Got to carry on: Valley musicians release new music as the pandemic begins to ease

  • “Heard Immunity,” recorded in 2020-2021 during the pandemic, is the new album by singer-songwriter Eric Stocker.

  • Singer-songwriter Eric Stocker of Shutesbury got digital contributions from a number of other Valley musicians on his new album. Paul Shoul

  • “All One,” which was recorded live “some place, some time,” is the title of the new album by veteran bluesman Mark Nomad.

  • Mark Nomad’s new album includes 11 cuts from a live gig he did pre-pandemic. “It felt like it was the right time to put this out,” he says. Gazette file photo

  • Mark Nomad’s new album includes 11 cuts from a live gig he did pre-pandemic. “It felt like it was the righ time to put this out,” he says. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2022

Live music appears to be regaining its footing these days — and so is recorded music. Here’s a look at two new albums from Valley players.


Heard Mentality — Eric Stocker


For years, Eric Stocker had a busy career, running a produce distribution company, Squash Inc., in Belchertown. Now retired from that, he’s active in local government in his hometown of Shutesbury, where he serves on the town’s Select Board.

But Stocker’s been playing music for years as well, recording with other musicians on a number of solo albums as well as singing lead on cuts with a separate band, called Dad, Come Home.

“I call myself a kind of a closet musician,” he said with a laugh in a recent phone interview. “I’ve done it a long time on the side.”

His new solo album, “Heard Immunity,” is very much a product of the pandemic. Mostly recorded last year, a good chunk of it was pieced together digitally in the home studios of several participating musicians, then mixed at Shoestring Studio in Belchertown before being mastered at Sonelab studio in Easthampton.

Stocker notes the album was also something he and his co-producer, Max Cohen, and the other players were determined to finish “in spite of the pandemic. We all said, ‘We’re gonna make this record one way or the other.’ It was really a collaborative project.”

A singer-songwriter who also plays guitar, banjo and a bit of piano, Stocker leaned toward country music on his two previous solo albums, “Stroke of Luck” and “It’s About Time”; he says he grew up hearing lots of country because his father was big fan of the genre.

But with “Heard Immunity,” he’s broadened the sound to include some blues, pop and folk. Piano and organ are prominent on some tunes, though dobro, pedal steel guitar and  other country flavors can also be heard.

To put his tunes together, Stocker called on some key musicians in the area and others with connections here. Cohen, who lives in Cape Cod, contributed fingerstyle acoustic guitar and backing vocals to the 11 tracks and also engineered the recording; Richard Callihane handled bass; and Joe Fitzpatrick played drums.

Stocker’s fellow Shutesbury resident, Jim Henry, contributed additional guitar as well as dobro and mandolin, and Darby Wolf played piano and organ. Other players include Joe Boyle on electric guitar, Eric Lee on fiddle, Kate O’Connor on steel drums, and Pete Nice on pedal steel.

Lyrically, “Heard Immunity” explores the eternal subject of love, while other cuts address topical themes, from COVID to the nation’s polarized politics. “Well of Truth,” the kick-off track, looks at the strident debates over gun control and immigration: “There’s talk about that goddamned wall / Keep ‘em all out, that’s the call / Remember we’re all immigrants / Doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

With brooding guitars and a melody built around minor chords, the song moves to a bleak chorus: “The well of truth run dry.”

By contrast, the wry, upbeat country number “Hole in the Ground,” juiced along by fiddle, mandolin and pedal steel, suggests it’s a waste of time to try and pile up riches, make every deadline, and believe that hard work will ”make us heaven bound” because “It all comes down to a hole in the ground.”

Stocker’s daughter, Ella Reilly Stocker, duets with him on the bluesy “If Love Don’t Get You,” while Wolf on piano and Steve Kurtz on saxophone offer an instrumental duet.

And on the Jimmy Buffet-flavored “Other Shoe,” Stocker laments the nagging virus that’s dominated life for the past two years: “The stores are all closed / My favorite bar is too / My mind can’t stop the picture / That reminds me of you.”

He credits Cohen, who he met while working on his previous album, with pulling this new one together, from his song arrangements, to his engineering, to his guitar playing and backing vocals. “I can’t credit him enough,” Stocker said.

More information on Stocker’s music can be found at ericstocker.com.


All One — Mark Nomad


Like so many musicians, veteran bluesman Mark Nomad has had to make a lot of adjustments during the pandemic; he says he had four gigs canceled in one week in March 2020 when COVID arrived.

But things are improving now, Nomad says, and as one way of marking that, he’s released a new album, “All One,” a live recording of selected solo acoustic cuts he’s played during his career.

The 11 songs on the disc were actually recorded at a gig before the pandemic arrived, Nomad said, but he’d never quite got around to doing anything with them. (The songs were recorded “some place, some time,” as album notes put it.)

“It just felt like the right time to this now,” he said during a recent call from his home in Easthampton. “It had been four years since my last album, and I’d held on to these songs for a while thinking I might do something with them.”

Jim Chapdelaine, who mastered the album, the 11th of Nomad’s career, “really brought this project to life,” Nomad said.

Though Nomad has played plenty of electric blues over the years with different musicians, “All One,” with seven original songs and four covers, serves as a good example of what a talented player can do with a resonator guitar, a six-string acoustic, a bottleneck slide and a harmonica.

That’s not to mention Nomad’s strong vocals, from the growling timber he gets on “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” to the more melancholy tone of the title track, with its chorus “I take these blues all alone/And I make these blues for my own/And I ache with these blues now that she’s gone/‘Cause alone means all one.”

Nomad also includes a song off one of his earliest albums, “Got to Carry On,” which in retrospect seemed like a good title for the last two years. He says he hasn’t done much virtual playing during the pandemic, but in its early months he did post a video on his Facebook page of himself playing the tune.

“It was about all we could do then,” he said. “Just keep moving forward.”

“All One” offers a good mix of driving blues songs including Willie Dixon’s “Mellow Down Easy,” which delivers a punchy harmonica solo, and Larry Williams’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” (a song that was a staple of The Beatles’ live shows circa 1964-1965), on which Nomad plays stinging slide guitar.

By contrast, slower numbers like “Took More Than You Gave” and the title track, both written by Nomad, are built around fingerstyle guitar riffs and explore end-of-the-affair regrets.

Nomad’s played a number of outdoor gigs over the past two summers, and he’s also returned to live indoor shows, most recently in Connecticut, Holyoke and Easthampton. He’ll also be live this Sunday, March 20, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Fort Hill Brewery in Easthampton. His website is marknomad.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.