Friday, August 25, 2017

Shadows: Shadows on a Dime

Ferron: Shadows on a Dime


Ferron (with Bitch): Shadows on a Dime


It is possible to be a lesbian from Canada and still enjoy major success in the global music industry. Think of k d lang. But Ferron had these two strikes against her from the start, and she has never had the fame she deserves as a result. Canadian artists must either relocate to the United States before they begin their recording careers, (think Joni Mitchell), or, like lang, have an initial success that it is so big that it can not be denied. And I can not think of anyone who started out recording for a lesbian record label and went on to much wider success. In the case of Ferron, that is a great shame. She needs neither the lesbian nor the Canadian artist label; she is simply one the finest songwriters far too few people have ever heard of, and her appeal should transcend nationality or genre.

Shadows on a Dime is a fine place to start. The song presents a series of vignettes framed by a long train ride. Like the titular shadows on the surface of a dime, they are small things by themselves that add up to something greater. They are a series of thoughts and experiences that define an identity when taken together. That description may sound like new age mumbo jumbo, but the song is wonderfully alive and human.

The album Shadows on a Dime came out in 1984, and I was lucky enough to see her on tour in support of it. She came to Princeton NJ, and I was gently dragged by a group of friends to the show. As with many of my friendships over the years, shared musical tastes were important, so I didn’t really need much persuading. (By the way, I have always lived close enough to Princeton to listen to WPRB, and I was happily listening to our own J David’s show on the station at this time, but he was not part of this. Even now, we have never met in the flesh.) Ferron’s show was great, and I was immediately a fan. I still am, and all of the music I have heard from her in the subsequent 33 years is up to the high standard she was setting then.

Bitch might seem to be an unlikely champion for Ferron’s music. Hailing from Brooklyn NY, Bitch is an in your face songwriter whose songs are confrontational at times. She does possess a rich musical imagination, ranging from variants of folk to rock, club music, and funk, and always making whatever she does very much her own. Yet, when she met Ferron, there was reportedly an instant connection. The album Boulder is an attempt to introduce the music of Ferron to a new generation. Bitch recorded solo performances of some of Ferron’s best songs, and then traveled the country, asking musician friends to add backing tracks to fill out the sound. These included Ani DiFranco and members of the Indigo Girls and the Be Good Tanyas. On the new version of Shadows on a Dime, we hear Ferron in an intimate setting, with Bitch adding fiddle and gentle vocal harmonies. For Ferron, this album was intended to be her musical swan song. It was recorded in 2008, and she intended to do only occasional shows and no more recording. However, there was to be one additional album in 2013, Lighten-ing. This one was made to accompany a documentary about Ferron that used the Boulder album as a soundtrack and starting point. Lighten-ing is, I believe, a collection of new songs. Bitch was once again very involved in the recording, and helped put the band together. For the first time on Lighten-ing, Ferron’s voice sounds like that of a woman who has been doing this for close to forty years. Even so, this is a project that is well worth seeking out.

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