Edgecomb native and current Oberlin College and Conservatory student Lena Rich has just released her first full-length album, “Something In Between,” and will mark the occasion with a Saturday night show at One Longfellow Square with Americana act Plywood Cowboy. Rich is studying music and politics at Oberlin in Ohio, and her winter-term project is the album release.
I suspect she’ll receive high marks for the effort because the album is terrific, starting with the opening title track. The singer-songwriter has a warm, bright voice, and the song is about finding the middle ground in an unsteady romance, or at least that’s my take on it. With acoustic and electric guitar, the song bounces along at a steady clip, and I can absolutely imagine hearing it on the radio, which is why I’ll be spinning it on my local music show, “Music from 207” on WCLZ.
Here’s a live, acoustic version of the song:
Rich released her first EP, called “Slow Motion,” in 2015, followed by the singles “Underground” and “How to Say Goodbye” earlier this year, along with the title track single from the new album. I asked Rich about her influences, and she said they derive from a broad range of artists, ranging from Lauryn Hill to Gregory Alan Isakov to Lake Street Dive. She also said that at the core of her inspiration are 1960s folk singer/songwriters Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
“It’s hard to find artists who can beat their storytelling and candor,” Rich said. “I remember listening to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Court and Spark’ in my mom’s car driving around the state growing up and never getting sick of it.” The same goes for Dylan. “I particularly admire his career and how he wasn’t afraid to get really good at something and then totally go the other direction, no matter what people thought.”
Rich started playing violin at 4 years old and piano when she was 5. The guitar became part of her life when she was 14, and although it’s her primary instrument now, she’s most comfortable on piano.
As for songwriting, Rich said she’s been at it for essentially all her life. “I composed classical music for the Young Composer’s Festival sponsored by the Bagaduce (Music) Lending Library in Blue Hill from about age 7 through age 10,” she said. She cites piano teacher Jennifer McIvor as someone who was always helpful with that competition and who pushed her as an artist.
Things shifted from classical to the singer-songwriter track around the time she first picked up the guitar. “There were a lot of things to write about, my parents getting divorced, moving around a lot, my dad’s alcoholism and the uncertainty of being a teenager,” she said. “Songwriting was a really important way for me to express myself, and it became my go-to outlet for that.”
“Guidance” is one example of Rich’s songwriting skill. “I asked for guidance on the phone/He said to tell a hero’s story from every angle that you can.” “Something To Keep” is another one that struck me. “I really don’t know my way around a kitchen/I really don’t know every exit on the way/And I sure don’t know if I am saying this the right way, but I’ll bet that I’ll stay.” Sprinkled with electric guitar, this is an entirely solid tune.
“I am just so grateful for this album. From start to finish, it was really a dream come true, and I’m so thankful to the people who believed in me, especially my producer, Paul Thibeault and guitarist Steve Jones,” said Rich about the process of making the album. “I feel so lucky to have gotten to work with such incredible musicians.” Rich said she wasn’t sure how she could make the album happen given the expense and her need for a producer. “Then one day this past summer, Paul Thibeault offered to produce an album for me, and we booked the studio dates on the spot, and he told me to write seven songs in three weeks, and we met up three weeks later and recorded the album.”
Rich said the experience was a dream come true. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had, the atmosphere in the studio was such a perfect mixture of carefree and focused, and I think that energy comes through on the album.”
The show at One Longfellow Square will feature Rich on guitar and vocals, Thibeault on bass, guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Marty Joyce. Also, try not to dilly dally on your way to this show because I listened to a couple of songs from Plywood Cowboy, and they’re fantastic.
Lena Rich with Plywood Cowboy, 8 p.m. Saturday. One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland, $10 in advance, $12 day of show. onelongfellowsquare.com