There were distinct advantages to being a music critic at a daily newspaper prior to the advent of the internet.
I was always getting stuff in the mail. Granted. A lot of it was junk, similar to what we now call spam.
But, I occasionally received some really neat stuff.
Back in the day, small, independent labels would often send me samples of their client’s latest releases on compact disc.
More often than not, they were the artist’s debut recordings, so I’d never even heard of them before.
And, chances were good that my readers hadn’t, either.
Their publicists were simply hoping that I’d give their artist a listen and, if they were lucky, publish a favorable review of the album. I was fine with that.
I never saw much sense in trashing the work of these budding artists.
The vast majority of these recordings weren’t available at the local record store, anyway.
You’d have to order them direct from the label and receive them via snail mail.
If it wasn’t my cup of tea, I’d just add it to my collection and move on to the next one.
None of the artists I was introduced to by these independent labels ever hit it big. But, there were some that I took a liking to, resulting in a favorable review, and a clipping of it sent back to the publicist with a thank you note.
Oftentimes, the recordings were released in conjunction with an upcoming tour.
Unfortunately, attending even the closet shows often required a lengthy road trip that I was unwilling or unable to make.
I did, however, seize the opportunity to interview a couple of the artists over the telephone. They were usually at home, with barking dogs in the background.
All I had to do was contact the publicist and an interview would be scheduled. They were always ecstatic to hear from a critic who showed interest in their artists. It meant their promotional material was getting noticed and not just disposed of in a circular file (trash bin).
I published a review of Dar William’s debut album, “The Honesty Room,” complete with an interview, along with that of Cosy Sheridan’s second release, “Saturn Return.” A two-for-one, if you will. The reviews were published shortly after their release in 1994.
I really enjoyed both albums. And, after 22 years, I still do.
I listen to Williams quite often.
“The Honesty Room” was self-pressed, self-released, and self-promoted on her own label, “Burning Field Music.”
Nonetheless, it was good enough to earn her an opportunity to perform at the Newport Folk Festival upon its release.
If you’re a Bob Dylan fan, you know that’s where he shocked the folk world by going electric in 1965.
Well, fast forward to 2006. I’m reading the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times in my apartment in nearby Clearwater.
I see an advertisement for an upcoming show featuring Williams to be held at the Tampa-Theatre downtown.
Now, it was my turn be ecstatic. There was no way I was missing this show.
In addition to Williams, Lisa Loeb would be on the bill. She had a short run of popularity during the mid-1990s.
Her song, “Stay (I Missed You),” which was featured in the film “Reality Bites,” was her claim to fame. However, she is also known for being the first artist to have a No. 1 single in the United States while not being signed to a recording contract.
I’ve included a Youtube link to an acoustic version of the song below.
Williams and Loeb put on an acoustic show, just two women on stage with their guitars.
I thoroughly enjoyed them both.
Following the show, I hung around to see if I’d get a opportunity to meet them. I thought there was a chance, since the venue wasn’t exactly on the “A” list and nobody would have called the gathering a crowd.
Both of them had written and recorded some children’s music, after having children of their own, and offered to autograph purchases after the show. They had set up the traditional, makeshift table in the lobby.
I patiently waited behind a two-deep wall of young mothers, all gushing about the children’s music.
When it came my turn, I introduced myself to Williams and handed her a photocopy of the 12-year-old review.
“Wow!,” she said. “This is older than my kids. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. May I keep this?”
“Of course,” I said. “It was a pleasure to finally get the chance to hear you perform live. I hope there will be a next time.”
As I reached out to shake her hand, she grasped mine, pulled us together for a quick hug and whispered “thank you” into my ear. It wasn’t quite a bucket-list moment, but it was close.
Williams discography now features 15 albums and counting.
Ironically, I’d get a chance to see Sheridan perform in the backroom of a nearby church the very next night.
A rather progressive group at the Trinity Church of Clearwater had developed a monthly music program, turning the church into a fairly well-known venue for traveling musicians. They called it the Cafe Concert Series.
Unlike me, the dozen-or-so parishioners were not at all familiar with Sheridan’s music. They simply enjoyed whomever was appearing. It was a decidedly aging group, but they were very appreciative of the artists who accepted their invitation.
The majority of the music I’d heard from Sheridan was quite tame, but there are a couple of songs that are a bit risqué. They aren’t overtly offensive. They’re just humorous ditties.
Sheridan has a relaxing, oftentimes humorous manner on stage, too. She enjoys conversing with the audience and giving insights into each song. A lot of her songs are based on events that have occurred in her daily life, some humorous, some reflective, always worth a listen.
The group served coffee and cookies during a meet-and-greet following the show and I seized the opportunity to introduce myself to Sheridan. I explained the circumstances surrounding my attendance and she appeared genuinely appreciative of my longstanding fandom. I handed her a photocopy of the aging review, of which she humorously related to her own aging.
“I’m so glad you could come,” she said. “It’s fans like you who have allowed me to pursue my dream. I can’t thank you enough for promoting my career and making me feel really old at the same time.”
I couldn’t believe it. Within two nights, I was able to meet two artists I’d admired since their humble beginnings.They were still on the road, despite languishing in virtual obscurity, marrying and raising families. And, you know what? They’re still on that road.
Sheridan’s discography features 12 albums and counting.
Give it a spin.
Follow the link below for a live version of “The Babysitter’s Here,” from Dar Williams “The Honesty Room” on Youtube.
Follow the link below for the album version of Cosy Sheridan’s “Broken Place” from “Saturn Return” on Youtube.
Follow the link below for a live, acoustic version of Lisa Loeb’s “Stay (I Missed You)” on Youtube.