“Wendy Burch Steel & Redwood: In Flight www.wendyburchsteelredwood.com Song List: Mourning Dove, First One To Cry, Hey Pretty Blackbird, Ocean of the Blues, Don’t Wash Me Away, My Texas Girl, Blue Skies and Teardrops, When the Golden Leaves Begin to Fall, Ambrosia, Long Time Gone, More Than You’ll Ever Know, Sing No Sad Songs For Me. Wendy has been a writer and musician since childhood with her parents teaching the family barbershop quartet harmonies, and she has a graduate degree in Creative Writing and Poetry. Those two passions have come together in her songwriting and development of her band Redwood. Wendy has assembled a band with strong instrumental skills and vocal talents, and the band has strong ties to traditional bluegrass, folk, blues, and old time music. Band members are well known in the Bay Area: Butch Waller on vocals and mandolin, Glenn Dauphin on guitar and vocals, and Allegra Thompson on bass and vocals. The opening song, “Mourning Dove,” is a stellar example of the band’s style. It’s filled with tasteful guitar and mandolin fills, and Wendy’s heartfelt vocals meshed with smooth harmonies from the rest of the band. Sally Van Meter adds an extra texture with her dobro playing, and Brandon Godman accompanies on fiddle. The song continues Wendy’s use of bird metaphors as a lover takes flight and the bird becomes a source of comfort. “Hey Pretty Blackbird” has an old time flavor with Emily Mann’s clawhammer banjo, and Wendy painting a scene with corn in the fields, taters in the ground, a pot of beans cooking on the hearth and babies in the cradle. An album highlight is another Wendy Burch Steel original, “Don’t Wash Me Away.” The song opens with a California storm approaching, and the singer hoping for safety from the “valleys filling up and the hills coming down.” Escape from the dark and snow of other places combines with hope for a better future in Wendy’s haunting lead vocal. “Ambrosia” is a magical Brigadoon with children run with creatures, sparkling waters with swimming, and birds flying overhead. “More Than You’ll Ever Know” and “Sing No Sad Songs For Me” are songs of loss tempered with the joy of memories shared. Both are uplifting and inspiring and provide comfort to anyone who has lost a loved one. Butch Waller has been a Bill Monroe fan and his rendition of Bill’s “When the Golden Leaves Begin to Fall” features Glenn’s lead vocal and Butch’s mandolin playing. Butch sings the lead vocal in his song “Ocean of the Blues,” which also features mandolin, guitar, banjo, and fiddle solos. Allegra Thompson sings the lead in the Carters’ “My Texas Girl” and her down home rendition fits the style of the song perfectly. Wendy Burch Steel and Redwood have achieved a balanced presentation that features strong vocal solos with a blend of voices – Allegra and Wendy, Glenn and Butch – that give the band a wide range of stylistic possibilities. Instrumentally, the guitar and mandolin blend seamlessly and the addition of dobro, fiddle and banjo make a fuller and more complete sound. Song reach beyond the usual he loved me and left me, oh my and provide more thought provoking contemplation and comfort. Next album title: Soaring Higher!” - Brenda Hough
Oakland’s Wendy Burch Steel & Redwood to play Sunday in Berkeley
Acoustic concert at The Back Room to celebrate release of new album, “In Flight”
Photo by Snap Jackson: Wendy Burch Steel, center left, and her band, Wendy Burch Steel & Redwood, will showcase their new 12-track sophomore album, “In Flight,” in a Feb. 23 concert at Berkeley venue The Back Room. Along with Steel, the band includes vocalist/bassist Allegra Thompson, from left, vocalist/guitarist Glenn Dauphin and singer-songwriter/mandolin player Butch Waller.
By LOU FANCHER | Correspondent
PUBLISHED: February 18, 2020 at 5:00 a.m. | UPDATED: February 18, 2020 at 10:42 a.m.
Eight years have flown by since the release of Wendy Burch Steel’s debut solo acoustic Americana style album, “Open Wings,” and rest assured that the singer/songwriter and band leader based in Oakland’s Redwood Heights district has been working at a steady clip.
Steel and her band, Wendy Burch Steel & Redwood, will showcase their new 12-track sophomore album, “In Flight,” in a Feb. 23 concert at Berkeley venue The Back Room. Along with Steel, the band includes singer-songwriter/mandolin player Butch Waller, vocalist/guitarist Glenn Dauphin and vocalist/bassist Allegra Thompson. Special guest musicians joining the band are fiddle master and Berkeley Old Time Music Convention founder Suzy Thompson, banjo player Larry Cohen and composer/guitarist John Schott.
The new album draws on Steel’s steep history as an award-winning musician whose ethereal voice deepens with earthy tones and straightforward lyrics found in its origins singing bluegrass, country, folk and blues music — and the sweet harmonies of traditional barbershop quartet. In an interview, Steel recalls her father’s influence.
“He had a beautiful voice and five children, so when he wasn’t working, he’d play ukulele and teach us harmonies. He’d give us different parts, in the barbershop quartet style.”
She mentions the song, “You Are My Sunshine” and sings a phrase, followed by an outpouring of snippets from others: “Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie,” “For Me and My Gal,” “Side By Side” and others.
Given the titles of her albums and her surname, it’s a snap to associate Steel with songbirds and steel. But the poetic metaphors hold truth. Her voice flies with ease in the upper register; pierces through pain-filled lyrics and the misty fog of dark nights of the soul — or a mood — and decelerates in such a way that a breath, pause or a song’s end are never abrupt but seem inevitable; a place to land, rest and rejuvenate. The new CD has eight new songs and four cover tunes. Waller contributed one original, Steel wrote six, and the longtime collaborators co-wrote “More than You’ll Ever Know.”
“Butch just sat down and played the melody for me,” Steel says. “When I was alone, I wrote down words. He liked it, the band worked to arrange it. Butch and I are on the same wavelength, even though collaboration is hard. Why collaborate sometimes? I like what he does, and he likes what I do. Plus, getting a new melody out of the clear blue sky is a gift.”
Steel, who says the new songs inspired by stories she’s lived and dreams she’s had came “flying out when the spirit was strong in me,” hardly suffers songwriter’s block.
“She knows her craft and is a poet, and it dovetails into songwriting. Songwriting is poetry in more ways than just rhyming words. She thinks about what a magical place the world is. She grew up singing, and there’s no better workshop for that than barbershop quartet. She got songwriting early in life, and it’s just there now,” Waller says.
Unlike her first album, mentored and produced by legendary bluegrass musician Laurie Lewis, Waller says her original songs on “In Flight” are “pure Wendy, honest, personal, totally her vision and straight from her heart with no filter.”
“Don’t Wash Me Away” came to Steel during a rainy downpour. Shopping at her local grocery store, she encountered a homeless man she’d befriended over the years.
“He was just sitting in his wheelchair in the rain; it broke my heart. I gave him money, food and hugged him,” she recalls, “When driving home, I kept thinking, ‘Please don’t wash him away.’ I just got out my guitar, and the words came to me. It’s about life, metaphorically. People are always rushing past other people, thinking they have so much to do before their life is over. So it’s about my friend.”
“Sing No Sad Songs For Me” pays tribute to her mother, Clare Quentin Buckley, who died in 2018. “My mother had a poem she loved by Christina Rossetti and would always say a line to us, ‘sing no sad songs for me.’ I got the melody in a dream, woke up, put it down and thought about where she is now. She’s free, like a bird in a mountain tree.”
At a mountain cabin built by her husband, Steel heard a mourning dove that brought to mind her first husband, who passed away in 1998 due to a brain tumor. “He is that bird in ‘Mourning Dove,’ ” she says about the album’s opening track. Steel says the band’s “hive-minded” democratic process includes working on songs for as much as a full year before calling them complete. Covers of tunes composed or performed by the Everly Brothers (“Long Time Gone”), the Carter Family (“My Texas Girl”), Lynn Morris (“Blue Skies and Teardrops”) and Bill Monroe (When the Golden Leaves Begin to Fall) receive nearly equal attention and time on the album. Asked about local and national interest in American roots and bluegrass music, Steel says there’s a widespread, nationwide community eager for Americana-style music.
“There’s a sense of going back to the basics, a yearning for something that feels real in what is such a wild world. Music is healing and soothing.”
Being a woman band leader since the 1970s has established hard-earned confidence that comes both from setbacks and achievements.
“I’ve learned to trust myself,” she says. “I’ve had to learn to be more assertive over time, yes, but I love the creative process and encouraging joy.”
Lou Fancher is a freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com.