What projects do you take on when you’ve received a life-threatening medical diagnosis? If you’re a musician, as in the case of Allen Church, of Morrisville, you record an album of songs you’ve written. As he wrote in the liner notes to his new CD, “Letting Go While Hanging On,” “I needed a project that would take some time and give me something else to think about besides life and death.”
Church is well known in the Morrisville area as an accomplished fiddler specializing in Irish and American roots music, who also plays guitar, hammered dulcimer and sings. I’m not sure if he has recorded before, but this CD confirms his talent.
You may have heard Church in the role of Crazy Chase. He created a musical show around the character of Alfred “Crazy” Chase, a cigar-smoking musical savant, entertainer and piano tuner who enjoyed dressing up like a woman. He performed that way at dance halls and fiddle meets in Vermont during the mid-1900s. Church continues performing in that role.
Church is also a fine songwriter and singer, to which this album attests. While Church may be facing a grim future personally, the songs are not morbid. He has a pleasant voice that is never mordant or strident. He delivers the 12-song 42-minute album with more tongue in cheek than grim reaper.
Some of the titles are enigmatic, and we’re not sure where he is going. Who are “Andy and Annie,” the subjects of track one? They are getting married, but are they relatives? Also, who is “Mr. Robbins” in track two? Is he a doctor or a shrink? Church doesn’t make it clear what advice he is seeking from this elusive subject.
More to the point are track three, “Botox,” which says that love conquers all and one need not use radical methods to change; “Too Broke to Drink,” track four, says it all in the title; if you’re hoping that Vermont legalizes the sale of marijuana then “CBD Blues” is a cautionary tale of what happens when smoking a joint doesn’t produce the required effect. Church brings the album home with track 10, “Bread Uprising,” about the need for good baked products in his Morrisville community.
Perhaps the most comic song is the final cut, track 12, “Garlic.” Here’s a song about an herb, and Church sings its praises as only a devoted devourer can. Eating garlic apparently brings him to raptures.
What makes the songs on this album come to life is the production and playing. Church gave this project to East Montpelier’s Colin McCaffrey to produce and co-arrange. McCaffrey keeps the arrangements light-hearted with a country-folk-rock sound.
Church plays acoustic guitar, and his fiddle infuses many of the songs but doesn’t overpower them. Don Schabner is a great guitarist whose playing flavors four tracks. Jim Pitman on pedal steel guitar, David Langevin on piano and Simon Plumpton on drums add to the project with subtle touches. McCaffrey fills in on bass, backing vocals and electric guitar.
While Allen Church is facing health issues — and is currently beating his illness — this is not an album about death. It’s a positive look at the issues we all will or currently face and is very good in achieving that goal.