Raised on Bostonâ€™s South Shore, Kevin comes from a musical family with composer/brother Jim Connolly a fixture of the West Coast â€œNew Musicâ€ scene. Early influences like John Prine, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan remain inspirations and guiding forces. Writing descriptive songs that capture something about regular life in America today has been a running theme and preoccupation. For more information and a full discography visit www.kevinconnolly.com
MUSIC SCENE: FOR CONNOLLY, ANYTHINGâ€™S POSSIBLE
By JAY N. MILLER
For The Patriot Ledger
Not every songwriter becomes a chart-busting MTV star, just like not every novelist ends up topping the best-seller list. And just as sometimes the most rewarding books are those that were undiscovered treasures, often the most moving music comes without the benefit of a national advertising campaign or heavy airplay.
Marshfield native Kevin Connolly plumbs the same heartland Americana musical soil as Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Dave Alvin and Steve Earle, but with the added resonance of being a native New Englander.
His 1995 album Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœLittle Townâ€™â€™ was virtually a musical memoir of growing up in Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœMarshVegas,â€™â€™ and his newest album leads with a semi-autobiographical tune called Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœCastle Island.â€™â€™
Connollyâ€™s latest album, Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœMystery Waterâ€™â€™ is just out on his own Real Records label, and heâ€™s performing Saturday night at Tir Na Nog in Somerville. Heâ€™ll also be playing at The Abbey Lounge in Somerville on Dec. 14.
Far away from the megamillion-dollar stadium, rock-star world, working musicians have to make the kind of decisions Connolly made in 1999.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœJust about the time my daughter turned 2, my wife suggested I get a job,â€™â€™ Connolly said, with a hint of a laugh, from his Lexington home. Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœI might have considered that a shock at one time, but I think part of my evolution artistically was simply changing my perspective. I was ready to accept the idea, so I stopped playing and traveling full time, like I had been doing for years. Iâ€™ve been kind of underground since then, getting this family thing going.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœIâ€™ve adjusted my ambition: to become a strong regional artist. Iâ€™ll go off and play a two- or three-day weekend sometimes, but mainly I can find all kinds of places to play within a two or three-hour drive.â€™â€™
That meant wife Liza, daughter Lyla, now 9, and son Nicholas, 6, get to see a lot more of dad. And thanks to experience that began in Marshfield, Connolly found a satisfying day job. After stints working at WEEI and WBCN, he is now the general sales manager at WROR in Boston.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœMy radio background stems from working at WATD, which was right across the street from the high school, as a kid in high school,â€™â€™ Connolly said. Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœI began writing sports copy for Bill Wilhelm (WATDâ€™s sports director), and continued coming back there during my summers home from college. (DJ) Dick Pleasants is the guy who really introduced me to folk music, and weâ€™re still good friends. But having the radio career allows me to focus on my family, and not have to exact a living out of music. I get to go on family vacations, see my kids every night, and it sure beats staying in a Motel 6 every night.â€™â€™
The latest CD is Connollyâ€™s seventh release in a career that spans 20 years. Previous efforts, such as Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœLittle Town,â€™â€™ used a full band for a muscular folk-rock sound. Connolly still plays a lot of his local gigs with a quartet that includes Scott Rival on guitar, Ducky Carlisle on drums and Scott Corneille on bass. But his new album is a stripped-down acoustic project, with Connolly and Steve Sadler, the multi-instrumentalist most often found playing with the Swinging Steaks, and some percussion from Carlisle, who also produced the CD.
His model for the album was Rick Rubinâ€™s American recording sessions with Johnny Cash, which presented the late icon in the starkest, simplest and ultimately most evocative terms.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœWhen Iâ€™m playing with a band, people invariably come up after the show and ask me for two things,â€™â€™ said Connolly. Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœOne; they want to hear the sound of the band of record, and then two; they want to hear just me and my guitar doing these songs. That was really the impetus for this album, a desire to keep it simple and not add effects, using technology only for editing.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœI didnâ€™t want to go back musically, especially,â€™â€™ he explained. Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœI wanted to explore a new approach to recording, focusing more on just acoustic guitar and my voice. I think it is often easy to get carried away by all the different colors you can have with more instruments. The theme of this recording is very simple and boiled down music.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœI will continue to play some gigs with bands, but Iâ€™m also open to doing more intimate coffeehouse settings - although not being exactly folk about it.â€™â€™
Connollyâ€™s work has been described by the New York Times as Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬Ëœtouching on everything from blues to folk to country to rock - and often a combination of all four ...â€™â€™ He likes his music to be called Americana.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœThat Americana category hadnâ€™t really blossomed when I released my last album,â€™â€™ he said, referring to 2001â€™s Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœLong Conversations.â€™â€™
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœIf we agree that it refers to American songwriting that utilizes American roots influences like jazz, blues, country, and whatever else, then itâ€™s a label Iâ€™m really comfortable with.â€™â€™
The new CDâ€™s 11 songs include nine new Connolly originals. He also covers Ray Bonnevilleâ€™s Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœListen,â€™â€™ a jaunty reverie about a crystal ball, and Lucinda Williamsâ€™ Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœBlue.â€™â€™
Among the originals, Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœCastle Islandâ€™â€™ deals with the struggles Connollyâ€™s father had when he returned from the Korean War and tried to find work in Boston. Itâ€™s overlaid with an aura of menace and barely concealed strife of a hardscrabble workingmanâ€™s life in South Boston and Dorchester at that time. Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœMystery Waterâ€™â€™ is a youthful reminiscence, evoking the endless horizons and carefree attitude of growing up, and its Marshfield echoes are certainly there, if undefined. Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœAlong the Wallâ€™â€™ is a warm, poignant memoir of a departed friend, with the heart-tugging image of the survivor musing that they never wrote their names together on a wall they often passed.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœI think you have an unlimited amount of songwriting material right under your nose, from your own experience,â€™â€™ Connolly said. Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœThere is a certain thread between Ã¢â‚¬ËœLittle Townâ€™ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœMystery Water,â€™ and the images are very similar in my head, about growing up. I just visited my brother in California, and he knew immediately Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe bumpy roadâ€™ was at the end of our street - my kids are singing it now. I remember reading a Van Morrison interview, where he was talking about his Ã¢â‚¬ËœAstral Weeksâ€™ album, and how he saw childhood as a series of small epiphanies. I think that is true, but they all sit in your head in different ways.â€™â€™
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœCastle Islandâ€™ sounds like a gangster-type tale,â€™â€™ Connolly added, Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬Ëœbut itâ€™s really about a guy trying to find work. Itâ€™s a view of my dad, returning as a Marine whoâ€™d fought in Korea, and what he had to deal with to find work, and eventually enable us to get out of Dorchester and down to Marshfield. I think it deals with the fact that there are different ways of being a hero.â€™â€™
Three of the songs on Connollyâ€™s album deal with relationships, but in the measured, mature way as youâ€™d expect of a fortysomething songsmith.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœDo Meâ€™â€™ is a passionate plea to take a chance on something new, just to take a step forward. Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœWhen You Fall in Loveâ€™â€™ ends that phrase with witty, genuine and wise reflections on the subject - Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬Ëœfeeling like a goosebump, acting like a fool,â€™â€™ is one of the more humorous sequences, before the provocative ending Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœWhen you Fall in Love, you get discovered.â€™â€™
Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœRight Through Meâ€™â€™ might be the most visceral rocker on this acoustic album, a celebration of the kind of incandescent, electrifying love that sustains you through everything; Ã¢â‚¬ËœÃ¢â‚¬ËœLife is a little dance/ We got a perfect chance/ You are the one showing it to me.â€™â€™
And like Springsteen, Mellencamp, Alvin and Earle, the best part of Connollyâ€™s music is that he makes you feel like such things are still possible.
Connollyâ€™s album is available at kevinconnolly.com. Digital downloads are available on iTunes.
HERE AND THERE: This Sunday afternoon the Boston Blues Society hosts a fund-raiser at Club 58 in Quincy for 2005 Battle of the Boston Blues Band winners The Chris Fitz Band to finance their trip to the nationals in Memphis in January. Appearing will be The Chris Fitz Band, Mission of Blues, Racky Thomas and Rick Russell, among others, and the 4 p.m. show comes with just a $10 ticket.
The Grace Potter and the Nocturnals show was nearly sold out at The Narrows Center last Saturday, and the talented Vermont blues-rocker had some news: her band will be doing its first headlining gig at Bostonâ€™s Paradise Rock Club on Feb. 18. Theyâ€™re also opening for Assembly of Dust on Dec. 30 at the
Dirty Linen Magazine
Kevin Connolly :A Detailed Life
by Sheila Daughtry
The gravelly, weatherbeaten voice of Kevin Connolly gives life to vivid vignettes sculpted from painstaking realism. In fine details, he carves out slices of his youth, his life in New England and abroad, and musings on his present.
â€œI like details,â€ he admitted. â€œLittle details, very common sorts of things. Using real names for things has almost a magical resonance to me.â€
Connollyâ€™s 1995 release, Little Town [Eastern Front EFR 106], evokes the freedom of youth and the maturity of a contented married man. Fishing, football, and the Friday night dances of memory mingle with life on the road and its attendant longing for home. â€œDancing in the Kitchenâ€ celebrates domestic happiness, even as â€œDidnâ€™t Meanâ€ and â€œWalk, Laugh, Cryâ€ movingly chronicle the hurts and hopes and joys of long-term love.
Small town New England is a focal point for Connollyâ€™s memory. In a litany of places and people he grew up with, he conjures the restlessness and passion of adolescence. Damonâ€™s Pint, the Rexicana Ballroom, Peter Buckley and Kristen Lanzetta may seem unusual lyrics to many listeners, but to Connolly, theyâ€™re roadsigns on the map of his past. â€œKristen Lanzetta,â€ he mused. â€œI never thought of putting her name in a song but I thought, well, itâ€™s an interesting sounding name, sheâ€™s a real person, and thereâ€™s something interesting about the resonance of not having ever talked to her again after the age of 16 or so, and now wondering where she is. The act of invoking her name is kind of spooky to me '" and kind of cool.â€
Little Town is an earthy, rhythmic collection of dark-tinged musings, rich ballads and a brief explosion into both soukous and deadpan comedy. And while Connolly admitted to aspiring to be a little more oblique, the lyrics are riddled with the names of places and people. â€œNames and places and common nouns are beginning points for details, and thatâ€™s where you can start the story from,â€ he explained. â€œThe thing is embracing those so much and getting them to vibrate so much that they take on something beyond just a realistic type of detail. That suspended belief is something really cool that people do in their writing, that sense of wonder as to whether that experience was really had or not. Itâ€™s a trick in a way, to be able to stretch it further and further, and really make things up.â€
Connolly was not a teller of tall tales as a child, nor did he pal around with imaginary friends. â€œI feel in a way Iâ€™m sort of making up for lost time in terms of creating fantasies,â€ he said. Still, he recognizes the importance of reaching beyond his own history when writing songs. â€œLike could I ever write a cheating song, from my perspective as a very happily married person?â€ he asked. â€œI like to say, yeah, Iâ€™d like to be able to put myself in the shoes of that person, or that situation. Or could I write another song from the perspective of a woman? This all sounds like writing exercises after a while, but if you can you do that and pull it off, and not make it look like so much of an exercise, but something you actually connect with,â€ he emphasized. â€œI just wrote a song form an old manâ€™s perspective '" told his story in various small details.
â€œSongwriting is all about telling stories,â€ he said. â€œBut thatâ€™s also limiting in itself, and itâ€™s something Iâ€™m trying to experiment with. Trying not to be so literate.
â€œTrying to write so much detail and description, it can get to the point where it gets a little too intentional, and it gets a little contrived. I try to write some songs like that and some songs that donâ€™t make sense, and some songs that are more whimsical, and not try to get caught too much in any one style or format. Just because it gets limiting and ultimately, kind of boring.â€
Itâ€™s not surprising that Connolly studied literature in school. â€œIn lieu of finding anything else that I could be motivated about,â€ he chuckled. â€œI started out trying to be very practical about majors and so forth, but I flunked an economics course, and couldnâ€™t get a handle on engineering, so I ended up being an English major.â€
His songwriting has matured as he has. â€œUp until about three or four years ago,â€ he reflected,â€ I was writing such personal songs, not having any distance. Three or four years ago I was not as secure a person as I am now, probably more depressed and more self-centered and hung up on stuff.
â€œItâ€™s not less personal now, itâ€™s just less painful,â€ he said. â€œIf you dive into the songwriting thing and youâ€™re writing really, deeply personal stuff, itâ€™s just uncomfortable sometimes for people to hear that. Because itâ€™s too emotional. I think I found a bit of a balance, in terms of talking about stuff thatâ€™s personal. Because thatâ€™s life, and music is an expression of heart. And you have to be honest about where youâ€™re at. If youâ€™re in a hole, I think itâ€™s hard for other people to follow you down there. When youâ€™re younger, too, youâ€™re more into self-pity without really realizing it. When you get a little bit older, you realize that people donâ€™t want to listen to you whine anymore.â€
Though heâ€™s gradually moving away from straight autobiography, Connolly does have a wealth of experiences to draw from. In 1969, when he was nine years old, his family joined the Peace Corps. â€œWe were only the seventh family that they allowed into the Peace Corps,â€ he said, â€œand I donâ€™t think they allowed families after us,â€ he laughed. â€œIt might be more than just coincidence.
â€œBoth my parents were schoolteachers. I guess thatâ€™s an introduction to saying that weâ€™re liberals,â€ he chuckled. â€œI think they were at a point where they were disgruntled with the States, and what was happening in the country. They felt frustrated by what was going on in Vietnam, what was going on with Nixon. And they wanted to do something about it. Thank God they didnâ€™t send us to where my father wanted to go, which was Sudan. Instead we were sent to the eastern Caribbean.â€
Connollyâ€™s parents taught school in Barbados, and so that he wouldnâ€™t lose any educational ground, the Peace Corps footed the bill for young Connolly to attend an English-style prep school. â€œIt was like a Charles Dickens novel,â€ he said, â€œwith obligatory boxing matches every afternoon.â€ A chauffeur drove him to and from the school, dropping him off in the working-class neighborhood where he ran around barefoot with his friends, climbing mango trees and playing with slingshots. â€œIt was a bizarre enough two-year period to remember it all quite vividly.â€
Coming back to the States wasnâ€™t easy. â€œI had to assimilate back into American culture. My hair was really long, I had these beads. I had black eyebrows, hair bleached blonde from the sun, and a Caribbean accent. I said Ã¢â‚¬Ëœmonâ€™ at the end of every sentence. I didnâ€™t know how to play baseball, I knew how to play soccer. My first year back, was just embarrassing because I looked like a Beach Boy and I had been trained to stand up at school every time I said anything or I would get whacked.â€
He did eventually settle back into his old life, graduating from school and joining an advertising agency in Chicago in an attempt to justify all that college tuition. He worked on a Frosted Flakes campaign, but still hadnâ€™t written any songs.
â€œWhen I graduated from college,â€ he said, â€œI didnâ€™t know what I wanted to do. I had always done music through college. I had a couple bands, I had a little music company where Iâ€™d go out and DJ parties. I was in a gospel choir. But I hadnâ€™t written anything. I secretly wanted to pursue it full-time, but I didnâ€™t have the guts.â€
While in Chicago, Connolly finally started writing songs and playing out, both in little neighborhood clubs and also as a volunteer in the Joliet State Prison band. When asked what kind of band it was, Connolly just laughed, â€œA big, mean band.â€ He played a lot of Santana and Stevie Wonder.
â€œI bought a little four-track and started writing songs. I was not happy in advertising, there was just too much backslapping for me. I wasnâ€™t real cut out for the politicking. I didnâ€™t have those corporate chops down, how to talk out of both sides of your mouth,â€ he said. â€œSo I decided to start a band and I went back to Boston in 1986 and did side jobs until about three years ago. Waited tables, was a cab driver. I painted houses, taught English at a Catholic boys school '" odd jobs here and there. Always involved with music, but definitely needing another job to support myself.
â€œThen things kind of get to a point where you say youâ€™ve got to totally commit and see if you can live on what youâ€™re making. I was very politely fired from my job as a waiter, because I was touring so much. I had changed so many shifts and traded so many shifts because I was starting to travel a lot. The boss came over to me and said, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWe encourage you to pursue your music career full time.â€™â€
And full time it has been. Up until last year, Connolly was still booking himself, as well as acting as his own publicity agent and radio promotion person. The independent Eastern Front label has grown along with Connolly, and is now able to take self-promotion off his hands and give his music national distribution.
His live performances are intense, the focused flow of music and energy interspersed with dry, laconic humor. Connollyâ€™s choice of cover material is as revealing as his original work: David Gray, Richard Thompson, Tom Waits. Heâ€™s still searching for the lyrics to Ricky Nelsonâ€™s â€œGarden Party,â€ planning a wry rendition of the pop song whenever he can find them.
â€œPerformance involves a certain amount of relating to people,â€ he said. â€œI know that sounds overly simplified, but itâ€™s really important to relate to an audience. You realize as a performer that there is something built in between the stage and the people in the audience that needs to be addressed. Itâ€™s different from time to time, from night to night, but thereâ€™s always something there. You have to pierce that boundary.
â€œThe other thing that I understand is that performance is meant to be entertaining. People go to a show and they want to be entertained. And that includes humor, that includes insight, that includes honesty and energy. So thereâ€™s a shtick involved sometimes. I used to really hate it, hate having to think about the fact that a show would be a show. I would feel like Jerry Lewis '" kind of show-bizzy, in a Vegas-y sort of way. But it doesnâ€™t have to be that way. It can be spontaneous as well as somewhat patterned. And I only learned that from seeing a lot of people that I really enjoy present fun things and riffs and some things that are just introductions to songs, that are part of the act. Once you understand that part of it, you quickly try to forget it as much as possible, and just look at it as just whatever comes up, comes up.â€
Connolly plans to keep evolving musically. â€œIâ€™d like to keep experimenting with things and not be tied into any format or style of music,â€ he said. â€œThereâ€™s lots of different paths out there. The American-type themes and American-type ideas, and the musical landscape of America is so varied that I canâ€™t ever see running out of colors, things to borrow from here and from there.â€
He accurately pegs his music as motivated by â€œrhythm and passion and energy.â€ The songs reflect his grounding in an array of roots music styles. â€œI listen to the old stuff,â€ he says. â€œAl Green is one of my heroes, and Otis Redding. Old 50s music, Sun Records stuff and rockabilly. Country music, to a degree. Texas singer-songwriters. Old blues guys. world music. I could probably name two or three musical heroes in every category.â€
Little Townâ€™s rich musical blend expands on the acoustic base of Connollyâ€™s 1993 debut, My My My [Eastern Front EFR 103], which deals largely with the time he spent living in Italy with his wife, who is a chef. He started out teaching at an international school there, but got introductions from several American performers passing through and wound up with gigs for the rest of the year.
He is disappointed with the sound of My My My, though he still performs some of the songs from the album. â€œThe record came out before we had distribution, so itâ€™s not very widely distributed '" which is good, especially if you donâ€™t know the songs on the record anymore. People ask for a certain song and you go, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat?â€™ That happens enough already,â€ he said.
He plans for his next recording to be completely different â€œas Little Town is from My My My. A little bigger, more present. And maybe a little bit weirder, a little more obtuse at times,â€ he smiled, thinking of the evolution (some say devolution) of musical hero Tom Waits.
â€œYou try so hard for so many years just to get people to hear you, to listen for the first time, it makes you try to be more consistent than you ordinarily would be,â€ he said. â€œLook at somebody like Richard Thompson, the records that he makes these days. Or even John Prine, the record heâ€™s just put out. Those represent departures, or chances. Very different sounding but very creative records. It would be nice to get to the point where you could take more chances.â€
Check out the artist's website:
1. Castle Island
2. Mystery Water
3. Out Of My Head
4. Along the Wall
6. Do Me
7. Losing Control
8. One Big Burning
9. When You Fall In Love
10. Right Through Me