I was driving home from the 2010 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, the two-lane blacktop of Route 22 South stretching out in front of me. While I tend to invest a lot in the psychology of the farm lifestyle, Susan sees things in more practical terms.
Susan counts her blessings when it come to the education she got in her small-town high school. But what good fortune to have this unusual talent in the middle of the cornfields that my teacher and friend Alan Jacobsen was able to provide this unusual kind of encouragement and understanding.
Susan also recalled: a€?My high school piano teacher would record all the Marion McPartland shows and give me cassettes of them.
Susan went to college at the University of Iowa and received a bachelora€™s degree in voice.
While she was at Temple, she played jazz piano in nightclubs and restaurants to make ends meet.
After seeing Nancy Griffith in concert at a club in Philadelphia, she came to the realization that writing and singing songs based on personal experience was a perfectly valid way to expend her musical talent. She surfaced again and again through the a€?90s, always giving a dynamic, thrilling performance. In 2004, she released the first of her a€?themeda€? projects, I Cana€™t Be New, which drew on her experience with pop standards. This got her the aforementioned appearance on the Marian McPartland show and also, brings us to the issue of her ingrained sense of humor. The most recent of Susana€™s projects, Classics, takes pop songs and weds them to classical themes. When I remarked about the impressive diversity in her songwriting a€?projects,a€? and not playing it safe, she expressed appreciation. When I made comparisons to the diverse approaches Ia€™ve used as a visual artist (drawing, painting), her emotional core showed its strength. In parting, I mentioned that it seemed as if her audiences were bigger and more appreciative these days. Susan has a strong connection to her audienceA  and looks forward to interaction with them. There may be a stronger sense of purpose, a drive to overcome any obstacle, an unshakeable emotional center.
As she recalls, a€?My older brother learned guitar from Sister Marie Claire of the Franciscan nuns of Saint Marya€™s Chapel School in Manchester, Iowa.
If you have parents who enjoy what you do, you will never stop doing it for your entire life.
When pressed further, she distilled the varying elements of a rural personality for me this way: a€?Other people who grew up in the countryside, people Ia€™ve met who grew up on farms or ranchesa€¦ therea€™s a practicality to those people, a straightforwardness, a plainspokenness that I find really wonderful. Afterward, she moved to Philadelphia and earned a mastera€™s degree in voice at Temple University. She had a gig every Friday night at the Pen & Pencil club (an after-hours Journalista€™s club) The man who ran it, Ron Patel, wanted to have a a€?Chantoosiea€? in the corner. Alan Pepper, owner of the Bottom Line saw as much as I did, and more, and created the Bottom Line record label, of which Susan was the first to be signed. She wrote an entire album of her own Cole Porter-like songs, utilizing her considerable chops as a pianist and guitarist, her razor-sharp lyrics and her muscular vocals.


I like somebody who can turn a phrase, who can put words together in a way you cana€™t see coming.
I searched Eddiea€™s Attic online and found that Susan was playing during my visit, so I bought two tickets. She became became interested in the project after attending the Chicago Gospel Music Festival. There are some songs where shea€™s a lot more generously hopeful about religious practices that many of us disillusioned lapsed practitioners would be. Then, with mock seriousness, she said, laughing, a€?I really feel bada€¦ theya€™ll throw me in the grave, saying, a€?Well she took that all too far.
She said, a€?a€?When you see someone over the course of a career and they always have something to bring to an audience, youa€™ve got to respect that. I was passing through farmland, marvelling at the quiet beauty of corn rows, of the silos that peeked out from beyond them, and the stately, weathered white of the homes and barns. Case in point: A musically gifted girl raised on an isolated hog farm in Manchester, Iowa, surrounded by a loving, supportive family. Alan Jacobsen was a Buddy Rich-type drummer working as a music teacher at the Manchester High School. Ia€™d hear Marian McPartland talking to this one, or that one a€” Oscar Peterson a€” and listen to how they did it. He said to her, a€?I have this picture of a rummy bar, so go over in the corner and sing something and play something.a€? Susan bought Gershwin and Cole Porter songbooks and enlarged her repertoire of standards.
Somewhere around the time that her third album, Last of the Good Straight Girls was released (1995), maybe a little before, I saw her play live, at the now-defunct Bottom Line nightclub in NYC. The next album, on that label Time Between Trains might contain the most of my favorites in her repertoire. When she cradles that song in her big voice, it becomes a call to find every woman who has ever been mistreated and do battle for her.
For me, there has always been a discrepancy between what religion professes to be and what its practitioners actually are.
In another interview, she states: a€?There is a religious left that is stepping up and into the fore and has a real case to make in making this country a better place. Therea€™s nothing more to be gained from thata€” unless you feel the need to show of and have people clap for you, which is kind of pathetic. They choose wisely, the prioritize wisely and theya€™re giving people something very, very real. Why not write your own?Excellent first 'grown up' reading bookMy daughter Polly (age 6) absolutely loved reading this book, she read it aloud from beginning to end and could not put it down. The girl blossoms as a musician whose talent usually dwarfs those around her and leaves audiences enthralled. When you grow up and therea€™s your corn out in the field and here comes the hail storm and there goes your seasona€¦ therea€™s an acceptance of things beyond your control that in a healthy way counteracts neuroses.
Her version of the title track, performed live these days, with Trina Hamlin on harmonica and percussion (Natalia Zuckerman on slide at certain shows) is one of the most thrilling concert experiences I can recall in years.
A well-written comedy song can hang around for a long time, but it takes more effort and it takes more brains.
Under the cerulean blue of the sky, with clouds like cotton pulled apart, floating in tufts, there were no people in evidence.


I also think that the best songs contain things that people dona€™t say, people cana€™t say, people are afraid to say. I will now be buying further books from this series as they will certainly encourage my child to read at home.
In all that quiet beauty, I could not help pondering the delicate, sometimes brutal, sometimes violent contract made between the farmer and nature.
Thata€™s all I wanted him to do.a€? Her brother played in the folk mass and then, Susan followed suit. Thata€™s a great gift, because they didna€™t need to express themselves through our success in the arts.
A small town in rural Iowa, that you would have a high school band teacher who had a phenomenal amount of jazz talent.
Later, while promoting her album of self-penned a€?standards,a€? I Cana€™t Be New, released in 2004, Susan appeared on Mariana€™s show.] She continued, a€?That played a role and, years later, there I am, on the Marian McPartland show! When I told her of this, she responded, a€?Give me a room of 200 people or less, and wea€™re gonna have a good time. People like Greg Brown and Richard Thompson, who stay true to it, who always find something new to say, and new ways to do it. She felt an enormous sense of achievement on finishing the book, and can't wait to read some more! When you make your own entertainment, if you have music around the housea€¦ You might wind up playing your instrument longer, you might wind up actually practicing, you might wind up experimenting with it.
Pretty rare, because most music teachers, most band directors at the high school level, are all about the marching band.
Everything else dwindles in comparison.a€? If religion has something to offer society outside of individual comfort in our darkest hours, that would be it.
Songwriting requires a commitment to doing it and not getting it right for a long timea€¦ expecting it all to work right away is a mistake in any endeavor.
Thata€™s what theya€™re supposed to doa€¦ keep those kids marching, keep them organized, doing something as a group. You have to give yourself a long runway to take offa€¦like a big plane,a€? she said, laughing. They really want to be surprised, engaged, a little scared or uncomfortablea€¦ or deeply moveda€¦ or surprised at how deeply moved they are.
He sent me home with some Count Basie records, some Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Carmen McRae, some Sarah Vaughn. Thata€™s where all discovery is at.a€? She has also tried ballet and a few other disciplines outside her comfort zone.
Then you wona€™t be bored.a€™ [laughs] Thata€™s the first obligation of a show that it not be boring!
Then you wona€™t be bored.a€™ [laughs] Thata€™s the first obligation of a show that it not be boring!A  If I want boring, I can stay at home and put on background music and vacuum! This really tilted my head - a€?What is THIS?a€? I worked on jazz chords that I heard on the records, from, like, Freddy Green Style Guitar Comping [a book on swing rhythm strumming].



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