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 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
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Monday evening, April 19, marked VOCAL's return to live performances!! Well, sort of...
There were over 20 people gathered at O'Tooles' Forest Hill location, to celebrate our first "live" Songwriters Showcase since the pandemic lockdowns. However, the perfect storm of miscommunications and misunderstandings. Due to the confusion, Jeff Wagner, who was scheduled, wasn't in attendance. He was missed.
Hours before the show it was discovered that O'Toole's closes its kitchen at 9 PM on Mondays and were advised that we shouldn't play past that time as the whole restaurant may close down if there's no bar business. We had a good crowd, and some people had driven a some miles to get there, so someone suggested that we just play without the sound system and see how things went.
So what is one to do? You gather in the bar side of the restaurant, place your drink and food orders, pull your guitars out of their cases, and you stage an unplugged, impromptu "guitar pull"! Erik Gaines, Steve Nuckolls, Jim Puckett, and Ken Roller, passed around their guitars and performed before an appreciative group. Before the evening ended, even a few of the O'Tooles regulars found their way over to our side of the bar.
This reviewer gave up trying to identify titles by the third song, because as good as the songs and performances were, that wasn't the point. What caught my attention were the smiles and hugs, the handshakes and laughter, the music and applause. For the first time since March of 2020, VOCAL was gathered together in the same room, at the same time...that was the point!
And a good time was had by all...
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In November VOCAL presented three singer-songwriter members in a program simulcast on Facebook and Zoom. Chaired by VOCAL President Matthew Costello, the showcase began with some sample songs by each of the participants while waiting for the live viewers to assemble before their devices.
Once done, the showcase started off with John Ellis who amped up his Taylor guitar and began with the instrumental "Chimes" which was complemented by a nice run of arpeggio chords that suited the title. This was followed by "Sweet Blues" a sad reflection of lost loving. Next came "Honestly" a more honest title would not have sufficed to describe the lyrical content of this song. "You gave me very little of yourself", "unending agony" were a couple of the lines and the kicker was the singer saying "you can go to hell". "Winter Solstice" is a staple instrumental in John's repertoire and this tune rang out with some big chords perhaps describing the darkness that the title suggested. "Autumn Hour" included some picturesque lyrics of the changing season and the declarative by the singer "I find my tranquility" in this time of year. Closing out his set was "Band of Silver" extolling the virtues of an inexpensive wedding ring preferring to offer this rather than a gold one as "there's no such thing as a second had wedding ring, (when) a band of silver will do".
Steve is a long time VOCAL member and a frequent performer on the showcase. Tonight he offered some old and new material less often done. "Lines of Love" is a tender tale of the connection between two people in love and their means of communication in silent but meaningful glances. Picking up hitch hikers can be a dangerous thing. But, when its Eugene, as Steve tells us in "Much Obliged" it can be an entertaining ride. Full of stories he always ended his travels with the phrase "Much Obliged" no matter who was taking him to his destination. Next " The Gosson Mines" was a cautionary tale to youngsters about the dangers of getting too close to the people who worked the mines and sawmills. Something new, " A Week To Over, Time" described the mundaneness of work as the singer proffered "daydreams are my lifeline" as an escape from the boredom of it all. Closing out his set, was "What If She Likes It". His set offered a nice contrast to John's with less rock musical overtones and more soft pop tones.
Jeff has been in VOCAL for a couple of years and has played his songs for the members in meetings and in a previous showcase. He has more of a folk sensibility. Tonight he began with "House Burning In The Town Tonight" a tale of a traveling musician who vacillates between being on the road and being at home, mostly away from those loved ones at home. This was followed by "Sacred Mountain" a song full of descriptive images of being out in the desert landscape, as something like a rejected lover might feel, living in the sagebrush, under a red sky, cold nights and out where the coyotes howl. Redemption seems like a far away mountain. Aging has it drawbacks, for sure, but it can be fun, as well as Jeff tells us in "The Old Guard" which is a self reflective song in which he and three of his buddies star. They hang out together and each one has a life talent that distinguishes them one from the other, but they have one thing in common: they "Suffer no fools or cheap whiskey". "Sometimes" "how I miss that Joy and pain" gives us an overview of a relationship and the good and bad that can accrue over the years. "Reckless Kind" pictures a lifestyle of difficult choices that put the singer in jeopardy as his life comes on "like a big red storm". Last song in the set "The Devil Claims Your Soul" is a tale of an out of luck cowboy who can't get it together as in this line:"the wind calls your name, but, plans you made are like broken bottles on the barroom floor" Heavy duty stuff.
Three different singers, three different styles of music, great variety.
If the video below doesn't play when you click it, follow this link to watch it on Facebook: October 2022 VOCAL Showcase Facebook Live
Feb 2020 VOCAL Showcase
(due to a complete delete of a full review, I am only listing a set list of each performer. Sorry about that.)
Tonight’s performers included two returning songwriters, Jim Puckett and Steve Nuckolls. who was the featured performer.
Jim went first and did six songs.
- Runaway Horizon (a travelling song that ook us from east to west and back)
- In the Bargain ( it’s hard enough to love yourself musch less lose the one your love)
- On Your Mind ( you can forget me, i’m in your mind)
- Last of the Lonely Girls ( he ends up the last of the llonely men when all the girls are gone)
- Opalena ( a mountain doula who delivers many babies but has no surviving choldren of her own)
- Song of Love ( a song strangely enough, about love)
Steve Nuckolls followed with a 13 song set including the following:
- Making My Getaway (doing what it takes to supress one’s pride)
- Sitting In With Emmy Lou ( a Saturday session to sing along with Emmy Lou Harris)
- Sunrise ( equivaling a sunrise with the idea of hope)
- Something About Your Love (She is the singer’s answered prayers and a gift from heaven)
- The Flag’s At Half Mast (pondering the reasons why the flag is at half mast)
- Open Door ( Being thankful for the things on your life that make it what it is)
- Everything’s Just Two Good (body parts as a metaphor for loving someone)
- The Gibson Guitar ( a surprising place to see a guitar for sale, in a furniture store)
- Praying For a Rocky Top ( hoping good old country values still exist)
- Lines Of Love (how the words we say reflect on those we love and those that love us)
- Higher Bar (describing the sacrifices made by heroes in war and at home)
- Sumanye ( An African term for togetherness and pride in unity of a homogenious group)
- Two Hours From Everywhere (living in a town that is 2 hours from all the major cities and their offerings)
As seen by the above: there was a wide range of topics and ideas spun together by the two performers , and highly appreciated by the audience at hand.