August 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase


Our August VOCAL Showcase featuring 2023 Songwriter of the Year Carol “Torch” Torricelli continued the recent “live at O’Toole’s” performances that we have returned to after three COVID online showcase years. What a relief!

Steve Nuckolls
Steve opened the showcase with a song reminiscing about “Gossen Mines”, a place he knew in his childhood near Galax, and spoke of the risky thrills of exploring the old mine that his dad explained to a small boy while the minor key infused the memories with a tension and longing well suited to Steve’s solid tenor.

He followed that with the jaunty “Everything’s Just Two Good” that included some excellent and unexpected word play in a story about being grateful for a significant love relationship. Some great high notes in the melody showed off Steve’s mature vocal control. “What If She Liked It” was a memoir about meeting the woman who would become his wife, another relatable song drawn from his personal life. He explained that this tune was co-written with another musician in New England through a Zoom meeting.

What Keeps You Up At Night”, Steve explained, was one of many of his tunes that he didn’t “know where it comes from,” as he began writing with just a title and a guitar riff. What developed was a message about his significant other being able to count on him to be around to comfort her at tough times. “If You Want To Know My Love” had some strong guitar lines surrounding a tale of starting a relationship while feeling vulnerable from other hurts because “sometimes it’s not what’s said, it’s the words that go unspoken” that can reveal the truth of someone’s love. “A Future In Us” wrapped up his set with a song about compromise and a plea for patience and understanding to build up a relationship he believes in.

Carol "Torch" Torricelli
Headliner Torch also won (with co-writer Glen King) the Song of the Year award and she opened with that, delivering “Give Me The Simple Life” on her ganjo, a six-string banjo tuned like a guitar, with a tune that showed off her finger-style skills and her firm and flexible vocal delivery. Her next was COVID-inspired, her song “People Need Each Other” evoking the craving for intimate connection during the pandemic-necessary personal isolation, where touching wasn’t physically possible but forced us to reach out into a virtual space.

Switching to “Highway to Your Heart” (also co-written with Glen), she sang of missing home and a lover while her fingers kept a percussive beat on the strings. “Come to Virginia” was a love song to our state with details drawn from Torch’s long service with the state tourism agency.  This opened with a nice descending guitar line and moved to minor sevenths while Torch’s high-register vocal delivery and vibrato brought thoughts of early Joni Mitchell to mind when the melody ranged over several octaves.

Don’t Slow Me Down” drew on a “bucket list” trip to Italy some years ago to visit the origins of her immigrant parents. The trip included “my guitar, too” to help “lose the winter blues.”

Swinging and Swaying” recalled a trip to a national meeting, discovering a new friend that she was now missing, and used a compact chord structure to demonstrate the feeling of a desired closeness in the melody, which showed off her vocal chops and emphasized her expressive vibrato. Continuing the stories of personal liaisons, “Tossing Like A Salad (Over You)” used the fun and memorable metaphor to describe the difficulty of a long distance relationship that included unanswered messages by text, Facetime and email that “tossed” the singer’s feelings. This tune was distinguished by an interesting jazzy chord structure and arrangement that brought a “samba” feeling to the room.

The final two songs both concerned her nephew, Tommy. They showed a clear distinction in Torch’s songwriting development as the first about his birth, “Miracles Like This,” was written early in her musical life and the second, “Major Dad,” was penned decades later as Tommy concluded a long military career. “Miracles” used a simple straightforward chord pattern and a sweet melody line for a heart-felt homage to her sister and the new baby. “Major” was more melodically complex and leaned on Torch’s songwriting maturity to point to Tommy’s admirable strengths and accomplishments. Torch’s strong and accurate vocals and fine guitar work made both songs shine at the showcase.

~ Russell Lawson

Showcase Photos

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January 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The January 2023 showcase had two veteran VOCAL members and two newer ones scheduled, but unfortunately Dave Drouillard, a new member, had some technical difficulties preventing him from performing (we’ll take a rain check, Dave!).

The show opened with longtime member Carol Torricelli (aka Torch) who delivered some very intriguing and dreamy tunes reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. Come to Virginia could be the official Tourism song for the Commonwealth of Virginia as it describes all the wonderful sights, smells and sounds of the state. Give Me the Simple Life was the first of two songs co-written with longtime member Glen King. This tune embodies many images and thoughts we could all take away, the many benefits of living a simple, uncomplicated life.  Don’t You Slow Me Down was written about a trip she took to explore her roots in Sicily and featured her signature stellar whistling ability! She has her bags all packed and is ready to go, so don’t anyone get in her way! Tossing Like a Salad Over You is a jazzy-ish tune describing her relationship with an individual, wondering if he would continue texting her and where their relationship was heading. Highway to Your Heart was the second number co-written with Glen and was written fairly recently for the truck song challenge VOCAL had. They’re burning up the highway trying to get back home to the one they love. Saw someone who looked like Jesus standing by the road and definitely had a country station dialed in on the radio. Keep it in the road! Great set, Torch!

Veteran member Keely Burn then took the virtual Zoom stage and delivered several of her signature tunes, presenting a theme that could probably be turned into a musical. You’ll Like Me More When I’m Not Me was the beginning of the journey in the life of the fictitious woman named Blue, where she doesn’t have much self-confidence, doesn’t like the limelight and would be more attractive if she’s just being herself and not acting. “Act II” of this story is someone new coming into the story who thinks they’re more attractive if they’re outgoing.  The next chapter in Blue’s life deals with terms and conditions, where you need to lay the groundwork up front to get on the same page (I may not want you as a companion but would welcome your company). Masterpiece reveals the conflict that often arises in a relationship where you have a misunderstanding of your terms and conditions, and in this case Blue and her companion are not on the same page. Waltz tells us that love is not a written-in-stone foregone conclusion, but that there are ways to fulfill a relationship other than the traditional one. You Were My Guiding Light, the conclusion of the narrative, is a heartfelt number every cloud has a silver lining but all you see is gray. I heard your voice beside me, your song showed me the way, you were the guiding light. Great job, Keely!

Newcomer Erik Gaines then took the stage and treated us to some mighty fine tunes. Drunk ‘til New Year’s was reflective of a recent visit to the ABC store where a customer had a fully-loaded cart and was going to get obliterated for the entire week via his Christmas spirits. About to be three sheets to the wind, he’s ready to just pass out on the couch where no one will notice. Fools Tread Where Angels Fear To Go tells reveals that he’s a fool for her love and will do anything, walk the wire, etc. to win her love. In Bad Dog he portrays himself as a tail-waggin’ somewhat well-behaved puppy willing to do anything to make the girl take him home.  I Only Mean The Best is a new heartfelt song about someone just trying to do the right thing and be the best they can, even though someone thinks the worst of them. The words may sometimes come out wrong, but no harm is intended. I’m Coming Home To You recounts the experiences of being out on the road far away from home living out your dreams but having other people tell you what you can and can’t be. It took him a while to figure it out but he’s finally come around. I’ll Love You Even More Tomorrow is a testament to the value of twenty years of marriage with many more to come! They were able to work through the ups and downs through the years but are in it for the long haul. Way to go, Erik!