouraged at a young age – our parents were and still are very supportive of what we are doing,” Dustin offered. Ian filled in a couple of the story’s gaps: “It was Deep Purple and Mountain. I was eight and Dustin was six.” The knowledge attained growing up listening to the many varieties of music has afforded them a deep knowledge, understanding, and appreciation for the artists that have preceded them.

What is on the horizon for the band? Their goal is to be able to collaborate more together. As the primary songwriter, Ian is encouraging Dustin to take up more of the penning of the songs. Maybe it is a case of the younger brother syndrome and not wanting to find the desire to bring his songs to the table or maybe preferring to focus on the arranging of the music. My afternoon with the Meadows Brothers would be limited this time to about an hour visit and I was left looking forward to the next time our paths would cross.

How wonderful would it be if all the apprentice musicians grew in confidence and capabilities to take on the journeyman’s role weathering the storm to enter the few select greats that become masters of their art and craft?  My bet is on the Meadows Brothers.

Until next time…

February 3, 2018

A DJ’s Picks for the Top Records of 2017

Each year the music director at the radio station that I broadcast from asks the DJs to pick their favorite albums of the year. Usually, I can come up with my list in reasonably quick order; that is an easy assignment. The difficult part, is determining the order of the favorites. That portion of the process can take a great deal of time. While the creating of the list can take little bit of time, the arrangement of the order takes a few sittings and much repositioning as though there is some deep scientific or alchemic process. The simple solution of just listing the discs in alphabetical order would be the easy way out – of course once you worked out the problem of alphabetical by “Artists last name or Band’s name” or by the name of the record, and if by the record’s name – do you discount the word “the” in the name. As you can see the rules of listing are not complete or definitive for that matter.

The final list submitted to WPKN contained a list of my twenty top records with a subsequent list of several honorable mentions. The list quickly began to look like the front seat of my car; but now at least in a modicum of order. The station publishes the top ten albums, but explanations for the order are never printed. The reasons are to be left for the broadcasters to present on the air.

This month’s report will focus on the top 5 picks for the calendar year of 2017, but I will also include the entire list in an effort to satiate our most demanding of readers at the conclusion. At the risk of boring you with the details of whether or not this list should go from “First to Fifth” or “Fifth to First”; here it is both ways.

1.Dangermuffin, Heritage, (Dangermuffin Music, 2017)

2.Jesse Terry, Stargazer, (Jesse Terry Music, 2017)

3.Davy Knowles, 1932 EP (WYAN, 2017)

4.Charlie Parr, Dog (Red House Records, 2017)

5.Joe Jencks, Poets, Philosophers, Workers, and Wanderers,

        (Joe Jenks, 2017)

Number 5: Joe Jencks released this fifteen-track masterpiece and it quickly rose on the “Folk DJ Charts” nationally. It is Joe’s seventh solo release containing songs that were both recently written and in some cases resting for several years.  The cd complete with comprehensive liner notes is beautiful. The record touches many aspects of life, as the title Poets, Philosophers, Workers, and Wanderers would suggest.  The opening track really lays out the entire record offering with the chorus that gives us the song’s name “Let Me Sing You A Song.” The balance of the record pays homage to daily events and sheds light on historically under-mentioned events like those found in “Children of Trochenbrod” a song reminding of the horrors man is capable of committing and the need to not only never forget but to endeavor to never permit again. Jencks’ deep rich voice puts the listener taking every footstep, lifting every object, and seeing every sight that the personas in the songs transmit.

Number 4: It has been two years (long ones for me) since we have had a new record from Charlie Parr. The new one, Dog, released on Red House Records in September is an introspective record. For a fan of Parr’s music, the record evokes many human emotions from joy to sympathy and genuine heartfelt love for the musician. “Sometimes I’m Alright” is the honest declaration of a person going through some rough patches but does leave us with hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a freight train barreling down towards us. Parr’s tool of choice for much of this record is his resonator; he uses it to perfection, punctuating every emotion of the album. “Salt Water” tugs on the heart. The listener is thinking the rising salt water is only a natural phenomena and hoping it is not a human one. It can be painful to listen to because it is so reflective. This ten-track disc is a keeper in my library.

Number 3: As the list of annual favorites came together, this EP never left the upper portion of the pile. Davy Knowles, a blues musician from England, offered for our consideration, 1932. It is a tribute to a guitar and takes its title from the year the National Resonator was born. “I bought the guitar while on tour in the States” he declared from the stage one evening. The playing is energetic and almost hypnotic at times; the music digs deep into blues roots. The brief six songs generally inspires the “repeat” button to be depressed at least twice before the eject button gets a chance.

Number 2: My fandom for the artist Jesse Terry and his body of work should, come as no surprise. The new album from Terry is by far his best work. If one listens to the EP The Calm & The Storm, one will hear the distinctive cello of Michael Ronstadt and the entry of strings that will take a larger part in this year’s pick for number two, Stargazer.
Stargazer opens with more instrumentation than the previous recording; released in September the eleven-track disc pays tribute to many of Terry’s influences. Borrowing on themes made popular by significant artists like Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and the Beatles. This multi-faceted diamond shows the depth of talent in Terry’s song writing and composing. Initial listening left me with a feeling of loss of innocence from previous works; joyous subsequent listens peel those feelings away giving way to the continuing growth of this journeyman musician. That said, “Won’t Let The Boy Die” reminds us that there is wisdom in keeping bits of our youth close at hand. The trajectory of Jesse Terry’s path is clear; it is bright, honest, and sincere. It is a great record, no doubt; but it also heightens the expectations of the next work.

Number 1: Heritage from Dangermuffin released on Dangermuffin Music is hands down my favorite record this year. A faithful companion to most broadcast sessions, it is always nearby. Opening with “Ode to My Heritage” in a cappella giving way to the jam sound that carries through many of their tunes. The album borrows on sounds of the islands but weaves the idea of family; musical or actual throughout. A quick favorite is “Ancient Family”. It delights with the melodies laid down by the band and but captivates with the intricate guitar licks subtly inlaid by Mike Sivilli. “Mikey drops in these tasty guitar licks” applauded band’s front man Dan Lotti in a recent interview. The back story on the recording of the record is as interesting as the results of the recording. From the website “Recorded, in part, at the Unitarian Church in Charleston, a National Historic Landmark where congregations have sought truth with open hearts and minds since its founding in 1772, the album’s inception and creation echo its motives and message.” The sounds in parts are haunting and resonate from spirits that are said to live in the church. Heritage is a great record. It is a collection of feel good music; sounds like the good news you got on the radio as a kid that said “All public and parochial schools will be closed today due to snow” end of statement.

This was just the short strokes on the top picks for the year of 2017. As this is only the second month of the year, I will be compiling next year’s list as we ease through the next ten months. In a final note, while the arranging of the records can take many sittings, the order rarely changes at all from the initial list to the final one! Maybe next time around, I will remember and be content with the first effort; but, probably not.

Until next time…

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