Elixir, The Soulgrass Sessions

Paula Boggs Band

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Elixir, The Soulgrass Sessions

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Elixir is a fitting title for the Paula Boggs Band’s new album: “It suggests a magic potion, something that will make things better for you if you ingest it,” says Boggs, leader of the Seattle soulgrass group.

That’s just what the singer and her band offer on their third full-length album. The 11 tracks on Elixir — The Soulgrass Sessions mix

Elixir is a fitting title for the Paula Boggs Band’s new album: “It suggests a magic potion, something that will make things better for you if you ingest it,” says Boggs, leader of the Seattle soulgrass group.

That’s just what the singer and her band offer on their third full-length album. The 11 tracks on Elixir — The Soulgrass Sessions mix political-minded calls to action with love songs and personal reflections, for a blend as flavorful and enticing as any magic potion could be. “This album is more cohesive sonically than we’ve ever been,” says Boggs, who sings and plays guitar and ukulele. “We have come to a sound that is uniquely ours.”

The Paula Boggs Band’s rich, rootsy style comes from its versatile lineup: guitarist and banjo player Mark Chinen; bassist and vocalist Isaac Castillo; multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Eric Vanderbilt Matthews; percussionist and vocalist Tor Dietrichson; and drummer Sandy Greenbaum. Together, they dial in a reverential feel on the love song “Gypsy Sapphire,” as banjo and mandolin parts intertwine over subtle backing from acoustic guitar and keyboards. There’s a gentle acoustic lilt to “Peel the Charade” that takes on a gospel feel as Boggs repeats, “Heal us, heal us,” at the end of the song. Resonant piano and acoustic guitars anchor “Sleepwalking,” a song that urges vigilance in the face of apathy and cynicism. “The lyrics really are a call to action for citizens to stay informed and engaged,” Boggs says. “Literally woke. Like, don’t sleepwalk!”

The tune is one of several songs on the album that carries on the citizen-artist theme that underpinned the Paula Boggs Band’s 2016 live EP Songs of Protest & Hope. The musicians were in the studio recording Elixir on Election Day in 2016, and the tenor of the times couldn’t help but seep into the songs. “We All Fall Down” was inspired by candidate Trump, she says, though the song has a broader application. “We can all trip,” Boggs says. “It really doesn’t matter whether you’re white, black, brown, male or female, Christian, Muslim or Jew. It’s a universal phenomenon.”

“Benediction” comes from a deeper place. In many ways the centerpiece of the album, Boggs wrote the redemptive song in the wake of the 2015 mass-shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist murdered nine African-American parishioners after they welcomed him to a Tuesday night prayer service. Boggs shared lyrics to the song with a couple of lawyers she knows in South Carolina, and they helped arrange for the Paula Boggs Band to perform the tune with the church’s choir at a memorial event in Charleston on the second anniversary of the massacre.

“It was incredibly moving,” Boggs says. “In rehearsing the song and recording it, each member of the band had a personal reaction to it, but it really hit home when we landed in Charleston. There is a memorial to the Charleston Nine in the airport, so you literally can’t enter the city of Charleston without being confronted by what happened two years ago.”

For all her focus on current events and topical songs, Boggs shows a personal, introspective side on Elixir, too. She and the band convey a somber, wistful feeling on “Rearview Mirror,” with banjo, piano and a wash of cymbals over wordless vocal harmonies. Boggs wrote the song about saying farewell to Santa Fe, where she had owned a home for 15 years. The city played a formative role in her music career.

“When I retired from Starbucks, Santa Fe was the first place we went,” says Boggs, an Army Airborne veteran whose career has included a five-year stint as a federal prosecutor and working as a vice president at Dell and as Starbucks’ top lawyer. “We spent two months there. Part of it was making a transition from being general counsel of Starbucks to something else.”

Leaving the corporate world allowed her to focus on music full-time, while also serving on the boards of KEXP.org public radio, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the video and audio company Avid Technology. She’s at once pleased and impressed with how the band has grown over the decade most of the musicians have been playing together. “It’s been an evolution,” she says. Bassist Castillo, a relative newcomer, joined in 2016, and Boggs credits him with enhancing the group’s music. “He just brings a magic to our sound that makes it richer and rootsier and all those good things,” she says.

In fact, the Paula Boggs Band has developed a dynamic so tight-knit that they branched in a couple of new directions on Elixir. They recorded their first instrumental, “Two Daughters,” which Mark Chinen wrote. “I’m so happy we have an original song on this album that was not written by me,” Boggs says.

They also updated their repertoire of cover songs with a spellbinding version of “Holocene” by indie-folk artist Bon Iver. “Almost every cover we’d done had come from the 1960s,” Boggs says, so the band decided that if Elixir were going to include a cover, it had to come from the 2000s. “Holocene” turned out to be an easy choice: the musicians all liked the song, and saw an opportunity to arrange it in a more discernible way than the oblique, effects-treated original. “The lyrics are mysteriously beautiful, and a lot of people don’t know that,” Boggs says. “We wanted to cover ‘Holocene’ in a way that really showcased the emotion of the song.”

As it happens, that same sensibility applies to all 11 tracks on Elixir, a collection of songs that are beautiful and emotional, from a group of musicians playing together at the peak of their powers. It’s a strong potion indeed.


“We are living in a world where there is so much negative rhetoric, so much darkness and so much hatred, but in the midst of the negative rhetoric there is a light of hope, a beacon of light, a candle burning bright; it's a "Benediction".

A Benediction speaks to a further promise, the hope that one day it will get better, a trust that reminds us that hate will not win. The song "Benediction" speaks to the very thing that is needed in this day and age. We need to pray and ask the Lord to heal our land; hug our children never taking tomorrow for granted; and encourage one another by reminding them that love is stronger than hate.”

— Pastor Eric S.C. Manning, Masters of Divinity, Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church Charleston

“Boggs makes...urban, jazzy music...within the structures of...folk, bluegrass, and...blues...[s]he calls... “soulgrass,” and reminds me a little of Gil Scott-Heron, if only for the razor-intensity of her words...in a croony-rich street voice...evocative and easy to like.”

— San Diego Reader

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Paula's Blog

Pride Month 2022 

Every year during June the global LGBTQ+ community and those who love/support us celebrate in a variety ways, take stock, recommit to justice, march, advocate and honor the struggles, sacrifices and deaths of those who came before. Why June? Because it is when the Stonewall Riots took place in 1969. 

Twenty years after Stonewall I came out to myself, family members and close friends after meeting my now spouse. I was scared. At the time I was Roman Catholic and a federal prosecutor. I still am also African American and back then that community wasn’t home to a lot of support for my new one. Regularly gay people were fired, denied housing, not allowed to adopt, assaulted, sometimes arrested and surely not able to marry. Matthew Wayne Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, tortured, and left to die near Laramie on the night of October 6, 1998, nine years after my spouse and I got together. 

The LGBTQ+ community has come far but our human rights gains are fragile and under attack.This Pride Month seems different, more urgent. Love is love. The fight goes on. I am a soldier.🌈💯

Inspired by Pride Month I made this playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/32vER5lJhTNWTxkWZg58fd?si=WH1kO9ZWT8Oy6-u6HCN97g

A Songwriter’s Take on Mass Shootings and Hate Crimes 

Not all mass shootings are hate crimes and not all hate crimes are mass shootings. But when they intersect something particularly cancerous cuts America’s soul and sullies all pretense of America as “shining city on the hill.”  

As a songwriter I’ve been drawn to the cancer. Inspiration for 2017’s “Benediction” came while driving from Bend to Eugene, OR, through the stunningly beautiful Willamette National Forest while listening to President Obama eulogize Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of nine Black victims of a hate crime massacre, killing 9, at Charleston, SC’s Mother Emanuel AME Zion Church on June 17, 2015, moments after the parishioners had welcomed the supremacist monster into their prayer circle. 

More mass shootings and hate crimes happened between June 2015 and October 18, 2018, but when Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue was attacked by an anti-Semite leaving 11 dead and 6 wounded, including several holocaust survivors it cut deep. Maybe because my spouse is Jewish. Maybe because I’ve seen the Dachau Nazi concentration camp. Maybe because it was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States ever. A mere 6 days later and 400 miles away another hate-filled gunman gunned down three African Americans, killing two, at a Kentucky Kroger’s. These two hate crimes in a single week led me to write 2022’s “Shadow of Old Glory.” 

Admittedly “I don’t have answers” but as our song “Peel the Charade” also says, “we need each other to mend.” Finding a cure for cancer is more complex than mastering the engineering and physics required for spaceflight. But that doesn’t stop the medical profession from trying. And so it is. Let’s fight the urge to go numb. When we give someone beyond our “tribe,” whatever that tribe is, the benefit of doubt, we move the needle away from hate and towards light. I mourn for the victims, their families, the City of Buffalo and America. I don’t want to write another song about a hate crime mass shooting either.

Reflections on 64th Recording Academy Show 

These are my personal views. I thought Sunday’s show was its best in years. Was it flawless? No. Were there a few unfortunate winners? Sure. I’ve been a Recording Academy voting member for a decade+ and a PNW Chapter board governor for two. I’m also my chapter’s ambassador to the Recording Academy’s national DEI Council. 

I take my job as a voting member seriously. It dishonors the work of my peers to do anything less. And yes, the Recording Academy awards are the result of creators/engineers/producers/crafts people, etc. judging the works of peers. It is not a popularity contest for me. I don’t check to see who’s #1 on Billboard or some other chart. I choose the categories I vote in carefully and listen to the music. After listening and comparing I vote. If you’re doing it authentically it is arduous work. 

Most nominees and winners become such because of what 12K+ individual voters collectively decide (a recent reform). When you say “the Grammys” got it wrong, you’re actually saying more individual voters than not got it “wrong.” I can’t speak for other voters but I’m listening for musicianship, the quality of lyrics where applicable, whether a piece really “fits” its genre and how a song makes me feel. All highly subjective.  

As the Recording Academy’s membership becomes more generationally, racially, culturally, geographically, gender and overall diverse that diversity will be reflected in its voting. For those eligible for membership who choose to criticize outside the tent, that’s on you. #music #diversity #grammyawards #grammys2022

Finding Sacred in Music Amidst a Horrid News Week 

I wasn’t sure…having bought tickets months ago, confident in my Pfizer vaccine, Seattle’s high vaccination rate and before “Delta”became a household word.  Reading about the beefed up air filtration system at Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle, the show’s proof of vaccination and mask mandates gave more confidence. Fremont Abbey Arts Center, the show’s sponsor and its volunteers we’re totally buttoned up and professional. I sprang for the “reserve” seating, up front, not only to see Haley Heynderickx and The Milk Carton Kids better but as an added measure of caution…more space. 

As soon as Haley opened her mouth, singing and playing Cat Stevens’ “Morning is Broken” I was transported to a new world, more hopeful and sacred than that other one outside the cathedral’s massive and ornate doors. Waif-like in appearance, Heynderickx is funny, exudes generosity, authenticity and OMG has a young Joan Baez voice that accompanies serious John Fahey-esque guitar chops.  She is a beautifully ironic lyricist too. I could have listened all night to this amazing opening act, wanting way more. First time hearing her live, I’ll definitely come back. 

The Milk Carton Kids did not disappoint. Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale make harmonies evoking Simon & Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers and masterful dueling acoustic guitars make the complexity of their voices weaved together all the more stunning. They are also very funny…almost Smothers Brothers-esque for those old enough to remember. They too, more than once and heart-fully each time, expressed gratitude for being able to share their art, at this time, in such a sacred place. 

At the end of a horrific news week, in the healing and transformative power of music, masked community within a holy place, I found “peace.”

A Review of Bob Dylan’s Memoir “Chronicles: Volume One” 

Chronicles: Volume OneChronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s Dylan so not surprisingly the prose is highly lyrical. Honestly I was blown away by Dylan’s otherworldly ability to describe in exquisite detail…color schemes, books lining a shelf, passengers on a train, a shop owner…events of 50+ years ago. It was fascinating and educational to explore, through Dylan’s eyes, his start in music, including his many influences. Though I knew about Woody Guthrie’s hold on Dylan, it was cool to be introduced to the many characters of the early 1960s New York Greenwich Village folk scene, including several African Americans like Odetta and Spike Lee’s dad, bassist Bill Lee. A few times the chronology confused me and frankly I think that was intentional. For example, throughout the memoir Dylan refers to his “wife” without a name. Unless you know Dylan’s biography you’d have no clue he was talking about two different women and the second one is African American. Even if you’re not a Dylan fan though, it’s a wonderful read. 

View all my reviews

A New Dawn...2021  

We could not script 2020 and it tested us. Reminded of those lost, seeing Kobe Bryant’s name provoked...”was that really this year?”...his pre-COVID-19 death seemingly eons ago. Families, communities, a nation, a planet...all challenged, upended and many suffered incalculably. We were called to think different, do different, be different and many of us did just that — how we work, play, create, shop, eat, go to school, socialize, exercise, heal, celebrate, vote, marry, worship, die. The human spirit can be an amazing thing. 

The band will record/release it’s 4th studio album in 2021 and Covid-19 willing we’ll travel to Portland, OR to do it in March.  These  ten original songs were written or re-imagined after the pandemic isolated us. It will be an album of story-telling and musically grounded in the folk tradition with hints of jazz, gospel, bluegrass and other roots music influences. At a time when the African American story has taken a front row seat in our consciousness, many of these songs serve as windows.  We will use mostly acoustic instruments though a song or two might be accented with something electric/digital.

We can’t wait to make this art and share it with all of you!

May Your 2021 Be Blessed.❤️

Remembering Someone I Never Knew 

Remembering Someone I Never Knew 

Why had I not heard of her?  How does that happen? I’m not sure why the Sunday Seattle Times obituary section always finds me.  Maybe it’s because the older I get the more likely I’ll read about someone I once knew or learn of someone I’m meeting too late.  So it was this morning.  reakfast I started turning the pages old school of my local daily news.  There’s something about the feel of actual paper, the sound of pages turning and ritual that make my print edition a welcomed luxury in an era where I could consume its content online the night before. 

The Times has a section called “Passages” that follows the local obit section and covers national and international figures.  There I learned about Allee Willis, “one of the music industry’s most colorful figures” who died on December 24th at age 72.  During her lifetime Willis wrote well over 900 songs and was responsible for hits as diverse as Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” The Pet Shop Boys “What Have I Done to Deserve This?,” tracks for Dusty Springfield, Ray Charles, Cyndi Lauper and co-writing the music for “The Color Purple.” In 2018 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  I should have known about her.  I wish I’d known about her.  But I didn’t.  In an industry where “performance” is king, too many songwriters don’t know about other songwriters.  I can’t change the industry but I can change myself.  Willis’s story inspires me to learn.  Inspires me to take more steps to discover fellow songwriters...before “Passages.” 

Allee Willis’s 10 Most Influential Songs

Buying My First Guitar at Age Ten (from upcoming memoir work in progress) 

As a third and fourth grader I sang songs like “Sounds of Silence,” “Blowin’ in The Wind,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “If I Had A Hammer.” They didn’t sound great on my clarinet but each showcased an instrument capturing my ear and imagination — the acoustic guitar. I wanted to sing and play these songs in my bedroom. The chord progressions, minor chord vibe and lyrics intersected with my sense of the Civil Rights Movement, and were tailored for the 9 year old me. I wanted to play guitar. 

When I first told my parents they were less than sold. I’d already blown through the piano and clarinet with not much to show beyond expenses. So my mom and I cut a deal: they’d rent a guitar and pay for lessons but to own one, I’d have to pay for half. My guitar lessons started with songs like “Hey Jude, 
 “House of the Rising Sun” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Within six months I’d written a song and offered guitar lessons to kids in the neighborhood, five cents a session, a pig-tailed entrepreneur saving coins towards a dream.  

One of my favorite TV shows was “Here Come The Brides,” based in Seattle, a place I knew nothing about beyond the show. It aired between 1968-70 so at 10 when guitar lessons started I’d been watching the show a year. The basic storyline was Seattle, this rugged male-heavy logging community out west wooed women from New England to move there to get married. The three main male characters were brothers Jason, Joshua and Jeremy, the latter played by teen throb Bobby Sherman. Jeremy’s love interest was Candy and I was obsessed with them or maybe just her. The first song I ever wrote was “Candy” and I told my parents, guitar teacher and myself it was a song I wrote for Jeremy to sing to Candy: 

“Her lips are red as roses. 
Her eyes are hazel blue. 
Her hair is long and pretty. 
My girl, my girl Candy. 

I love the way she walks and talks. 
I love the way she smiles. 
I love the way she says hello. 
My girl, my girl Candy. 

After “Candy” I wrote “Ozymandias,” about an imaginary dog, and by then I’d also raised $20, enough to buy half my first guitar. 

By combing classified ads in the Richmond Times Dispatch I found a used acoustic guitar for $40 in a  local pawn shop and with newspaper in hand told my mom I’d found the “perfect” guitar.  

We drove off soon after in search of my prize. By the time we got there though, the guitar was sold. Gone. The 10 year old me, visibly shaken, touched my mom’s heart. “Paula, you stuck to the bargain so if there’s another guitar here you like I’ll get it for you.” In that moment, she was the coolest mom any kid could invent. We’d struck a deal though so I told her “no,” I wanted to find a $40 guitar.  Overhearing us, the shop owner told us he had a guitar in his basement that might meet our needs. My mom thanked him and then turning to me said, “Paula, you don’t have to get that guitar” but I really wanted to see and test it. After playing this used Yamaha 6-string awhile I tested others in the shop but when I returned to it, I knew I’d found my axe, nylon-strings and all. 

I took the guitar everywhere and being a skinny kid, the instrument was almost as big as me. Though I don’t recall specific school performances, childhood friend Jeannine Relly recalls me carrying the guitar around St. Joseph’s and playing for other kids at recess. By 6th grade I’d even won a talent show hosted by Oak Street Church. Throughout my remaining years at St. Joseph’s  I wrote music and along with our next door neighbors, the McClenny kids, we Boggs’ were beginning to learn songs we could perform as siblings. Standouts included Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” and the Staples Singers’ “O Happy Day.” 

Spending A Little Time In Music City 

It’s been 7 years since last time I visited Nashville.  The Gibson Guitars display still greeted me at baggage claim but almost immediately I sensed a change.  The city is a little less country, more “hip,” a little more diverse; there’s a slightly different beat.  There was no Uber 7 years ago but now nowhere is more than a 5 minute wait.  Uber fuels Nashville with military precision by way of musician drivers, cops earning extra pay and two-income married couples, like Paulette who with her husband bought two mini-vans so they could reap maximum income benefit when party after downtown party calls for someone else driving you home. 

I’m here for the 2018 Americana Music Fest and can’t tell you how many times an Uber driver, barista, waitress or even fellow musician has asked, “so what’s Americana anyway?”  Over the 4 days of the festival I honed my answer to, “it’s any roots music genre — like blues, bluegrass, gospel, folk, zydeco or soul and it’s derivatives that still rely, in part on traditional instruments such as acoustic guitar, banjo, standup bass, accordion, mandolin.”  Frankly I don’t know if that’s a good definition but it works enough to move most conversations to the next topic. 

Though many hotels dot downtown Nashville and a new one seems to open nearly every day, I decided to AirBnB it — cheaper and East Nashville (far more gentrified than I remember) is close enough to downtown but far enough to feel like I’m away when I want to be. 

Today was amazing starting w/breakfast at The Post coffee shop made famous by the Nashville tv show and right around the corner from my flat. Afterwords, despite navigating temperatures 30 degrees hotter than my hometown and way more humidity, I walked through the amazing urban Shelby Park only 0.3 miles away — shaded in parts, I encountered a few intrepid runners along with fellow walkers.  All friendly, making me feel very much at home. 

The day crescendoed as I hit the Americana Music Fest meeting a fellow Seattle musician at a workshop discovering we have a boatload of common friends, heading to Concord Records’ “wine and cheese” fretting I knew no one only to hear “Paula Boggs?”...it was my AirBnB landlord (who I’d never met in person) and his first cousin...his husband works for Rounder Records and he happened to see my name tag. 

Topped off the evening with 4 off-the-hook performances at 3 different storied venues— if you ever get a chance to see any of these folks...DO IT: Yola Carter (Nashville Palace), Kaia Kater (The Local) and Israel Rush followed by Courtney Marie Andrews (The High Watt). 

As I head back to overcast Seattle reflecting on the 4 days spent halfway across the country meeting fellow artists, others in the music business and hearing great music, I feel good.  Mission accomplished and I’ll be back.  Stay friendly Nashville.

Riding the Bus and Writing a Song  

It’s a lot cleaner and more high tech than I remember with commuters in various stages of awokeness. Almost everyone is “of color” though I appear to be only 1 of 2 members of the African American tribe along for the ride. I’m on Sound Transit bus 216 traveling from Sammamish where I live to Seattle Center where I have a late morning meeting. Actually it’ll take 2 buses and 90 minutes to travel 23 miles — a trip that, depending on traffic, usually takes 35-50 in my car. But I love the $2.50 exact change price of admission and marvel it’s taken me this long to actually do this. 

So why now? Well, I’m 1 of 5 Seattle area songwriters chosen for this year’s global Acoustic Guitar Project: one guitar.one week.one song. I’m songwriter #4 and last night picked up a Kindred guitar from songwriter #3. Now I have 1 week to write and record a song with it. Back in the day riding the bus often inspired me to write and so I’m hoping to once again catch lightning in a bottle. Wish me luck!”


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