Extensive touring with few breaks can take a significant physical and mental toll on musicians - especially a solo artist.
Just ask singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick.
In late 2005, Ferrick reached an emotional impasse after months of hard touring. Living out of a suitcase and dining on prepared food night after night had drained her energy. Moreover, she had fallen extremely ill.
Exhausted, Ferrick questioned whether she could continue with her music career.
With her creative livelihood hanging in the balance, a few weeks of much-needed rest helped right her health and spirit. She resumed writing, and before long had fresh material ready for her eighth studio release, “In the Eyes of Strangers” (Right On Records).
“It didn’t all come together until I was forced to stop playing,” Ferrick recalls. “I was on tour with Glen Phillips at the time when I got pneumonia, and I got really sick. My body had given out. ... I was laid up for like two months, really just resting, eating right and being home. So, I just started writing, which was great.”
Ferrick delivers a dynamic body of work on “In the Eyes of Strangers.” From the stirring opener, “Never Give Up,” to the lyrical “It’s Been a Long Time,” her deft acoustic guitar wraps you in a warm melodic embrace.
The album courses with passion and vibrancy. The harmonious bridge on “Everything You Get,” for instance, produces an uplifting effervescence, while the refrain of “Rest Now” proves both rousing and affective. Another engaging number, “Stuck,” features evocative Led Zeppelin-like texture on its key section, and further backward guitar and double-vocal layering elements added by producer Ethan Allen.
The vibe shifts gradually, though, as you get deeper into the album.
“It dissipates from `Rest Now’ to `Easy’ to `Come on Life’ to `It’s Been a Long Time,’ where, slowly, big pieces get taken away,” Ferrick notes.
Many of Ferrick’s emotionally honest songs possess a first-person narrative quality. The album’s closer, “It’s Been a Long Time,” hits the strongest personal mark, as she reflects about touring and her fatigued state prior to the record.
“That song is possibly the most important to me,” the Massachusetts-based artist says. “I like that (lyric) `home is not just where I am anymore.’ That, for me, really summarized what I was going through.”
Unlike her previous effort in 2004, “The Other Side,” which she produced by herself, Ferrick brought musicians into a studio for “In the Eyes of Strangers.” But like many indie artists, she still needed financing to make it happen.
Initially, she shopped her demos around at different labels. But she didn’t get any bites.
Undeterred, Ferrick explored an inventive way to raise money by offering her demo material via downloads from her Web site for a nominal fee.
“At the time, another friend of mine, Jane Siberry, was doing it for whatever you could pay,” Ferrick remembers. “So, I really thought that Jane’s idea was brilliant.”
The concept paid off beautifully. Ferrick raised $6,000 online and an additional $10,000 from an anonymous donor - enough to cover the recording cost.
Ferrick’s inspiration flows from a love of rock `n’ roll. Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and Edie Brickell & New Bohemians are among her favorites. During her impassioned live performances, she’ll occasionally break into a Zeppelin-style riff or tinker with a little Red Hot Chili Peppers vocal improvisation.
Yet that hasn’t prevented some music observers from describing her as a folk artist.
“I got hooked with the folk thing just because of the time when I started making records,” Ferrick explains. “My first record came out in `93, and the next in `95 was with Atlantic Records, right around the time of the Lillith Fair thing. ... This whole time I’ve been labeled a folk artist, and I’m not. I’m a rock `n’ roll artist. I’m a singer-songwriter. And that’s where I feel a connection to Bruce Springsteen.”
Folk tag aside, Ferrick has solidified her rock groove on “In the Eyes of Strangers.” She has also changed her touring approach, and now works more down time into her busy road schedule.
Perhaps more significant, the album took her to a new level of personal and creative growth.
“Before with all my records, I was very subservient to the other people I was working with, and didn’t really speak up - really didn’t stand up for what I was hearing,” Ferrick says candidly. “May be I’m going to be a little bit more demanding of myself and the people around me. But mostly with myself, and taking responsibility for it.”
“I feel like I’ve hit a stride as far as I definitely know now that I can do this.”
MELISSA FERRICK TOUR DATES:
July 6-8: Illinois State University, Normal, Ill.
July 7-8: House Cafe, DeKalb, Ill.
July 8: FitzGerald’s, Berwyn, Ill.
July 13: Harbor Cruise, Boston
July 15: Jonathan’s Restaurant, Ogunquit, Maine
July 18: Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY
July 22: Chatfield Nature Preserve, Littleton, Colo.
Aug. 2: Lafayette Square, Buffalo, NY
Aug. 10-11: Womyn’s Music Fest, Hart, Mich.
Aug. 17: Summer Music Series, Lowell, Mass.
Sept. 29: Performing Arts Center, Ipswich, Mass.
Oct. 5: Grand Opera House, Wilmington, Del.
Oct. 8-13: Art House Theater, Provincetown, Mass.