Tag: Lucinda Williams

Interview: A Q&A with The Sighs

Holyoke, MA-based rock band The Sighs can trace their origins back to 1982 when its founding members Robert LaRoche (vocals, guitar) and Tommy Pluta (bass, vocals) met and bonded over their mutual of love of acts like The Beach BoysCrosby, Stills and Nash and other that employed the use of multi-part harmonies. Interestingly enough, it helped that while the Holyoke-based band’s founding members were jamming together, they discovered that their own voices blended together beautifully.

Tom Borawaski (drums) and Matt Cullen (vocals, guitar) were recruited to flesh out the band’s sound and to complete the band’s initial lineup. Shortly after the band’s lineup was finalized, they quickly began makin a name for themselves as a must-see live act across the region. As Tommy Pluta explained in press notes, “One luxury of living in Western Mass is that we played all the colleges and clubs for years and years. By the time things started happening for us, we were primed for it — we sounded really tight and everything was just spot on.”

As luck would have it, the members of The Sighs crossed paths with John DeNicola, an Oscar Award-winning songwriter and producer, who co-wrote “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” and his production partner Tommy Allen at the China Club in 1990. And after meeting DeNicola and Allen, the Holyoke-based band signed with  Charisma/Virgin Records, who released their full-length debut, What Goes On to critical acclaim. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, the band toured with nationally touring acts like Gin BlossomsDada and others.

The band eventually split up with members of the band pursuing individual creative projects and/or focusing on family life. Interestingly, the material on the band’s third full-length album, 2017’s Wait On Another Day can trace its origins to an unearthed batch of demos that the band’s Matt Cullen stumbled upon. Originally recorded in the early 1990s, and later placed on hard drives, the demos had been forgotten about for the better part of 20 years – until Cullen played them. He was so impressed by what he heard, that he shared the demos with his bandmates and their longtime producer John DeNicola.

Feeling that the band had unfinished business – and that they should continue the collective story they started 20+ years previously, the band decided to reconvene at DiNicola’s Upstate New York-based studio to revise a handful of songs. But as the band’s Tom Borawski explained at the time “. . . it all came together so well, and we were having such a great time, we ended up making a whole album. It really just took on a life of its own.”

“All the years of playing together left a permanent mark on us. It wasn’t too difficult to tap into our musical and personal bond again,” LaRoche said of the five-day recording session that produced Wait On Another Day. Borowski added “Everything had more of a spark to it than when we made What Goes On, where we put all the songs under a microscope and tried to get it all completely perfect.” As a result, the material possesses a urgency and vitality to it that many contemporary bands wish they could capture on record. Interestingly, while much of the album’s material focuses on many of the things that they wrote about in their youth – girls, getting kicked around, hopes and dreams and falling in love but tinged with the wistful and aching nostalgia of middle-aged men, who have been forced to accept the passage of time, their impending mortality – and the old adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same: no matter how old you are, heartache is heartache and life is ultimately about figuring out how to learn from it and move forward.

Building upon the attention they received from Wait On Another Day, the members reconvened to write and record its highly-anticipated follow-up, the five song Tearing My Heart Again, which OMAD Records released today. The EP’s material finds the band continuing where its predecessor left off but while revealing a band that has grown in the past three years. While they pull in some new ideas to the mix, they do so without straying too far afield from what has been successful – carefully crafted, hook-driven rock paired with earnest songwriting.

I recently exchanged emails with the members of The Sighs for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. World events have found a way to impact all of us – and as a result, they’ve managed to bleed into every aspect of our professional and person lives in ways that will reverberate for quite some time to come. With COVID-19 forcing cities and localities across the world to indefinitely shut down bars, restaurants, clubs, music venues and countless other non-essential businesses, the impact on musicians and the music industry will be far-reaching and devastating. Over the next few months, I’ll be discussing how COVID-19 has impacted the careers and lives of artists of all stripes – and the members of the Holyoke-based band openly and honestly discuss where they stand right now and what may be next. Of course, we chat about the recently released EP at length, the band’s tour with The Gin Blossoms and more. Check it out below.

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Support these artists by buying their work. You can order The Sighs EP here:

https://www.omadrecords.com/store/the-sighs-tearing-my-heart-again-ep

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WRH:  Most of the country has been enacting social distancing guidelines and stay at home orders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are y’all holding up in such a difficult and uncertain time? What are you doing to preoccupy yourself? Anything you’re binge watching? 

Robert LaRoche: Been pretty much staying home. Except to go for a daily run and food shopping.

Working on new songs. Binge watching Peaky Blinders on Netflix.

Tommy Borowski: Been binge watching bad 70’s movies…

WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or canceled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed or rescheduled tour dates, album releases have been rescheduled. I’ve asked this question to a handful of artists already – and I suspect that for some period of time I’ll be asking a lot of bands this: How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career? 

Matt Cullen: Well, we’re all at a standstill. We had a Sighs gig booked in mid-March in our home base of western Massachusetts. Robert flew in from Austin and I flew from Des Moines. After couple of spirited rehearsals, the gig was cancelled. I’m now home and have seen all of my gigs here cancelled for the foreseeable future. I don’t make my living entirely from music but playing roughly 100 gigs a year certainly helps the family kitty. Those lost wages will hurt and the loss of that enjoyment, performing, making music, that hurts equally.

WRH: Who’s the funniest guy in the band? 

RLR: It depends on the given day I suppose! We all have our moments. [But] I’m going to go with Tommy Pluta on this one 💙

MC: If you asked Tommy Pluta……..😎

WRH: Who are your influences?

Tommy Pluta: Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Shoes, Foo Fighters.

RLR: I was heavily influenced by The Everly Brothers. And tried to incorporate their two-part harmony style into The Sighs music. Also love early American Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneers like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. And, of course The Beatles and Beach Boys were a big influence.

MC: Too many to name. The typical ones. The British Invasion bands, particularly The Beatles. A lot of 70’s rock and pop rock: Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, Raspberries, Queen, The Cars. I could go on…….

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

TP: Fountains of Wayne.

RLR: Jenifer Jackson, a local singer/songwriter here in Austin

MC: My current go-to is a live record by Bo Ramsey and the Backsliders. Bo is a spooky, great player, known for his work with Lucinda Williams and Greg Brown. He’s an Iowa guy and I’ve opened for him here and have gotten to know him a little. I’m crossing my fingers to do some playing with him. Also, and sadly, I’ve been revisiting Fountains of Wayne since the news of Adam’s death.

WRH: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with The Sighs? 

TP: Classic Power Pop / Rock sound. Two guitars, bass, drums, melodic with three part harmony.  The Smithereens, Gin Blossoms

WRH: The band can trace its origins back to when its founding members – Robert LaRoche and Tommy Pluta – met back in 1982. Tom Borawski and Matt Cullen were the recruited and the band then spent next eight years gigging around Western Massachusetts. In 1990, the members of the band crossed paths with John DeNicola, who became your producer and you signed with Charisma/Virgin Records. So, the band went from playing the college circuit to touring with the Gin Blossoms, who were selling millions of records and being played on the radio every single day. How was that experience like? 

TP: We always tried to make the most of every opportunity.

We had been on the road for months prior to touring with the Gin Blossoms so we were ready to take the next step.  Getting the chance to perform our music to their fans night after night was a terrific experience.  They were especially nice to us, and we found a lot of commonality with our music and influences. It would be great to do some dates with them again. . .

WRH: The band eventually split up after the release of their sophomore album with each of the individual band members focusing on other creative projects, on raising families and working day jobs. 20 years pass and as the story goes, Matt Cullen stumbles upon some demos that the band recorded in the early 90s. What was the experience of hearing the demos for the first time in so long like? 

MC: It was really cool to find the old recordings. I had transferred a boxful of 1/4 tapes to a hard drive, without listening to them. That was in 2010. It was 6 years later that I opened the folder labeled Sighs. We had been cranking out demos from 90-93 (?), both for the Charisma album and also for what we hoped would be a follow up with them. None of us recalled recording a few of them. You’d finish a song and move on. I got goosebumps when I realized what I had stumbled upon. I did rough mixes and sent unnamed mp3s to the guys. They were really surprised, and we were all excited by how well the home recordings had held up.

WRH: How was it like to revisit material that you wrote some 20 years prior? How were the first writing sessions for Wait on Another Day? Did your songwriting process change between your sophomore album and 2017’s Wait on Another Day?

RLR: The WOAD songs were written before, during, and after the recording of our debut CD What Goes On, during the period between 1987 and 1993. We had a lot of songs to choose from at that time. And only a dozen were chosen for What Goes On. The tracks on WOAD were songs already included in our live performances. We were a pretty well-oiled machine by then. Revisiting and re-recording this material over 20 years after their inception was great fun! And genuinely satisfying.

WRH: The five song EP, Tearing My Heart Again was recently released. In some way the EP finds the band continuing where they left off, as though the lengthy hiatus had never happened. While the material is centered through some passionate performances as collective whole, the EP – to my ears – reveals quite a bit of growth. It seems to capture old, wizened pros, who have gotten back on the proverbial horse but with some new ideas. How does Tearing My Heart Again differ from your previously released work? Was that intentional? What inspired it? 

TP: We drew inspiration from the fun we had recording WOAD in the Fall 2016. Recording new Sighs music (20+ years later) was something we discussed a couple times, and the possibility came around again in August of 2019.  We had a couple songs and several ideas, we just had to find the time to all be in one place to record which ended up being 3 days starting New Years’ Day 2020. The process of writing was the same in some ways and very different in other ways. We always shared ideas to see which ones we though would fit, and then developed them, but sharing ideas is so much easier with technology. A lot of text and email.

 WRH:  What does the EP touch upon thematically?

RLR: The five songs on “Tearing My Heart Again” deal with personal relationships.
In the title track, the protagonist is involved in an unhealthy love affair. Where heartbreak is an ongoing concern, and dark attraction becomes a fatal flaw.

WRH: “Over the Line” is one of my favorite songs on the EP. It’s probably the most Smithereens-like on the five songs. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s about?

RLR: “Over the Line” is about the near hopelessness and futility of caring for someone in active addiction. With the resignation that although you cannot judge the person you care for, and will continue to be there for them, the possibility of the active addict to cross over the line and become another fatality statistic, is forever present.

WRH: Oddly enough, there are sections of EP closing track “Rise” that somehow reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage.” Maybe I’m hearing thing but, did that influence the track at all about 

RLR You’re spot on with the Pink Floyd reference on the EP’s closing track “Rise.” Tommy Pluta initially sent me the guitar riff and chord changes. Which were already quite psychedelic sounding. We put a two-part harmony over the music in the vein of Waters and Gilmour. Our producer John DeNicola used an old school tape echo on the vocals. This gave the track the retro feel we were striving for.

WRH: What advice would you give to bands/artists trying to make a name for themselves thematically

 MC: I don’t know that my track record qualifies me to give advice but I will say that you must absolutely love what you do. There are many obstacles and it’s a long road. In today’s music world, I’d say you need to have a strong presence online. Sales are a different animal than what I grew up with. Touring is always helpful in spreading the word but can be financially daunting. CD mailers to college or community radio in your area are helpful. Try to grow it steadily. Again, you better love it!  :/)

WRH: What’s next for the band

MC:  It’s hard to say what is next for us. I’m not sure anyone of us would have guessed that we would have released a full-length record and an EP in the last three years. We never say never and leave ourselves open to all possibilities.  We have a strong personal relationship which leaves the musical door open at all times.

  

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Live Footage: Acclaimed Singer/Songwriter Dylan LeBlanc Performs “Renegade” at FAME Studios

Dylan LeBlanc is Shreveport, LA-born and based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who grew up in a very musical home. LeBlanc’s father was a country singer/songwriter. who performed in various bars and clubs across the region. At a very young age, LeBlanc acquired a unique musical education, in which he frequently spent late nights watching his father and other musicians record at the studios, where his father play as a studio musician. Naturally, the Shreveport-born and-based singer/songwriter and musician was intrigued and became a musician himself, eventually playing in his first band, an alternative rock band by the name of Jimmy Sad Eyes Blue with another local musician Daniel Goodwill. 

As the story goes, Goodwill inspired LeBlanc to begin writing his own music. After spending a few years with Jimmy Sad Eyes Blues, LeBlanc was forced to attend rehab. Following rehab, LeBlanc decided to pursue music full-time instead of returning to high school. He joined Muscle Shoals Punk Rock band, replacing its lead singer, who left the band to join Sons of Roswell — and as a member of the band, Dylan toured throughout the region. A few years later, he co-founded the band Abraham, a band that also featured Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner, who at the time was also the house engineer at FAME Studios. 

When LeBlanc turned 19, he left Abraham to pursue a solo career. He signed with Rough Trade Records, who released his full-length debut, 2010’s Paupers Field, which featured “If The Creek Don’t Rise,” a collaboration with Emmylou Harris. To support the album, the Shreveport-born and-based singer/songwriter and guitarist opened for the likes of Lucinda Harris, The Civil Wars, Laura Marling, George Ezra and Calexico. Building upon a growing profile, LeBlanc’s sophomore album 2012’s Cast the Same Old Shadow was released to critical praise, with The Guardian calling the album’s songs “as beautiful as they are bleak,” and the album itself, “eerie rather than unsettling.” That year, LeBlanc opened for Bruce Springsteen, First Aid Kit, The Drive By Truckers and Alabama Shakes. 

Dylan LeBlanc’s third full-length album, the John Paul White-produced 2016’s Cautionary Tale featured Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard and was praised by the likes of NPR and No Depression. Supporting that album, he wound up touring with the likes of Anderson East, The Wood Brothers and others. 

Interestingly, LeBlanc’s fourth album, the recently released Dave Cobb-produced Renegade finds the Shreveport-born and-based singer/songwriter and guitarist and his backing band attempting to write the sort of songs that matched the atmosphere that they were bringing live. “So, I started with ‘Renegade,’ which was fitting since I felt myself going in a new, more intense direction with this record. In the studio, I let go almost absolutely and let Dave Cobb do his work. It was a different experience for me-how focused Cobb was and how quickly we would get live takes down, mostly in one or two takes and never more than three. It left me spinning at how quickly it all came together. Over the course of ten days Renegade was complete and ready for mastering. And I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you.”

“Renegade” the album title track and first single off the recently released album is a shuffling and atmospheric, minor key rocker, centered around an atmospheric hook, shimmering, pedal effected guitars and LeBlanc’s lilting falsetto, and while clearly being indebted to Damn the Torpedoes-era Tom Petty, the carefully crafted reveals a novelistic attention to psychological depth, as it tells the story of two star-crossed lovers — one, who seems desperate to leave, the other, who is desperate to stay. 

Directed by Alysse Gafkjen, the recently released video was filmed at Muscle Shoals’ legendary FAME Studios. Interestingly, the live session was a sort of homecoming for LeBlanc, who who began working at the studio when he was 16 — and where he later began recording his own music. “It was surreal and brought me back to a time and place that I had almost forgotten,” LeBlanc says of the sessions. “The only place where time always seems to stand still.” 

Tim Carr is a Marin County, California-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, who grew up within a family of musicians. Unsurprisingly, at an early age, Carr was immersed in music, and as a result, he eventually studied jazz drums at the California Institute of the Arts. After earning a BFA, Carr began working with a number of renowned and notable acts including HAIM, Julian Casablancas, Nick Cave, and Lucinda Williams, among others. Carr can also claim a stint as a member of The Americans, with whom he performed on Late Show With David Letterman. Additionally, as member of The Americans, Carr has recorded with T. Bone Burnett and was featured in the Emmy-nominated documentary American Epic (which was produced by the aforementioned T. Bone Burnett with Jack White and Robert Redford.)

As a solo artist, Carr’s work can be described as minimalist folk, inspired by African rhythms, French Romantics and 60s pop, mixed with instrumentalist melodies — and interestingly enough, his work caught the attention of Robert Redford, who featured material off Carr’s 2016 effort, The Last Day of Fighting on the soundtrack for his movie Watershed alongside material from Beck and Thom Yorke. Carr’s forthcoming EP Swing & Turn is the anticipated follow-up to The Last Day of Fighting, and the EP reportedly derives its name after the feeling of movement, with the material sonically and thematically being a dance between intimacy and independence. The EP’s latest single is the hauntingly beautiful “Take Me There,” which is centered around Carr’s plaintive and tender falsetto, shuffling rhythms, some strummed acoustic guitar and a coda that ends with a bluesy blast of electric guitar, and finds Carr balancing a balladeer/troubadour-liek introspection and thoughtfulness with a cinematic vibe. That shouldn’t be surprising as the song is focuses on the desire to escape apathy, highlighting the difficult but necessary need to either let go and fully love — or to let go of a love, and as a result, the song has a bittersweet air to it.

 

If you’ve been frequenting this site over the past few months, you may recall that I’ve written about San Francisco, CA and Big Sur, CA-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer Jenny Gillespie. Gillespie can trace her musical career to he childhood — during drives to and from the Springfield, IL area, where she was born and raised, she spent quite a bit of time harmonizing in the backseat with her sister, who is a gifted and renowned pianist. When the San Francisco and Big Sur-based singer/songwriter was 13, she picked up her mother’s Martin guitar and began putting the poems she had been writing to her own original music. Gillespie’s life was further changed when a local record store clerk gave her album from three of the 90s most renowned singer/songwriters Tori AmosSarah McLachlan and Shawn Colvin — all of whom quickly became major influences on Gillespie’s music and songwriting.

After stints living in Virginia, Paris and Texas, Gillespie relocated to Chicago, where she self-produced and then released her sophomore album, Light Year, a folk and alt-country album that received quite a bit of praise. And as a result the attention Light Year received, Gillespie met Darwin Smith, an Austin, TX-based multi-instrumentalist, with whom she wrote her third full-length effort, Kindred, a sparse, experimental, electronica-based effort recorded in an old house in Wilmette, IL with contributions from Steve Moore, who has worked with Tift Merritt and Laura Veirs and Dony Wynn, who has worked with the legendary Robert Plant.

Inspired by a volunteer trip to Kenya that led her to an African fingerpicking class at the Old Town School of Folk Music and studying for an MFA in Poetry at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College, Gillespie found her sound and songwriting approach expanding and becoming more refined. By the fall of 2011, she traveled to NYC to record the EP Belita with Shazard Ismaily, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with Lou ReedBonnie Prince Billy, and St. Vincent. Interestingly, that effort possesses elements of pop, folk music, African and Asian rhythms and tones.

Featuring contributions from Emmett Kelly (Bonnie Prince Billy) on guitar and Joe Adamik (CalifoneIron and Wine) on drums, her last full-length effort Chamma was released to critical praise, including landing on Billboard Magazines Top 25 Albums of 2014 List. Naturally, that has seen Gillespie’s profile grow nationally — and continuing on that buzz, the singer/songwriter is set to release Chamma‘s follow-up, Cure for Dreaming through Narooma Records at the end of the month.  Recorded over the past couple of months and featuring contributions from Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann), drummer Jay Bellerose (Robert Plant and Allison Krauss’ Raising Sand), guitarist Chris Bruce (Meshell Ndgeocello), guitarist Gerry Leonard (David Bowie), and pedal steel player Greg Leisz (Lucinda WilliamsBon Iver), the album  reportedly possesses elements of folk, progressive jazz, and 60s and 70s AM pop.

The album’s first single “No Stone” paired Gillespie’s unhurried and husky vocals with a spacious and subtly jazz-like arrangement of keys, guitar, bass, gently buzzing electronics and hushed drumming in a song that felt as intimate as a lover whispering sweet nothings in your ear. And at the song’s core was a conversational lyricism that possessed a novelist’s attention to detail — both physical and psychological — as you can picture a woman who hides her face by the ocean, cherry blossoms in bloom, and someone peering through a keyhole to see a depressed woman struggling to just start her day. And as a result the song’s narrator feels like a fully-fleshed out person, desperately struggling to push forward.
The album’s second and latest single “Part Potawatomi” pairs Gillespie’s unhurried and ethereal vocals with a hummable melody, a deceptively simple arrangement of guitar, drums, bass and ambient electronics that sonically bears a resemblance to Junip — and their frontman, Jose Gonzalez‘s solo work.  And much like much like the album’s first single “No Stone,” “Part Potawatomi” reveals a Gillespie’s remarkable attention to detail, as the song frankly discusses the slow and seemingly inevitable dissolution of a romantic relationship metaphorically described as a storm brewing over the shore. The song’s narrator seems to evoke the sensation of being trapped in a relationship that’s going nowhere out of familial and moral obligation — and as a result, the song possesses a subtle yet increasing feeling of frustration and regret, while being one of the more beautiful songs I’ve heard in the past 10 days.

 

Born and reared in the Springfield, IL area and currently splitting her time between San Francisco, CA and Big Sur, CA singer/songwriter. guitarist and producer Jenny Gillespie can trace her musical career to her childhood — during drives to and from town, a young Gillespie spent quite a bit of time harmonizing in the backseat with her sister, who is a gifted pianist. When Gillespie was 13, she picked up her mother’s Martin guitar and began putting the poems she had started writing to music. A local record clerk changed the young singer/songwriter’s life by giving her albums from three of the 90s’ most renowned singer/songwriters — Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and Shawn Colvin.

After stints living in Virginia, Paris and Texas, Gillespie relocated to Chicago, where she self-produced and then released the folk and alt-country influenced sophomore effort Light Year to a fair amount of critical praise across the blogosphere. As a result of Light Year‘s exposure, Gillespie met Darwin Smith, an Austin, TX-based multi-instrumentalist, with whom she wrote her third full-length effort, Kindred, a sparse, experimental, electronica-based effort recorded in an old house in Wilmette, IL with contributions from Steve Moore, who has worked with Tift Merritt and Laura Veirs and Dony Wynn, who has worked with Robert Plant.

Inspired by a volunteer trip to Kenya that led her to an African fingerpicking class at the Old Town School of Folk Music and studying for an MFA in Poetry at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College, Gillespie found her sound and songwriting approach expanding and becoming more refined. And by the fall of 2011, she traveled to NYC to record the EP Belita with Shazard Ismaily, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with Lou Reed, Bonnie Prince Billy, and St. Vincent. Interestingly, that effort possesses elements of pop, folk music, African and Asian rhythms and tones.

Featuring contributions from Emmett Kelly (Bonnie Prince Billy) on guitar and Joe Adamik (Califone, Iron and Wine) on drums, her last full-length effort Chamma was released to critical praise, including landing on Billboard Magazines Top 25 Albums of 2014 List. Naturally, that has seen Gillespie’s profile grow nationally — and continuing on that buzz, the singer/songwriter is set to release Chamma‘s follow-up, Cure for Dreaming early next year through Narooma Records. Recorded over the past couple of months and featuring contributions from Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann), drummer Jay Bellerose (Robert Plant and Allison KraussRaising Sand), guitarist Chris Bruce (Meshell Ndgeocello), guitarist Gerry Leonard (David Bowie), and pedal steel player Greg Leisz (Lucinda Williams, Bon Iver), the album  reportedly possesses elements of folk, progressive jazz, and 60s and 70s AM pop.

“No Stone” Cure for Dreaming‘s first single pairs Gillespie’s husky and unhurried vocals with a spacious yet warm and subtly jazz-like arrangement of keys, guitar, bass, gently buzzing electronics and hushed drumming in a song that feels as intimate as a lover whispering sweet nothings in your ear. And at its core, is conversational lyricism that possesses a novelist’s attention to detail, as you can picture the woman who hides her face by the ocean, the cherry blossom trees in bloom, someone peering through a keyhole to see a depressed woman struggling to just starting her day — and a novelist’s attention to psychological detail. The song’s narrator feels like a fully-fleshed out person, desperately struggling to push on. Interestingly, each time I’ve played the song I’ve been reminded of how Gillespie sounds so much like Joni Mitchell — it’s incredibly uncanny.