Jeff Engholm is Making a Scene
Jeff Engholm is Making a Scene #artistinterview #roots #songwriter #makingascene #Country #indie #americana #CountryRock #originalmusic #youtube #Saturdaymotivation #MusicSaturdays @JeffEngholm
Making a Scene Presents an interview with Jeff Engholm
Jeff Engholm has worn many hats as a bassist, singer, songwriter, actor, producer, recording engineer, conductor, and teacher. Instrumentally, he is primarily a jazz and rock bass player, and has played for 20 years in the George Maurer Jazz Group, which performs throughout the Midwest, including at the Dakota Jazz Club in…
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Virgil’s Waiting Home
Virgil’s new album, Waiting Home, has just been released. Created during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, the album serves as a continuation of storytelling skills and a distinct retro vibe that defined his self-titled debut album, Virgil. The two releases share the music of a singer/songwriter who was reluctant to step into the spotlight until his 60th birthday.
For the last decade and a half, Kevin Virgil Wallace has been focused on his work as founding director of the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts in Ojai. Caring for the legacy of Beatrice Wood, the fascinating individuals who were part of her life and career, and those who created the Happy Valley Foundation, Wallace kept his work as a singer/songwriter secret from all but a small group of close friends. All of this changed when he realized that, at 60 years of age, he had limited time to make certain that the songs he had brought into the world would ever be heard.
“One of the things that I share with people at the Center is that the artist’s role is simply to be a conduit – about keeping the channel open and the muse involved,” Wallace says. “For that reason, I’ve always felt that the songs weren’t necessarily mine to keep hidden, so have long felt like I had some sort of secret life. But also, as director of the Center, I’m very much aware that we’re in the inspiration business. Every weekend, I talk to people who are impressed that Beatrice Wood continued to work and even thrived through her 80s and 90s. I realized that it was important that I do the same, as I know there are countless aging artists, musicians and writers who may be inspired to follow their dreams, even if they are feeling a little past their prime, or worse for wear.”
It was also important to be honest about his identity, as someone who grew up inspired by relatives who played what they called “hillbilly music” in the living room of their Southern Ohio farmhouse. For this reason, the album was released under his middle name “Virgil” – the name both his grandfather’s shared.
“I would never tell anyone my middle name, as it felt like sort of an old world, unhip name,” Wallace admits. “But it was the perfect name for sharing an authentic part of my identity.”
Having spent decades involved in the art world, for the most part hiding these roots, and passion for music that was not exactly on the cutting edge of the music scene, the term “Americana” began to be applied to the music he grew up with, and he found that there might indeed be an audience for the music he loved. The singer/songwriter tradition of his musical heroes was also again being appreciated.
Virgil's self-titled debut album of all-original songs was a celebration of his 60th birthday. Most of the tracks were recorded at the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, with master guitarist Ken Emerson – who often performs at the Center – laying down long-rollicking, deep blue, and smoking hot lead guitar riffs. Wallace’s friend Andrew Ellison, who he began playing music with while in Middle School, recorded his drum parts remotely from his home in Northern Michigan. The vocals were recorded, and the album mixed, at Castaway 7 Studios in Ventura, and the album was mastered by Brian Ziegler at Radiance Studios in Ojai.
“The first Virgil album was born of just wondering if I could do it – a 60 year old guy sharing himself by playing and singing his songs,” Wallace says. “I recorded the second album, Waiting Home entirely in the studio and it is a different album in many ways. I was the songwriter, but worked more as arranger and producer, giving Ken Emerson more room to play, bringing in backing vocals with a singer recording in Austria. The more expansive influence of AM childhood from my youth, with soul and rockabilly came into play.
Looking back, it’s easy for Wallace to see how his career in art was born of a childhood fascination with the instruments his Uncle Claudie, Aunt Angeline and friends played in the living room of their Southern Ohio farmhouse: “Guitars, mandolin, banjo… the forms, materials and sounds seemed magical to me and led to my life’s work in the arts. It’s important for all of us to connect with our creativity, embrace dreams that fell by the wayside, and to inspire others. Just like Beatrice Wood, who didn't throw her first pot until she was forty, I want folks to know it's not too late to record that album, write that novel, or begin creating works for exhibition and performance."
Waiting Home is available everywhere for streaming and purchase, including Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. Wallace hopes sale of copies of the CD and downloads will assist in funding the Beatrice Wood Center for the Art, an activity of the Happy Valley Foundation, non-profit 501(c)(3). For the complete Virgil story, read the extensive digibook at virgilsongs.com or visit the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts located at 8585 Ojai-Santa Paula Road Upper Ojai,California.
Chris Thile — Laysongs (Nonesuch)
Photo by Josh Goleman
Chris Thile first came to prominence on mandolin, breaking out (musically) as a kid in bluegrass and Americana both with Nickel Creek and on his own. Though he was a prodigy in that field, he's never been stuck in one genre for long. His interest in classical music has driven some of his work, and his collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, and Edgar Meyer for The Goat Rodeo Sessions revealed a joy in cross-genre weirdness. Now he releases his first album that's simply him — just mandolin and vocals — and he throws in a thematic challenge by tackling big spiritual topics. Laysongs blends secular and sacred, bluegrass and classical, scripture and Greek ecstasy for an album that's as much a question as a statement.
The album grew out of Thile's “Salt (in the Wounds) of the Earth” sequence, inspired by C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, a literary take on a demon mentoring a novice. The devil in Thile's trilogy gets meaner as he goes, offering some hot (so to speak) takes along the way, like, “And they've become the church / Rubbing salt in the wounds of the earth / In the name of a savior / Who only seems to save their sense of worth.” The mandolin sounds uneasy throughout the three tracks, turning mostly into background for the furious and dramatic finale.
That third of the album takes on an anti-religious voice in character, but it does so as part of a broader questioning. Thile works through agnostic meditations by raising questions and exploring ideas unusual in the Christian milieu he navigates. The instrumental “Ecclesiastes” provides a sincere and uplifting take on Ecclesiastes 2:24: “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.” That bit of wisdom proves to be inspiring, guiding Thile through a melodic piece.
Finding a track titled “Dionysus” comes as a surprise, then, its bacchanal offering a different approach to the value of eating, drinking and satisfying. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot” likewise winds through its spiritual musings with complicated language and an energetic performance. Thile keeps his listeners off balance. For every nod to bluegrass, there's a nod to classical music, all intermingled with shifting spiritual ideas. Where Thile previously demonstrated his love for Bach, he now tests himself with Bartók, a move that has as much religious implication as it does musical.
After all that, he ends with Hazel Dickens' “Won't You Come and Sing for Me,” a church-y, end-of-life bluegrass number. Closing the album with such a number suggest Thile (or at least the Thile of the album) continues to search without devaluing his roots. Picking a Dickens number further hints that there's a physical grounding to all this work. Tying this cut with “Ecclesiastes” takes the spiritual search out of the ethereal and grounds it in an embodied present. It's a finish as smart as it is enjoyable, one more twist from Thile on an album with plenty of musical and lyrical bends.