Thursday, January 27, 2022

Vinyl Destination - PART 2


Vinyl Destination – PART 2 

   Yet more reason to be…elated. I’m turning this post over to Alex Stimmel, who has written a review of my reissued album for Ugly Things Magazine. I’m head-over-heels grateful for his remarkable writing prowess and astute musical sensibilities. THANK YOU, Alex!



 Spare Changes / Gotta Groove LP /  REVIEW,  by Alex Stimmel


   This first-ever reissue of Tom Wachunas’s brutally beautiful Spare Changes, with its collage-art album cover and general air of DIY mystery, is a welcome late entry for Find Of The Year.

    Recorded with grad school friends as his MFA thesis project for Ohio State University, Wachunas tapped One St Stephen guitarist Bruce Roberts to help out and recorded this low-key opus at Ohio’s fabled OWL studios (founded by the Tom Murphy of local garage heroes the Ebb Tides). The sound is crystal clear, rather than the lo-fi efforts one might expect from a one-off grad project.

   Wachunas also channels some erstwhile northern neighbors: Neil Young’s shadow looms large, although to my ears Joni Mitchell has an even larger impact. In this way, Spare Changes is unique in its centering a male singer influenced by her phrasing and chordal approach, especially on “Each Day’s Passing” and “I’ll Be Better Soon.” Even with these identifiable influences, there’s a uniquely dolorous individuality to Wachunas’s singing, and interesting instrumental choices, including kalimba, tabla and accordion (although the sax on “Poets Never Win'' may bring some listeners to the verge of an easy listening cliff).

   With its easygoing vibe and woozy folk-rock arrangements, Spare Changes works excellently as both a late-night Saturday sign off and an early Sunday morning comedown. To wit, Wachunas closes things out with a powerful one-two punch. The title track, on which he laments, “Can’t tell the ceiling from the floor/I can see all the windows but I can’t find the door,” could be both ecstatic or delusional, while the final track, “Happy The Man,” is an energetic send-off: one of the only tracks to feature a full band, with pumping electric piano and Roberts’ eloquent lead lines coming to the fore.

Meticulously mastered by the good folks at Gotta Groove, this is one that’s worth searching out for lovers of private press folk.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Vinyl Destination (Part 1?)


Vinyl Destination (Part 1?) 

By Tom Wachunas 

"Tom Wachunas' Spare Changes is by far one of the best (and unknown/underappreciated) singer-songwriter records ever made. Classifying the album within a specific genre is a terribly difficult feat -- acid folk? folk rock? psychedelic? A true cornucopia of instrumentation -- sax, vibes, kalimba, tabla, guitars (including One St. Stephen guitarist Bruce Roberts), accordion(!) and highly introspective lyrics. Imagine being on a Caribbean cruise ship in 1975, and Neil Young happens to be croonin' with a 12-piece band on some new material that never saw the light of day. Recorded in Columbus, Ohio USA in 1975 at the now-defunct Owl Recording Studios, Spare Changes was actually Tom Wachunas's graduation project for his Masters in Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. Extremely rare -- only 1,000 copies of the original pressing were manufactured. Owl Recording Studio operated from 1973(ish) through 1977 under the direction of Tom Murphy, who would eventually go on to run the famous Track Record Studios in North Hollywood. Tom Murphy's blessing and involvement in sourcing the audio were essential in making this reissue happen."          - from Gotta Groove Records.

   Maybe consider this post as a “nostalgic resume artifact.” It seems like an eternity ago, but back in the summer of 2019, Matt Earley, President and co-Founder of Gotta Groove Records, contacted me out of the blue to let me know that he was interested in reissuing my long-out-of-print record album of original songs, Spare Changes. The album is now available again, miraculously re-mastered from the only very scratched-up copy of the album I still own (the original 8-track master tape from 1975 was lost). I am deeply grateful for, and thoroughly amazed at the technical excellence of this reborn recording, and all the remarkable work that went into achieving it. THANK YOU MATT EARLEY AND ALL THE PEOPLE AT GOTTA GROOVE Pressing Plant in Cleveland!! The reissue includes an insert with the song lyrics and new liner notes I wrote. Here those notes:  

    Who, or what, had I become by the summer of 1975 in Columbus, Ohio? The long and short of it is that the songs of Spare Changes tell the story a 24-year old geeky hippie painter who was something of an introverted poet, a mediocre self-taught acoustic guitarist, a passionate if not prolific singer-songwriter, and an inveterate Romantic striving to embrace the pleasures and pains of love and loss, of comings and goings, of hellos and goodbyes.

    Spare Changes, then, is a veritable rollercoaster ride through the emotional and spiritual peaks and valleys of various relationships with some very lovely young women in my own very young life. There’s doubt and some anger in the album opener, Blues; the bittersweet light of acceptance and gratitude offered in the album closer, Happy the Man. In between, matters of the heart understandably enough take a number of complex twists and turns. There’s palpable longing in the gentle ballad, Sailboat, and a sense of hope in Each Day’s Passing; nostalgic fondness in Remember You That Way; and again, the cathartic power of hope in I’ll Be Better Soon.

   If there’s a real burning torch song in this collection, it may well be Poets Never Win. The lyrical perspective is admittedly that of the rejected suitor who clearly has a big ego and lots of self-pity. But looking back on that particular tune in the larger sense of savoring the entire process of recording this album, I realize that unlike the poet wallowing in the resentment described in the song, I certainly did win in the end.

Beyond the thrilling experience of the actual recording sessions at Owl Studios, two memories remain especially resonant.

First, there were the rehearsal / jam sessions. On two occasions (or was it three?), about a week apart, the musicians – 10 of us at one point – and all their gear piled into the first floor of the old 2 ½-story rented house where I was living (very near the OSU campus) with a few other artist friends/classmates. Full drum set, electric instruments, tangles of wires, mics, amps… the works. The walls shook, the furniture rattled, the roof was risin’. Wide-eyed, smiling neighbors from around the block came up onto the long front porch, their faces pressed against the screened windows, peering in. Cheering and clapping and even some dancing. For a brief while it all felt like a micro- Woodstock festival.

Later in the summer when the album test-pressing arrived, I was honored to be interviewed by WCOL FM’s Terry Wilson, a great friend to Owl Recording Studios. Along with the interview, he played the album for one of his popular “Home Grown In the Studio” programs. Hearing that night-time radio broadcast was humbling, and filled me with a gratitude that still stirs in me even after all these years. I had joined a very special family of artists.

    And so to this day I remain grateful for the blessing of working with superior musicians - all gifted creators and arrangers in their own right. I still treasure the remarkable technical skills they poured into the music, as well as our camaraderie. Far more than simply backup players, they were true partners and collaborators who  generously articulated the spirit of the songs. Happy the man indeed. 

There’s plenty of additional background here for those of you interested in opening these hyperlinks, starting with some history of Owl Recording Studios:

Then, a YouTube recording of all the songs here:

But wait, there’s more! Here’s the fascinating history and info about Gotta Groove Records, including an excellent YouTube video on the Cleveland pressing plant and the process of making vinyl records: 


And vinylly, got a turntable? if you wish to order an album directly from Gotta Groove Record Store, you can purchase at this site:

Thursday, January 6, 2022

A Bountiful Harvest in Stark County


A Bountiful Harvest in Stark County 

"Places You Pass" by Nicole Malcolm

"Audience" by Jake Mensinger

"Color Diversity" by Laura Donnelly

"Immigration Quilt" by Priscilla Roggenkamp

"Storyteller" by Clare Murray Adams

"Passage" by Christine Janson

"A year in the life of lockdown" by Judi Krew

By Tom Wachunas

   ““It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Life, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,…”  - Charles Dickens, from A Tale of Two Cities

“…Lights in the distance, like twinkling prayers, float like my words,  like fireflies dancing somewhere. Upon this hill is where I’ll be waiting for you, should you need me. I will wait for you…”  - lyrics from I Will Wait For You, by Bruce Dalzell, for the installation artwork by Nicole Malcolm

   EXHIBIT: Annual Stark County Artists Exhibition, at Massillon Museum, October 16, 2021, THROUGH JANUARY 16, 2022 / 121 Lincoln Way East in downtown Massillon, Ohio / 330.833.4061 / viewing hours: Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am - 5:00pm and Sunday 2:00pm - 5:00pm 

Participating Stark County Artists: Seth Adam, Rodney Atwood, Lawrence Baker, Michael Barath, Diane Belfiglio, Chris Borello, Peter Castillo, Moriah Clay, David L. Dingwell, Laura Donnelly, Libby Bracy Doss, Sharon Frank Mazgaj, Timothy Hirst, Sherri Hornbrook ,Christine Janson, Judi Krew, David Kuntzman, Ted Lawson, PJ Lytle, Nicole Malcolm, Judi Malinowski, Beth Maragas, Jake Mensinger, Jaime Meyers, Clare Murray Adams, Benjamin Myers, Clair Nelson, Lee Novotny, Patricia Zinsmeister Parker, Mark V. Pitocco, Brian Robinson, Priscilla Roggenkamp, Lee Rossiter, Sari Sponhour, Stephen Tornero, Daniel Vaughn, Tom Wachunas, Jo Westfall, Gail Wetherell-Sack, Shawn Wood, Isabel Zaldivar, and Anna Zotta.

   My month-long hiatus from writing has unfortunately delayed a more timely commentary on this exhibit, and for that I apologize. Still, as of January 7, there are nine days left to view it if you haven’t done so already. I think you’ll find the time to be very well spent.

   If you have seen it, well then, maybe you could think about returning for another taste. It’s harvest time in Stark County. The 41 participating artists here (and I’m happy to be one of them) provide a bountiful crop of 56 works that make the exhibit a veritable feast for the eyes with a remarkable mélange of materials, styles, and concepts.

   During one of my three visits to the show, I watched from a short distance as a viewer looked closely at a wall piece by Christine Janson called Passage. It’s a small, old wooden typesetter’s drawer. Its compartments, emptied of moveable type, are painted in a spectrum of colors, with some containing bits of frayed, crinkled canvas.

   I overheard him ask his companions, “So what’s the story here?” A good question, really. It reminded me of how natural and often necessary it feels to seek out, or outright (out-write?) construct a narrative to satisfy our desire to connect with what might seem like an enigmatic work of contemporary art. In this case, I think it not too farfetched to see Janson’s entry as perhaps symbolizing the history of storytelling itself - a passage from the elemental components of a typeset tale into the more ancient practice of a painted one.

    There is a palpable spirit of storytelling threaded through a considerable number of pieces in this show, sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically. Here are just a few examples of pieces which prompted some closer viewing during my multiple visits.

   Clare Murray Adams’ wall installation is called, interestingly enough, Storyteller. There’s something of a symbiotic relationship between the hanging dress (smock, frock, apron?) and the eight small mixed-media paintings arched on the wall above it. Are they tactile research notes in the story of making and adorning the dress, like snapshots of processes? Or did making the dress inspire the stuff of the paintings?

   Priscilla Roggenkamp’s stunning Immigration Quilt, for all its apparent softness, raises tough, unsettled and unsettling questions. Those clothes -  looking like they’re for children, toddlers, babies – are all pressed against, indeed restrained by cording patterned like a net. Or a chain link fence.  

   The glimmering installation by Nicole Malcolm, Places You Pass, is actually a room (approx. 8' x 10' x 11' ) created within the gallery. It’s an intimate, enchanting, interactive environment unto itself and includes handwritten lyrics and recording of an original song titled I Will Wait For You. Here’s a link to Malcolm’s web page for a deeper look at the work:  

Please don’t pass it by. Stay and read a while. Therein she has written, ”…I often think about how some “places you pass” end up being the places where you will have life changing moments, and you don’t even know it yet… This work is a representation of the way in which I hold onto places, and moments in time. I will carry this with me, and remember that each new place I go will change me in ways I do not yet know.”

   And so, consider this post not just a late invitation, but better yet, as a mindful summons. See the testimonies of artists navigating the ethos of our here and now. Artists are our vital tribe of explorers, spirit guides, seers and conjurers who activate our own imaginations. They bear witness to being alive during these scabrous times. Witness the witnessing. Savor and carry it with you. It’s waiting.