Mayer’s Playlist for July 2014, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Resolution Road, by Easton Stagger Phillips

Easton Stagger PhillipsI don’t like to draw direct comparisons between artists but it’s hard not to do so with the latest release from Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips. This talented trio of singer-songwriters conjure up the finer moments of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Resolution Road flows with the laid-back feeling and gentile harmonies that were – and are – a CSN hallmark.

Phillips kicks off the album with “Always Came Back To You,” a graceful love song made all the richer by the trio’s warm harmonies on the chorus. His reflective “Lucillia” has similar qualities and a day-dreamy vibe.

Stagger brings a tempered rock attitude to his contributions. A persistent drum beat ushers along “Traveler” as vocal harmonies give way to a George Harrison-flavored slide guitar solo.

Easton’s closing “Baby Come Home” is simultaneously melancholy and sentimental. “Sitting here late at night wondering where you might be,” he laments before the others join him to declare “baby come home right now, I need you for the rest of my life.” Guest Derry deBorja adds some subtle yet expressive organ flourishes.

Each singer-songwriter bring their own personality and songs to the group. Yet they blend together beautifully, as if they were meant to perform together. Like CSN, Easton Stagger Phillips prove that sometimes 1+1+1 equals more than three.


Dereconstructed, by Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires

Lee Bains III and the Glory FiresThere’s an old adage — write what you know. Birmingham, Alabama native Lee Bains takes this to heart with a searing album about life in the modern South. His lyrics reflect on the weight of history, religion and everyday economic struggles of small town Southern life; his songs are fueled by incendiary guitars and furious rock beats.

Bains doesn’t shy away from social commentary on tracks like “The Kudzu and the Concrete”:

You can talk, talk, talk about it: Repentance, and forgiveness, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
But what the hell does that mean when all your neighbors look the same and think the same or else live a couple miles down the rural route?

He wrestles with the love-hate relationship of growing up in Birmingham in “The Weeds Downtown.” “I know that Birmingham gets you down, but look what it raised you up to be,” he sings.

“The Company Man” takes a stand against greed and blind obedience. “All it takes is one wicked heart, a pile of money and a chain of folks just doing their jobs,” he cautions.

Bains lets his guitar do plenty of talking, too. Dereconstructed is a no holds barred rock album. Bains and fellow guitarist Eric Wallace trade licks like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor back in the day. The entire band sounds ferocious, rough and ragged. Bains describes it best on “Dirt Track” when he says, “Squeezing glory out of three rusty chords.” The results are glorious, indeed.

Audio Download: Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, “The Weeds Downtown”

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THE PLAYLIST


Bernadine, Adam Carroll (from the self-released Let It Choose You)
I’d lost touch with the music of Austin folk-country singer Adam Carroll a few years back. I recall him tending towards humor in his songwriting yet always equally adept at finding the tenderness of a moment. His latest release shows that he hasn’t lost his touch.

While there are still occasional glimpses of humor, his latest batch of songs tend towards the sincere end of the spectrum. His voice and music have a gentle aura about them, his songs filled with thoughtful character-driven stories.

Audio Download: Adam Carroll, “Bernadine”

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Carry On, Denver (from the Mama Bird Recording Company release Rowdy Love)
Three singer-songwriters out of Portland serve up songs that are alternatively ramshackle and relaxed. The eleven tracks on Rowdy Love are rooted in country but sometimes veer towards mountain folk-rock territory that is reflective of the region from which they take their name. Then there is this track, a personal favorite, which has a decidedly Gordon Lightfoot feel.


Down, Kingsley Flood (from the self-released Live at the Armory)
I wouldn’t often call a live album one of an artist’s best releases but it’s appropriate in this instance. To tide us over until their next studio release, the Boston and Washington D.C-based six piece sextet took over an intimate venue to perform a career-spanning set. They impressively find a way to breathe fresh life into older songs and ratchet up the intensity of their already forceful more recent work. It also showcases the talents of songwriter Naseem Khuri, who crafts songs that are exceptionally intelligent and damn catchy, too.

You can download a free six-song sampler from this release here.


Monday, Caleb Caudle (from the This Is American Music release Paint Another Layer on My Heart)
New Orleans by way of Winston-Salem North Carolina singer-songwriter Caudle says that much of this album was inspired by a year of touring and the corresponding yearning for home. “I’m really leaving it’s really Monday, I don’t know how it got here so soon,” he laments on this stand-out, “lately I’m finding so little to trust in, that’s why it’s harder leaving you.”


Too Long I’ve Been Gone, Dom Flemons (from the Music Maker Relief Foundation release Prospect Hill)
The Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder continues his exploration of the early American music canon on his latest release. Flemons roots himself in folk but masterfully blends countless other genres into the mix. “Georgia Drumbeat” beautifully blends jazz, country and folk while “Have I Stayed Away Too Long?” has a touch of Dixieland and “I Can’t Do It Anymore” brings in some tasty blues playing. I’m partial to this song, a more traditional – and winsome – ballad.

Mayer’s Picks – The Best of 2014, So Far (the Albums)

The year is off to a strong start and I expect that it will only get better. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite releases from the first half of 2014.


Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless

SOMEWHERE ELSE by LYDIA LOVELESS

“Simply bad-ass” is the phrase that overwhelms my thinking every time I give this album a listen. Loveless isn’t one to pull any punches and her rocking band gets in more than a few jabs of their own. This is my kinda rock and roll.

Key Tracks: Really Wanna See You, Wine Lips, Head, Verlaine Shot Rimbaud, Somewhere Else

Featured Twangville coverage of Lydia Loveless: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 1, Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless, and Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless


Alexandria, Chris Mills

ALEXANDRIA by CHRIS MILLS

There has long been something magical in Mills’ writing and his latest release is no exception. Mills wears his musical heart on his sleeve, crafting songs that are filled with emotion and intensity which he then brings to life with a voice that is passionate and full of conviction.

Key Tracks: Alexandria, Rubicon, Blooms, The Sweet Hereafter, Quiet Corners

Featured Twangville coverage of Chris Mills: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills, and Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills


Hard Working Americans

HARD WORKING AMERICANS by HARD WORKING AMERICANS

You never know what you’re going to get when a “super group” of musicians come together. Leave it to the newly formed Hard Working Americans to demonstrate how to do it right. They hit the bulls-eye twice, first with their stand-out performances and musicianship. Second, by covering a collection of songs written by some of theirs – and my – favorite songwriters.

Key Tracks: Another Train, Down to the Well, Stomp and Holler, Welfare Music

Featured Twangville coverage of Hard Working Americans: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1


Drive-By Truckers

ENGLISH OCEANS by DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS

Are you ready to rock? Well the Truckers certainly are. English Oceans finds Patterson Hood in fine story-telling form and Mike Cooley filling his songs with plenty of piss and vinegar. The results are pretty damn potent.

Key Tracks: Shit Shots Count, Primer Coat, Pauline Hawkins, Hearing Jimmy Loud, When Walter Went Crazy, Grand Canyon

Featured Twangville coverage of Drive-By Truckers: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 2 and Drive By Truckers – Live at Track 29 in Chattanooga, TN


Chuck Ragan

TILL MIDNIGHT by CHUCK RAGAN

Ragan has found a way to marry his punk pedigree with the edgier side of Americana. Let’s call it rustic punk… and a mighty fine listen.

Key Tracks: Something May Catch Fire, Vagabond, Non Typical, Bedroll Lullaby, Gave My Heart Out

Featured Twangville coverage of Chuck Ragan: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1.


Sarah Borges

RADIO SWEETHEART by SARAH BORGES

Borges returned from her musical hiatus by releasing what is arguably the best album of her career. Radio Sweetheart bristles with swagger and attitude, not to mention plenty of guitar-driven punch.

Key Tracks: Girl With a Bow, Think of What You’ve Done, The Waiting and the Worry, Start Again, Record on Repeat

Featured Twangville coverage of Sarah Borges: Happy Valentine’s Day: Radio Sweetheart from Sarah Borges , Monday Morning Video: Amy Black, Girls Guns & Glory and Sarah Borges , and More Video Fun from Sarah Borges, Amy Black and Girls Guns & Glory


Girls Guns and Glory

GOOD LUCK by GIRLS GUNS AND GLORY

While they remain true to their love of Hank Williams and vintage country, Girls Guns and Glory let their rock and roll colors fly on Good Luck. It makes for one rollicking good time.

Key Tracks: All the Way Up to Heaven, Be Your Man, One of These Days, C’Mon Honey, Rockin’ Chair Money, It’s Your Choice

Featured Twangville coverage of Girls Guns and Glory: Mass Ave – A Special Boston Playlist , Photos that Rock: Girls Guns and Glory , and Girls Guns and Glory at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse


Parker Millsap

PARKER MILLSAP by PARKER MILLSAP

The Oklahoma native sets a high bar for himself with an outstanding debut release, deftly mixing up a stew of country gospel, folk and bluegrass.

Key Tracks: Old Time Religion, Truck Stop Gospel, The Villain, Quite Contrary, When I Leave

Featured Twangville coverage of Parker Millsap: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, and Old Settlers Music Fest 2014 Edition .


Billy Joe Shaver – Long in the Tooth

bjs-longinthetooth-cover
Billy Joe Shaver is back at 74 with his first album in seven years. Shaver reportedly feels that “Long in the Tooth” is his best album. It is a tall claim considering his voluminous discography, but it is definitely in the upper echelon. Since his last album, Shaver has shown he is not ready to remove the outlaw from Outlaw Country. Four years ago he was acquitted for shooting a man in self-defense outside of a Waco bar. When asked by the prosecutor why he didn’t try to get away he said, “If I was a chicken shit I would have left.” Then later he added, “”Hopefully things will work out where we become friends enough so that he gives me back my bullet.”

Shaver references aging from a few different perspectives on the album. On the one hand, he shows an air of defiance. Like the opener “Hard to be an Outlaw (who ain’t wanted anymore)”, which is a superb duet with Willie Nelson. On that song the two of them declare that “Someday we might end up in a junkyard on the side, but until that day you can bet your ass we’re going to whip that ride.” He sings a similar mantra on the tile cut, which has a cool, trippy vibe to it. On the other hand, Shaver uses his life experience to add perspective about life’s issues and realities. On songs like “The Git Go” and “Checkers and Chess”, there is none of the melodrama or class bashing that you will often hear from young idealistic singers. He is not trying to change the world, opting instead to point out that the world hasn’t changed.

“Long in the Tooth” empties the Outlaw’s saddlebag. There is the proverbial mixture of Country and Rock. However, he also takes us to the Honky Tonk and tweaks the listener to make us laugh. “Last Call for Alcohol” is a perfect example quintessential Shaver wit. “Music City USA” is a compelling story song and an instant classic. Shaver is joined on this album not only by Willie Nelson, but also by Tony Joe White, Leon Russell and Shawn Camp.

“Long in the Tooth” is an album that Shaver is obviously proud of and I am quite sure he gives a wink and a nod to Eddy, his late son and long-time collaborator.

Mayer’s Playlist for June 2014, Part 1

ALBUM OF THE MONTHS

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, by Sturgill SimpsonSturgill Simpson

It’s easy to take pot-shots at what passes for country these days. You know what I’m talking about: the feel-good, truck-drivin’, beer-drinking music makes for great stadium concert sing-alongs. If that’s your scene, then more power to you.

Some of you, like me, want something different. We want music that is more firmly rooted in the country tradition, songs of heartache and life’s tribulations that are performed with grit and authenticity.

Fortunately for us, there is a renaissance afoot. A new breed of artists has emerged who are revitalizing country, reviving the spirit and song craft of the country pioneers. Score one for us that Sturgill Simpson, one of the neo-traditionalist movement’s leading lights, is back with his second album in as many years. Damn if it ain’t a beaut.

Lead track “Turtles All the Way Down” has a warm and rambling melancholy that gives way to the chugging honky-tonk “Life of Sin.” “Long White Line” keeps things moving with a groove that hearkens back to the truck-drivin’ classics of the 1970’s.

A real surprise is Simpson’s magical cover of the late 1980′s new wave hit “The Promise.” Simpson transforms the song by giving it a dramatic George Jones feel. “I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say,” he croons, “I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be.” It is a performance that is plaintive and powerful.

Lyrically, Simpson preserves the custom of writing about troubled times without being spurious or sensationalistic. His characters take a matter-of-fact approach as they consider their oft-troubled situations. “But it ain’t all flowers, sometimes you gotta feel the thorns,” Simpson declares on “It Ain’t All Flowers.”

With Sturgill helping to lead the charge, country music is beginning to sound as fresh today as it did back in the day. Can I get an amen?


THE PLAYLIST


When You’re Here, John Fullbright (from the Blue Dirt Records release Songs)
After the tremendous (and justifiable) success of 2012’s From the Ground Up, Fullbright strips things down with his latest release. Following in the footsteps of writers like Randy Newman, he understands that subtlety can be incredibly compelling.

The arrangements, mostly centered around Fullbright’s piano and acoustic guitar, are particularly stunning here. Alternately lush and sparse, they convey the drama in Fullbright’s songs.

His lyrics are simple and direct, while conveying tremendous power and emotion. This magical ode to companionship is a great example. “As for lonely I can show you how to live a life alone,” he counsels, “all it takes is getting used to getting lost.”


Frankie Please, Rodney Crowell (from the New West Records release Tarpaper Sky)
There’s a lot to be said for consistency. Rodney Crowell is a fine example, a 40+-year songwriting veteran with a tremendous catalog that grows stronger with every new release. His latest is a roots-rockin’ hootenanny, filled with gentle ballads and crackling rave-ups. From the ambling Cajun feel of “Fever on the Bayou” to the emotional tug of “God I’m Missing You,” Crowell’s songs are filled with vivid language and vibrant storytelling.

Here’s one of my favorites from Tarpaper Sky. How can one note love a song that begins with a line like, “You tore through my life like a tornado looking for a trailer park.”


Intervention, Old 97’s (from the ATO Records release Most Messed Up)
The quartet from Dallas are back with a collection of no bull-shit, let’s have a good time kind of rock and roll. Pick your favorite topic – such as boozin’ or hanging with friends, lovers or wanna-be-lovers – and there’s undoubtedly a song about it here. Musically the band is in rip-roaring form, guitars blazing and beats pumping.

If there was ever any doubt that the Old 97’s are the life of the party, Most Messed Upshould put it to rest.


We Both Lose, Tommy Malone (from the MC Reocrds release Poor Boy)
Whether performing solo or as a founding member of the subdudes, New Orleans singer-songwriter Tommy Malone knows how to serve up a potent stew of R&B, rock and soul. His latest solo release drives the point home.

Malone brought together a crack group of like-minded musicians, the kind who know how to play and sound damn good doing it. They play with precision and grace, all the while finding some spirited grooves.

Of course it helps that they start with a damn fine batch of songs. Here’s one of my favorites from the release, a happy-go-lucky break-up song.


Audio Stream: Tommy Malone, “We Both Lose”

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First Cold Day of Fall, Ian McFeron (from the self-released Acoustic)
Seattle-based McFeron revisits songs from his catalog on this special acoustic release. His songs have always been enchanting, possessing a soothing warmth even when he is singing about heartache and tragedy. The sparse acoustic arrangements presented here make them even them even more so. Multi-instrumentalist Alisa Milner adds her own special musical touch, not to mention some wonderful harmonies.

Audio Download: Ian McFeron, “First Cold Day of Fall”

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Sing Together, Jeff Black (from the Lotos Nile Music release Folklore)
Black writes in the liner notes that the compositions on Folklore are inspired by photographs. Close your eyes and you will undoubtedly begin to visualize these photos as you listen to this collection of songs.

Black is a storyteller of the finest kind. Armed with just his guitar (and the occasional banjo and harmonica), he paints vivid musical portraits. He has a wonderful way of bringing characters to life in his songs, burrowing into their innermost thoughts and deliberations. The results are sublime.


On a Wire, Waylon Speed (from the Crow on Ten Records release Kin)
Who says that you have to be from below the Mason-Dixon line to play some fine Southern rock? No one told these four guys from Vermont, as they serve it up in spades. Their songwriting is top notch, catchy yet with plenty of whiskey-infused edge in the mix. At times they channel the rambling feel of the Allman Brothers, at other times they evoke the electricity of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Audio Download: Waylon Speed, “On a Wire”

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Age of Miracles, The Trews (from the Nettwerk Records release The Trews)
For over ten years, Nova Scotia’s the Trews have served up brilliant stadium-ready rock. Their latest shows that the group has no intention of slowing down or changing. The songs on this self-titled release overflow with bombastic electric guitar riffs, softened only by the quartet’s pop hooks and polished harmonies. It is a perfect summer soundtrack. Best played loud.

Ward Hayden Reflects on the Legacy of Hank Williams

Hank Williams

When Twangville heard about The Garden Spot Programs, 1950, a just released collection of Hank Williams performances that hadn’t been heard in over 60 years, we asked Ward Hayden — singer-songwriter for Girls Guns and Glory and the biggest Williams enthusiast that we know — to share his thoughts on the release.

We had requested a few paragraphs; what Hayden gave us was so much more. Read on for a musician’s view on the legend and inspiration of Hank Williams.


Over 60 years since his passing, unreleased Hank Williams material is still popping up.

My first encounter with ol’ Hank began when I heard his song “Kaw-Liga” playing on the tape deck of my mom’s car. I was about 5 or 6 years old at the time, but I can remember singing along with Hank at the top of my lungs and thoroughly enjoying howling out the chorus with him. I didn’t understand the underlying sentiment of the song or the witty story of a wooden Indian’s heartbreak, longing, and regretful woes. In Hank’s lifetime, this song was branded as a novelty and the gimmick of the song’s humor and imagination wasn’t lost on me. Wooden Indians aside, this still wasn’t your average song of longing. It told the complete story, from start to finish, in just 3 verses. Many of Hank’s songs capture a moment or an emotion, this one captured an entire experience and with it, a range of emotions.

Although his music was often played in my home as a kid, I didn’t fully connect with Hank’s music until I turned 20 years old. By then I’d felt the painful and lasting sting of heartbreak, loss, and unrequited love. It was like the words and music of Hank Williams had become illuminated, they were all I could see, all I wanted to hear, and the only thing that allowed me to feel better.

Hank WilliamsAfter discovering this deeper meaning that existed inside of Hank’s songs, I was hooked. Yet Hank’s music has not lived on solely based on its artistic merit. Rather, it is due to a combination its timelessness paired with the public’s fascination with his hard living and self-destructive lifestyle, which ultimately led to his early demise. His life has been sensationalized and subsequently Hank has become the poster boy for the doomed country singer–brimming with talent, but plagued by addictions and infidelities. Hank’s story is the tale of a man who makes it to the top of the mountain, only to realize the happiness he was seeking was actually back where he’d started his journey.


I’m honored to review this collection of radio broadcasts from The Garden Spot Programs because Hank’s life and music have had such a lasting impact on my own life and journey. Almost 5 years ago, when I was just beginning my career in music, I had a dream of performing a tribute to Hank Williams on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. These days are immensely important in the timeline of Hank’s life because they mark the dates of the two shows Hank never got to perform. He missed his performance on New Year’s Eve in Charleston, WV due to an ice storm, instead spending the night at the Andrew Johnson Hotel in Knoxville, TN. Then he missed his New Year’s Day performance in Canton, Ohio due to his untimely death at just 29 years old, likely shedding his earthly coil in the backseat of his now infamous pale-blue ’52 Cadillac.

What makes The Garden Spot collection of broadcasts such a valuable addition to the Hank Williams catalog is not only are these recordings incredibly clear and well preserved, likely a credit to the mastering engineer, they are also a must-have for any Hank fan/collector in that they’re audio snapshots of a time gone by. Hank and the Drifting Cowboys are on the job and, boy, do they play some good songs here. This is essentially a live album, even though the audience was tuning in via radio, and the group sounds comfortable and together. Hank and his boys are laying it down.

There is some repetition of the songs and you hear The Garden Spot jingle enough times to start skipping over it whenever it pops up with repeated listens. However, this collection as a whole is outstanding. Hank is relaxed and comes across as humble, human, and lively. He’s not a hog for the spotlight and each segment features a ripping instrumental fiddle tune. While listening to this album in a dimly lit room with the TV off and the music up, I felt whisked away to a simpler time. I kept envisioning Hank and the boys crowded around the microphone, each positioned to capture the right tone and volume of their instrument, all the while featuring Hank’s voice. These guys are real professional and it’s evident in the way they perform. This recording, from 1950, is a time when Hank was in his prime and his confidence is apparent and charming, but not overpowering. He comes across as a likable guy and a captivating performer.

The musical highlights for me are both renditions of “Lovesick Blues,” a tin pan alley song that Hank didn’t write, but learned from the recording of a largely forgotten minstrel performer named Emmett Miller. Hank took Miller’s version of the song and channeled it through himself. In doing so, he breathed new life into an already good song, added some hillbilly inflections to it and yodeled out what’s become one of country music’s most legendary tunes.

Hank WilliamsAnother highlight is a truly stunning version of “I Can’t Get You Off of My Mind”. What makes Hank’s delivery so remarkable is the way he causes you to believe every word he says. He sings in a way that evokes emotion from the listener and his words are written in a manner that offers a glimpse into a person’s heart that is seldom seen and often kept hidden. He sings of things that are raw and sore and that hurt. It’s painful, but it’s real, and he makes it accessible and palatable. That his lyrics are often easily comprehensible and plainly stated is what gives them their magic. Hank gets deep, without getting wordy or overly figurative. He gets deep by tapping into feelings that can hurt to tap into, and explaining those feelings in a way that almost anyone can understand.

This is an album that I’m sure to spend more time with and get to know better. As a performer, there’s a lot to learn from a recording like this one. The exchange between Hank and announcer Grant Turner, and even the pace of Hank’s speech as he introduces each song are a good example of using comedic banter to hype up a popular song or to segue into another topic. It’s a valuable lesson on how to present yourself as a performer and as a person.

Hank is arguably one of the greatest songwriters of all time, no matter the genre. After hearing this recording I find myself feeling like I had a glimpse behind the curtain, seeing beyond the myth and the legend, getting to see him as a man.


Ward HaydenWard Hayden is the singer-songwriter for Boston-based Girls Guns and Glory. The group just released their fifth album, the Eric “Roscoe” Ambel produced Good Luck. The album is a rockin’ good time and also includes a version of the late 1940′s song “Rockin’ Chair Money,” a song often associated with Williams.

Girls Guns and Glory, along with Sarah Borges and Jamie Kent, will be performing on a special Boston Harbor boat cruise on July 20th (info and tickets here). The cruise will celebrate the release of a new 7″ vinyl single that the group recently recorded with Sarah Borges. The single includes a Borges-penned original titled “Get As Gone Can Get” as well as a cover of the Sonny & Cher classic “Baby Don’t Go”.

As Hayden mentions above, the group hosts an annual series of Hank Williams tribute shows to honor the artist’s legacy and untimely passing. Folks in New England – or those interested in making the trip – should stay tuned for details on this year’s performances.

You can catch Girls Guns and Glory on tour in the US and Europe throughout 2014 (Tour dates here). Not surprisingly, there’s a good chance that you’ll hear a Hank song or two mixed into their set.

Photo credits: Hank Williams photos courtesy of Colin Escott; Ward Hayden photo courtesy of Suzanne McMahon.