I went out Sunday night and was mesmerized.
I’ve checked out Ted McCloskey’s gigs before and always found them very entertaining. He’s a slick guitar player and just a great all-around musician doing his thing. As for his counterpart, Molly Countermine ... I’ve heard her perform a number of times, and I’ve even played some gigs with her, so she certainly has a sonorous place in my musical heart.
But I haven’t heard Ted and Molly before, so experiencing one of their weekly shows at the American Ale House was a true delight. It also led into the duo's Thursday night show at The State Theatre, which was their first-ever album release party.
“We talked about (the album) for a long time,” McCloskey said, “and the schedule just kind of lined up. It was a very natural progression.”
McCloskey is a prolific songwriter with nine albums under his belt, and Countermine has a storied history of recordings, performances and overall music-making in the Center County community. Together, they form one of Centre County’s top shelf pairings, and all it takes it a listen to either their live show or their new album, "Baggage and Bloodlines," to get a sense of their singular and collective magic.
“Ted is always writing,” Countermine said. “He said, ‘the next album I want to do I want to be a duo album,' and I said I love that. Then, I got sick and took five months off of music and gigging and everything. When I got better, then it was time.”
It’s a good thing they got it done. The album is absolutely beautiful.
Experiencing their performance was very special. The first set moved a little quicker, and had a few songs written by other artists that I recognized, such as Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, it’s All Right,” but the second set is when everything opened up. They entered into a musical space that was so lush and purposeful. The songs slowed down. McCloskey played most of the set with his eyes closed. Countermine increased the profundity of her piano playing, which was often understated but also communicated her natural musicality.
It’s hard to pick a favorite song or two off of the album, so I’ll keep it general. The duo falls in with each other effortlessly. It’s two very tasteful musicians fleshing out their original music with a lot of know-how, a lot of vision. It all comes across on the album.
“Ted and I are very efficient in the studio,” Countermine said. “We can work for two hours and get the bulk of three songs done.”
That efficient model has led to an album about experiences we all share, challenging circumstances, difficult emotions, events that elicit emotional responses, whether on a deeply personal level or more topically.
" 'Baggage and Bloodlines' is about the baggage that everybody has,” Countermine said. “We try to touch on all kinds of hurt that happens and healing that happens in relationships. We don’t pull any punches on this. There are some really difficult subjects. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s lived on the planet for 15 years that couldn’t contribute to this.”
Yes, it’s that kind of album. It really, really matters, and it’s really, really great.
The State Theater Attic show was sold out, so if you were unable to attend you can catch McCloskey and Countermine performing all around Centre County on a weekly basis, including Thursdays at Hi-Way Pizza, Fridays at The Phyrst and Sundays at the American Ale House. When you do, you’ll be indoctrinated into the pocket, the place that emerges in the midst of an activity involving a single-point of focus.
“It’s called 'flow,' in psychology,” Countermine said. “That’s for me what is feels like. Flow is where it becomes bigger than you and you just feel like you’re a part of something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s physiologically really good for our bodies to flow a lot. I think, ‘I’m in the flow! I love this feeling so much. Oh God, this is great.’ ”
“It’s like a basketball shooter being in the zone,” he said. “(Like Michael Jordan saying) 'I can’t tell you how to do this.' I can’t explain it. It’s just happening.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com