You know those people who seem to have endless creative talent? The ones who seem to dabble in everything and do it really well? I like to surround myself with those people in hopes that their talent will rub off on me. John is one such person. If you’ve been reading long enough, you know that my boyfriend is a musician and writer. And this musician/writer boyfriend of mine is always working on something, it seems. This week, John released his fourth album, and he did all of the songwriting, guitar & vocals, countless other instruments, and editing himself. He also enlisted the talents of a few others, and I got to be one of them.
I have always loved to sing. It’s a fun thing to do whether you do it well or not. (Though I imagine the better you are at singing, the more fun it is.) In high school, I sang and played guitar with friends in talent shows and open mic nights—always envisioning myself as a guitar goddess rockstar lady and ending up forgetting to breathe and not knowing what to do with my hands, but making it through each performance well enough. Still, I had this weird mental block when it came to singing in front of other people, especially in more intimate settings. It was one thing to do it in front of the whole school when the stage lights were blinding and I couldn’t see the audience. But in an intimate group of friends? Terrifying. To me, it was the most vulnerable way you could possibly expose yourself, and that scared the shit out of me. Because of that, I’ve always made an obnoxious point of singing really badly, really loudly. Ask my sisters. It’s my favorite way to torture them. (4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” is my go-to tune.)
Despite not singing a whole lot (at least well) around others, John knew I had a real voice in me. And the gorgeous songs he’d written for his latest release, Shangri-la, were in need of some female harmonies, according to him. Would I sing with him? Well, I’d always secretly wanted to. Of course I would.
Shangri-la consists of 8 songs that span several of John’s songwriting years, the title track being the oldest (and one of my favorites). It’s a concept album, meaning there’s an overarching theme, and listening straight through from beginning to end is recommended for the full experience. It’s a nod to a lot of the more traditional songwriters of the past, much of the instrumentation reminding me of Tom Waits and the vocals, Bob Dylan. (Yes, I just compared my boyfriend to Bob Dylan.) Band members from earlier albums make appearances on Shangri-la, including founding JMB member Tom Haller on drums, and Jessie Firey (of the JMB side project, Ancient Americans) singing lead female vocal on “The End of All Things.” A couple of John’s talented musician friends also make guest appearances, and the lady harmonies/vocals you hear on tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 are yours truly. The coolest part of recording? Getting over myself and just having fun doing it, like you’re supposed to.
So here’s hoping more of John’s talent rubs off on me, but I can say for sure I’ve got the music bug. I miss playing guitar. I want to learn piano. And damnit, I want to sing! I may not have Beyoncé’s range (oh, Bey), but I’ve got a good tone and an ear for harmonies. The confidence part is coming slowly but surely.
If you want to check out the album, it’s available on iTunes, and the hard copy—featuring my photography as the cover art—is available at CDBaby. (Anyone else still jamming out to CDs like me?) I recommend checking out the other albums while you’re at it. Sun King is pure musical genius. If you can spare a “like,” follow John Mancini Band on Facebook for updates. Witty Title Here AND John Mancini Band are going west. And we’ll be writing and singing about it along the way.