Ken Maiuri’s Clubland: Debra DeMuth of Opal Canyon stands on stronger legs these days

  • Singer-songwriter Debra DeMuth, in foreground, brings her new band, Opal Canyon, to Northampton’s Parlor Room on Friday, April 26. Photo by Henry Amistadi

Published: 4/24/2019 4:50:31 PM

‘Music is my escape and my connection,” says singer/songwriter Debra DeMuth, who hopes to offer listeners some of both with the new album by her band Opal Canyon.

The eight-song record is called “Beauty and Loss,” a title she said captures the essence of the album: “Life has many challenges, yet the beauty that is all around us in the everyday moments makes the tough stuff tolerable and a small price to pay.”

Opal Canyon is a local all-star Americana group that also includes her husband, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Dave Houghton (the two had previously collaborated in the band And the Neighbors), guitarist Bob Hennessy, bassist Ray Mason, and drummer Jason Smith. They celebrate the release of the new record at The Parlor Room in Northampton on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m. Dennis Crommett opens.

Within the songs are themes of shelter, home and safety. “Find the place with good company and put your bags on the floor,” DeMuth sings on the closing track, “On the Mend.” Her and Houghton’s voices harmonize and unify throughout the record, on celebratory songs like “Sunday Driving” (“we’re wishing the 9 to 5 away”) and “Eres Mi Mundo” (part lazy stroll, part quick-spinning waltz that kicks the dust off the floor), and also their version of The Cure’s alternative-rock hit “Love Song,” recast as desert sunset noir with a Latin rhythm.

Clubland spoke with DeMuth last week.

Clubland: What made you and Dave want to turn your band And the Neighbors (a name that sounds homey and small) into the band Opal Canyon (a name that sounds expansive and mythical)?

DeMuth: And The Neighbors was created out of neighborhood jams around the fire or in the living room. It was Dave and I exploring a musical relationship as well as a personal one. It was intentionally homey, neighborly and intimate. Opal Canyon was created to represent the growing confidence in my songwriting, universal themes, and a band sound.

When I was sharing the songs with Dave, he immediately felt [they] had a more expansive feel, and he said, “These songs deserve an awesome band.” What was important to me was to create a sense of place with the music. So we created Opal Canyon.

Opal is my wedding ring stone and my grandmother’s favorite stone. And the Canyon represents that place you can escape to — especially when you are shoveling snow here in New England! It’s definitely a place for mystical, psychedelic escape.

Clubland: When I interviewed you three years ago, you described yourself as a beginner — “my legs may be shaking on stage” — but you’re definitely not a beginner now. You’ve recorded two studio albums, played lots of shows. What part does music play in your life these days, and how does the new album reflect that?

DeMuth: For me, music has and always will be a way of healing, expressing and feeling. With And The Neighbors, it was Dave’s belief in me and my writing and singing that propelled me. With Opal Canyon, it is my belief in myself.

I have played a lot of shows [since the And the Neighbors album “No Fences” was released in 2016], probably over 200, in rough bars as well as big stages. To 1,000 people and six people. You really have to dig deep and find your courage and sense of self. My legs still shake on stage, but I feel my feet on the ground, breathe deep, and sing. I also have this amazing group of musicians who have my back every step of the way.

Clubland: One of the songs on the new album is “Wartimes.” What do you mean by the term? Is that about someone’s internal war, or something else?

DeMuth: I used the war theme to express the hard, tumultuous world we navigate each day. This song is very personal for me. I wrote it for the men in my life. My husband, my sons. I am calling to them to know that they can always count on me. I am a mother of men and we are navigating new relationships with each other. We are all learning each day, but the one constant they have is my love.

Dave lost his mother as I was writing “Wartimes” and it was written for him as well. He lost his family, but now we are our own family. I put a lot of thought into the arrangement of the song. It starts very sparse but moves to fullness, life and celebration. My youngest son even added to the party track at the end.”

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Fans of The Beatles or daring feats, take note: Valley singer/songwriter Pamela Means is doing a solo performance of the entire “Abbey Road” LP at the Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton on Saturday, Apr 27, at 8 p.m.

“I learned the whole thing a few years ago to challenge myself … and this year being the 50th anniversary of the album, I’m realizing a tiny dream to perform it,” Means said in a recent interview.

Her introduction to the Beatles record remains “a vivid memory from age 14,” and one of the reasons she chose to delve into learning the whole album was that “the medley [aka most of side two] seemed so incredibly difficult to learn. It just sounded ‘badass’ to do it. And I was intrigued with the surprise element of an entirely solo acoustic approach, and maybe flipping the expectations of what an audience thinks I, a biracial lesbian with a penchant for protest songs, would present.”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.




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