Sounds Local: Valley’s Emma Ayers releases new album ‘Hard Work’ this weekend 

  • Emma Ayres PHOTO BY GEORGIA TEENSMA

  • James Montgomery CONTRIBUTED

Published: 6/15/2022 1:27:59 PM
Modified: 6/15/2022 1:25:44 PM

June is LGBTQ Pride month and last weekend Greenfield celebrated the occasion with a host of events including a parade and rally at the Energy Park. Emma Ayres, a former Greenfield resident who is now living in Williamsburg, was part of the musical lineup that played at the Energy Park, and this performance marked her first show in two years and first as an out artist.

The event also provided Ayres with the chance to showcase material off her new album “Hard Work,” which will be released Saturday, June 18 and will be available for purchase on BandCamp.

” It was such an honor to represent my beautiful multigenerational queer community,” said Ayres about the event. “The good energy was contagious and really fueled and fed my heart and soul.”

Ayres is a longtime presence on the local arts scene, as a singer-songwriter, actor, playwright, and theater director. She was a member of the folk band Ruby Mack and the alt-rock group Old Flame. Ayres is also working on a folk-opera about the socio-political history of the flooding of the Quabbin Valley called “The Water Project.”

The pandemic was a time of both artistic and personal change for Ayres. Her band Ruby Mack dissolved and Old Flame went on an extended hiatus as its members focused on other projects. Like her bandmates, Ayres used the time to explore new musical and lyrical directions, working on this group of songs that were mostly written before the world of COVID-19.

“Hard Work” is a collection of eight songs that finds Ayres looking inward instead of primarily focusing on the outside world as she has done in the past. The material here is bold and beautiful, full of meaningful lyrics and durable melodies. Vocalist/guitarist Ayres shows a different, even softer musical side here. Many of the songs here merge a strong jazz influence with a solid pop and rock sensibility. Numbers like the title track recall the 1970s when this kind of fusion was common.

The disc gets off to a strong start opening with the title cut “Hard Work” which includes some striking melodic bass work by Asher Marino and expressive vocals by Ayres as she sings lines like “They said it was gonna be hard work/No one told me it was gonna be easy/ Things won’t work out my way/But I ain’t looking back.” The song holds deep meaning for Ayres, which is why she decided to name the album after this track.

“I decided to call the album “Hard Work” because I have been thinking a lot about what it means to me to be a musician, and I think there is a personal level about showing up to your craft despite all the voices in your head telling you otherwise,” she said. “Something I have really been reflecting on is the way our society values artists — or I should say doesn’t value artists – especially monetary-wise. And I’m passionate about advocating for fair compensation for artists.”

“Hard Work” isn’t only about the politics of making music but the personal side of making music as well.

“During the pandemic I came out as queer and I’m happy to be out and proud,” said Ayres. “It’s been a very transformative couple of years as I really unabashedly claimed that part of myself and feel the bravery to share it.”

Ayers added that there is a great deal of internalized homophobia in people and feels that there is a lot of work to undo the societal narratives that hold people within certain expectations.

“That’s a really big part of where the title ‘Hard Work’ comes in,” said Ayers who was raised in Amherst. “Time is really precious and I have to show up as I am, and it’s going to take a lot of work and bravery to do that.”

Another song that touches on the subject is “Milktooth” which was originally recorded by Ruby Mack. In 2020 Ayers told American Songwriter magazine that it “was a queer coming of age song.”

“Even though it’s a really personal song, back then I handed it off to a bandmate to sing and it’s been really great to reclaim it,” she said of re-recording the song.

Being true to one’s self comes up again on “So it Goes,” a lovely song that benefits from the work of bassist Marino whose playing raises the material on this disc to a whole other level. “Working with Asher has been magical,” said Ayres. “They play such melodic bass that it’s almost like hearing a voice and an instrument simultaneously.” Ayers’ bandmates from Old Flame, multi-instrumentalist HaniRosenbaum, also deserves recognition for all the musical textures she adds to these songs.

At her core, Ayres is a storyteller employing various emotional hues to her songs, be it on a jazzy tune like “Sissy” or the folkish “Gas Station Rose.” Telling stories is what Ayres loves to do and has even come up with the term “folk journalism” to describe her work.

“I started coining that term through the creation of the folk opera that I wrote, and it was just something that I’m really passionate about — telling stories,”Ayres said. “A lot of the writing feels like doing an investigation.”

As someone who has been such a keen observer of the outside world and the issues that we deal with, has it been difficult to show a more personal side in your work? I asked.

“Initially accessing this voice was challenge because I was so tied up in feeling confident in my sense of self and identity that I feel like I want to enter this next era of my life,” Ayres said. “I’m turning 30 this summer and it feels like a doorway. I want to enter this doorway with a more quieter sense of introspection, more introspective sense of tenderness while simultaneously being the fiery person that I am. So it has been weirdly cathartic to access this voice because it’s something I’ve always wanted to share but didn’t know quite how to.”

Emma Ayres will hold a CD release party for “Hard Work” on Saturday, June 18 at 9 p.m. at the Marigold Theater in Easthampton.

The James Montgomery Band at the Shea Theater

If you are a fan of the blues, chances are you have seen The James Montgomery Band. After launching his career in 1970, while living in Boston, Montgomery became a frequent performer out here in western Massachusetts. I think he has played every club that’s ever existed in the area, the blues vocalist and harmonic player for his many shows at the new legendary Rusty Nail in Sunderland.

Having toured with acts like Aerosmith, The J. Geils Band, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, The Allman Brothers, The Steve Miller Band, The Johnny Winter Band, The Blues Brothers with (Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) during his five decade career, Montgomery has certainly played more impressive and bigger venues than the Rusty Nail, but it’s these hometown shows that we remember him for. I could fill pages with all the achievements of his career, but one of his most impressive accomplishments is that he’s still going strong and will bring the James Montgomery Band to the Shea Theater in Turners Falls on Saturday, June 18, at 8 p.m.

As a bonus, the band Muddy Ruckus will open. Fast off their performance at StrangeCreek this past Memorial Day weekend, this roots duo have a buzz going so catch them while you can.

Tickets at sheatheater.org.

Turners Falls is the place to be on Saturday night, as local rockers Lux Deluxe also will play a free show at Peskeumskut Park at 6 p.m.

Sheryl Hunter is a freelance writer who resides in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national publications. She can be reached at Soundslocal@yahoo.com.


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