Sounds Local: Conway residents spread their wings with new band, Opal Canyon

  • The new band Opal Canyon will release its debut recording “Beauty and Loss” with a show at the Parlor Room in Northampton on April 26. Contributed photo/Henry Amistadi

  • HUNTER

For the Recorder
Published: 4/17/2019 5:34:38 PM

After Debra DeMuth and her husband, Dave Houghton, of Conway released their album “No Fences,” and DeMuth sat down to write more music for their country duo And the Neighbors, it became clear that change was on the horizon.

“I started writing some new songs and Dave kept saying, ‘These are band songs.’ He kept hearing different instrumentation,” DeMuth said. “So we thought this is something different. It feels like a different direction.”

DeMuth and Houghton let the songs lead the way, forming a band of established local musicians. Jason Smith, who played for years with Houghton in the band Fancy Trash, was brought in to handle drums and percussion. Multi-instrumentalist Bob Hennessy of Ware River Club came on board to play piano, organ, mandolin and guitar, and Ray Mason of the Ray Mason Band and the Lonesome Brothers joined on bass. DeMuth sings lead vocals while Houghton is featured on guitar and vocals.

The group decided to call its new band Opal Canyon.

“We created Opal Canyon because we just wanted to create a place with the music,” DeMuth explained. “Opals are my favorite stone — it was my wedding ring stone and my grandmother’s favorite stone — and we just thought opal, the colors of opals, and the vastness of a canyon.”

Opal Canyon will release its debut recording “Beauty and Loss” with a show at the Parlor Room, 32 Masonic St. in Northampton, on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m. Dennis Crommett (Winterpills, Spanish for Hitchhiking) will open.

DeMuth said evolving from And the Neighbors to Opal Canyon feels a bit like starting over, but “in a really exciting, great way.”

“Having this amazing talented group, I’m just in awe of them every time we play together,” she said. “When we were in the studio everyone brought their A-plus game, which I am so grateful for.”

“Beauty and Loss” is an eight-song record that Houghton and DeMuth produced, and which was engineered by Justin Pizzoferrato at Sonelab studios in Easthampton. The talents of this group of accomplished musicians, combined with the DeMuth’s lyrics that convey a wide variety of emotions, make “Beauty and Loss” the kind of disc that inspires repeated plays.

The album’s eight tracks are rooted in country, but it’s clear that this band is not about to limit itself to a specific genre. You’ll hear some rock, pop, folk and even a bit of Tex-Mex on the disc.

The tune “Eres Mi Mundo,” which features a chorus sung in Spanish, has a lively southwestern flair to it. And be it Hennessy’s simple piano accompaniment on the quiet “Forgive the Giving,” or Smith’s samba beat on a cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong,” you’ll hear interesting sonic touches throughout the album.

“Lovesong” alone is proof that this band isn’t afraid to take risks. As DeMuth was quick to point out, once Opal Canyon got going in the studio, “it was like trying to put the brakes on a bus.”

DeMuth writes the lyrics and melodies for Opal Canyon, then hands them over to Houghton to write the music. The one exception on “Beauty and Loss” is “Sunday Driving,” an upbeat tune written by Houghton and Hennessy that is the album’s first single.

DeMuth’s songwriting is extremely personal, and she took the album’s title from a line in the song “Lost Boy.” “If I gave you my mind for the day/ would you understand why you went away/ there is beauty and there is loss/ in life there’s no remorse/ hey, hey lost boy on the sea.”

She explained that she wrote the song about a young child who got lost in Conway a few years ago, and how the community came together to help find him. The song also found her thinking about her own three sons who are young men now.

“I remember that feeling of how do you find that lost boy, and was applying it to my own kids and their managing their own young adult struggles,” she said of the song.

“I have a practice of walking in the morning, and if I’m struggling over some emotions I have in my life, I’ll toss it around and start to think of a phrase,” DeMuth said to explain her songwriting process. “And then at the end of the walk it may be a song. It is this process that helps me express good things or challenging things that are happening at the time.”

While her bandmates have been making music for years, And the Neighbors was DeMuth’s first band. Even though she is a relative newcomer to both songwriting and performing, she has become quite accomplished in a short time at both and appreciates the opportunities she has had.

“I’m a social worker by day, so to be able to go out and play music, and to be able to express myself and where I’m at in my life is really rewarding,” she said.

She hopes listeners will be equally rewarded by the music they hear on “Beauty and Loss.”

“I think it’s a way to kind of escape a little bit from your day-to-day struggles,” DeMuth explained. “Sit back and connect with music and the absolute healing vibe it can have. Just be present with music and let it nurture you a bit, so you can go back out into the world and be as mindful as you can.”

Opal Canyon played a set at First Night in Northampton last New Year’s Eve, but this is its official debut. DeMuth said the band is more than ready.

“I am so psyched for this show. Each practice we say, ‘We are ready, let’s let it happen and enjoy it,’” DeMuth said. “And that’s what I’m looking forward to the most, enjoying playing with these really incredible musicians who are going to put my songs out there into the world.”

Tickets for the Parlor Room show are $10 in advance and can be purchased at signaturesoundspresents.com, or $13 at the door. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Opal Canyon will also open for Los Lobos at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke on June 9, and will play at the Ashfield Lake House on July 19.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com.




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