Dennis Brennan

Dennis' Notes on "Engagement"

The Oxford Concise Dictionary gives a number of definitions, the one that applies to this recording is:"9. interlock with another".

After four years of residencies with the same band, first at The Independent in Union Square, Somerville and then at The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, I am familiar with "interlocking". Both with the band and with you, the audience. This is something I value now more than I ever did as a younger man. In my first bands in Boston I was shall we say a "reluctant" performer at best. I much preferred the craft of songwriting to the art of selling the song in performance. Time has brought about a change.

This recording is of two halves. 8 studio songs followed by 8 live songs. 16 songs, almost 67 minutes of music. That is way more than my limited attention span can handle and I was hesitant to put this all out on one disc. Oh yes, disc. This format that really doesn't matter anymore. Burn it. Download it. Put it where you want it. Listen to what you want. Delete what you don't want. Put it in whatever order you want. Put it on shuffle. Make your own version of "Engagement". After all, you're in charge. Time magazine says so.

The studio songs appear first on my version only because that's what I've been working on lately and I want you to hear the new stuff first, a natural inclination for most artists. And, I must admit I like the way the atmosphere changes when the live portion kicks in. Take this "Engagement", may it serve you well!

The Band

I've been blessed by associating with talented musicians all my life, from my first garage band to my latest garage band. Let's talk about this latest garage band.

Kevin Barry, elec gtr/acs gtr/dobro/lapsteel/etc

Kevin and I have played together for a dozen years now. "Ain't it funny how ti..." Oh, never mind. I'll just say: very musical, volatile, gentle, explosive, humorous, deceptively simple, extremely complicated, quiet, loud, powerful, parental, professorial, historical, hysterical. "He's a complicated man, and no one unders..."

Billy Beard, dms/perc/vcs

I first knew of Billy years ago when I was in The Martells. We were a greasy bar band playing R&B in Cambridge & Boston and they were a college band called Face To Face from UNH just beginning to make noise around town and in NYC. Word was (in the parlance of the time) "that the chick singer was hot" and the band rocked. True enough. Over the years I always admired Billy's ability to "make the butts shake". A quality highly prized in a drummer and necessary in our line of work. Thanks for the great work , Billy.

Duke Levine, elec gtr/mandola/electric sitar/banjo/omnichord/guitorgan

Once at an Iodine Brothers gig at The Brendan Behan in JP, Kevin couldn't make it. In strolls Levine. And he never left. Possibly the most lyrical guitarist you've ever heard...well, then there's Kevin Barry. Duke never disappoints, and always surprises you. I am blessed.

Andrew Mazzone, elec bs/acoustic bs/vcs

A true renaissance man, Andrew is Billy Beard's longtime partner in beat. I'm glad he's on the gig. I think he shines on this recording: Just the bass line on "Here She Comes" is worth 14.99.

The Songs

1. After The Ball

Some songs write themselves, and some you either worry to death or worry to life. Worrying a song is not a good sign. It ususally means you don't have a clear vision of what you're trying to communicate to the listener. Maybe you have an idea or a feeling but that's not a song....I worried "After The Ball" for a long time. It wasn't until I was listening to The Stones "Aftermath" one day that I started to get a clue. Bitching about your personal or professional situation is almost always a losing hand. But, that recording is one relentless complaint and it works. After all these years it holds up. Could it be because they realized they were full of shite when they wrote it, laughing up their sleeves at themselves all along? It wasn't long before Chrissie Hynde had turned the sentiments of "Under My Thumb" inside out. Lesson learned? Don't take yourself too seriously. Then I got the riff that starts the song and I was off. No more worrying. The instrumentation on this is all acoustic instruments. Billy plays a cocktail kit. Recorded all together in one room, except me in a booth. Live vocal except for the first verse which I punched in later. Special thanks to Jake Brennan who encouraged me to put it in the 3rd person instead of the first and came by Camp Street for the 2nd attempt at a mix and helped bring it home.

(Hear an outake of After The Ball

2. Everybody's Running Away

I wrote this with my friend Jess Gorell. She had the title and a verse. I liked it immediately. The music is loosely based on George Jones "The Race Is On". We went back and forth on the lyric for awhile trying to tell the story of two people so close together they can't stand it. The bridge, lyrics and music, just appeared one day out of nowhwere. I love that! Laurie Sargent sings with me on this and she turns the song into the twisted "Tammy/George duet that Jess and I were aiming for. Duke Levine plays the hot rod/country/surf guitar solo. The songs secret weapon is Kevin Barry's electric rythmn guitar, push, nudge, prod...

3. Here She Comes

Dave Champagne early of Treat Her Right and lately of The Heygoods called me one day and said he had a song he'd written that he thought would be "perfect" for me. I knew he was pitching me but I went along with it. I'm glad I did. "Here She Comes" is mainly his song, I wrote the lyric for the last verse (the "Aphrodite" verse as Dave calls it) and small parts of the earlier verses and choruses. He was generous enough to let me contribute to a great song and I am grateful.

This was the last (4th) song the band attempted at Camp Street on our first day of recording in Jan 06. We tried it a couple of times and called it a night. I think we all thought we didn't get it and we'd try it first thing the next day.

When we listened again we chose the first take from the night before. Seems we were just tired enough after a day of work that we got it. What sounded lethargic last night now sounded relaxed. Just what the song needed.

I endured much ribbing from the band about the vocal on this. There were many Anthony Newley/Michael Buble' like "The search for loves" echoing around the studio during the playbacks. All part of being a bandleader.....

4. When You Were Loving Him

I carried this title around for a long time, thinking I'd write a country song. It ended up more Brill Building pop. When I finally found the key I wanted to sing this in (Ab) I kept thinking of John Lennon's vocals on the early Beatle's records, "This Boy" and "Yes It Is" in particular.

Duke came up with the first chord of the bridge and I finished it off. He also rounded out the chorus making the feel more r&b. That's Duke on the guitorgan too.

The choir on the chorus is Laurie Sargent, Sarah Borges, Jake Brennan and myself all singing together. Gabrielle Agachiko of the band "Buck Moon" joins in on the high 3rd of the verse ending, bridge, and chorus. Scott Janovitz helps out on the bridge too. Bob Metzger who played with Leonard Cohen for twenty years is playing the pedal steel. What a great solo! Kenny P. White plays the soulful piano.

5. Personal Assistant

This is one of those songs that got written in a paralell universe. Written while I was doing other things, over a period of time, not all at once. All of a sudden it was there, without much heavy lifting. "Theresa" from my first recording "Jack In The Pulpit" came very much the same way. This is just the five of us, playing all at once, with a live vocal. Kevin overdubbed his lapsteel. Jabe Beyer overdubbed his Don Rich style background vocal. Always a big fan of Buck Owens And His Buckaroo's, this is my musical tribute to them. Thanks to Dave Champagne for the steady hand.

6. It Ain't What You Think It Is

This was the last song written for "Engagement". I'd been listening to alot of early sixties R&B in late 2005 and enjoying the direct, emotional power of the style, no frills, no hidden meanings. Duke's guitar solo is so perfect and as soon as he plugged into the Magnetone amp he brought to the session I realized HE'D been listening to The Falcons. Horns by Russ Gershon and Tom Halter of The Ether Orchestra Choir vocals by Kemp Harris with his aunt and his mother. Brian Templeton of The Radio Kings sings the high third harmony on this and takes the song to another level.

(More Soon!)

7. Delmore Schwartz

A child of radio, like most of my generation I found it difficult to embrace poetry. Stiff, no rhythm, no melody, no soul, compared with what was coming out of my trusty transistor. Then: Paul Piergallini, my 10th grade English teacher, hipped me to Walt Whitman. It wasn't a bolt of lightning or anything but being forced to read him I discovered the rhythm in his verse, probably my own rhythm, not Whitman's for sure, but, it got me interested. Still, only occasionally would a poem or poet make an impression on me: Yeats, the famous ... "Intemperate Speech" one. Rimbaud, although his work means much more to me now then when I made a point of carrying around my dogeared paperback copy of "Illuminations" when I was 20. Ahh youth! My first encounter with Delmore Schwartz's poetry was in an anthology and it was "The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me". That's Delmore reading from this piece at the beginning of the song. Delmore was brilliant, beautiful, and troubled. I won't get into it all here. Read his work.

Mostly it's out of print now; he's out of fashion currently and it may be a while before he's "cool" again so you'll have to haunt the used bookstores and e-bay. If he gets to you then pick up James Atlas's "Delmore Schwartz, The Life Of An American Poet". When Delmore first "hit" as they say, in the late 1930's he was as big a sensation in the literary world as Elvis was in popular music when he arrived in the 50's. His short story "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" was powerful reading then and still bracing to this day.

After that blazing start most critics seem to think that Delmore spent the rest of his life trying to live up to the hype surrounding him. Well, all artists who make a critical impression while young do that to some extent and in Delmore's case maybe that's partly true. However, I tend to favor this observation from Robert Phillips' forward to "Last and Lost Poems of Delmore Schwartz":

"After his early bravura performance, Schwartz spent the rest of his life trying to exceed himself. ("I'd bleed to say his lovely work improved/but it is not so,") John Berryman wrote in one of his eleven Dream Songs dedicated to Delmore Schwartz's memory. His poetry did not, in fact, "improve." It became different. Few readers have been willing to examine those differences, to find merit in the later work."

And the music...... I built this song around a Robert Wilkins rag, "Old Jim Canan's". Where he got the tune no one knows, it's unlike most of his other material which was mainly blues based. This one is more of a novelty tune, wiith the bass doing the "oompah" line not common in black popular music in the thirties. The lyric I had for years and finally found a home for it with this tune. The refrain "who's that knockin" is courtesy of Peter Wolf. This was recorded at Hi-N-Dry, live, all of us out on the floor. The guitar solo was overdubbed at Duke's home studio and the EXCELLENT New England Soul backup vocals courtesy of Laurie Sargent, Sarah Borges, and Scott Janovitz.

8. Sugar Falls

I wrote this with Duke for a blues singer who will remain anonymous. She didn't like it, I believe the comment was "too suggestive". So we did it. We went to Q Division with Paul Bryan producing and Paul Kolderie engineering and spent an afternoon doing this. We also covered a Skip James tune called "Cherry Ball Blues". This totally rocking effort was Paul Bryan's concept. I just kept my mouth shut and sang.

9-16 Live

Tom Dube asked if he could record a show at The Lizard. We said" sure". Well, he recorded ten shows and after the first one we promptly forgot he was recording. And he didn't remind us either. Good move, Tom. That's why you're a Producer. When it came time to sift thru this stuff I picked all the takes where I (ME, ME, ME!!!!!) sounded great. I eventually came to the conclusion that if I'm flat sometimes (and I am) then that's the way it is. I tried to at least keep the emotional center of the songs as my guidepost. As long as I sounded like I was singing the song in the moment--in other words, delivering the lyric-- if my performance was not technically perfect I went with it. That opened up a lot of other takes for consideration. Much to the relief of the band.

Some favorite moments of the live portion of Engagement include:

  • Billy Beard's totally cool feel on the Merle Haggard chestnut "You Don't Have Very Far To Go".
  • Andrew Mazzone's stellar background vocals and bass playing on "Crying On The Avenue".
  • Duke Levine's ass kicking solos on "Hard Traveling".
  • And my personal favorite favorite, Kevin Barry's ominous, dare I say absolutely threatening, entrance from the right speaker at the end of "I Got My Own". NNNNNNNGGGGAAAAH!

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