Here’s what the Autoharp Quarterly had to say about about “Earth Without Art“:
It’s a perfect time to spend a pleasant late-spring foggy morning in COVID-19 quarantined Anaconda, Montana, listening to Earth Without Art, the new album by Wisconsin singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and former Mountain Laurel Autoharp Champion, Rick Fitzgerald.
Two of Rick’s older albums, Crossing the Water, largely a solo album with accompaniment by accomplished friends and musicians, and Chasing Sunshine, with Maggie Dodd and Michael Poole, have been enjoyed and reviewed at this desk for previous issues of Autoharp Quarterly.
The poetic and melodic “Appalachian Rain” immediately brings back memories of John Denver’s singing – the same lilting high vocal range, with only voice and guitar, but nothing else is needed. The song is simply beautiful – though as is pointed out in the liner notes, the story is of a guy who was “literally told to take a hike.” Sort of an in-person Dear John letter. The melody, vocal, and guitar are completely harmonious and effective together. Who says you can’t say, “Get lost, darling,” with a smile?
“Pirates Night Out,” a spirited tune by Bryan Bowers, is an autoharp soloist’s dream, with flashy minor construction somewhat like “Ghost Riders” but add a line of Russian Cossack dancers flashing across the scenery.
Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” is a nicely sung nod to our recent folkie past. If you don’t hum along with this in all the old familiar places such as, “the feelin’s gone and I just can’t get it back,” you’re just too young!
A delightful tune, “Old Zeb,” for Zebulon Tilton, a “big, burly cross-eyed schooner captain in the first half of the 20th century,” features harmony vocals by Tom Davis, with Rick Schwartz on mandolin. It’s a great love story about a man and his schooner, with wonderful lyrics such as: “A man that’s meant for hanging’s prob’ly never going to drown…” (so go ahead and take chances. If you’re doomed enough, the water won’t get you.)
The chorus is so hummable and pleasing it immediately becomes familiar and you’ll be singing along. I hear it’s a sign of advanced age when things we see and hear remind us of something from the past – but I’d swear it’s Steve Goodman’s voice singing this, just as obviously as it was John Denver’s on “Appalachian Rain.” This cut is the one I find myself playing over and over, both on my little space ship shaped CD player and in my head at odd times. It’s very memorable and sounds like something you’ve always known.
Bill Staines’ song, “Moving It On Down The Line,” for those who dedicate themselves to a life on the road, is an ode to the traveler, who ‘sees it all,’ but keeps moving on down the line. Hotels, highways, various towns. A good, solid song, well sung and played, again with only voice and guitar.
An impressive all-harp cut is “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” by J.S. Bach, arranged by Rick after hearing Leo Kottke’s guitar interpretation, which may have been inspired by Pete Seeger’s banjo arrangement. This doesn’t need anything but our humble folk instrument, the autoharp, played by a master to sound as fine as an instrumentally complex version.
I particularly enjoyed “When Rosalia Smiles,” a tune of Rick’s, also an autoharp solo, inspired by his lovely and lively granddaughter. It’s quite different from another of his family-based compositions, “The Place I Used to Know”, about his parents and childhood. This moving song is reminiscent of many childhoods, event those totally unrelated to having a Scandinavian heritage or being from the Midwest. It’s about being the child of a caring, memorable parent, takes us back to that time and place.
This is an all-around fine album. The balance of vocal and instruments, the variety and choices of songs and tunes, make for some quality listening.
Nan Bovingdon, The Autoharp Quarterly, Summer 2020
Here’s what the Autoharp Quarterly had to say about about “Chasing Sunshine“:
I’ve been listening to a wonderful CD, “Chasing Sunshine,” featuring Maggie Dodd, Michael Poole and Rick Fitzgerald, with help by the musical talents of Heidi and John Cerrigione, Neal and Coleen Walters. All are multi-instrumentalists.
Michael was the 2018 Mountain Laurel Autoharp Champion, and former recipient of the Cohen/Grappel recording grant. His CD, Beneath Still Waters has been previously reviewed in AQ.
Rick was the 2009 winner at Mountain Laurel. His CD (one of several), Crossing the Water has also been reviewed here. So what could go wrong with their new CD, playing together and with Maggie Dodd? Nothing, that’s what.
Here’s a CD by a group of musicians known for versatility, taste and musical excellence. From the very first cut, “Red Tail Hawk,” from the singing of Kate Wolf, according to Maggie’s liner notes, the various strengths of these singers and players shine. Maggie’s clear, clean solo voice, Michael and Rick’s harmonies, and Neal’s mandolin stand out, backed nicely by Heidi’s autoharp and Coleen’s upright bass. It’s a haunting melody, beautifully delivered.
“I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free,” a 1960’s anthem, is still relevant in concept and message today. Rick’s harp and vocal render it again as if brand new. His singing is particularly lyrical and moving on this song.
The interplay of the entire group shines throughout this CD, and a perfect example is Louise Branscombe’s song “Steel Rails.” From the first guitar and harp intro, to Maggie’s vocal, Heidi’s gentle harp, Neal’s lilting mandolin, unobtrusive but supportive background of vocal harmony and bass, everyone works so closely together, well, you might think they were related or something!
Michael Smith’s marvelous song “The Dutchman,” performed on guitar and vocal by Rick, brought Steve Goodman right into my living room. Same guitar arrangement and understated, but tender lyrics, it is very pleasing.
I particularly enjoyed the musical interplay on “The Rising of the Moon,” with women’s harmony, connected by guitar and harp with mandolin dancing on top. These people should own t shirts that read “Plays Well With Others.”
“Who Will Watch the Home Place” sounds like a song and question from our grandparents’ time, but as folk music goes, it’s quite young, written by Laurie Lewis. It is played and sung flawlessly, the guitar and mandolin are particularly suited to this melody, as well as to the message of the song itself; “when I leave here, who will I be?” This one will stick in my mind–in a good way–long after the CD is back in its jacket.
These are fine musicians, both vocally and instrumentally. Not just the ‘headliners’, Maggie, Rick and Michael, but the accompanying players. Who wouldn’t love to have a back-up band like THAT?
This CD’s a keeper.
Nan Bovingdon, The Autoharp Quarterly, Winter 2020
Here’s what The Autoharp Quarterly had to say about Rick’s debut album, “Living Up To A Dream”:
The shimmering sounds of Rick Fitzgerald’s autoharp are new to me, as are the excellent original songs he’s introduced on this, his first album. With Neal Walters on the mandolin and Coleen Walters on the bass, Rick uses his Orthey autoharp and a Guild-D-50 guitar to round out a very professional and impressive album.
Rick’s adventures aboard a recreated version of a 19th century three-masted Great Lakes schooner as one of its crew, led motivation to write the original songs presented here. His impeccable guitar prowess is demonstrated throughout the album, as is his very likeable singing voice. My only disappointment is the shortage of autoharp on the album. Even though only five cuts include autoharp, they are well worth attention. My favorite was one of his originals, entitled Starlight on Keweenaw Bay. Very well written, sung and performed. The autoharp is exceptional, the words very meaningful. I also enjoyed Sarah Hogan. On Red Haired Boy I would like to have heard a bit cleaner melody towards the end, but the song, nonetheless is pleasant. Some may not agree with me, but Rick adding guitar throughout the album seems to have made the autoharp more refreshing each time it was introduced.
His style of singing (and) playing of instruments reminds me of the likes of John McCutcheon, Bryan Bowers, Gillian Welch and Harvey Reid. I think that’s the direction he’s headed if he keeps up this quality of music. Would I buy Rick’s album? You bet!
Bill Bryant, The Autoharp Quarterly, June 2009