Album Review : Linda Sussman
Artist: Linda Sussman Album: Shake It Loose Today Release 2022 The folk genre is far reaching with its many sub-genres and offshoots. However, Linda Sussman seems to always deliver the music in its purest form. She's a wonderful throwback to the 60's and 70's. To be clear, her music is not dated. It's still fresh and breathing, yet steeped in the seeds that the greats from that era planted. If I were asked to imagine a folk singer in my head, her voice is the voice I would hear. Expressive, beautiful and rooted in tradition. Linda also plays acoustic guitar on the whole record flawlessly, adding quite a bit of swag and grease. I am not sure how someone that sings so pristinely can play so slippery at times, but she clearly has served both roles quite well. One of the things I noticed in the first listen other than the obvious songwriting and singing talent of Linda is the slide guitar work of Mike Nugent on "Honey We Gonna Fly". The song feels like a Ry Cooder composition that would be a perfect period piece in a movie set on the boardwalk of Atlantic City in the 1920's. The bluesy and sweaty Dobro playing is balanced perfectly by a delightfully smooth vocal take. "Chain Of Hope" is definitely a standout track, starting with jangly strings resonating against a subtle drum and tambourine backdrop. The lyric starts with "The world is watching in disbelief" setting an image of what seems to be the "current" events for as long as there have been people reporting the news. A song questioning why and for how much longer do people need to hurt one another? A message that has been asked for too long and a reminder of freedom's fragility. "Deja Vu" is another one of my favorite tracks. The chorus has a very catchy hook that would be quite comfortable in a pop song, while never leaving the subtlety of authentic acoustic music. I find myself singing the chorus in the car over and over. It's proof that a great song will translate in the simplest form. The title track "Shake It Loose Today" is a well executed and mature take on the blues. A mid tempo swampy shuffle with just enough grit to make you smirk. Bassist Kevin Kelly and drummer Shawn Murray lay down a deep pocket , creating a dirty foundation that only gets dirtier with a slightly distorted electric slide guitar. Again, all balanced by a sweet sultry vocal. The album is a set full of fantastic songs with character to spare. Great songwriting, arrangements and performances are found across the entirety of the nine tracks. I hope that lots of listeners find Linda Sussman and her latest recording.
Check out this interview as well...
Tell us the brief history of your band or musical career. I’ve been playing music since I could hold an instrument (around age 8), first accordion and then clarinet, before shifting to the guitar (age 11) and finding my voice. I was one of the many long-haired, patched-jeans hippie folks playing her way through high school, college and beyond. I don’t know what possessed me, but I played a 12-string Epiphone all through those days—boy, was that one heavy guitar! I toted that thing everywhere and didn’t buy my first steel 6-string until many years later. My vocal coaching came by way of singing in some excel- lent audition choruses in NYC (my family couldn’t afford actual voice lessons), and I fronted a folk-rock cover band in college in upstate NY.
After college and back in the NYC metro area, I landed many solo gigs for a number of years, before forming the all-female trio Choice—that’s when I started writing more seriously and we incorporated many of my originals in our set lists. We had a good run playing a wide variety of venues, but we eventually split up and I returned to gig’ing solo. But this time around it was all originals. Kenny’s Castaways, down on Bleecker Street in NYC’s West Village, embraced my music and offered me a steady gig, which was great for about a year—that was definite- ly the start of my singer-songwriter journey.
I kept on writing, gig’ing routinely and recorded two solo albums by 2002. But just as I was really hitting my stride, my music career came to a full stop. For the next 10 years, my focus shifted fully to caring for aging parents and dealing with some health issues of my own. I yearned to play all through that time but I simply didn’t have the energy for it. I re-emerged in 2016, got myself back in the game as quickly as possible (open mics are especially great for dusting off!), regained my footing, wrote a slew of new songs and got up my courage to ask a select group of highly accomplished musicians if they’d take a listen to my music and perhaps record an album with me. Now, five years later, I’ve released four full-length al- bums (2018-2022) with their stunning backing tracks. I just hope the pandemic resolves enough for me to get back out on some tours, which I typically play solo.
Do you come from a musical family? I think I got the voice gene from my father who was a fabulous tenor crooner. Ironically, my mother was a “mouther”—someone who wasn’t allowed to sing in school and was told to mouth the words instead. It just breaks my heart to hear that. But music was highly valued in my household. Growing up in a lower-middle-class family in the NYC borough of Queens, I was given the choice of either Hebrew or music lessons. I think I chose wisely (yes, I chose music), though I called it quits with lessons after just a few years (in hindsight, not my best decision). I learned to play guitar by studying chord charts and watching other folks play. I can remember my family listening to Bob Sherman!s Woody!s Children Hour every week on the radio. (You can imagine my thrill when I heard my own music played on the same program years later.)
You seem to compose in both standard and open tunings. How did you come to that? I deal with an autoimmune condition, psoriatic arthritis, which at times has made it too painful to play in standard tuning. That’s what got me to further explore writing in open tunings, which is much kinder to my finger joints. I gravitate mostly to tunings of D-A-D-F#-A-D and D-A-D-F-A-D and D-G-D-G-B-D and love the full sound and cool riffs I’m able to find more easily. But I mix it up quite a bit, going back and forth between standard and open tunings.
Who are your musical influences? At the top of my list: Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Odetta, Ferron, Fleetwood Mac, Janis Ian, James Taylor, Joan Armatrading, Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo, Martin Sexton, Indigo Girls and Eva Cassidy.
What album has had the greatest impact on your life as a musician? Most definitely Joni Mitchell’s Blue, both for her incredible songwriting and raw and honest vocals.
What!s your favorite accomplishment as a musician thus far? Having my music played on radio stations both in the US and abroad and included on playlists with some of my own music heroes has got to be the most satisfying accomplishment for me as a songwriter/musician. I was thrilled last year when my 2021 album “These Walls” ranked #1 on the Roots Music Report’s weekly Top Alternative Folk Album Chart soon after its release and is ranked #5 on the RMR’s Best in 2021 Alternative Folk Album Chart.
Tell me about your favorite performance in your career. That’s got to be the first time I played NYC’s iconic The Bitter End. What a fabulous night that was! To be playing the same stage that had been graced by all my folk heroes was mind-blowing. The venue let me choose whether to book as a solo artist or band (I landed the gig on a solo audition), so I jumped at the chance to have my studio musicians join me, marking our first time playing out together. We were billed as the Linda Sussman Collective, played to a fabulously attentive full house and that, for me, was the most enjoyable and memorable gig to date.
What's the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you? Early on, a very wise musician told me that if my music touched even just one person, then I’d done my job. That was extremely sound advice especially early in my journey.
What inspires you to write the music you write? I try to mix it up for myself as much as possible, but I find kernels of songs in the world around me—current events, newspaper articles, books I’ve read, faces I’ve encountered, etc. It’s important for my own well-being to write music that meets me wherever I am at different points in my life. I write music that lifts me, sup- ports me, shares stories (both true and imagined) and sometimes is just, well, for fun! If I’m not keeping it interesting for myself, then I’m certainly not keeping it interesting for listeners.
How do your latest albums differ from any of your others in the past? Do you feel like you are continuing to grow musically? I definitely see the growth across my recent four albums as I’ve been pushing myself to stretch vocally and let myself experiment a whole lot more on the guitar. I’m a strong finger style and rhythm guitarist and have incorporated some acoustic slide and even more interesting figures on my recent recordings. I definitely have my lead guitarist, Mike Nugent, to thank for boosting my confidence as a guitarist. Hearing from Mike that he was impressed by my finger style playing kind of hit me upside the head to finally start owning my spot as an accomplished guitarist, which has given me the confidence to push it further. We female players often grow up with messages that it’s great to put our voices out there but to take a back seat with our other instruments. But at this stage, I’m finally done with that!
I’ve also been stretching myself into other genres, going well beyond straight folk and folk-rock into shades of the blues that feel right to me. I see my 2019 album, Pass It On Down, as my transition album, with my first few blues tracks. But I re- ally broke out with a whole lot more on These Walls (2020), which was squarely half blues and half alt-folk. And for my most recent album, Shake It Loose Today (2022), I was able to step out even more and push my versatility. The feedback that I receive from my studio musicians as well as from listeners tells me that I haven’t gotten stale yet! I’m just staying open to whatever moves me next and I’m having a whole lot of fun in the process!
If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be?
Streaming has become a way of life for most listeners. But it’s no secret that streaming is not a friend to indie artists, who are getting paid in fractions of a penny per stream. Something’s got to change!
What are your biggest obstacles as a musician? With very little music theory behind me, I’m unable to write my own charts, which definitely puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to having others sit in with me.
Do you have any anxiety about performing live? Do you like to perform or do you prefer to record in a studio?
I don’t think I’ll ever lose my anxiety right before a live performance, but I think some level of nerves is good in that it helps to energize me. I love playing live and connecting with an audience, but I also love the recording process!
Has the COVID pandemic impacted your recent recordings? Absolutely. I haven’t seen the inside of a commercial recording studio since 2019. I recorded These Walls in 2020 during the height of the pandemic but I first needed to get myself set up to record at home—something I’d never done be- fore. Thank goodness for my bassist (Kevin Kelly), who is also my mixing engineer (The Workshoppe East; Kevin has extremely deep roots in the industry, having recorded Blondie, Edgar Winter and so many others). With the patience of a saint, Kevin gave me all the direction I needed to get going. And so our new approach began, with each musician recording and sharing tracks from home. We all made it work. And then we recorded Shake It Loose Today the same way, though I did get to join Kevin in his studio for the mixes on Shake.
Describe your creative process when you write new music. Most times it starts with a tune, which then gives rise to the lyrics. But it’s the re- verse for my social justice songs—for those, the lyrics always come tumbling out first, followed by the music. I most often reach for my phone to capture a melody in my voice memos, or I video myself playing, or I’m writing my own weird notation when creating in open tunings. But, without fail, my best writing comes very early in the morning or very late in the evening, when my subconscious is most present. I just have to be aware enough to capture what emerges before it re- treats into the ethers!
Tell us a fun fact about yourself. I sang at a NYC Mayoral inauguration many moons ago!
What guitar/s do you play on your albums? I use my vintage Martin 00-16DBM for all my songs in standard tuning. This guitar has the most warm-bodied, rich tones that I’ve ever heard (likely because it’s solid Mahogany and has a longer neck, which adds volume). But I use my Martin OMC-15ME for all open tunings. I’d love to have a guitar for each tuning and someone back stage handing me perfectly tuned guitars—one can dream!
Give us some advice for new musicians just starting out in the industry. Try not to get discouraged—you’ll need a thick skin in this crazy business. Don’t be afraid to try new sounds. Push yourself to write outside your comfort zone. But, most of all, stay true to yourself. There are enough copy-cat musicans all chasing the same sound and the same audience, but there’s only one of you! Never stop believing in yourself and your sound. And, last, hang around players who are better than you...you’d be surprised how that can help you up your game!
What are your interests outside of music? I’m an avid reader and amateur birder!
How do you promote your shows? For local shows, I usually promote on my website, FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, email blasts...whatever seems right for the event. When I tour (I usually play solo), I reach out to local radio shows and news media. There are also many great online calendars where musicians can promote their events in other regions.
What is the best way to stay updated on current news; gigs, releases, etc. It’s always best to follow my events calendar on my website https://lindasussman.com/