Last year was challenging in so many ways for me — and for you, I’m sure — I’m not going to even attempt to describe the difficulties here. Still, there were silver linings everywhere. Music moved online and opened up musicians to new audiences and formats for performing and collaborating. Venue owners got creative and hosted shows outdoors at a distance. Like many other songwriters who were used to sharing songs at gigs, I found (and continue to find) it very difficult to motivate myself to write and practice, and to stay connected to an audience that feels so remote.
I was able to write three songs last year — this is not atypical for me. I’m lucky to put out four in a year. Last year’s creations were The Oak, Morning Moon, and most recently, Watercolors. I also posted videos of a couple of songs I love, Morning Song to Sally (by Jerry Jeff Walker), which Nanci Griffith first exposed me to, and an appropriate-for-the-times American Tune, by Paul Simon. If you have a few minutes, I hope you’ll watch and consider leaving me a comment. If you’re struggling — no matter the reason — I hope you find peace very soon.
It was almost exactly three years ago that I recorded my debut album Awake Again, which much to my delight and surprise reached #15 on the Folk DJ chart in January 2017. Last week I was back in the studio with FJ Ventre and Jon Shain, the same dynamic duo that recorded and produced that first album. This new project features nine original songs, some written just after that first release, and some very recent. I can hardly express the joy I felt in the studio, and immediately following — I was on quite an emotional high! A lot has happened in the last three years, and all those experiences added up to more comfortable and confident recording sessions. I’m very fortunate to have several talented friends and my dear sister contributing to this album — Barry Gray, Leah Kaufman, and Laurelyn Dossett lent their beautiful voices, and my sister added her expressive and lovely violin. I wish I had more photos to share — I was so engrossed in what was happening in the studio I completely forgot to take them! A few more talented instrumentalists (including FJ on bass) will add their touches before we head into the mixing phase.
If all goes according to plan, the album will be released in early spring. Here’s a peek at one of the songs on the album, “Midnight Prayer,” with Jon Shain on the cuatro. Thanks to Kevin Keister for the video!
Many thanks to Mary Shapiro and Jeff Wolf at Stillwaters Supper and Songs in Marshall, Virginia for having me perform at their beautiful home on September 1 — the outdoor covered stage setup was exceptional. Mary and Jeff were the consummate hosts. Jeff did a beautiful job with the sound — his attention to detail put me blissfully at ease. (Jeff recorded the concert, so a live CD may be in the works!) His drum accompaniment on several of my songs was the perfect touch — and unrehearsed! Mary took care of promotion with her warmth and heartfelt commitment to building their community though music. If you have an opportunity to go to one of their shows, I hope you will.
My experience as a performer was possibly the best I’ve ever had. I had an opportunity to meet almost everyone in the audience before the show started, during the potluck supper beforehand. During the break and after the show, so many came up to me to express their connection to my songs, buy my CD, and share their gratitude for my being there. I felt so welcome, so validated, and so encouraged to keep doing what I love. I plan to book more house concerts in 2019, and am more than happy to travel — if you or someone you know is interested in hosting, please let me know.
On May 25, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to appear on The State of Things, a program on our local public radio station WUNC, that features North Carolina people and issues. Award-winning guitarist and producer Jon Shain joined me for a live interview and a few songs. Listen to the interview.Many thanks to host Frank Stasio and State of Things producer Laura Pellicer, who reached out to me after watching a video of my performance on Hillsborough’s WHUP FM. It was an honor to be in the WUNC studio!
With Leah, playing to a full house at Carolina Preserve, November 2017
The new year snuck up on me — non-music-related work, preparing to downsize, and moving took up a lot more energy and time than I would have liked. I did manage to fit in a songwriting workshop with Jon Shain and Joe Newberry, and another annual Great Guitar Camp led by Danny Gotham, both of which felt like shelter in a storm! I finally feel like I’m coming up for air, settling into a routine again, and picking up the guitar and singing on a regular basis, just like I like to 🙂
Also in May is my fourth Southeast Regional Folk Alliance conference, always a joy! Leah and I will be sharing our songs there at some of the “unofficial” showcases, palling around with other musicians, and learning a ton along the way.
Hope the start of this year has been good to you and yours. See you soon!
Last August, I met Leah Kaufman at Danny Gotham‘s Pick-n-bow folk music retreat weekend in Durham, NC. We quickly developed a mutual admiration for each others’ songs, and shortly after, began “working” together – getting together to play, share song ideas, and discuss music in general. Leah has been writing much longer than I have — she released her Five Fingers album in 1999, at a time when she’d been performing frequently with a band. After a hiatus, she’s back at it, not only writing but releasing another CD later this year, produced and engineered by the same team I worked with on mine: Jon Shain and FJ Ventre. You’ll hear me on backing vocals, which were pure joy to sing. The CD is flush with talent on a wide variety of instruments — I can’t wait to hear it!
Leah’s songs are sweet, smart, and funny. She can play (guitar and uke!). She can harmonize. She’s a joy to be around. We started performing together recently and have a lot of gigs coming up. We encourage each other to sing better, play better, and perform better. We plan on doing some co-writing, too. If you come out to see us, I think you’ll experience the joy, too.
The headline says it all! I’m thrilled that my album is doing so well on folk radio. Yes, there are hundreds of folk radio stations out there, folks! From small towns to big cities, in the U.S. and abroad, folk and other acoustic music is alive and well on Internet stations, local public radio, and college stations. I’m very grateful to all the DJs who have played songs from the CD; almost every track has been played!
Performing with fellow camper Roy Smith at the fourth annual Great Guitar Camp
2017 is off to a great start (musically speaking!). For the third year in a row, I recently attended Danny Gotham‘s Great Guitar Camp, two days of workshops aimed at honing guitar skills. Entire worlds are opening up to me with what I’ve learned at these events. Contact Danny if you’re interested!
I’m looking forward to all my performance opportunities this year. I’ll be playing in some new venues, including a house concert opening for Jon Shain, and I’ll be back in Baltimore at An Die Musik in the fall. Check my schedule and subscribe to my mailing list to keep up with the latest!
The next couple of months will be less busy, by design. I like to focus on my family and friends during the holiday season, and I’m also making time to do more songwriting. I have just a couple of performances before the New Year arrives, and am working on 2017 bookings. Please subscribe to my mailing list if you’re interested in getting updates. Remember: music heals!
The CD release party on June 11 was a huge success! Playing to a standing room only crowd, Isabel was joined by producer and guitarist Jon Shain, sound engineer and bassist FJ Ventre, Ed Butler (drums), Lynn Blakey (backing vocals), Tim Stambaugh (banjo and dobro) and Kaye Saunders (piano). The party included a debut of a video for ‘Take Me Flying,’ produced by Parker Bruer.