On Thursday evening The Annex at Brooklyn Arts Center will host Renaissance man Mike Adams’ release of “Belly Full of Songs.” An accomplished and revered musician in his own right, Adams invited several local and regional artists to sing almost three dozen songs his deceased father inspired him to write. Samuel G. Adams was a big contributor to Good Shepherd Ministries and Nourish NC, so the concert’s “love donations” will benefit both charities.
“Our aim was to capture the idea that these organizations are dealing with hunger issues,” Jean Dobbs Fonvielle says of the title “Belly Full of Songs.”
“Music itself is a nourishing form of art.”
Covering most genres and forms of the human condition, “Belly…” has 27 tunes on two CDs. Adams has played and written songs for 50 years—from the time he was rocking around with his buddies in garage bands to present day. But in 2007, after caring for his father until death, Adams had a dream.
“I was going to have 10 different groups sing 10 different songs,” he explains. “But when Woody (Dobson) and I got together, he said, ‘What about the dog? What about the rocking chair?’ So it took 10 years, and we ended up with 27 songs.”
Adams was concerned each artist/group would all want to sing the same song, but Kelly Jewell, co-owner of Ted’s Fun on the River, reminded them how many musicians have different tastes. “‘Belly Full of Songs’ is a snapshot of the music scene in Wilmington right now,” he observes.
Adams, too, refuses to be tethered to genre; his CD covers folk, reggae, rock, gospel and blues. They also carry over a range of emotions. Adams gave each group permission to change the lyrics and melodies to suit themselves—and they did.
Both CDs begin and end with the same song “Upper Hand,” about 2012’s Sandy Hook shooting. The first recording, sung by Kelly, Jesse and Carson Jewell, sounds more hopeful. But Al Hall’s final recording clearly reflects the anguished wail of parents left without their children. As Adams says, “‘Crazy’ still seems to have the upper hand!”
A piano trill is heard in the next melody, a love song, “I Tried to Tell Me You Weren’t Mine,” by Andy Belinski of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. “I recorded a country polka version of the song,” Belinski says. “It has this tongue-in-cheek, yet hopefully romantic thing about it that caught my ear.”
Another tune, “Life’s Dice,” performed by Jeff Reid, is about “stormy weather” as it pertains to hard times in marriage: “Remember what you said / You’d be true? / So pack your boots for stormy weather.”
“Mike stressed he wanted my interpretation of ‘Life’s Dice,’” Reid iterates. “I wanted the sound to be lonesome and distant, yet still close enough to touch you in the living room. The harmonica (Reid) and the mandolin (John Fonvielle), hopefully, create the feeling.”
Adams’ wife of 30-plus years, Stephanie, “the only person who has stuck by me,” is the subject of “Guardian.” She was the first choice for director Sandy Errante and the Girls’ Choir of Wilmington (75 performers). Sandy’s husband, Steve, arranged the song for piano.
“The lyrics were kind and gentle, and the melody flowed beautifully,” Errante explains. “In addition, sometimes people refer to our girls in the choir as ‘angels,’ and because the chorus repeatedly refers to the angel, the guardian angel, we felt like this was meant to be.”
While “Guardian” carries soft angelic tones, “Step Back,” performed by Jerry Powell, is a rock song with lots of synthesized instruments.
Overcome at times by his father’s long decline, Adams wrote the lament “Head Above Water,” which is performed by folk musician Kyle Lindley and features harmonica. It’s a theme continued with Stray Local’s rendition of “Desperate.” Originally about Adams’ grief over losing his father, Hannah Lomas and Jamie Rowen turn the love song into raw passion for one another. Even love songs like “Since Then” feature piano-based blues as only Jim Nelson can play. He sings about times when loved ones have gone away and the aftermath left of feeling alone.
Barry Langston changes the mood with an upbeat take on “Perpetual Smile,” and Laura McLean’s “Santa Marta” describes the time Adams took off to Costa Rica in order to escape his dad. “Everyone in my family was mad at everyone else, and I just had to get away for a while,” Adams says and smiles. “Everything there is me! I can’t stand for my songs to sound alike; each one is different.”
Continuously inspired by his wife, who happens to make a delicious cup of joe, Adams has a tune on the CD called “Coffee.” Acoustic-cello duo The Upstarts and Rogues play the ditty, which follows a loving couple who are very in sync with one another: “You make the coffee, I’ll play guitar.”
Adams and Stephanie attended LEAF Festival awhile back, and unknowingly pitched their tent next door to the drum circle. Steph ending up sleeping in the car that night and leaving her husband nothing better to do than write another song.
“Falling Out the Mountains” says romance puts you in a better mood. It is interpreted by the illustrious blues musician, Randy McQuay, who’s won copious awards, including the 2015 International Blues Challenge Winner and the 2012 Lee Oskar Harmonica Award.
Heavy-hitters continue to appear throughout CDs one and two. Disc one takes a bow with “Sunshine and Sand” by Nina Repeta, Stewart Shaw, Wilson Godwin and Rick Gardner—better known as Nina’s Blues Band. Disc two begins with Al DiMarco’s accordion and the “Sound of Love.” The song stresses the need we all have to be touched. Two other melodies about touching and holding hands round out disc two. The Wolfe Gang (Michael Wolfe) sings “Holding Hands,” and Susan Savia sings an enchanting waltz, “Touch Your Hand.”
Local indie performer Jesse Stockton takes on “It’s All Me.” While Stockton adds his poignant musical style, the ego-driven song is defined by one haunting line: “This walk would be more dangerous / if either one of us knew the meaning of regret.”
“I love Mike so very dearly,” Stockton says. “It was a huge blessing for me to be a part of his album. I can’t wait to see everyone performing in it at BAC!”
Adams recorded “Belly Full of Songs” at childhood friend Woody Dobson’s home studio, Hardwoods Soundworks. “When we play our own music, I feel like I’m playing with my brother, heart-to-heart,” Dobson says of his friend.
“I am so very thankful to everyone who gave their time [playing on the CD] for free with love,” Adams adds.
Belly Full of Songs Album Release
Thursday, Feb. 22, doors at 7 p.m.; show at 7:30 p.m.
The Annex at BAC • 516 N. 4th St.
Donations to benefit Good Shepherd and Nourish NC
Dedicated to the memory of Samuel G. Adams, and to honor Stephanie Adams and all the strong women who continue to bless Mike Adams’ life.