Strong songwriting marks two new Valley albums
|Published: 05-03-2023 1:41 PM
Get Gone by Dennis Crommett
In the summer of 2021, Dennis Crommett and his bandmates in Valley indie rockers Spanish for Hitchhiking released their first album in several years, “Wild Love,” a hard-rocking collection of songs written and sung by Crommett.
The disc got some good reviews and airplay. Yet Crommett says he was in a bit of a songwriting drought at the time: The songs from “Wild Love” dated from a few years back, and he was having trouble coming up with new material.
But as the guitarist explained in a recent phone call, he “opened up a channel” for new ideas by spending early mornings filling a notebook with whatever was on his mind, from something he’d seen driving the previous evening to the birdsong outside his house.
Two years later, those free-writing sessions have crystallized in Crommett’s new solo album, “Get Gone,” the first he’s done with a full band in over a decade.
“My songs tend to come in little pockets, and a lot of them came that summer,” said Crommett, who also is part of the chamber-pop band Winterpills. “And though I don’t write songs specifically for who’s going to play them, I felt like this new stuff as a whole was for me.”
The 10 tracks on “Get Gone” run the gamut from straight-ahead rock to more Americana-flavored tunes, as well as some slower numbers that show off more of a folk backbone, and in one case some Latin flavor.
Crommett says his goal was to keep things simple: He handled acoustic guitar and vocals, then turned to some friends and fellow Valley music vets, including Ray Mason on bass and Jason Smith on drums, to help him flesh out the songs. Jeff Hobbs added keyboards on a few tracks as well.
Multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer Dave Chalfant, a member of Spanish for Hitchhiking, added electric guitar and also produced and mixed “Get Gone” in his Northampton studio. The album was recorded there and in Crommett’s studio at his home in Williamsburg.
“I asked Dave to find a good, basic sound that would go with the songs, and he did a great job with that,” he said.
The album’s Wilco-ish lead track, “Three Cheers for the Weekend,” is a good introduction to the album’s generally laid-back vibe, with an upbeat melody coupled to lyrics about finding time to relax. The chorus, backed by a pretty chord progression, makes it plain: “I got nothing, but nothing, but nothing, but nothing, but time.”
The title song, by contrast, recalls R.E.M. with its tense drumming, jangling acoustic guitar, and stream of consciousness lyrics: “I saw a line of police on 95, they gotta get gone / I know they lost a guy in the line of fire // In the light of a memory I can see, the girl who got gone / She’s faded like the paint on the hood of her car.”
Crommett sometimes sings in a low register, creating a dreamy effect with Chalfant’s distant-sounding guitar parts. One example is “Hard Candy,” a tune about a faded love affair for which Crommett says he wanted the band to sound like “a Midwestern landscape with a thunderstorm approaching.”
“Easy to Run,” another song that speaks to the disappointments of love, might be the album’s most pop-inflected tune, with a simple but catchy chorus: “He’s the wrong one.”
Crommett says he’s jazzed about the album and the way his friends helped him put it together: “It’s a solo record but definitely a team effort.” The full band will play July 22 at the Marigold Theater and on Aug. 19 at New City Brewery, both in Easthampton.
A New Poet in Town by Charlie Diamond
Lots of musicians have day jobs or side gigs to help pay the bills. But how many fight fires for a living?
Charlie Diamond does, in Hartford, Connecticut. But Diamond, who lives in Enfield, near the Massachusetts border, is also a longtime musician who’s been bitten pretty deeply by the folk music bug in the last few years and now performs throughout New England.
In less than two years, he’s recorded two albums, and on his newest one, “A New Poet in Town,” he’s summoned the spirit and sound of the early Bob Dylan, among others, with an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and lyrics that speak to the open road, love, and more stream of consciousness images.
And Diamond, who will play as part of a group show on May 12 at The Guilded Brick in Holyoke, has a troubadour’s spirit: He says he’s likes nothing better than putting his guitar and his English mastiff, Jupiter, in his pickup and hitting the road for a gig.
“I’ve been up to Burlington, Vermont and as far down as New York, with lots of stops in between,” he said during a recent phone call.
One favorite stop in this region is Luthiers Co-op in Easthampton, where he’s played numerous open mics and some full sets of his own.
“It feels like a real community there,” he said.
On the 10 songs on “A New Poet in Town,” Diamond plays acoustic guitar on all the tracks and harmonica on most of them, adding keyboards and bass on some cuts; he gets an assist on drums on a few songs from one of his buddies at the Hartford fire station.
He offers a good amount of tight, muscled strumming on his acoustic, perhaps a holdover from a period when he played in bands during high school and “was really into punk rock.”
One of the up-tempo songs on the new album, “Electric Lady Dreams,” could be a lost track from Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde.” To swirling organ, bursts of harmonica, and steady drums, Diamond spins a dreamy tale of the road that has a bit of Jack Kerouac flavor.
“I saw a gypsy candle girl with a bandana in her hair / She said, I’m coming with you sweet eyes where you’re going well I don’t care / So we laced up our boots, and we tucked in our pants, and we gave a rebel scream into the wild.”
“My Life Leads” is slower and more contemplative — it’s just vocals and acoustic guitar — but it also invokes the appeal of just seeing where life takes you: “I been chasing the wind across the plains / Adventures in cities you ask me their names.”
Diamond says he became interested in folk music in part during the pandemic, when the isolation led him to explore some different sounds. He’s a fan of artists like Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and others.
In 2021, he recorded seven songs for his first album, “From One Place to the Next,” and not long after that he began writing the tunes for what became “A New Poet in Town.”
“Some of them came to me pretty quickly,” he said. “I’d get ideas when I was just outside taking a walk … sometimes it can be a kind of stream of consciousness.”
Charlie Diamond will be part of a group show with Lonesome Brothers, Tommy Twilite, and a number of other artists on May 12 at The Guilded Brick in Holyoke that runs from 2:30 to 10:30 p.m. He’ll also be at The Nook in Westfield on May 26 at 7 p.m.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.