A cornucopia of life, well-lived

                                                                        A review by Mark Sebastian Jordan

 

Sarah Goslee Reed: Plenty

11 tracks, 44 minutes

www.sarahgosleereed.com

www.cdbaby.com

Release date: May 2012

 

            Sarah Goslee Reed's new album, Plenty, is her fifth and finest yet. The stated aim of the album is to celebrate life by sorting out the difference between wants and needs. But the unstated thread that binds it all together is community, for the rural Ohio songwriter knits together contributions from supporting musicians, family, friends and even local schoolchildren to fill a cornucopia with life, well-lived. Now, lest this sound like soppy, feel-good platitudes, don't doubt that Reed knows and shows that joy only takes its full luster when it emerges from the shadows of loss and sorrow. That's life, and this album lives.

            The opening song, “All Living Things” might seem disingenuous at first glance, with its guileless lyrics about what living things need in order to live. But the tune was actually co-written with the first graders of Dan Emmett Elementary School in Reed's hometown of Mount Vernon, Ohio, as a workshop project called Songs of Science. Here, the gentle, upbeat song is redone with a reverberant weave of backing vocals provided by Reed's daughter, Meredith Irwin, and talented Mount Vernon teen musician Candace Jaymes.

            “The Timeless Rocker” moves with an appropriate easy, rocking motion as it recalls the history of a rocking chair used over the years for relaxation, friendly conversation, and rocking children to sleep. Likewise, the song “Mystery” finds the deep meaning in a piece of household furniture, this time meditating on a sturdy, hand-built antique table passed down through generations of the songwriter's family. Since the table in question came to Reed from her father, George Goslee—the long-time principal bassoon of the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra—the production features an intertwining duet of bassoons—one synthesized by co-producer and recording engineer Celeste Friedman, and one genuine article, played by Claire Matlak.

            But the quiet joys of domestic life are far from the only subject touched upon in this big-hearted record. The stark and philosophical song “Feed the Right Wolf” was inspired by the book Taking the Leap by Pema Chödrön, which includes the tale of a Native American boy who asks his grandfather for guidance on how to live a life of goodness. The grandfather advises him that every person has two wolves in his heart, one kind and bright, one mean and dark. The chorus ominously repeats the grandfather's dire admonition to “feed the right wolf.” Half way through, the song takes a sudden step into a higher key, perhaps an old musical trick, but one which feels here like a gust of cold wind. The native flute and percussion provided at the end by Friedman are haunting.

            Sowing and reaping return like cycles of seasons throughout the album. The loping country melody of “We Planted Trees Today” is enriched with a chorus of backing voices, evoking the sense of community and living not merely in the moment, but on behalf of the future generations who will follow by planting trees. The lyrics for the song were provided to Reed in the form of a poem by Danville, Ohio, resident Frank Goulde, moved to write the first poem of his life in order to salute friends engaged in planting trees for future “children to climb and adults to hold in awe.” The song “Potpourri” uses fresh, surprising chord progressions and shifts of time signature as well as lovely harmonies to catch the spirit of the garden of life when “a hint of spring drifts through the air.” And on the final track, “Garden of Plenty,” the rhythm section of Tom Martin on bass and Skip Trask on drums are joined by Darell Sanson's mandolin to form a backing band that fits Reed's vibrant vocal and rhythm guitar as comfortably as a favorite pair of slippers. If I ever have another person ask why I, as a writer, choose to live in sleepy rural Ohio instead of in a happening central metropolis, I will play them this. If they don't get it from this song's dappled-green joy, they won't ever get it.

            Other songs reflective of the losses and joys of life include “The Piano,” which isn't really about a piano at all, but rather an examination of the secret talents and interests we all too often don't hear about until people are gone, brought on by the remembrance of the songwriter's late mother, who died young, but recently would have been 88 had she lived. The song also features an expressive cello solo played by Luis Biava. “Used Guitars and Violins” tells the engaging story of delightful discoveries made when detouring from the planned path, while “Circle of Hands” was written by Reed as a wedding gift to her daughter and son-in-law.

            But if one song will touch a nerve on this album, it is the plaintive yet consoling “The Hole in His Heart.” The song was written to help assuage the grief of a family the songwriter knows who lost a teenage grandson to suicide. The boy, Wesley Garrett, seemed to be handling a school bullying situation reasonably well. But one day he retreated to the family's barn and shot himself. The song gently evokes the sense of family shattered by loss in a bright, yet plain-spoken major key. But when a a sonorous French horn, played by Gian Garduque, climbs out of the depths to join in from a lonely distance as Reed sings “so what can we do if we've a big empty space?” it sends a chill up the spine. Everyone knows someone who needs to hear this song.

            Production and arrangements by Martin and Friedman are rich, as is the recorded sound. Reed's de facto band of Trask and Martin, plus a changing cast of soloists and backup singers, give the record an almost orchestral diversity of sound, yet they all gel together in the classic tight-yet-loose manner of the best bands. Even the album's packaging is as rich and beautiful as its contents. The disc is available from Reed at live performances, as well as through her website, www.sarahgosleereed.com. It is also available through www.cdbaby.com.

 

 

Mark Sebastian Jordan has been an active presence on the Ohio arts scene for twenty-five years. His popular “Mansfield Trilogy” of historical dramas has been performed at Malabar Farm State Park in Lucas since 2003, when his award-winning play Ceely was debuted. The second play, Phoebe, was introduced in 2005, and the third, Louie, premiered in 2010. The works have received awards and acclaim from the Ohio Theatre Alliance, the Mansfield/Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Richland County Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.

            Jordan is also a poet who has performed all over the state of Ohio. His chapbook The Book of Jobs is available from Pudding House Press, while his poems have won awards from The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and the Ohio Poetry Association. His poems have appeared in The Case Reserve Review, Pudding Magazine, Lit Bit, and Full of Crow.

            Jordan's humorous mock-history book 1776 and All That: A Complete History of the United States, or at Least as Much of It as Can Be Recalled Without Actually Looking Anything Up was published by XOXOX Press in 2010. Jordan has also worked as a journalist for High Fidelity Review, MusicWeb International, the Newark Advocate, the Mount Vernon News, the Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette, and others.

            Jordan is currently the Resident Manager of the H. I. Malabar Farm hostel in Lucas, Ohio, where he regularly regales guests with historical storytelling.

Just wanted to say your cd is quite powerful and touching...the song about Wes is so moving...and I really like the wolf song...I know that Native American story well and have used it in reflections and sharing :)
I like the beginning and ending songs too...a nice wrap around the rest...I am still listening to the words of the other songs...envision if you will, me in the car ALONE...with the cd cranked UP high!

Music with Older Kids
Songwriting in the Classroom
by Sarah Goslee Reed

Last year, I collaborated with the music teacher Laura Ackert at Dan Emmett Elementary School in Mount Vernon, Ohio, to write a song with students at every grade level in the school. The students brainstormed ideas; Laura and I studied them, and we noticed there were many about animals, nature, the environment, etc. This seemed like a great theme to pursue,and the topics that they had chosen all relate to something that each grade learns in science. Wow!  The songs range from what kinds of animals live in Ohio to the life cycles of a tree and a duck-billed platypus. There is a great song about the chemistry of water called “It’s Messy at the Melting Point,” a song about gravity and one about “The Three New R’s” as in Reduce, Recycle and Reuse, as opposed to reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic.  

The chorus for each song was begun by me as a jumping-off point, and was usually finished by the first class I met with. Each group brainstormed ideas for the topic though, and everything was written on the board the first time I met with each class, giving everyone equal chances to make a point known. As we started writing, the music teacher wrote lines and rhyming ideas on the board too—sometimes it was quite a mess!

What we wrote was then presented to the next class coming in and sung for them. They could suggest changes to the previous class’s work but not change it themselves. Then they would start writing their verse and the process would continue.  After the students learned the songs, we recorded them onto a CD, whose cover design came from a school-wide contest, which was sound engineered by Laura’s husband, Brian Ackert. The “CD release party” was a school concert in which each grade sang their composition. The Songs of Science CDs were sold for $5 each, as a fundraiser for the school. And we got great feedback from the community:

“The love of music that you have
instilled in the students at DE is immeasurable. Thank you for spreading and sharing your amazing talents and love of music with the students in our district. I would be honored to purchase a CD of your recorded music.”

“Thank you for a wonderful presentation. I was telling my research assistant about it this morning. The song was delightful!”

In a subsequent songwriting project, Laura and I improved our methodology by writing our students’ song ideas on big rolls of paper that could be rolled up and brought back out for further use when fine tuning the writing. This proved much easier than using the chalkboard, from which we had to frantically copy and erase our notes between each group of students. The accompanying photos of the fourth and fifth graders writing and singing at Dan Emmett Elementary School were taken by Laura and Brian Ackert.


CAPTIONED PHOTOS FROM THIS ARTICLE (AND PROJECT) ARE FOUND IN THE PHOTO GALLERY

 

Sarah Goslee Reed is a singer/songwriter who lives in Mount Vernon, Ohio. She has been performing in the area for over 20 years, has recorded CDs for both children and adults and has worked with almost every elementary school and library in town.

I adored Sarah Goslee Reed. I loved her the first time I heard her all those years ago. I mourned the loss of "Magic Pockets", but now I know how to get her CDs!. While talking to her Friday evening, she made me feel as if we were long-lost friends. Her song about "when the children come home, all is well in a mother's nest" made me cry (as it did another lady sitting in front of me). I'm already feeling that "empty nest" bittersweetness coming on as my little babies are now teens. They grew so fast, and it makes a mother's heart ache to think of them being on their own very soon (even though it's a good thing!). I miss nuzzling a soft little neck, kissing chubby cheeks, and a little boy and girl cuddled in my lap as I read them their favorite stories. Such sweet serendipity. That's why Sarah Goslee Reed is a treasure to me--she sings from every mother's heart. So glad you had her come to Highlands.
Have you ever been walking down a street and noticed a penny on the sidewalk? Whether or not you bent down to pick it up, it may have given you a twinge of “ feeling lucky ” to have seen it. And if it had been a dime or a quarter, perhaps you would have picked it up and put it in a pocket or purse, and your feeling of good fortune would have been that much more. And if it had been a dollar, or more, well…….. We can relate to these good feelings, for from time to time we have “found” a fortune in great talent that we had not been aware of before that moment of discovery. This year we have had a number of those experiences – Drew Nelson, Zach, and Sarah Goslee Reed. Those who came to their performances know exactly what we are talking about. We are inspired after Friday night’s wonderful performance by Sarah, to write and tell you of our feelings. Her voice was exquisite – clear, pure and most appealing. Her original songs were of real life events, happy memories of childhood, of family and friends, living life to its fullest.
i know i've told you this, but i am going to tell you again - after coming to one of your solo concert when we first met, you connected the songs with stories and talked to your audience and i came away saying - why can't i do that with my classical singing and i did - you are my inspiration!!!!
The songs are woven through with bittersweet meditations about life and the remorseless passing of the years. But it also marks Reed’s long overdue return to putting out albums of original songs. Her previous solo albums were “Like the Light of the Moon” (1992) and “Cowboy on the Highway” (1994). Here, she matches the friendly twang of her earlier work, while deepening her range of colors and moods. Buoyed by delicious harmonies from Lisa Biales, Reed achieves a remarkable balance between sounding openly vulnerable and sounding vital and quietly unstoppable. Reed’s mastery of the vocabulary of American folk music is so complete, that she makes it seem easy to throw a tune, a few words and a couple chords together in a manner that captures something of the feel of the Ohio countryside. Sarah Goslee Reed’s voice has only slightly darkened over the years. Her youthful voice was very silvery in color ... With the passage of years, Reed’s voice is mellowing without losing its bloom, and her guitar-playing complements it with a mixture of comfortable strumming and melodic finger-picking. In sum, I encourage others to explore Reed’s output of down-to-earth, uplifting Americana in this album, as well as her earlier efforts. She covers a wide enough range that different people will find their own favorites among her works, favorites which will last over the years. And this album proves, once again, that insightful artists aren’t always distant figures living in far-off cities. Sometimes they live next door and draw their inspiration out of the very same soil we walk upon every day.
At the center of the album is a song written and sung by daughter Meredith Reed. The song is a dark one, but its angst and vulnerability is moving because of Meredith’s lead vocal. She sounds a little uneasy to find herself thrust center-stage, but that only increases the song’s sense of vulnerability. If Meredith’s voice is not as polished as her mother’s, it hardly matters, because it has expressive power. That is a very special kind of beauty that many “pretty” voices never have.
The CD is fabulous! You deserve every bit of praise you have received - thanks for sharing the articles - I listened to your incredible voice and Meredith’s also - all the way to and from work today and it is the only thing that put a smile on my face and a “happy” in my heart...what an honor and a blessing to have you as a friend for so many years. Keep singing and recording, you not only honor your Dad’s life and love, but you touch our lives with wisdom, grace and joy..you may be a lab tech by trade but you are a musician and poet by calling.
I have to tell you your song about the children made me sob. I do not think my hormones are out of whack, ha, it just touched me that much. Outstanding! I listened to a few more and have ordered some copies. Great stocking stuffers for the family. I am real proud of you and so happy you made a CD for those at "our stage of life", give or take 20 years.
I just listened to a few tracks at cdbaby, and they reminded me of how much I like Americana. Sarah has such a lovely voice, and I really enjoyed the arrangements. The CD is such a sweet celebration of a life.
The folksy It's About Time summons an innocent state of wonder as Reed's rich voice sings about flashing fireflies, laughing children, and a glowing moon...Reed's acoustic guitar plays front-and-center and her dad's bassoon helps the breezy tunes float by.

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    Mount Vernon Nazarene University,  Mount Vernon
     
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