In 2001, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of my publishing house and song treasury, Front Room Music. Many of these songs were already in existence, but had not been shared with the public. Enthusiasm for this music inspired me to release Front Room Music Album (Volume 1), in 2003. Now, as we find ourselves preparing to celebrate an amazing forty years of Front Room Music, we feel the time is right to offer up more magic to discerning ears. Some of our talented friends (from volume 1), have since passed on, and we felt the desire to offer up songs by a few new friends on Front Room Music, Volume 2. In holding with our tradition of offering superb, original independent music, here is our latest collection. Enjoy!
As Carlyle said of the famed Scottish poet Robert Burns:
"He speaks forth what is in him not from any outward call of vanity or interest,
but because his heart is too full to be silent."
If you ask Jack, he will tell you that any music he has produced is the result of having been adopted as a young man into a circle of wonderfully talented people in west Texas, who in later years became his brothers, sisters, and cousin's in the 'Front Room Music Family'. Jim Stricklan once told Jack, "Your songs all seem to be about being on the road.", and this one is no exception. "It came to me while driving across Wyoming on my way from Denver to Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River on the Oregon coast." Jack Mathes lives in Vancouver Washington, with his "fair haired gal", across the Columbia River from Portland. He continues to write and play music. Jack performs with the "Martin Hill Trio" playing Bodhran (Irish Drum) in pubs, clubs and taverns in the Portland - Vancouver area. (Photo l to r: Jack, Jim (seated), Steve Brown.)
REVIEWS "This music is not just Americana, it is nothing short of a tour of America!
Jim Stricklan’s “Apricot Croissant” is an exquisite message to “true blue friends” from “the moon and stars and some fine guitars.”
And the late Jim Withers’ “Tall Timbers” is so achingly beautiful it brought tears to my eyes." Tony Talalay
Review by Joanne Stato, journalist, songwriter, & musician
Towards the middle of The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews justifies to Christopher Plummer that she is worthy of his love by singing "Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could…" These lyrics popped into my head as I tried to express to myself how Jim Stricklan has managed (once again) to pick just the right excellent songs (and songwriters) for his Front Room Music Album Volume 2 (FRMV2). The reason that Jim is always surrounded by a sublime collection of artists is because he has cultivated the love and fellowship of musicians all his life.
Well, I can only attest to the period since 1974 when I first encountered him, but as far as I am concerned, he has a perfect record. I met him at a music jam in Evergreen, Colorado. Newly arrived in Colorado with a mandolin I was just learning to play, I was encouraged to join and remain in the jam by Jim's repeated utterances of "GET down! All right!" Who can resist that?
Jim is the man always ready to sit down and play some music with people he enjoys, and he has a way of encouraging and appreciating the music he hears. This pretty much guarantees that musicians want to spend time with him. Jim bestows his appreciation upon songs he admires with the same enthusiasm as a wine connoisseur or a birdwatcher searching for that next rare sighting.
FRMV2 has its share of transcendent philosophy and poetry as well as some down-to-earth human emotion and downright smokin' blues. Jack Mathes' ode, "Columbia River", gives a nod to Woody Guthrie in its chorus. Steve Brooks' "Neither Here Nor There" (a co-write with Jim) applies some Cole Porter-esque wit to a romantic situation. And Sally Townes' "Slow Burning Candle" is a sophisticated bluesy valentine delivered with classy 70s-style cool infused with heat - complete with Fender Rhodes piano against a backdrop of shimmering jazz guitar licks. "Tall Timbers" by Jim Withers, is a meditative and sweetly melancholy piano instrumental that spoke to me of sadness, time, and nourishing solitude. The additional sound bed of synthesizer placed the experience in some other time and space. This is a beautiful, evocative composition.
(PHOTO: A space in time - Sloan's Lake, Denver 1974, by Gary Jeter, includes several Front Room Music "founding family" members - front row kneeling left to right: David Romero, Jim Withers in hat and fringe coat, Jack Mathes; back row left: John Ryland; back row right: Steve Brown and Jim Stricklan. Withers and Mathes appear on FRMV2. Romero and Stricklan appear on FRMV1 &V2. Brown appears on FRMV1.)
Another similarly suspended time and space occurs in Angi Feld-Partlan's one-minute-and-forty-second-long "Quiet Rain", which is an impressionistic painting of a moment poignant with images such as "dripping patterns running everywhere like the wild horses in my mind." The delicate construction of Angi's vocal register evokes a dream state, and then she shifts into a low gear with her voice and activates the shivers down my spine. Angi could have been a filmmaker, but instead she distilled her talents into the short form: the song. Her artistry is breathtaking.
Another master of conjuring much with a very few words is David Romero, whose anthem, "Oh the Joy" takes as its text, as a preacher might, short instructions for the path to goodness. David once shared with me his discovery of the etymology of his name - "Romero," those who followed a path, or actually, "pilgrims." Many of his songs have revealed to me the power of simplicity. Unimpeded by any modern notions of cool, irony, or complexity, David often writes songs of hope and inspiration uninhibited by the jaded or the pessimistic among us. Thank you, David.
Jim's own contribution to this album is in total harmony with what I just wrote about David Romero's songwriting nature. Jim's "Apricot Croissant" sets forth his priorities for a better world. Peace and love, of course, but also the cappuccino and the above-mentioned croissant. Later, put in a slightly different way, we get friends, God, and a good song added to the list. I imagine the Dalai Lama's list might be similar. Not sure where he stands on songwriting, but I can imagine him giggling when he gets to the croissant part. On their eponymously titled first album, The Roches sing a song ,"The Troubles," about how they're going to Ireland soon without their boyfriends, and if they don't have "strawberry apricot pies" over there, they'll "probably die." Unlike this earlier song from the 70s from the Roche sisters that came to mind as I listened to "Apricot Croissant," in which their equilibrium was desperately dependent on a certain pastry, Jim's song describes his affection for certain luxuries without upsetting the cosmic balance and detachment already achieved.
In a gesture for which I am eternally grateful, Jim has included in this collection Michael Lucas' exquisite "I Am Hawk". Michael was part of the constellation of songwriters that I personally remember from the mid-1970s in Denver, Colorado, of which Jim of course was a particularly shiny one. Michael was a solo artist, and later added his talents to the Robin Banks Band. At one point, I lived in a house across the alley from where Michael lived and the band practiced. "I Am Hawk" is a searing meditation on life, disappointment, and patience. It begins with a literary statement that could have been written by Dostoevsky or perhaps Proust: "Time will cure impatience. Mama told me this; then she cried." Michael's guitar style is a dynamic ornamentation of fingerpicking, strategically delivered strokes, and harmonics. His voice, similarly, winds in and out of emotions and velocity. Midway through the song, the accompaniment takes off into a percussive hammering. I visualize this part as Michael battering down the doors of heaven before they close down the joint. The sound of this song is like the flight of a hawk: weightless, racing, fierce, and gliding. I knew by the arrangement of the ending of the song that this was not the studio version that appeared on the KBPI Colorado Album. It is a rare find to have access to this recording.
All in all, the FRM Vol. 2 album is a worthy sequel to the first FRM album, and one I am going to treasure. Jim, once again I am in your debt. Thank you!