The best part about being a high school teacher is working with hundreds of students on a daily basis. Having great colleagues and administrators sweetens the deal, but the students are a steady stream of light and inspiration, and with or without the other adults in the building the students are what it’s all about.
Even after students graduate and/or are no longer enrolled, seeing what they’re up to can be the ultimate kickback as they get into new and exciting things. Such is the case with Jack Badger, a recent Bellefonte Area High School graduate who released his first album this year called “White Dove.”
“’White Dove’ is a solo acoustic album performed by myself and produced by myself and a great friend of mine, David Barone,” Badger wrote in an email. “I think it’s mostly about myself and my experiences.”
I listened to all seven tracks while I was driving back from parents’ house last Monday, which is fitting because being in the house where I grew up helped me mentally trek back to what things were like back then, what I was like and how I viewed myself in relation to others. Listening to Badger’s all-original songs from that frame of mind helped me get inside his lyrics and to better feel the authenticity in his voice.
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“Admittedly, most of the songs are pretty sad,” Badger said. “They’re about failed friendships or romantic relationships. However I thought it needed to exist so I could get my feelings out into the world.”
I’ve been there. There was a time when feeling less than or like I was not enough was practically a full-time occupation. I remember feeling like I just wanted to get it out so as to be seen, whatever the effect or consequences may be. What I’ve come to learn is there’s nothing sad about the truth. It’s all beautiful because it’s real, and sometimes throughout our lives the struggle is simply to feel and to be real. Badger captures it all in his songs.
“I have a hard time expressing my emotions normally, but through music I find it easy,” Badger said. “I’m really happy with how it’s been received. Mostly friends and family have listened to it, but a lot of people that follow my Twitter and just people around the world have listened to it. I haven’t gotten much feedback but I’ve been told I have a very unique voice.”
Truth. His voice is unique. It hovers around his songs’ melodies and stretches the boundaries of what those melodies have to offer. In that way, the style reminds me of what Vassar Celements once said in praise about Jerry Garcia’s banjo playing, indicating it often wasn’t clear if Garcia’s solos were going to find their way back to root of the melodies, but they always did, and in ways Clements — a musical virtuoso — would have never thought.
Badger’s voice works, and his guitar playing is filled with emotion, attention to dynamics and good timing. You can especially hear it in tracks like “Darlin’ Please,” “Second Thought” and “Walk in the Park.” It’s all the more impressive that Badger is relatively new to the guitar and songwriting.
“I’ve been playing the cello since fourth grade and I first picked up a cheap starter guitar at the beginning of tenth grade,” Badger said. “I’ve been writing songs since the end of eleventh grade.”
Young as he is — still chronicling his life in terms of what grade he’s in — gigs are hard to come by, especially in our area. There are a few cool places to get booked if you’re under 21, but there are not a lot, although Badger is working on figuring it out.
“I hope to find some open mics around the Huntingdon area,” Badger said. “I would love to play in State College at some point in the near future.”
Whatever the case, the performances are where it’s at, which Badger knows.
“I think it’s really therapeutic to perform the songs I love,” Badger wrote. “There’s really nothing like it and it’s kind of indescribable. Mid-song I kind of get into a trance. My muscles and voice just kind of carry themselves. It’s such a surreal experience.”