AUSTIN NEXUS: Sherry Austin celebrates the release of her fourth album in three years this weekend in Felton.
With a new album garnering air play and attention, Sherry Austin's second act is going very nicely, thank you
By Kate Jacobson
AN IRON GATE looms above the entrance to Sherry Austin's property. The local singer/songwriter has left it open in expectation of a visit, but the only person in sight is a silver-haired woman puttering around the expansive lawns. She could be taken for a gardener, but she resembles press photos just enough to leave room for doubt. "I dressed up for you," Sherry Austin laughs, stepping out of her flower beds and telling some poodles to stop barking. "I'm usually in grubby stuff."
Austin doesn't just garden. Her new album of songs inspired by folk great Kate Wolf, Love Still Remains, is doing the radio rounds now. It's her fourth album in three years. At a time when many of her contemporaries are retiring, the 64-year-old Austin is just beginning to get noticed.
"I'm No. 9 on the folk DJ list, between Eliza Gilkyson and Tim O'Brien," she says with pride, settling into her patio chair. "It's funny. If someone told me I'd be doing this I would've laughed my head off. When I was 15 I was a huge fan of this band called the Monkees. They had their own TV show and everything. I met one of them! If someone had told me I'd be hanging out with a Monkee ..."
Austin is working on her second performance career. She began playing at 15, and during her 20s played the Hawaiian bar circuit. She quit early in favor of settling down and having a family. But once her daughter moved out, living alone nudged Austin back toward music. On Love Still Remains, Austin pays tribute to a musician who wrote the score to her recent accomplishments. Austin's re-entry into the music world consisted of playing Kate Wolf covers between headliners at the music festival where she fell in love with her current partner of 10 years. She's been a Wolf fan since high school.
"The lyrics sound very simple and basic on the surface, but they are so easy for so many people to easily relate to on that emotional level," she says. "It's her way of speaking and the time she came from and a lot of the things that she supported and stood for that I also believe in. You know. Peace, love."
Besides songs played and recorded by Wolf, Austin took some creative license with hitherto unfinished material. "People had a couple of songbooks of her music," Austin says. "In the back of one of the songbooks there were a bunch of lyrics of songs that she hadn't recorded and that there was no recorded music for."
Austin picked up where the late singer left off, and her writing resulted in "November Moon" and "Tonight You Loved the Memories Out of Me."
Since Austin sent copies of her album out, "Redtail Hawk" has been getting plenty of air play. It features cellist George Harrison and his pennywhistle-playing wife, who created a mood so good Austin had to have it twice. "When we were recording it I said I really wanted the pennywhistle to be the hawk soaring and the cello to be the rolling hills of California," Austin says. "I liked it so much I made the last track just an instrumental of that song."
The song feels a little Celtic and a lot wistful, the mood for much of the folk genre. It suits many of Austin's contemporaries. "They're old farts like me!" she laughs, and confirms that the majority of regulars at her shows are 40 and up. "The music speaks to them the same way Kate Wolf speaks to me. In high school and your 20s there's music that surrounds you, and that music is the theme to the rest of your life. You might add some new music, but you'll always hold it close to your heart."
At long last, Austin gets out her guitar and plays a one-song show in her living room, a poodle with a mouthful of frisbee at her feet. It sounds like she could play it in her sleep, diving into "Winter Comes Slowly" without a moment of hesitation. She finishes the tune while making eye and smile-contact and giving a modest "it's not much" shrug. Her next show is this weekend, and her fans will turn out full force. Austin never intended fame and glory, but she's achieved the pleasure of singing songs she connects with in the hopes that an audience will as well.
SHERRY AUSTIN celebrates the release of 'Love Still Remains' with special guests Sharon Allen, Mary McCaslin, Alisa Fineman, Kimbal Hurd and others on Sunday, Sept. 19, at 7pm at Don Quixote's, 6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. Tickets $10 advance/$12 door. 831.603.2294.
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