Lissa Schneckenburger will mark the release of her new album on March 7 at Club Passim.
Her stay in the Boston area was a relatively brief one, but the area’s folk/traditional music scene made an impression on Vermont fiddler-vocalist Lissa Schneckenburger, and she returned the favor.
The Maine native came to town in the late 1990s as a student in New England Conservatory and spent quite a bit of time in local sessions and contra dances, and a number of collaborations as well. Besides fronting her own band, she was part of Boston-based fiddle ensemble Childsplay, the much-loved quartet Halali – along with fellow fiddlers Hanneke Cassel and Laura Cortese and guitarist Flynn Cohen – the duo Phantom Power with pianist Bruce Rosen, and joined in with the Boston Scottish Fiddle Club. Schneckenburger appeared at BCMFest (and also created the original festival banner), New England Folk Festival Association and Club Passim – which is where she’ll be returning on March 7 at 7 p.m.; her Boston-area performances have also included opening for Judy Collins at Symphony Hall and Richard Thompson at Sanders Theatre.
Schneckenburger moved away in 2004, but not before creating a considerable appreciation among folk/trad aficionados for the versatility of her New England-nourished fiddling that enabled her to fit snugly in different musical settings, from Irish pub sessions to Scottish country dance events to Cape Breton ceilidhs, as well as contra dance halls. Her self-assured singing – whether a traditional ballad, a contemporary folk composition, or a pop song (including “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” and “Crimson and Clover,” which were on her 2013 album “Covers”) – created even more appeal, and over time, so did her songwriting, particularly on “Thunder in My Arms,” her 2019 release comprising all original pieces inspired by her experiences as a foster and adoptive parent.
Her March 7 show at Club Passim (see passim.org for ticket info) will serve as the launch for Schneckenburger’s newest album, “Falling Forward,” which spotlights her own fiddle tunes and a pair of traditional songs, “Cruel Mother” and “Benjamin Deane.” The titular track has a swoopingly Scandinavian character to it – aided by harmony fiddle and accordion – while “The Ranch” moves along to an unusual, and fascinating, cadence; there’s also a sprightly jig/reel combo, “Sorry for the Divots/For Grada,” and an epic set that begins with a rather dark traditional Scottish tune and builds to a momentous, climactic jig with duet fiddles over a pulsating piano (the track is titled “The Scolding Wives of Abertaff/Were Totally Justified/Using Their Leadership Skills to Get [expletive] Done”). No lack of contrasts here.
Schneckenburger recently offered some thoughts about the new album and the good old days in Boston.
Q. Are the tunes on “Falling Forward” mostly recent compositions, or do they go a ways back?
A. Some of each. There are a couple of tunes that I wrote a long time ago, but never managed to find a place for on previous albums – like “The Ranch” or “For Grada” – some music that was written at the start of the pandemic – like “Susan’s Garden March” – and some written within the last year or so, like “For the Millions.”
Q. Do you feel like your tune-writing has changed over time?
A. I think the biggest change in my tune – and song-writing – is that now I consider it to be part of my job. I used to write music every once in a while, when I felt inspired, or when I didn’t have anything else that I needed to practice. These days, I am more aware that a person can practice writing music much in the same way that they can practice playing music, and the more you practice something, the better you are at it. I’m also more willing to work on tunes and edit them if there is a spot that doesn’t seem quite right, while in the past I either loved a tune and kept it or hated it and forgot about it.
Q. You did a string of albums that were built around a theme/concept: "Song," "Dance," "Covers" and "Thunder in My Arms." Do you see "Falling Forward" in that same light, or instead having several different aspects to it?
A. Yes, I love a good theme – theme albums, theme parties, themed playlists, you name it! The theme for “Falling Forward” is original fiddle tunes, of course, although I do deviate from that once or twice in a way that I hope is complementary to the overall listening experience. The truth is, I’m constantly writing new tunes, but it was hard to find a fitting place to put them on my previous concept albums. Some of these tunes have been patiently waiting in the wings for years, and now it’s finally their turn to shine.
Q. You have a different supporting cast for "Falling Forward" than for most of your previous recordings, among them Katie McNally – who’s also the producer – on harmony fiddle, someone very well-known in Greater Boston. How did this particular ensemble come together?
A. The studio ensemble for this album came out of a brainstorm. I wrote down everyone on my fantasy trad music team, and these folks were at the top of the list. When I brought Katie on board as producer, we talked about musicians and instrumentation and were pretty much aligned from the start, in terms of who we wanted to ask to record with us. I feel really excited and honored to have made an album with such an all-star team.
Besides Katie, there’s Natalie Haas (cello), who many people know from her duo with fiddler Alasdair Fraser; Rachel Aucoin (piano) has played with fiddler Laura Risk and many Quebecois musicians; Karen Tweed (piano accordion) has been part of bands like The Poozies and SWAP, and toured with Irish piper and singer Christy O’Leary; Mali Obomsawin (double bass) co-founded the folk-rock trio Lula Wiles, but also is very active in promoting Wabanaki music, art and culture.
Q. It’s about 20 years since you left Boston, right? What are your dominant music-related memories of living in Boston? What impact did it all have on you?
A. I just had to double-check the math, but yes, I left Boston to move to New York in 2004, and then moved from New York to Vermont in 2006, so it’s been a while. I have so many amazing musical memories of when I lived in Boston, I could definitely write a book, although I won’t, because I know it’s already been done a few times – at the very least, I should make a photo montage and post it on Instagram.
Boston was the perfect place to be a young college student studying music, there were so many opportunities to learn, to listen, to get inspired, and to get motivated. I loved having so many friends from fiddle camps that I went to as a teenager, now suddenly all living in the same city as I was: people like Hanneke Cassel, Laura Cortese, Casey Dreissen, April Verch, and so many more. That meant that there were plenty of jam sessions and parties where we could play and get ideas from each other.
There were always great concerts to go to and I was constantly collecting new ideas about music and performing. My life definitely changed when I went to see SWAP or Danu, or Chris Wood and Andy Cutting at Johnny D’s, or Annbjorg Lien at the Somerville Theater, or Tommy Peoples at the back room of the Burren. I volunteered as an usher at concerts for Kate Rusby and Childsplay (before I was ever in the band). Living in Boston had a huge impact on my life and music, and it still does today for myself and many other musicians. I may not stay up until 2 a.m. playing tunes anymore – now that I’m a parent, I’m in favor of a more relaxed Sunday brunch jam session – but my time in Boston helped me forge lasting friendships and musical memories.
It’s also really special as one of the only places in the country where a traditional musician can work full time teaching, leading sessions, playing concerts, etc., without having to travel or tour. There are lots of amazing places in the world, but Boston is one of the few that can support and sustain a group of trad musicians, for which I am extremely thankful. Good job Boston, keep it up!