Cosy Sheridan

 

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Two Boston area concerts!

Nov. 18 at Tremedal Concerts, Watertown, Mass.

Dec. 9 at Linden Tree Coffeehouse, Wakefield, Mass.

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COSY SHERIDAN
Pretty Bird
Waterbug 0116

With clear poetic lyrics and mostly-acoustic arrangements based around Cosy’s impeccable guitar work, it doesn’t get better than this. Her guitar and vocal were recorded live, a rare thing in this world of overdubbed blandness, and cradled in simple arrangements that never make you feel like every song comes from a folk template where “guitar riff number 34″ always appears after the chorus. In fact, I forgot about the band a lot of the time, not because they aren’t good, but because they complement her well-written songs so well.

These songs cover a two-year period with a great deal of change in her life, from a break-up to new love, from a move across the country to the death of someone dear to her. Even though these are her stories, you’ll feel them reflected in your own life. In “Drive On” she sings about “Working hard to let it all fall apart.” When there’s so much change, sometimes that’s all you can manage. We’ve all been there. “The First Song” is a break-up tune. In less experienced hands this topic could lumber along like a bad journal entry but instead, it feels like a conversation with friend where all you need to do is give her a cup of tea and listen. “Pretty Bird” has a bluegrass feel, with solid harmonies and lively banjo rolls and mandolin chops driving it along. Cosy is known for her funny songs and she doesn’t disappoint in the swing tune “Welcome to Boston,” a “tribute” to that city’s drivers – “They just need you to get out of their way / Welcome to Boston, have a nice day.” Cosy also likes to use myths and see how they apply to everyday life; in “Rise Out of the Water,” she imagines a conversation between Arthur and Guinevere. What character she plays in that story may surprise you. She’s a master at metaphors, using them well in “Lost and Found,” where finding your way might mean using a map to find the grocery store or to figure out your life in general. “Sing Goodbye” is a ballad with only guitar, bass and vocal that’s about processing the hard stuff life throws your way. “Charlie is My Darling” is a light-hearted song done in the style of “Freight Train” and “Charlie on the MTA.” The CD ends with a sweet lullaby, “The Sandman’s Ride.” Every song is a gem. Highly recommended.

— Jamie Anderson

Cosy Sheridan was dreaming. She'd broken up with her partner of two decades, a songwriter and poet named TR Ritchie. And now here was Ritchie — "He was a big, strong man," Sheridan says — lifting a dead cherry tree out of the ground in front of the house they used to share in Moab, Utah. And beneath that tree, in the hole left in the ground? Gold.

Sheridan has a new album, Pretty Bird, and Ritchie had certainly been a big part of it. "People talk about this being your divorce album," she says. But that notion was dismissed in part by the dream. "Here's a dead tree that turned into something positive," Sheridan says. Just as a sad turn of life led her to visit Richie once last time. "I had to stop being mad at him," she says. "We spent two days wrapping things up. Because I knew what was happening."

So Pretty Bird, and all of the negative things it could have been, had evolved into something positive, songs to be sung Saturday at Rochester Christian Reformed Church. They are personal songs, joining a catalog of work that is often quite funny. A serious folk singer who's been played on the Dr. Demento radio show. "If you can do something that gets a laugh," she says, "you can get away with anything."

Just ask the neutered protagonist of "The True and Terrible Trials of Waldo the Dog."

Sheridan is into meditation, yoga, hiking. "Quiet things," she says, and out of those moments come songs. "It's almost mystical how these images come out of us." She passes it on as best she can, through adult music classes around the country. "It's giving adults access to creativity," she says. "People with a busy life don't have a lot of experience looking into their own interior."

She felt it at an early age. "My grandfather played piano," Sheridan says. "I would sit under the piano when he was playing. And I sensed then, the room feels different. It feels energized."

The lesson? "A song is a three-minute piece of energy that you're bringing into the world."

"I found I was writing in my 20s what a lot of people in their 20s write, longing love songs. But I stopped having the energy to sing those kinds of songs, because I was in a loving relationship." She discovered mythology as a songwriting tool. And ideas that people can connect with. Co-opting ancient mythology. The environment. Women's body image, that's been a big one for Sheridan. It started with "The Losing Game."

"I had an eating disorder as an adolescent," she says. "I thought, 'This song is way too personal, no one is going to want to hear this.' This was 1989 or '90, there wasn't much stuff out there about body image in the media."

"The Losing Game" helped her overcome her own problem, "because I noticed I wasn't the only woman who felt that way about my body. When I finished the song, three-quarters of the women in the room are looking me in eye and saying, 'Yeah, that's me, too.'

"And I thought, 'Oh, I can be useful.' "

She's since followed up with songs about anatomically correct Barbie dolls. And "The Botox Tango," a reality of aging that she came face to face with when, "One woman offered to inject me at a concert during the break."

And Sheridan found out she could be useful yet again, in December 2013, when she heard that Ritchie had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

They'd had solo careers, and had played together, she on guitar, he on bass. Ritchie had been a major part of her life, but was now completely exorcized from her existence. "That doesn't correspond to any shape I was taught as a child," she says. "Life had given me cues as to how a human being is to react in a certain situation. This sort of challenged all of that.

"I had to realize: You are really mad at somebody who is not going to be there."

So she went out to Washington state, where Ritchie had moved and was now living with another woman, rebuilding his life only to see it now ending. "He told me, 'You're in charge of my history now,' " Sheridan says. "He was a songwriter and poet, a man in his 60s with no children. And he had created this stuff. If you're a writer you say, 'My books are in the library.' If you're a songwriter, it's not obvious. People don't have a sense of what your art is. It's more nebulous."

It matters because, as Sheridan says, "Your songs are your children."

"We did a tribute concert in Moab. It was helpful for the town, we'd been public people in town until that awful ending, when we both left. I was reading his poems in concert for a while. I did the best job I could by him as a human being.

"I do end up talking about him from time to time. But there was another woman, the official widow, and I'm happily married now to another man."

She'd met Charlie Koch, a student at one of her songwriting camps. "He was the good thing that happened after this nasty breakup," Sheridan says. "My life has taken a dramatic turn, I feel like I have a vibrant life, actually. My life is actually quite different than when I was living in a little town in the Utah desert."

Now she and Koch live in New England. He'll be the bass player at Saturday's show, and the inspiration for "Charlie is My Darling" and "Sweet Animal," songs that took Pretty Bird away from being just the divorce album.

"There's nothing more passive-aggressive than living with a songwriter," Sheridan says. "You take something that is personal and write it for 100 strangers."

 

 

Cosy Sheridan was delighted to hear that she would be playing the 1,500th Bound for Glory broadcast. So delighted, in fact, that she immediately began to write a song for the occasion. The occasion is this Sunday, January 25, between 8 and 11 p.m. in the café of Anabel Taylor Hall and also heard live on WVBR-FM.

Sheridan is known for her topical songs like “Bikini on a Billboard” from Ant Hymn (2000), about using sex to sell everything, or “Turboyeast” from Botox Tango (2003), about pesky infections. While these define her as one kind of folk musician, Sheridan is also a singer-songwriter in the classic mold that incorporates personal material into her songs, as did the entirety of her last album Pretty Bird (2008), which chronicled the end of a relationship.

Personal changes in her life have also brought Sheridan back east. Originally from Concord, N.H. and having spent her early years in the New England folk scene, Sheridan has recently moved to Massachusetts after spending 20 years in Moab, Utah.

“I love the Southwest,” she said. “I love the atmosphere of the desert, but there’s not a lot of folk music out there.” While living out west Sheridan would spend half the year on the road, going out for weeks at a time and spending a lot of time going up and down the West Coast. “Now that I am back east I get to be home more,” she said, “and that’s pleasant. I’m not 22 anymore, and touring is tiring.” She has kept her house in Moab and will return there regularly to teach guitar and songwriting workshops.

Sheridan is a finger-style guitarist and studied with Eric Schoenberg and Guy Van Duser. Van Duser pioneered the transcription of stride piano playing for the guitar. Sheridan loves the playing of Randy Newman. “I try to make my guitar sound like his playing,” she said. “A lot of his chord progressions are drawn from the ‘Great American Songbook,’ like his use of dominant 7th chords. It’s a distinctly American sound; Stephen Foster was the pioneer.” 

Songwriters like Foster married traditions from American (and African-American) vernacular music to those of the European art song. It is essentially the sound of American pop music, including what is heard in Broadway musicals. As a New Englander Sheridan knows and sometimes plays fiddle tunes (on the guitar), but her tastes keep drawing her toward Southern styles like ragtime and the blues rather than string band music.

Upon her return to the Boston area Sheridan saw that the scene at changed. “It used to be that if you won a songwriting contest, everyone knew,” she said. “Now there are lots of ‘tribes with short [statistical] tails, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it [in The Tipping Point].”

The younger Boston musicians—Sheridan is 50—are also influenced by growing up with indie rock. “Looking at it from a guitar playing point of view, they are doing more strumming with their right hands, while the left hand is very versatile,” she noted. “Ragtime, for example, teaches you a lot of different rhythms [for your right hand], but indie rock has fewer variants.’

Although she has lived out west a long time, Sheridan has always returned to New England to make her albums with the same musicians. Although she was pleased to recently be told that she had something of the Southwest about her personality, she still identifies as a New Englander, retaining an ironic personality, a distinctly “Boston style” of guitar playing, and a denser lyrical approach. The “Nashville approach,” she said, leaves more room in the lines.

Her new husband, Charlie Koch, is her bass player and will appear with her this Sunday, also singing harmony. She estimates that she has played Bound for Glory five or six times since she first came to Ithaca in 1996. “I played the Cornell Folk Song Society. Phil [Shapiro] was there, and he asked me to play his show,” she recalled. “Now every time I visit Tommy and Sara Blecher have a potluck, and I feel like I’m a momentary resident of Ithaca.”

Horse King/Wind River

In this, her 10th release, Cosy admits to only recently deciding to call herself a “singer songwriter”. Previously, she’d always been only comfortable with “guitarist who sings”.

She learned to play guitar decades ago from her babysitter, and it became her comfort and creative outlet.  I’m always excited to hear a woman who can really play, and this Berklee student can.  That is not to say that she should underplay her writing chops, which in my view, has always placed her solidly in the top 10% of touring artists.

Mythology, religion and higher finance take turns emerging in this release.  Of the 10 cuts, five are humorous and many contain warnings and advice. “Pay attention, don’t trust your pension to someone younger than you” precedes the almost motherly suggestion to “be outside.”

Cosy writes intelligent and clever lyrics with stickable melodies.   The title cut is a great example. Aging sucks; whether you experience it personally or watch it’s emerging reality on a loved one.  Cosy uses the iconic imagery of the Horse King, now past his prime, being taunted and overrun by young stallions. Once you’ve heard this melody you will not get it out of your head.  A superb song.

As some artists age, their writing doesn’t match their earlier excellence, but Cosy consistently delivers and with real musicianship. Count on her to be clever with educated and touching lyrics whether in humor or reflection. – AP

The Horse King/Waterbug #102

"The Horse King," from Chicago's Waterbug Records, is Cosy Sheridan's 10th CD, give or take. You can't make it into double digits, and continue touring for twenty or so years, unless you know what you're doing, and do it well.

Rarely do you find a CD where every song is memorable. It happens, just not often. It happens here. Nine of the 10 cuts are Cosy Sheridan originals. They are mostly upbeat, often toungue-in-cheek, and always original and clever.

In "Higher Financial Reform," as a way to encourage us not to trust our retirement funds to someone younger, Cosy suggests, "He will talk about liquidity, but really he knows diddly."  Now, I ask you, when have you ever seen "liquidity" rhymed with "diddly."? Do some research and get back to me.

Play an air guitar? Don't do it. "Air guitar might have its charm, to me it's a waste of the hand and the arm." Cosy, my air guitar sounds better than the wood and string one.

"The Horse King" succeeds on all levels. Cosy is joined by Kent Allyn, David Surette, Penny Nichols, and TR Ritchie, on all their various instruments. Some cuts on the CD almost resemble show music in their productions.

The Horse King

Waterbug #102

Seems fitting that a premiere folkie should land on the premiere folk label. Picking up the socio-political folkie side of things, Sheridan assails blows against the empire like she's a latter day Wobblie. Without being strident, she manages to send out a bunch more messages than the typical singer/songwriter has for quite some time. Delightfully offbeat, this is the email you look forward to getting from a friend of yours that's always on the go. All folkies know she's the real deal and this latest chapter is on the money throughout.

Eros

Windriver #4042

Cosy Sheridan possesses an eccentric muse, or perhaps it possesses her. That's all for the good as this muse leads her into explorations to which other writers are oblivious. Thus, Eros stems largely from Greek mythology, as Sheridan sings with the wisdom of Minerva. Eros is a complete dozen song cycle that explores the nature of contemporary women and their lives as reflected in the age-old mythology. Sheridan specifically cites the myth of Eros and Psyche as the foundation for the album. She introduces the album's concept with the opening "The Story Of Longing," which contains a line about "the gods holding out their hand to me." Several of the songs stand alone without direct reference to the theme, but, taken in context, they fit like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. "The Beauty Cream" updates the Persephone myth in a mock Gospel style. The wonderfully tongue-in-cheek "Weekend Workshop" sends up and puts down some New Age rituals. It might take Dr. Freud to divine all the nuances contained in this fascinating album of well-written songs. "You Still Love Me Somewhere" could be mistaken for a Carter Family song, not derivative, simply in that timeless style. The album ends with some irony, with "Happiness is Waiting," a song that uses laundry as metaphor. On this self-produced CD, Penny Nichols helped with the arrangements. Sheridan, who is a most adept guitarist, is accompanied by TR Ritchie, Kent Allyn, Nichols, David Surette and Eric Halter. This talented crew gives the songs bounce and substance. There's some very tasty picking on many of the songs. Sheridan has practiced her trade for many years, and has touched on these themes before, but not in a coherent stream of new songs. 1 laud her for going to Hades and back for a CD that stands apart from the hydra of singer-songwriters. Sheridan sings with the knowingness in her performance of someone who has lived, and this makes the tale of Eros all the more provocative and relevant.--RWarr

The Boston Globe 

1998

Scott Alarik

Before she knew how to write a song, Cosy Sheridan knew how to sell one to an audience. The native New Englander, now a fast-rising national folk star living in Utah, cut her performing teeth in the rough-and-tumble pubs of coastal New Hampshire, where people's tolerance for singer-songwriter sophistry tends to constrict as their bar tabs expand. Before she could indulge her muse, she had to learn how to win and keep a crowd.

Friday, she returned to Club Passim, where she had recorded her last CD, to celebrate her new one, "Grand Design" (BWE). Rather than bask in her budding stardom, she turned the packed club into her own clubhouse, treating the crowd more like school chums than urbane concertgoers.

Before her first song, she had the crowd nestling in the palm of her hand, as she strapped on a guitar and gabbed about her fading Utah tan and dandy Harvard Square parking spot. She seemed always in the moment, interrupting her song introductions to share road tales and backstage secrets, interacting breezily with the crowd, always turning her sharpest barbs on herself. Even when singing, she seemed to be sharing confidences, with her earthy soprano marked by a captivating rounded vowel phrasing that was distinctive but never affected. A whispery texture gave her topical ballads a hushed urgency, her lonely love songs a windswept plaintiveness, her humanistic meditations a wistful honesty. Kent Allyn wonderfully supported her supple guitar with wet bass slides, cool piano, and hot guitar. She sang sharp, hilarious satires of our vain pop culture, junk food, sports utility vehicles (she called them "armored station wagons"), and the road-warrior driving they inspire. Ballads about surviving child abuse and succumbing to Alzheimer's disease were powerful in their intimate detail and deep-cut empathy. In her revealingly personal philosophical songs, she bravely acknowledged that life's darkest corners cannot always be swept clean, adding great credibility to her frequent theme that healing begins in simple self-belief. She even stripped away the veneer of the encore ritual, saying she'd save the crowd all that hand-clapping, and herself the awkward trip back to the stage, and simply stay put. "So for my last song, wink, wink, wink," she said conspiratorially, making even her final ovation less an act of adulation from fans to star than a shared pact between buddies. Local folk veteran Bernice Lewis offered a very pleasing set of lilting, wise songs, highlighted by a lushly sensual ode she called "a song of unrequited lust." There was also a funny male-basher about a working wife who decides, after consideration of her too-contented couch-potato husband, that she needs a wife, too. It is impossible not to have a good time listening to Lewis sing.