Clarence Fanto for the Berkshire Eagle (photo by Ben Garver)
Jan 7, 2023
Home Town Press
GREAT BARRINGTON — It was a 21st century day of infamy — Jan. 6, 2021. Local composer, singer-songwriter and educator Rees Shad was in the basement workshop of his West Avenue home, encountering some resistance while handcrafting a new acoustic guitar for his extensive collection.
Snapping on National Public Radio for distraction, he was stunned to hear live coverage of the Trump-inspired, mob-led insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The result, nearly completed a few hours later: “Call It Done,” a track on “Tattletale,” Shad’s 31st album since 1993.
It’s a call for harmony and healing from blame and shame: “We've got to do more; overcome this thing, If there's any hope to carry on,” the lyrics urge.
Shad’s aim is to restore civility to political discourse.
“I have a lot of friends who can’t seem to talk to each other these days,” he told The Eagle in a phone interview. But for many, “no matter how far apart they are politically, they can find some middle ground, some way to be humane and decent to each other. But I had been seeing that slip away more and more, and it just exploded that day.”
He viewed then-President Trump as having “given up trying to stop the violence or doing anything.” So, as Shad recalled, “I was thinking, ‘what are we all doing? Are we giving up on this? Are we calling it done?’ And as always happens with me, I get a line that sits in my head for a few seconds, and the lyric begins to unfold.”
Adding his musical ideas, Shad said he became very emotional and by the evening of Jan. 6, he was intent on “finding a message that’s universal while narrating a very singular story. But how do you make the story approachable and relatable to an audience? I needed to find a more universal experience.”
The solution he adopted: Removing the direct references to politics, and re-crafting the song as an effort to confront a troubled personal relationship. So, listeners won’t necessarily realize that Shad wrote the song in response to the Jan. 6 riot.
Why? “Because this is all something that’s so basically human,” Shad suggested. “It’s something everyone has experienced in one form or another — this sense where you get to a position in a relationship. You can either walk away from it or you can really make the important investment. For the lasting relationships, things change and now we have to adapt to change, a recurring theme in all my work.”
The song reflects Shad’s viewpoint that “we were on the verge of walking away from the commitment we made when we formed this country, when we came out of the Civil War and as we continue the civil rights movement — to be united.”
But, he hastened to point out, “I didn’t want to be the guy up on the soapbox going, ‘OK, this is the way you need to think politically.’ I wanted to have a song about a relationship, and then when you step back, you hear another one at play here, it’s the political relationship of our nation. I think that makes it a deeper connection.”
Or, to put it another way, the song evolved into a general plea for conciliation and universality, trying to maintain what many now consider a very fragile democracy.
The lyric, opening with a reference to “a grand affair,” the creation of the nation by the Founding Fathers, evolves and concludes with a rallying cry seeking unification of the nation’s political parties.
Shad explained that he aims for listeners to find a different meaning to the lyrics when they hear the song a second time, “like a good poem or a great book. Your previous experience of the song should alter your second and third experience.”
As the narrator of “Call It Done,” Shad suggests that his goal is very personal, “to sit down and talk it through, to reinvest in the relationship rather than walk away from it, a rededication to those conversations.”
“It feels like the person I’m singing about is potentially going to walk away, but the end of the song he’s saying, ‘I’m not willing to do that.’ ” And the person Shad is singing about is the narrator, voicing his sentiments.
The founding of the U.S., he emphasized, “is this great idea we had, a beautiful idea, and we’re letting it slip away. But, the song is saying, don’t we realize we’re all so similar, we are brothers and sisters, we can’t divide and build up these walls. We have to come back together, and by the end of it, I’m not walking away.”
Shad’s first few releases were vinyl LPs; then he segued to CDs and, more recently, he makes his music available via downloads from streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora. He also sells CDs and USBs from his website, reesshadmusic.com.
Rees Shad and the Conversations, his band, are touring in support of the “Tattletale” release, which includes “Call It Done,” with a dozen regional bookings between now and June. Local appearances include Methuselah Bar & Lounge in Pittsfield, Bright Ideas Brewery in North Adams and Flat Burger Society in Pittsfield.
Shad, 58, grew up in Manhattan but became enamored with the Berkshires during childhood summers spent in Monterey.
After living in Carmel in New York’s Putnam County, he relocated to Great Barrington six years ago.
“It’s been heaven to be back,” he rhapsodized.
Upon graduating from Skidmore College in 1988 with a liberal arts degree, he studied audio engineering. His day jobs included house painter, apprentice electrician, carpenter, guitar shop salesman, book editor, interactive software developer, graphic designer and eventually, college professor and curriculum developer.
Rees taught at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, having earned master’s degrees in design and technology, technical communication and more recently, an education specialist degree from UMass-Amherst. After Parsons, he transitioned to City University of New York’s Hostos Community College in the South Bronx where he developed and oversaw programs in audio production, graphic design, animation and game design.
Prior to his 10 years in Carmel, Shad and his family had lived on a farm in Argyle, a rural town in Washington County, N.Y., near Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs. There, he owned a record and publishing company as well as a recording studio in an old barn.
Shad’s studio hosted musicians putting down tracks for their major-label albums. “It was awesome for a while, but what I really enjoyed was teaching audio skills to interns,” he recalled. Even closer to his heart was recording his own albums and touring nationally with his band.
His upcoming regional tour begins just over a year since the creation of “Call It Done,” a song he described as “steeped in the sorrow that day produced in me. This was written as a cry for reason and change.”
“It's all about the storytelling for me,” Shad emphasized. “The stories from the album ‘Tattletale’ are crafted to resonate and intensify as the lyrics and melodies sink in. I’m striving to light up listeners’ imaginations.”
LISTEN TO 'TATTLETALE'
Audio CD can be purchased for $13.50 online at readshadmusic.com
Streaming on Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, YouTube and more.
REES SHAD & THE CONVERSATIONS — UPCOMING LOCAL PERFORMANCES
7 p.m., Jan. 7: Two Flowers, 34 Railroad Street, Great Barrington, MA
3 p.m., Jan. 8: The Strand Theatre, 210 Main St., Hudson Falls, N.Y.
7 p.m., Jan. 21: Methuselah Bar & Lounge, 391 North St., Pittsfield, MA
8 p.m., Jan. 27: Bright Ideas Brewery, 111 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, MA
6 p.m., Jan. 28: Argyle Brewing, 6 Broad St., Cambridge, N.Y.
6 p.m., Mar. 4: Rock Da Casbah, 216 Main St, Saugerties, NY
6 p.m., March 11: Roe Jan Brewing, 32 Anthony St., Hillsdale, N.Y
7 p.m., March 31: Flat Burger Society, McKay St., Pittsfield, MA