GAITHERSBURG — Inspired by friends who were forced to redefine themselves after the end of a relationship, D.C. area singer-songwriter Craig Cummings sang about the joys and downfalls of love in the Gaithersburg Arts Barn on Saturday to celebrate the release of his new album “Gone Baby Gone.”
The seven-track, 27-minute-long album, issued on Takoma Park’s Azalea City label, tells the story of a man dealing with a long-term relationship falling apart. The album shows all facets of the relationship, from the man's first attempts to win the unnamed woman’s love to the aftermath of the breakup.
“I was running into people that had been in relationships that were ending, and they were struggling with how to be alone after all that time. They were asking themselves, ‘How do I redefine myself as a person without the context of a relationship?’” said Craig.
Domenic Cicala, another singer-songwriter, opened for Cummings. He began with a guitar and vocal ballad, before introducing the band to play two upbeat country songs.
Cummings himself then came out to applause. Cummings started off by playing “Open Your Arms” from his 2009 debut album “Road Trips and Relationships,” before segueing into several covers by artists who influenced him, such as Townes Van Zandt and George Jones. Cummings took this opportunity to introduce his two background singers for the night, Michelle Murray and Ruthie Logsdon. Logsdon sang lead for a cover of Loretta Lynn’s “You Wanna Give Me a Lift.”
Cummings then introduced the concept of his new album to the audience before performing it in full. Cummings himself functions as the narrator and main character of the story.
The conflict is established right away with the first track “The Last 20 Years.” The narrator’s wife has left him and the narrator is in denial crying, “the last 20 years must count for something,” as he tries to win her back.
We then go back in time to the beginning of the relationship with the next two songs “Right of First Refusal” and “Second Choice.” Cummings uses these two songs to create dramatic irony; the instruments are upbeat while the words are hopeful, looking forward to a future that we already know is doomed. The two songs tell the story of how the characters started out as friends, before the narrator convinced the woman to start a romantic relationship with him.
“I try to keep a running book of ideas,” said Cummings when asked about his writing process. “It could be a line or a concept, and when I’m the mood to write and my head’s clear, I’ll take out the book, go through my ideas, find one that feels right at that moment.”
The album then shifts in tone with the title track “Gone Baby Gone” and “Built a Bridge.” “Gone Baby Gone” describes how the women left the narrator, by moving to another town, changing her name, and dyeing her hair. According to Cummings, “Built a Bridge” was co-written with a woman in Iceland and a man from New Orleans, with whom he initially connected through Skype.
“Another writer can give you more ideas and get you over the hump,” said Cummings when asked about collaboration. “It exposes you to the way other people think about writing.”
The final two songs on the album, “Ol’ Santa Fe” and “House for Sale,” describe how the narrator gets over the relationship. The first track has a surfer-style guitar intro from Grant Kushner who also co-produced and engineered the album and describes the narrator driving to Santa Fe to get his mind off the failed relationship. While the latter track represents both parties finally moving on and selling the house they bought together.
Many songs featured a tension between upbeat instrumentals and sad lyrics.
“If I’m backing sad lyrics I’ll play something ghostly,” said pedal steel guitarist Gerry Gimble when asked about how to balance the contrasting moods. “If I’m playing a solo I follow the melody.”
Cummings then performed several more originals, as well as a cover of “A Race is On” by George Jones before ending the concert with Merle Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever.”
“Making the album was an exercise in joy” said Cummings.