Back to the music: Courtney Brocks releases album ' ... After, Before'
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By Christopher Hislop
November 11, 2010 2:00 AM
For Courtney Brocks, the recent chapter in her musical career didn't come easy. She got her start as a 15 year old, playing guitar and singing the songs that any young teenage gal would sing.
Upon completion of high school, she went to college in Burlington, Vt., where she befriended Anais Mitchell. She played a little bit then, local shows — coffeehouses, etc. But she gave it all up after graduating from Middlebury and moving out to Colorado.
"I don't really know why," Brocks said in a recent interview. "I think I just lacked the confidence, and based on that made a conscious decision to just move on with my life."
It wasn't until she moved to New Hampshire — to pursue a master's degree at the University of New Hampshire — that she started dabbling with music again. When Mitchell (who is on Ani Difranco's Righteous Babe Records) would roll into town to play gigs at the Stone Church in Newmarket, she would get up on stage and sing some backup with her. Mitchell would tell the crowd, "watch out for this gal when she starts to play again. I love her songs!"
Mitchell, who regularly collaborates with fellow Vermonter Michael Chorney, introduced Chorney to Brocks. Chorney invited her to his studio to record some of her songs, based solely on the good-will of Mitchell's praise.
"I thought, well, I had a few songs written, and knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity. So I practiced like crazy and took him up on the offer."
As the sessions came to a close Chorney asked her, 'what are you gonna do with this?'
'I don't know,' Brocks said. "I was just happy to have an album where my songs actually sounded good. I was content with just having it in my hands to have — to pass it along to friends and family."
The album, Brocks' "debut" (though she claims to have released a couple of discs when she was dubbing around in Burlington during her college years), is titled "After, Before."
The aforementioned sessions took place in 2007. Brocks has kept the thing on the shelf for three long years.
Another element of her move here to Dover that propelled her back to life as a musician was meeting Martin England. Brocks works with England's wife at Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine, (where she teaches 10th-grade English and drama). From here friendships started with Eric Ott, Jesse Dold, Cole Gove, Jeff Hawkinson, and the circle of musical friends grew bigger via the extended networks of each.
"I realize now that my decision to stop playing music when I moved to Colorado wasn't necessarily because I lacked confidence, it was because I didn't have the support group that I've found here in the Seacoast," Brocks said. "It's really nice being in here and I feel fortunate to have been lucky enough to meet the people I've met."
It seems the final kick came when Brocks entered a talent show with Hawkinson.
"The faculty talent show at my school," Brocks reminisces (laughing heartily). "I played it with Jeff Hawkinson — just for fun. The response from people was unexpected and overwhelmingly positive. They came up to us after we played and said, 'wow, you guys are for real ...; You're actually really good. You actually do this, or you should be doing this.' That was a great sense of encouragement. It had been so long since I played and all I kept thinking was, 'I don't know if I know how to do this anymore...;'"
And so here we are.
Brocks plays the Red Door in Portsmouth on Thursday, Nov. 11, which will also be the CD release party for "After, Before."
The six tunes contained on this EP are lush, carefully crafted portraits of an artist who has a keen sense of what it takes to weave a web around your heart and soul and keep you captive for the entirety of the 24 minutes that she's singing. The tunes are "earthy, soulful, and honest." She's got a voice that blends a bit of Joni Mitchell and Kris Delmhorst with a delivery that is similar to that of her good friend Anais Mitchell. That sentiment helps given the fact that the only other musician on the disc is Chorney, who has a knack for tastefully implementing himself into any musical situation he's a part of. His addition of guitar, prepared guitar (which allows him to eke out sounds reminiscent of a banjo), lap steel, baritone sax, percussion and vocals, encompass Brocks' tunes in a sort of ethereal landscape that fully beguiles the listener's attention.
It's been three years, and Brocks has only improved upon the sounds you hear on this record, which is exciting in terms of seeing where she can take her craft next.
"(The) record to me is very much about travel and being all over the place geographically and emotionally," Brocks explains. "I always thought the title would have something to do with direction or movement — a reminder that there's an after, there's a before ...; but what's missing in most people's minds is the simplicity of living and thinking in the present moment. Focusing on past and future reminds me to try to stick with what's now as much as possible. It's how you keep sane, and healthy; but as Elsa (Cross) says on her new record, which I love...; 'Easier said than done.'"
For her record release gig at the Red Door, Brocks has mustered up some excellent local talent to join her on stage including, Nick Phaneuf on guitar, Jesse Dold on ukulele, Dave Talmage on fiddle, and Cole Gove on harmonica.
"I was hesitant to have this ("After, Before") out there for quite some time, but now I'm just interested in putting it out in the world and seeing who likes it and seeing where it can go," Brocks said.
Confidence and passion renewed. Enjoy the ride.
Check out www.courtneybrocksmusic.com for information.
Review of "After, Before" in The Wire Magazine