CD REVIEW: Doug Spears - Welcome Home By Don Sechelski - 01/24/2010 - 08:32 PM EST Artist: Doug Spears Album: Welcome Home Label: Cypress Moss Records Website: http://www.dougspearsmusic.com Genre: Acoustic folk/pop Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10 Songwriting Skills: 9/10 CD Review: Fourth generation Floridian, Doug Spears, knows the traditions and customs of Florida as well as anyone and he shows it on his new CD, Welcome Home. From the swamps of North Florida to the beaches of Key West, Spears brings the sights, sounds, and even smells of Florida alive in these well written and performed songs. Doug is joined by a variety of musicians on Welcome Home which was exquisitely produced by Jason Thomas. Moonshiners found the swampland to be a good place to hide their stills and the first cut, Yellow Butter Moon, celebrates their product. "Yellow butter moon shine down through me with a light so true. There's love and life in the burn and bite of that yellow butter moon." Lis Williamson plays a nifty clawhammer banjo along with Doug's guitar and Jason Thomas' fiddle. Rob Ickes' smooth slide kicks off Teppentine, a story about the men who distilled turpentine from the sap of pine trees. It was hot unpleasant work and much like the coal mines, the workers paid all their wages back to the company store. Spears is a storyteller of the first order. His descriptions are vivid and true. There are so many first rate tracks on Welcome Home. Spears' songs are beautifully crafted with lush imagery and very singable melodies. Some of my favorites are A Mother's Tears about Florida native Lewis Powell who was hung as a co-conspirator with John Wilkes Booth and Banks of Old St Johns which features some very tasty acoustic guitar from Gabe Valla. You don't have to be from Florida to enjoy and appreciate the excellent performances on Welcome Home. Stellar songwriting, perfect vocals, superb musicians and masterful production combine to create a rare album. This is not Margaritaville, it's a whole lot better.
Thursday, January 31, 2008 CD of the Year: ''Break Some Stones'' Ron Johnson STRINGS & THINGS announces it's choice for Album/CD of the Year (2007): “Break Some Stones” by Doug Spears. We’ve decided to review a few of our favorite CD’s from time to time, in between reports about the shows and festivals and the other musical stuff, so we thought we’d start off with a bang with our choice for Album or CD of the Year for 2007. This was certainly a good year for CD’s; We saw new releases by Levon Helm, Lucinda Williams, as well as Amy Carol Webb, Bill & Eli Perras, and even the Peters Road Swamp Band released a new CD, which included their great campfire song “He’ll Never Jam In This County Again.” And we deeply regret not having anymore recordings from the great Bobby Hicks, the master Florida songwriter, with his sad passing this year. “I’m Florida, Need I Say More?” remains the greatest Florida song ever recorded and his whole CD, recorded some years ago now, is a real treasure. But after listening to a bunch of CD’s this year (including that awful new Eagles CD, ugh!) the choice for Album of the Year is an easy one. Without a doubt, the best CD was Doug Spears’ “Break Some Stones.” The CD was recorded and mastered at Acoustic Music Productions in West Palm Beach, Fl. Produced by Doug Spears and Ron Litschauer, all the songs were written by Doug Spears. The entire CD is just Doug on the guitar. It feels “live” as if Doug sat down next to you and started playing, as if you are the only one he’s singing to, and it works. The title song has already won several awards including the Winner of American Songwriter Magazine Lyric’s contest (August 2007 issue). We predict it’ll win a lot more. “Break Some Stones” works on many levels. Doug pulls you into the song with a nice bed of guitar-rhythm in D tuning, then he gets straight to the point: “These tears I’ve held inside me/Tears I should have cried so long ago/ And my heart can grow so heavy when it’s hardened by the things I won’t let show/ And there’s stains around the edges of my memories that I just can’t let go…” Then in the chorus, Doug offers a resolution for the pain, a chance at redemption: “You gotta break some stones to get the water to flow/ Out of the river lyin’ deep below/ There ain’t nothing comes easy if it’s worth your time/ You’ve gonna damned sure regret it if you don’t even try.” Doug’s words and music go straight to the heart and he doesn’t let up, from start to finish. There is a deep underlying sadness in these beautiful lyrics and the music seems to vibrate like some internal chord of the collective human experience. He revisits several themes over the course of the CD, including mistakes made, regret, grief and nostalgia. Make no mistake, there is pain all over this CD. Not the cry in your beer pain but a humbleness that comes from living life. It's real and it shows. The CD ends with two love songs: “Let’s Grow Old Together” and “How’d You Know,” passionate songs that suggests Love does conquer all. Doug seems to end the CD with the suggestion that the real answers we seek are in the relationships of the people around us, our family, our lovers, our friends, our spouses and our children. And yes, even that occasional “connection” between two total strangers as in the story about the old guitar player on the streets of Memphis, the inspiration for “Sinner’s Song”. Doug verbally introduces at least four songs on the CD, adding a personal touch to the songs and to the “live” feel you get from a single voice and a single guitar track. I can’t help but wonder what this CD might sound like with a full band behind it, and believe me, several songs would rock. But that would be another CD altogether and this one is our choice for Album/CD of the year for 2007. Doug Spears will be performing at the Will McLean Festival in Dunnellon, FL in April, the Gamble Rogers Festival in May and the Florida Folk Festival Memorial Day weekend at White Springs. His website and information on how to purchase this CD is at: www.myspace.com/DougSpears
June 17, 2007 Who’s Next?: A Music Review e-zine Los Angeles, CA Reviewed by Greg Abate Doug Spears Visit Doug at website I'm 25 years old; I live in L.A. ; I grew up listening to the sounds of Guns n' Roses, Tupac Shakur and Nirvana and I had some doubts as to whether or not I'd like Doug Spears. My doubts are gone. I love Doug Spears. Yes Doug Spears, the guy from little known Leesburg, Fl and yes, the guy who has garnered all the buzz in the folk music world with his sophmore album "Break Some Stones". It was today while I was stuck in typical Southern California traffic, going absolutely no where along with 5 million other people when I realized that Doug Spears is destined for folk history. Normally it's right around the first hour of the constant stopping and going, the horns, the idling and the 8 mile an hour progression when I begin to lose my mind but not today. No, I wasn't sucked into a fit of road rage like everyone else around me because today I listened to Doug Spears critically acclaimed album "Break Some Stones" the whole ride home and it transported me to the world of folk music where great story tellers can bring you so far into their music and the story that you forget the rat race - Doug Spears takes away the rat race away and replaces it with folk soul. The lyrics I chose to share with you are: You gotta break some stones to get the water to flow, Out of that river runnin’ deep below, Ain’t nothin’ comes easy if its worth your time, You’re gonna damned sure regret it if you don’t even try. As far as lyrics, I'm sorry - it just doesn't get any better than Doug Spears. He is a poet! I could put these lyrics onto my office wall and they would exist in their own right, even without the great music that supports them. Deep, powerful, emotional lyrics like that from his titled track "Break Some Stones" is why, when it comes to reaching the heart of a nation, Doug Spears will encounter no boundaries. "Break Some Stones" is a perfect reflection of the entire 18 song album in that it shows off the brilliance that this gifted artist has as a singer and songwriter. He covers every emotional and universal landscape in a way that is still entertaining and easy to listen to. He masters the hook and chorus formula with tunes that stay with you long after you have heard them. "Break Some Stones" cut right through me and had me thinking of my own missed opportunities in life and unraveled the deep rooted melancholy that is a part of all our pasts. In essence, Doug has managed to break the universal stone that opens our souls without shattering it. Instead, we just sigh. Best way to describe his songs - they are complete. If I had one piece of advice, it would be to produce the songs. Doug does well with the straight-forward guitar playing and acoustic sounds, but a little production could go a long way in making these songs radio-ready. When I finally reached my drive-way, ironically the last track on the album, "How'd You Know" was playing. Normally when I reach my drive-way after sitting in two hours in LA traffic I jump out of my car like an action star and I'm sprinting to my door like an Olympian just to get the car and the day off my skin, but today was different. I just sat there and let the sounds of Doug Spears usher me home. Rating = 5 Outstanding
CD REVIEW: Doug Spears - Truths & Lies By JJ Biener - 03/22/06 - 01:45 PM EST Doug Spears Truths & Lies “They don’t write songs like that anymore.” The first time a person says that, it is a milestone, a rite of passage. It is an indication the wonder of youth has given way to the nostalgia that comes with adulthood. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am of such an age as to have that particular phrase in my lexicon. Every time I hear those words slip from my lips I suppress the urge to cringe. Well, I am happy to report I need never say those words again. Doug Spears writes songs like they used to, and better than that, they are really good songs. Doug is as much storyteller as he is songwriter and performer. He is an artist who paints gentle portraits with words and music. His songs are like picture postcards from the past discovered in long-forgotten trunk on a Sunday afternoon. He draws from history and the heritage of his native Florida which gives this CD a regional flavor that is rarely seen in commercial music. The opening track sets the tone for those to follow. Mournful Eyes is a portrait of an old man who has lived a difficult life which is now reflected in his eyes, He has found some things late in life which give him comfort: a fire in the cold, a late-night drink of whiskey, the dawn rising, but it is a simple sadness that pervades his life. In his simplicity he allows us to see our own lives reflected back at us. Banks of the Old St John is the story of Vista Faire, a woman, part Seminole, who lives alone in a pinewood shack on the banks of the St John River. As with most of Doug’s characters she lives a quiet, simple life free from the complexity that now haunts our existence. One day she meets a traveling man who stays briefly, but ultimately leaves her with child. He never returns, but Vista Faire now has a child with which she can share beauty of the land that is her home. This song won the Will McLean Award in 1997. That Old Songwriter’s Gone is a tribute to the late Mickey Newberry. Annie’s Chairs is about a woman who makes chairs from hardwood vines as an outlet for her loneliness. A Mothers Tears tells the story of Lewis Powell who conspired with John Wilkes Booth to murder Abraham Lincoln and died on the gallows for his crime. Doug Spear’s Truths & Lies is not a collection of cheerful, empty songs. They a stories of complex people in often difficult circumstances. His approach is always subtle and artful. The musicianship and recording are uniformly well done. His voice is always clear and crisp. If you miss the folk and folk rock songs of 60’s and 70’s, Doug Spears’ songs will evoke a very pleasant feeling of nostalgia, and send you digging in your attic for your old record collection. You can find more information about Doug Spears at www.dougspearsmusic.com.
By Bob Whitby Trial lawyer by day, folksinger/songwriter by night. You're excused if you see that as combination that bodes for some bad music. But Orlando artist Doug Spears must really be chafing in the courtroom in that suit, because he's an accomplished songwriter, and his new disc, Truth & Lies, is burnished like an old hardwood floor. A fourth-generation Floridian, Spears writes about what he knows: Florida. "Teppintine" is a lament to the hardscrabble life of the turpentine harvesters; "A Mother's Tears" relates the tale of Lewis Powell, a Live Oak resident who was hanged for his part in the conspiracy to assissinate President Abraham Lincoln; "Banks of the Old St. John's" is about exactly what you think it is. With a voice reminiscent of John Denver and a full acoustic backup band, Spears has put out a folk/Americana disc that's as enjoyable for the local storytelling as it is for the musicianship. music@orlandoweekly.com
CD REVIEW: Doug Spears - Truths and Lies By Chip Withrow - 11/19/05 - 08:15 PM EST Doug Spears creates rustic tales, memorable characters, and vivid images, and he sets his lyrics to a warm, true folk sound. Many of his songs are about historical and rural Florida – not exactly the same state tourists picture. His fine CD Truths and Lies is pure acoustic music. These homespun songs would work with just Spears’ guitar and vocals, so the players who join Spears are a bonus. The result is a disc that brings to mind a group of musician friends playing around a campfire or on the front porch of a farmhouse. Spears’ songs might make the listener recall John Denver’s best work, but with one major difference – where Denver’s hits were often embellished by strings and other extras, Spears is ably backed by just acoustic string players. In particular, fiddler Alan Stowell shines throughout. Truths and Lies kicks off with three songs about interesting people: “Mournful Eyes,” “Annie’s Chairs,” and “Banks of the Old St. John’s” and, later on, “A Mother’s Tears,” are the best of his character sketches. Right away, “Mournful Eyes” showcases all that is good about this disc: Spears’ smooth, well-worn vocals backed by Stowell’s fiddle runs and Ally Smith’s harmonies in just the right places. Spears steps out and rocks a bit on “Teppentine” and “Steam Train.” They are reminiscent of a bygone era both lyrically (“Teppentine” a field hand’s lament and “Steam Train” a ride on the rails circa 1901) and in their blend of blues and bluegrass. The album includes some nice slow songs, too. “That Old Songwriter’s Gone” and “This Old House” are bittersweet, and “Thrift Shop” is fitting for a songwriter from a state full of them. Truths and Lies is catchy the first time, particularly “Swimming Against the Tide” and “Mournful Eyes.” But because it has stories within the lyrics, and subtle yet stirring vocal and musical turns, Truth and Lies is an album that gets better with repeated listens
Homegrown folk It took a while for Truths & Lies, the new album by Orlando singer and songwriter Doug Spears, to make its way through the clutter on my desk. I'm sorry now that it took so long, because these 12 songs are an impressive combination of economical wordplay and simple, evocative melodies. Spears is accompanied by the fiddle and mandolin of Allan Stowell, whose resume includes work with Florida folk icons such as Gamble Rogers and Will McLean. "Banks of the Old St. Johns,'' included on Truths & Lies, earned Spears the 1997 Will McLean Award for best new song about Florida's people, places or history. You can hear him perform it at the "Lounging in the Library'' concert series on Jan. 25 at the South Creek branch of the Orlando Public Library, 1702 Deerfield Blvd. in Orlando. Visit dougspearsmusic.com for other upcoming shows and information. Jim Abbott can be reached at 407-420-6213. jabbott@orlandosentinel.com
. . . "the instrumentation is 100% acoustic with an artful blending of guitar, fiddle, mandolin and bass matched with clear, distinct vocals and harmonies. the sound is a pleasing mixture of folk, americana and bluegrass!" He's right, I could not have said it better! This one will be in your CD changer shortly ;)
I have known Doug Spears for a while now and I must say that his CD "Truth and Lies" is a great recording. It is hard to find and artist these days not afraid to open the door to his soul and invite the listener to just walk right in. These songs are simple honest stories of the life that surrounds us all. Doug did and excellent job of connecting with Alan Stowell and Paul McCaskill and including their tremendous talents towards this project, along with the amazing Ally Smith of Myriad. From the first note I could not help but recognize the unmistakable touch of Ron Litchauer. Ron does yet another fantastic job. All and all this CD should be included in everyone's CD collection. James Hawkins singer/songwriter
CD ACID TEST Today, I changed out our background music in the house/office phone system which plays throughout the entire house on 12 different phones. Because the system only plays one CD at a time and if you put it on the repeat mode, I can take it, but Patsy or Judy will usually cry "Uncle" and ask for a change after listening for five or six hours. For that reason we usually just let the FM Jazz stations fill in the background. I put your CD on this morning before anybody got in the office and at 3:00 PM, after listening to it for 7 hours, I caught Patsy singing along with it and she said, "I really like this album. Is it John Denver?" "Close," I said. "It's Doug Spears." At which time, Judy looked up from her laptop and said, "Wow! I knew that the songs seemed familiar. Wow, what job they did on this album!" What makes this so great is that they had both been listening, not on a good sound system, but to the output of 12 little speaker phones. I'd say you just passed the "Grace Kelly Test" Congratulations! I'm sure going to be proud to give them out as Christmas Presents.
-------------------- Florida's past fuels songs, books -------------------- Jim Robison Special to the Sentinel September 25, 2005 There's a wonderfully Cajun-laced tune that tells a sorrowful story of heartbroken woman waiting in vain on the banks of the Mississippi River for the promised return of a gambler. That song, "Evangeline," written by The Band's primary songwriter and lead guitarist Robbie Robertson, was the title track of Emmylou Harris' 1981 album. The opening verse goes like this: She stands on the banks of the mighty Mississippi Alone in the pale moonlight Waitin' for a man, a riverboat gambler Said that he'd return tonight Well, the St. Johns River was home to a few riverboat gamblers who broke a few hearts, too. And that's the inspiration for Florida folk-song writer Doug Spears, who tells of the lost love between a Seminole woman, Vista Faire, and "a passing stranger from New Orleans" who leaves her behind when the gambler's wanderlust returns. Spears' song, "Banks of the Old St. Johns," conjures up all the old images of the St. Johns steamboat era with references to the DeBary riverboat line and the early days of Enterprise and Sanford, on opposite sides of Lake Monroe, when the smoke from the big double-decker paddle-wheelers could be seen before the ships came into sight from lakefront wharves. Folk singer Doug Spears also goes by the name of Douglas C. Spears, board-certified civil trial lawyer with the Orlando firm of Stump, Storey, Callahan, Dietrich & Spears, P.A. Some longtime readers might recall that Spears, a fourth-generation Floridian, penned a tune in the 1990s to tell the tale of the Florida conspirator in the Abraham Lincoln assassination. Seminole's Past has written a lot about the life of Lewis Thornton Powell, hanged July 7, 1865, with three others who had conspired with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate the president. In late 1994, the only known remains of Powell were reburied in a small mahogany box under the shade of six cypress trees at a Geneva community cemetery in the northeast corner of Seminole County. Those cypress trees also shade the grave of his mother, Caroline Patience Powell, who left Live Oak with her husband and family in the postwar years for the remote settlements near Lake Jesup that were far, far from the bitterness left by that war and the act of her son. Spears read those stories and crafted a song written from the perspective of Powell's mother. Spears' song "A Mother's Tears" includes this motherhood lament: Now chile' ain't you heard, them devils done hung my baby boy, Ain't you heard, my baby boy was hung in Washington, He didn't do what they say he done. Another of Spears' tunes harks back to Seminole County's turpentine era. The forests along the St. Johns River as well as the Wekiva and the Econlockhatchee were once a wilderness of long-leaf pines. Turpentine and logging companies provided work for thousands of men. Seven decades of lumber and turpentine operations stripped Florida of its vast first-growth forests. It took a heavy toll on the men who worked at the company camps, too. The despair of those men is at the heart of Spears' song "Teppintine": Now you don't get into teppintine, You're born in to it and you spend your time, Tryin' to get out of this hell up in the Florida pines, Singin' good God almighty get me out of dis old teppintine. Spears has another tune for Florida's steam railroad days and the competition between railroads to be the fastest that led to an early 1900s race from Savannah to Jacksonville. The lyrics to "Steam Train" include these lines: Ah steam train, runnin' down the railroad runnin' down the railroad track, Ah steam train, you push them throttles ahead boy dontcha dare pull 'em back, You run a hundred twenty mile an hour you know you got a steam train, Flyin' down the railroad track. Florida folk fans have been able to catch Spears out of the courtroom and on stage at songwriter festivals and a few clubs through the years, but getting recordings of his tunes has been limited to fan-traded cassettes of his demos. (A little more on that at the end of this column.) However, Spears recently provided an early version of his upcoming compact disc, Truths & Lies, which has remained in the six-disc CD changer in my car ever since. It's a lot better than the demo quality of the cassette version I lent out that never came back, and he promises the final studio mastering will be even better. The album -- 12 songs that borrow from his Florida heritage and personal experiences -- are set for release in October through CDBaby.com and Spears' Web site, dougspears music.com. About that missing cassette: I'm ready to forgive Allan Smith. He's one of my editors from a few years back who borrowed that two-song cassette of Spears singing "A Mother's Tears" and "Teppintine" and never seemed to remember that I wanted it back. That's a compliment to Spears, I guess, but I really wanted it back. But I have something better now -- that early version of the full CD. Besides, Smith has given something back that's even better. Smith has moved to St. Petersburg, where he has opened MicklerSmith Florida Booktraders. The Mickler name should be familiar to Florida history buffs who have gone hunting for rare and out-of-print books. In the 1960s, Tom and Georgine Mickler moved their growing collection of Florida books, maps and government documents from a cramped two-bedroom bungalow in Orlando to the quiet shores of Chuluota's Lake Catherine. Their lakefront home -- named Florida Breezes -- was built in 1913 for a railroad real estate agent whose wife told him that if she was going to have to live in "this god-forsaken end of the country," he'd better build her a fine home. The couple in 1985 sold Mickler's Floridiana to Sam Mickler. Although not related, Sam Mickler kept the company name for his mail-order catalog of Florida books. Florida Breezes remained the home of the couple's publishing house. Both died a year apart in the late 1990s. Their estate made their extensive collection available to schools, libraries and historical societies. Both the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida have Mickler collections. Some of those books, however, ended up in an Oviedo storage unit. Smith bought the Mickler books and has opened his bookstore in one of St. Pete's boom-time buildings of the 1920s at 718 Second St. N. He writes in an e-mail to former Sentinel colleagues, "It's the perfect location for a store dedicated to celebrating the arts, culture and history of Florida." Perhaps, Smith's Mickler reincarnation can stock a few copies of Spears' new CD to make up for swiping that cassette so many years ago. Florida footnote: Robbie Robertson actually had Florida in mind when he wrote "Evangeline," performed with Emmylou Harris during "The Last Waltz Suite" directed by Martin Scorsese for The Band's last concert film, The Last Waltz. Scorsese used ice machines to create an eerie smoky stage. In an interview for Musician magazine in May 1982, Robertson said the smoky scene was the director's way of making the stage look swampy. The song, Robertson said, was inspired by the Florida Everglades, not the Mississippi. Jim Robison can be reached at jimrobison@cfl.rr.com. Copyright (c) 2005, Orlando Sentinel