Thursday, February 13, 2014
Northampton singer-songwriter Carrie Ferguson hails from Humboldt County, part of California’s North Coast, where one way to spend a day is to stand on the cliffs and whale watch. “Pick a clear, calm day. Bring your binoculars,” says an area website.
“I hear the ocean singing out beyond the bay,” Ferguson sings on “Arcata Song,” named after her West Coast hometown. Her bandmates join in on the chorus with rich three-part harmony: “If I ever leave this place / let the world take me away / know that I’ll be back someday.”
It’s a heartfelt tune from her brand-new second solo full-length CD, “The List of Whales,” and she’ll celebrate its release at a concert at the Iron Horse in Northampton Sunday at 7 p.m. Ferguson’s longtime friend Chris Scanlon and his band The Other Guys start off the night.
The entire album will be played live at the show by a mini-symphony of a band: Zoe Darrow (fiddle), Elizabeth Donahue (harmonies), Jim Henry (guitar/mandolin), Stephen Katz (cello), J.J. O’Connell (drums), album producer Garrett Sawyer (bass) and Steve Yarbro (clarinet/sax).
While Ferguson was making “The List of Whales” with Sawyer at his Northfire Recording Studio in Amherst, she wrote in a blog that she had a “whopping huge crush” on the record; now that it’s finished, she’s still in love with it. “I’d always wanted to hear what some of my tunes would sound like ‘produced,’ so we just went for it,” she said in an interview earlier this week.
“On a couple of tracks (‘Wooden Nickel’ and ‘Song For My Addiction’), we tried having me sing as a different character/person. On some of the songs we did stacks and stacks of me singing different harmony parts. The whole process was a blast.”
Ferguson sings Sawyer’s praises for many reasons — his meticulous attention to her vocals, trying to help her get the best take; his ability to create cool parts on the spot for many different instruments — and she feels lucky and grateful for every aspect of the finished CD, from the participation of the musicians (all of whom will join her onstage at the Iron Horse) to her fans’ generous contributions to her Indiegogo fundraising campaign, which is how she financed the album.
“To me this record has a lot to do with where I’m from in California,” she said, and so one of the perks she offered to contributors was a rock from one of her favorite beaches in Humboldt County, where she’s been collecting stones her whole life.
“I wanted to give people something simple that meant a lot to me. There’s this one beach where the rocks are all incredibly smooth and there is such a variety of color; they are so ancient and timeless. I feel about these rocks the way some people must feel about jewels. I hoard them. I give them as gifts, or to friends who are going through a rough time. They are so lovely to hold.”
The album has its own variety of color. There’s a bit of dub, lush string sections, radio-ready pop (“On the Way to Ashfield”) and sparse tunes — one so simple and direct that it’s totally a cappella: “Food Song,” which dates back to the mid-’90s.
“Back then I didn’t have a portable keyboard, I didn’t play guitar, and I didn’t have a band, but I was writing a cappella tunes like crazy,” Ferguson said. “I used to write them while I was walking everywhere (didn’t have a car, either). I have a ton of them, so I decided to stick one on this record. I chose ‘Food’ because it’s playful and makes for a nice change of theme. It’s always been one of my favorites.”
“Sunlight” kicks off the album with a chugging rhythm section, keening fiddle and three-part harmonies, a romantic rush under wide open skies, maybe a musical equivalent of those beautiful northern California vistas. “Love me like water / I’ll love you like wind,” Ferguson sings. “My heart it longs to settle, there’s nowhere I wanna go / let our love be sunlight so on and on it flows.”
Ken Maiuri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.