Featuring Phil Keaggy: Guitar/Vocals, John Sferra: Drums, Randy Stonehill: Guitar/Vocals, Chris McHugh: Drums Produced in Nashville by JB
This album struggled to completion and almost never made it: recorded over two years with studio sessions ranging from Nashville Tennessee to Hollywood California USA, to various Canadian studios and Richard's own 'Nectarine Horse' studio, nestled in the picturesque Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada.
Though Richard's past experiences had seen him in all stages of the music business - from illegaly playing clubs with his original material from the age of 17 (before he was 'of drinking age'), to landing deals in historic recording studios, garnering FM radio play, touring across country both the United States and Canada as well as playing in 5 different countries on several continents, to associations with movers in the record industry - he never seemed to connect with the corporate mindset that artists needed to change their art, or somehow ‘sell out’ to the latest trends and fads in order to ‘make it’. Stubbornly holding on to this set of principles, to make art from the heart, Richard knew he was passing by many opportunities at mainstream success.
Instead, Richard and his wife Michele sacrificially invested every last penny of their own money into the production of the CD, ‘Moments’. Richard was not only amazed but extremely encouraged when some significant musicians and producers believed in the project enough to come on board to help, including:
Virtuoso and legendary guitarist Phil Keaggy on Guitar and vocals, Randy Stonehill who not only performs on the album, but produced a track as well, John Sferra - drummer from the Decca Records power trio 'Glass Harp', Keith Urban's drummer Chris McHugh, with the album being co-produced by Nashville's 'jb', whose credits include Peter Frampton, Garth Brooks, and was the man behind Phil Keaggy's landmark acoustic instrumental album, 'Beyond Nature'.
Though Richard has many views on spiritual matters, society at large, and politics, he chose to keep to a general theme, creating a ‘concept’ style record based on his own diary of experiences from age 13 to 33.
From the Cd liner notes:
“Moments” is first and foremost an autobiographical record, or if you will, a ‘concept’ album. Although the first song after The Introduction is presented ‘In Medias Res’ **, it is carefully sequenced so that each song sets up the next - providing a beginning, a middle, and an end – storybook style. By the time you get to The Epilogue, and if you’ve paid close attention, you will have turned the pages of my private diary from 13 to 33. I was going to publish a song-by-song synopsis as a complimentary narrative but realized that doing so would be severely underestimating my audience. And Besides – the story is already here. Whether this album finds you in your car with the volume up; an evening where you can steal away with a cup of coffee or glass of wine by the stereo, or late at night with the headphones on – I give you my journey.
-Richard Matthew Cummins
** “In Medias Res (Latin for "into the middle of things") is a literary and artistic technique where the narrative starts in the middle of the story instead of from its beginning (ab ovo or ab initio). The characters, setting, and conflict are often introduced through a series of flashbacks or through characters relating past events to each other. Classical works such as Virgil's Aeneid and Homer's Iliad begin in the middle of the story.” –Wikipedia
Everyone has a moment or two. They’re the little movies you play over and over in your head - the ones that don’t fade with time. Even after years have passed, our memories of these moments remain crystal clear. You remember where you were, how you felt, what you were thinking, maybe even what you were wearing. Perhaps a deep unbearable sadness; or an overwhelming uncontainable joy - they are moments that moved us, and perhaps, even changed the course of our lives.
A moment can be described as, “A particular period of importance, influence, or significance in a series of events or developments”. Over time, this ‘series of events or developments’ become something much greater than the incidents they began as… They become not only a cohesive whole, but also something that ultimately ends up defining who we are. These ‘Moment’s’ become ‘Our Lives’. These are MY moments.”
REVIEW FROM THE "PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH"
Artist: Richard Cummins
Label: Electro-tone Records / independent
Time: 16 tracks/58:34
Tribute albums can be difficult to approach critically, since the ghost(s) of the original artists linger in the background, causing you to float somewhere between what you’re actually hearing and what you’re fondly remembering. On his CD, Moments, Richard Cummins has created a most unique tribute to not just an artist (or group of artists), but an entire period (or genre) of music. While most tribute albums feature new interpretations of songs that we heard years ago, Cummins instead gives us new compositions written in the spirit of the songs and artists he’s tipping his musical hat to – most of whom draw from the same musical well that Cummins goes back to again and again – The Beatles. For those of us from a similar musical heritage, who are familiar with the ‘classic’ first wave of what was called Jesus Music, it’s easy to write up a mental list: Phil Keaggy, Daniel Amos, Randy Stonehill, PFR, T Bone Burnett… the list could go on, since the music of The Beatles so permeated the great creative tidal wave of the late sixties and early seventies. Now, as if stepping through time, Richard Cummins brings us a musical travelogue of the sounds and spirit of those recordings.
Lyrically, we’re taken from teenage star-struck fan, to more insightful young adult, to songs of question and eventual self-discovery and revelation (“Life Was So Good,” which brings to mind Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Our House,” but with a twist…). By the time we’re through the album, Cummins (as the writer of this diary) comes to a mature understanding of life and spirituality, with the focus no longer on himself, but on the needs of others. Lyrically, these are songs that evolve and go through stages, from immaturity to self-realization.
Unquestionably, as we listen to these songs, we’re invited into Cummins’ emotional diary. Sometimes the songs are about specific people - the two most obvious cases being the first and last tracks - “Singing to us While it Hurts,” and “Julian,” which refer to, respectively, Phil Keaggy (who adds guitars and vocals to the first track) and Julian Lennon. In the first song, Cummins speaks not only of the pleasure we get from these artists but also of the sacrifices they’ve made that we don’t often see or think about; to “Julian,” Cummins speaks for many of us who would like to reach out and say, ‘listen – I guess you’ve had it rough, but there are people who really care about you.’ Appropriately, the first song has Keaggy’s style all over it, including musical references to “What A Day,” from Phil’s recording of the same name, while “Julian” is infused with Beatle-like production and sound-alike moments. “Left Her Lonely Again” is the second track, and provides an interesting bridge, conceptually, between the first and last songs: it almost sounds like a tribute to Keaggy’s Crimson and Blue album, which was itself a tribute to the early recordings of The Beatles! The next track, “The Game Show of Life,” continues the musical autobiography with Cummins sounding eerily like John Lennon (and – oddly enough – you can also hear T Bone Burnett’s vocal timbre in the mix). The presence of Randy Stonehill on this track, and the early Daniel Amos sound in the harmonies, once again brings us back to those Beatle-influenced recordings from DA’s “Horrendous Disc” period. The carnival-like ambiance, complete with a side-show barker, might be a bit too predictable from Randy Stonehill, but is effective in this context. From there we go right into a song from the “I Am the Walrus” Beatle period, with lyrical references to playing songs backwards (remember?) and a wonderful little Bach Trumpet phrase thrown in for the “Penny Lane” side of the brain - this memory-triggering continues ‘till the end of the song, where a “Hey Jude” style refrain is strongly referenced. Of course, there’s a ‘hidden’ track – and a good one, too: think: “Tomorrow Never Knows”.
Richard Cummins is a skilled musician and, on this project, a musical chameleon. If there is a weakness in this album, it is that Cummins, the artist, is perhaps too submerged in the personas of his heroes – his homage almost becomes a disguise. After listening to the album, you might be thinking more of Keaggy, Daniel Amos, Stonehill and The Beatles …and wondering where Richard Cummins went. In many ways this is a concept album – it’s possible that the concept overtook the artist at several points. To discover Cummins in a ‘pure’ form, you might want to jump to the title track, “Moments,” an instrumental where Cummins, alone with his guitar, absolutely shines. Along with Keaggy and Stonehill, there are appearances on this project by no less than John Sferra, Mike Pachelli and Chris McHugh. Cummins plays a multitude of instruments throughout the recording.
It certainly will be interesting to see where this very talented artist will go next, without the considerable presence of musical giants from his (and our) past so noticeably hovering over him.
Moments is full of good… moments. You might just find yourself in the mix.
By Bert Saraco