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 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.

Quotes:

“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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  1. 1 Goo Goo Dolls 04:46 Lyrics Your price

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  2. 2 Gypsy Sapphire 04:02 Your price

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  3. 3 Rear View Mirror 04:17 Your price

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  4. 4 Benediction 04:08 Your price

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  5. 5 Holocene 05:13 Your price

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  6. 6 Peel the Charade 03:29 Your price

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  7. 7 We All Fall Down 02:50 Your price

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  8. 8 Two Daughters 02:45 Your price

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  9. 9 Get Along Song 03:05 Your price

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  10. 10 Sleepwalking 03:40 Your price

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  11. 11 Original Sin 03:42 Your price

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Paula's Blog

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!”

RIP Glen Campbell...The Wichita Lineman 

When I first heard "Wichita Lineman" I didn't know where Wichita was and I didn't really know what a lineman did, but this song hooked me.  Jimmy Webb's searing lyrics "and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time" stirred my grammar school sensibilities and the chord progressions mesmerized me.  But Glen Campbell SOLD this song -- the voice, the guitar, the delivery -- making it stick with me to this very day. Upon learning of Glen Campbell's death I played the original version and found it a little too "produced" but then found a  live version of Glen singing it at one of his final performances and at Nashville's storied Ryman Auditorium. I love this version...RIP Glen🎶🎵🕯

HIPerspectives, Episode 14, By Annie Rogaski  

It’s not every day that you meet a lawyer you’d like to hang out with and listen to for hours. But today you get to meet Paula Boggs. Having accomplished more as a lawyer than most lawyers could dream of (White House lawyer, Starbucks GC, the list goes on…), Paula now fronts her own band, sings, and writes music. What may seem to be a huge change in direction is less so when explained by Paula. And, unsurprisingly, working joy plays a part in her story. Hear Paula’s story about her interesting career path, a different take on diversity, and learn about her superpower. You’ll hear some samples of her music during the podcast. To hear more, check out her site.    

When Paula is not making music, she’s making progress.  Her media company, Boggs Media, has teamed up with My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.     

A special thanks to Richard Hsu (host and producer of podcast Hsu Untied) for the introduction to Paula, and congratulations on your recognition in the 9th Annual Blawg 100!       

See more at: http://hiplegal.com/womens-leadership/paulaboggs/#sthash.xgLPAQih.dpuf

Sounds of Silence 

There's something about a beach that helps me reflect more deeply. Maybe it's the water.  Perhaps it's the sound of waves crashing on shore or grasping a shell at low tide with grains of sand washing across my toes.  A beach can symbolize hope and the vastness of possible.  I'm at home and it feels good.  When I play music here there's no amplification.  It's just my vocal chords unadorned and a guitar strummed or strings picked with calloused fingers.  Melodies visit and sometimes they stay. My writing pad is never far away and yesterday I even got reacquainted with Simon & Garfunkel's 1964 masterpiece, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, the one where on the cover Art Garfunkel leans casually on a NYC subway post looking dapper while the shorter and brooding Paul Simon stands beside him with a guitar and left hand forming an A minor chord. They both wear suits as a train whizzes by. This album, in vinyl of course, introduced the world to "The Sounds of Silence" -- one of the greatest songs of the 20th century..."people hearing without listening..."  It's a successful day if I work harder to make Paul Simon's words ring a little less true.

The Curse and Blessing of Being a Songwriter 

"I wonder how many people I've looked at all my life and never seen." John Steinbeck. Pinterest can be tacky but it can also be a revelation. I wasn't expecting to find a quote there that so completely captures the conundrum I face each day as songwriter and human. No matter how empathetic I think I am, whether it's the homeless man sleeping under I-5 in a makeshift sleeping bag I breeze by to make an early meeting or the way I scratch my head about the latest choice of a close relative, I don't always "see" them. Don't get me wrong. My physiological eye perceives them but to borrow from yesterday's Hot Yoga, my "third eye" -- the one meant to provide perception beyond ordinary sight -- just blinks and moves on.

And so it goes. As I think about the album we've just made and is now being manufactured, I recall special and rare moments I got to "see." In the title song "Carnival of Miracles," I write, "I walk the street not seeing, my eyes gaze straight ahead as my brother's eyes are bleeding -- mocking voices fill his head." In "Lenny's in The House" I "see" the youthful exuberance in aging songwriter Leonard Cohen. In "Edith's Coming Home," a friend shared his mother's story and through him I got to "see" a risk-taking, strong and talented black woman at end of life and marred by Alzheimer’s. In "Miss Ruby Kirby Blues" I "saw" a devil-may-care Septuagenarian Texan who'd more than earned the right to be sassy. And, In "Look Straight Ahead" I "saw" an African-American male teen's machismo, fear and limited life choices before the world knew Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown or Eric Garner.

Each day is a new opportunity to pull out the Visine and when I do, I write better, become more human and by so doing, become a better me.

Spokane! 

Since we finished recording upcoming album "Carnival of Miracles," we've sought to play gigs around Washington State to gear up for a national tour after "Carnival's" release in March 2015. We'd never played an Eastern Washington gig before so with excitement and trepidation we set out to conquer Spokane with song. Legendary The Big Dipper seemed like the perfect venue: storied, resurrected, great acoustics, downtown and owned by Sunny Day Real Estate band's Dan Hoerner and wife Dawson.

We marketed mostly to lawyers, business folks and the Gonzaga University community though we were also able to get a great Spokane jam band to open for us, Bodhi Drip, who's founder, Lucas Brown is the son of Lisa Brown, who served 20+ years in the Washington State Legislature and is now chancellor of Washington State University Spokane.

Winter is not always kind to Spokane and the bitter cold, dipping into the low teens Fahrenheit was not for the faint of heart -- even on a Friday night. Nonetheless, as folks trickled in The Big Dipper became increasingly electric.

Bodhi Drip did their thing and job, causing the crowd to want more. We started with "Look Straight Ahead" and right away we knew the crowd was with us. Ninety minutes later ending with a roaring rockabilly cover of Led Zeppelin's "Rock & Roll" the crowd had danced to a third of our set. Dan and Dawson invited us back and we can't wait. Thanks Spokane!

Reunions 


Walking along a tree-lined boulevard dotted with Craftsmen-styled Greek houses I encounter young women wearing shorts and attitude and young men sauntering confidently past me, not really seeing. I've been here before, thirty-three years ago when I first walked down this same street in September 1981. Back then, I was also older than most folks as I headed to orientation for first year students at University of California at Berkeley School of Law, known then as "Boalt Hall." The "Sig Ep" house looks more polished than I recall and the students seem a little more world-wise or world-weary?

A flood of emotions overcome me. This is not my first time returning to Berkeley nor is it even my first law school reunion. But somehow this feels different. Thirty years. I've been a lawyer 30 years and excelled in and retired from a profession I never embraced fully as my own. For me Berkeley was a place of moment, ambivalence and contradiction. Far later than most people, this is where I discovered the early Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Tom Waits, Ry Cooder and The Grateful Dead. I almost died three times in Berkeley -- twice while on a bicycle and another when unknowingly I stumbled upon an ongoing burglary in my best friend's home. In Berkeley I was perhaps more fit than before or after, made life long friends, attended my first Rolling Stones concert, met my first real lover and taught bus drivers, architects, lawyers and waitresses the finer points of using a new-fangled weight machine system called Nautilus.

Berkeley's colors burn bright within me and time refuses to fade. I could not live here but part of me never leaves. Looking back across the 30 years, Berkeley was the perfect place for ME to attend law school. It was not fun, hard work did not always payoff and there was much to dislike. But I became a woman here and these sounds, smells, sights and emotional landscape launched the lawyer and human that followed. So THANKS!

Vacations, Vacations. 


When they're good, vacations center, rejuvenate and make it all seem, well...just better. For the past week I've stayed up longer, woken to splashing and hypnotic waves meeting shore, savored that morning cup of Joe a little more and soaked in unprecedented Puget Sound sunshine. Exercise comes easily on the shore and seafood in particular is awfully fresh. People are nicer too. Fresh air and low stress spawn "good mornings" and "is your dog friendly?" My honey and I strike easy rhythms of independence and togetherness. We talk and read more while iPads and Facebook take more a back seat. I've not played guitar as much but that's OK too. It's vacation!

Gearing Up for Bear Creek Studios Chapter II 

It's stunning to believe a year's gone by. That's right. It's been 12 months since Paula Boggs Band spent 2 weeks recording 10 tracks at the enchanting Bear Creek, a 45 minute drive Northwest of Seattle in a town called Woodinville. Back then we were trying to make a record anchored by a mournful Americana tune called "Carnival of Miracles" -- inspired by the Newtown, CT tragedy where so many children and their teachers were slain by a young madman. The song also showcases a vet's voice that reveals love for her country while urging us to do and be better as a great nation. We made good vibes and were fortunate to be guided by producer Jonathan Plum and SNL veteran engineer Josiah Gluck.

Though our upcoming record will still tap "Carnival" as a centerpiece, we decided our 2013 sound was too diverse and we've since upped our game through performing, rehearsals and being more purposeful in creating what we call "soulgrass" -- a sound that combines jazz chord progressions and soulful vocals with traditional "Americana" instruments like acoustic guitar, banjo, standup bass, washboard, melodica and a variety of acoustic percussive instruments.

This time we'll be guided by Grammy-winning producer and engineer Trina Shoemaker who comes to us from Fairhope, AL and was nominated for BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM -- NONCLASSICAL just last year. In an industry with few women producers or engineers, Trina stands out and earns respect the old-fashioned way -- talent, grit, endurance and never burning a bridge.

Sandy, Tor, Mark, Andrew, Jarrett and I could not be more thrilled to work with Trina and return to Bear Creek to record six tracks between July 9-20th. Stay tuned as we post photos and impressions over the next few weeks. And as always, THANKS for supporting us!!

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