Serendipity in Music City

We packed up an acoustic guitar and mandolin, stuffing their canvas cases with t-shirts and beanies to cushion their journey. It’s always risky, flying with acoustic instruments – but keep them in a soft case and try as they might, those airline employees can’t quite force you to surrender your baby to the crude handling of the luggage team. (“What was your name? Just so I know who to call if you make me check this and it’s a pile of matchsticks when we arrive.”)

Oh, but that’s the worst-case scenario. The matchsticks reference doesn’t really come up that often. For the most part, people are just curious about what you’ve got strapped to your back. That is, until you fly to Nashville, where a gleaming, cherry-red 1960s Gibson 335 in a crystalline display case greets you by baggage claim. Merle Travis is piped in over the loudspeakers. Patsy Cline smiles down from a giant billboard; next to her, Johnny Cash’s scathing gaze looks right through you. Welcome to Music City.

After landing we headed straight to Exit/In, a club that since its opening in 1971 “has taken its place among the nation’s most venerable, historic music venues.” Everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Etta James, from the Black Crowes to Death Cab for Cutie, has played there. We caught a raucous set by sister duo Larkin Poe, whose powerful voices and soaring guitars filled the room. For an encore, they invited up and coming guitarist Tyler Bryant and incredible slide player Robert Randolph (who had been standing next to us at the bar, unbeknownst to me!) to join them onstage. They then proceeded to bring the house down.

Even though we were new to town, and even though we had followed the impressive careers of some of these musicians but had never actually met them or heard them live, the whole night felt like an easygoing party amongst friends. After their killer encore, Robert Randolph stepped offstage and raised a glass with the crowd, which was mixed: all ages, some in cowboy hats, some in combat boots; young bucks barely of drinking age rubbing shoulders with old bikers who looked like they were born with beer in hand. It all felt very open and honest and straightforward: come as you are and enjoy the music. We’re glad you’re here.

The next day we headed to ASCAP (Association of Songwriters, Composers, and Publishers), the performance rights organization (PRO) which represents both me and Berna as music authors and publishers. I had heard that in the old days, the best thing was to meet a rep from your PRO, play your three best songs, and get their feedback. Maybe they’d tell you to take a hike, and keep your day job; maybe they’d pair you up with another writer.

In trying to schedule such an appointment, I had repeatedly heard the line that ASCAP represents over 750,000 writers and publishers these days, and their reps don’t have the bandwidth to meet with just any writer in their constituency. Fair enough. We showed up anyway.

While we were waiting in the lobby, the elevator opened and a tall, slim gentleman dressed all in black, with bright blue eyes, smiled. We smiled back, shook hands. He introduced himself – Ralph Murphy – and said if we waited he could meet with us. A few minutes later he ushered us into his office. The glass walls and modern furniture contrasted with the piles of books and old school stereo receiver. A large Bugs Bunny stuffed toy sat in one of his desk chairs, holding a guitar; Mickey Mouse lounged in another corner.

Ralph, Bugs, and Mickey all looked at us and waited. A little frazzled (he is the VP of ASCAP Nashville, after all…), I explained what we were there for and asked if we could play some songs for him. He nodded (Bugs and Mickey were stone faced), and from one phone we played a selection of our tunes while he read lyrics off another phone. He tapped his foot and listened intently, and for each song he had both general comments about the rules of writing hits and specific comments on the music and the message of the song. In 20 minutes I got more substantial, concrete feedback on my writing than I had in 15 years of gigging. I came away with some clear marching orders, all outlined neatly in the fresh copy of Ralph’s book which he generously gifted me. But perhaps most importantly, we came away inspired anew to work, reach, and refine our craft.

Despite the downpour outside, our footsteps were light. We walked by RCA Studios A and B – no big deal, just humble little studios where the likes of Dolly Parton, The Beach Boys, and B.B. King have recorded (to name a few) – on our way back to the car. We spent the rest of the day in vintage guitar shops playing precious, beautiful, completely unaffordable museum pieces before heading to The Ryman Auditorium, the famed hall that originally hosted the Grand Ole Opry.

The band was Blackberry Smoke, whose sound blends the liquid, dual guitars of the Allman Brothers with the soulful edge of the Black Crowes. Pure southern rock with catchy guitar riffs and a tight rhythm section, punctuated by interjections from the guest pedal steel player. As has been happening to me a lot lately, this music at once brought me back & pitched me forward. The familiarity of the song forms, the harmonies, and even the bands’ flowing locks (a-la-Gregg and Duane) were comforting, and felt like home; but the songs’ insights and delivery were very much of the current moment.

My favorite song of their set was one I have come to call “Itty Bitty Town”(though the song is actually called “One Horse Town” and the lyrics talk about a “little bitty town”, not an itty bitty one… remember the “creative” song lyrics you’d come with as a kid, based on what you thought you were hearing on the radio?). Contrasting nostalgia and loyalty to family and home with ambitions of something bigger, “One Horse Town” illustrates a conflict that’s all too familiar to the artists and dreamers of small town America. And it’s just as true today as it would have been over a century ago (when leaving town actually did require you to saddle up your pony).

This was the kind of timeless story and detail that Ralph (and Bugs and Mickey) were pushing us towards – something specific yet relatable, unique yet universal. To see and hear such a stunning example of this kind of writing live, so soon after our meeting with him, seemed uncanny… or at the very least, serendipitous. But really, that’s just living in Nashville. The place is simply saturated with music – good music – and everywhere you turn, musicians are reaching back and looking forward, honing their craft, their ears and hearts open. It was all we could do to soak it in for the brief window we walked those streets, tucked into the curves of the swelling Cumberland River, whose singing currents blended with the twang of the honky tonks and drifted up, up, up over the valley, fading into the stars.

Folkin’ Christmas in NY

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On Sunday, December 9, Berna & I are psyched to be returning to New York City! We’ll play a cozy acoustic set at Rockwood Music Hall (stage 1) starting at 6pm. Nestled on the lower east side, Rockwood presents a variety of independent music 7 days a week on 3 different stages. The tunes are top notch, the staff is great, and the beer’s not bad either – so join us to kick off the holiday season in beautiful New York!

Cape Ann Song: A Ballad for my Salty Hometown

Ahoy!

It’s a new month, so it’s time for another new song – and this one hits (quite) close to home. Please enjoy my love song to Cape Ann, written while far from home…

Click to listen to Cape Ann Song!

Adventure at sunset 2016

As many of you know, in recent years I have spent a lot of time far from my home port. During one of the longer sojourns abroad, I made the mistake of re-reading the beautiful book Lone Voyager, by Gloucester author Joseph Garland. It tells the extraordinary story of Howard Blackburn, a dory fisherman out of Gloucester who, after losing his mother ship in a snow squall, ended up also losing his dory mate and both of his hands while rowing for his life through the storm. He eventually made it to shore, and slowly made his way back to Gloucester.

Incredibly enough, this was just the beginning of his illustrious career on the high seas: despite having lost his hands, Blackburn went on to sail solo across the Atlantic (multiple times); he sailed down the U.S. east coast, around the tip of South America, and back up the west coast to Alaska for an ill-fated stint in the gold rush (though that time he had a crew); and he also sailed solo up the Hudson River, across the Great Lakes, and as far down the Mississippi as he could – until his hull got stuck in the mud. An inspiring, salty soul, to say the least.

I say that reading Lone Voyager while traveling was a mistake because, well, it made me incredibly homesick. Images of that stunning, uniquely-New England light over the Atlantic peppered my dreams; I would wake up to imaginary gull cries, or fog horns echoing over invisible harbors. Beyond the rich maritime history of the place, its rich artistic history haunted me as well: the poems of T.S. Eliot drifted through my mind, and mingled with the dreamy Luminism of Fitz Henry Lane and Winslow Homer, or the stark realism of Edward Hopper. So many have passed through this port, and have been inspired to work, to dream, to create. This is more than an island, I thought.

And so, around that phrase, a song was born: my humble tribute to a place I am honored to call home. Nel mio piccolo (in my little way), I hope it does the place some semblance of justice.

As ever, I am so grateful to my fellow musicians and collaborators in realizing this song – and grateful to you for listening, for reading, for writing, for showing your support in so many ways. Thank you.

I will be headed home again in August (!), and will be booking/posting gigs around New England soon. I cannot wait to see & sing to you. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this little taste of home, sent from afar.

Wistfully,
Marina

New release: “Afterglow”!

The third single off Tide & Stars is here!

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A song from the road, Afterglow paints a picture of our troubadour’s life together – both its beauty & uncertainty – and also gives the new album its name:

We’ll set our course by tide and stars
No map to draw or follow
With one voice and two guitars
We’ll sing our tomorrow

Hope this track kicks off your weekend (and your spring) right – and if the spirit moves you, please share!

This weekend: Portland, ME and New York City!

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This weekend, Marina & Berna hit the road for two intimate acoustic (and FREE!) shows. The first is on Friday, 3/10 up in the salty city of Portland, ME: we will play two original sets on the newly-renovated stage at Port City Blue, one of Portland’s coziest venues for original folk, bluegrass, jazz, and more. Our set starts at 8pm. Join us for tunes & brews (and maybe some snow)!

Next up, on Sunday, March 12, we head down to New York City to play a set at the Rockwood Music Hall, down on Manhattan’s lower east side. Rockwood has three separate stages, each in its own space with its own bar and staff — so they up hosting dozens of independent musicians each day! It’s a great place to come to discover new music. We hit at 5pm on Stage 1 – hope to see you, New York friends & fans!

“A Part of Something Bigger” — Live Review!

Marina, Berna, and Adam at the narrows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last weekend, Bernardo and I were honored to share the stage with rising star Adam Ezra and his fabulous band at the beautiful Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA. Several days later, while still riding high on the show’s good vibes, we were pleasantly surprised to see a glowing review from Tony Adams at the Live Music News & Review blog! Click here to check it out.

Tony is a dedicated fan of Adam’s, as you will read, and the sheer joy with which he writes of the concert is characteristic of Adam’s enthusiastic and inspired fans. As Adam said himself onstage, his main source of inspiration in writing, performing, and listening to live music is the feeling of being “a part of something bigger than yourself.” And this concert was no exception: we were all swept up in the moment, the music, the experience, singing and swaying together at concert’s end like the very best of old friends. It was an honor to be a part of this night, and to be a part of this incredible community that Adam has built up over many, many years on the road… and it certainly gave us something to aspire to.

 

Photo by Michael Sparks Keegan Photography

Now Teaching @ Marblehead/Salem School of Music!

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Marina is excited to be joining the team at the Marblehead/Salem School of Music this winter! She will be giving lessons in voice, guitar, songwriting, and ukulele. Study with Marina while she’s home — she will only be in the States until the early spring, so catch her while you can! Click here to learn more and sign up!

More about the Marblehead/Salem School of Music:

At the Marblehead and Salem Schools of Music, we strive to provide a total musical experience for each student. Drawing on the wide-ranging talents of our teaching staff, we are able to match student and teacher based on a variety of criteria, including personality, learning style, goals, and interests. As part of private lessons, all students are given the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians and to showcase their skills; either live, at a formal or informal recital, or in the recording studio.

We make lessons fun and our studios funky, but everything is rooted in pure, wholesome academics. We track student’s weekly progress in a password protected database to make parent-teacher communication seamless. We take pride in the accomplishments of all of our students and view their growth both as individuals and as musicians as our success.

Buy Music, Support the ACLU!

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Exciting news: digital music retailer Bandcamp, the site/service through which I (and many, many independent artists!) share and sell digital music downloads, is donating 100% of its profits from digital music sales today to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)!

AND SO AM I!

Click here to listen!

In exchange for digital distribution service, Bandcamp takes a 15% cut of all digital music sales conducted through its site. Today, I am honored to join Bandcamp in their effort to support immigrants, upon whose backs this great country was built.

Ethan Diamond, Bandcamp’s founder, writes:

“Like 98% of U.S. citizens (including the President), I am the descendant of immigrants—my great-grandparents came to America from Russia and Lithuania as teenagers and worked in sweatshops until they were able to afford to bring the rest of their families over. Most everyone you speak to in this country has a similar story to tell, because we are, in fact, a nation of immigrants, bound together by a shared belief in justice, equality, and the freedom to pursue a better life. In this context, last week’s Executive Order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States is not simply immoral, it violates the very spirit and foundation of America.”

Click here to visit my Bandcamp site, where you can listen & purchase my music (and discover more independent music & artists!). For today’s sales, I too will donate 100% of my earnings to the ACLU!*

 

*Note on song “Color Line (Old Man Trump)”: My profits from this song have already been promised to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, but Bandcamp will still donate 100% of their proceeds for sale of this track to the ACLU. For all other songs and albums sold today, I will donate 100% of my profits to the ACLU.

Homeward Bound: Stateside Summer Shows

Marina & Berna in VT 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s that time of year again – when I fly across the Atlantic from Italy to Cape Ann, Massachusetts, only to hit the ground running (& singing!) for a summer tour across New England. And I couldn’t be more excited!

This summer, it’s quite the mix: solo acoustic shows, concerts in duo with my musical partner & killer slide guitarist Bernardo Baglioni, and performances fronting the incredible Compaq Big Band. Everything from house concerts (in living rooms, recording studios, and one on the stunning shores of Lake Winnipesaukee!) to museums, from the decks of one of Gloucester’s historic schooners to the hallowed halls of aged New England churches — there’s a concert for everyone. Click here to see the full calendar!

I’m also looking forward to a benefit concert for the Schooner Adventure, “the last of the Gloucestermen,” a historic ship that is a living testament to our rich maritime history (August 12). I’ll be performing in acoustic duo with Bernardo aboard the ship as she’s docked in her beautiful home port of Gloucester, MA. Come join us for a sunset concert beneath the spars!

More concerts are being added all the time, so stay tuned — click here to view the full concert calendar, or follow me on Facebook or Instagram for up-to-the-minute news. Many thanks all — looking forward to seeing you (and singing to you!) along the road!

 

Back in the Studio for New Album “Tide and Stars”!

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Big news, everybody: I’m back in the studio again working on a brand new original album entitled Tide and Stars! As with my two most recent records, Unbound and The Tuscan Sessions, I am working with Italian producer (and my husband & musical partner, incidentally) Bernardo Baglioni. Unlike our past two records — both recorded here in Italy, with our Italian band — this time we’ll be recording with a mix of Italian and American musicians, and we’ll be doing so on both sides of the pond.

We hit the studio this week in Florence, Italy with Florentine drummer Donald Renda (pictured above), who is also featured on both Unbound and The Tuscan Sessions. And as usual, he nailed it! Next up are the basses, followed by guitars, mandolins, and possibly dobro & banjo — and finally, we’ll wrap things up with the vocal tracks.

This record takes a decidedly more acoustic, folk/americana turn than my last two projects, and I’m looking forward to realizing these songs in a more pared-down context. The songs are direct, to the point, and hark back to traditional song forms & structures. It’s raw, it’s true, and it’s me — so it’s thrilling, and more than a little scary, to bring this music to life and to share it with the world. That said — I can’t wait! Stay tuned for more news & updates as the project moves forward. Onwards!