Marion musician writes songs of struggle, protest
Aug 6, 2019
MARION — When Marion singer-songwriter Richard Lewis was accepted to the New Bedford Folk Festival South Coast stage, which showcases area musicians, he thought “I should really have an album when I perform.” So he made one.
Lewis played in New Bedford in July, and will continue to enjoy his debut album, released at 71, with a CD Release Celebration and Concert this week.
The Marion resident first delved into folk music in college, and found his voice writing protest songs for his guitar. Though he left music for decades, he has recently found his voice again with a dozen songs that he wrote.
After college, he worked in union organizing for a time before moving into community mental health and therapy work. Music fell to the side for Lewis, until summer 2016, about a year after he semi-retired.
When he got the idea to do an album, Lewis got in touch with John Mailloux, a Grammy-nominated producer. The two had met through open mics and worked together on a music video for Lewis’ song Benzo Blue, which dramatizes what can happen when women take dependency-producing anxiety medications for too long.
“You never know what your music is going to sound like when you add other instruments. He really had the ability to put them together and blend,” said Lewis. The result was “a hundred times better than my highest expectation.
Lewis was drawn back to folk-Americana music, but “wanted to get away from a politically stilted writing style.” He said his songs “have a political edge, but have beautiful melodies.”
His tunes have varied themes and encompass “love, hope and human struggle for a better world,” the songwriter said.
With lyrics like “she took my hand and I danced with her eyes,” the title song, “A Bend in the Road,” would seem to be a love song. But Lewis said that it’s also about the path that society will need to take to make the world more equal and just to everyone.
“The Last Time I See You” is addressed to Lewis’ friend Susan Babcock and Anthony Bourdain who both died by suicide, and his friend Ron Wilson who was killed in a car accident.
Lewis said to write the songs on his album he first comes up with a melody, then plays around with different words and phrases until he finds something he likes. Once he picks a theme for the song, he then sets about crafting the rest of the lyrics, a process he calls both “rewarding and painstaking.”
The hardest part of the album wasn’t writing the songs, though. Lewis recorded some songs live, and was joined by some remote musicians who were edited in for others. To keep everyone together on the spliced tracks, Lewis had to choose one tempo and play along to a click track.
“For me at times that was like having a root canal,” he said.
There was one musician who he didn’t have to use a click track for. His wife, Sue Maxwell Lewis, plays the Great Highland Bagpipes and used her skills on an instrumental reprise of the title song.
Lewis’ Marion performance with "RedFish" and "The Khourys,” a duo of sisters also featured on the album, will take place at the Marion Music Hall on Aug. 11 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, or $25 for a ticket and CD. They can be purchased at https://www.richarddlewis.com/performances