WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
The first time I saw Downingtown native Liz Longley perform at Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville she was 16, I think. She sold out the room. I knew that she was someone special, that she had what it took to make it as a singer, songwriter and performer.
Of course I’m no sage. Other people were saying it, too. And we all know that the music business is a funny thing; sometimes the most gifted artists struggle to get heard while those with questionable creative talent become household names.
So far our predictions about Longley have been right on the money. She attended and graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Along the way she won major awards for songwriting including the BMI John Lennon Songwriting Scholarship Competition and the International Acoustic Music Awards. And she won the hearts of a loyal fan base who appreciate Longley’s brutal honesty in her songwriting — supporters who funded the recording of “Liz Longley” (Sugar Hill, 2015), which is her first release on the Sugar Hill label.
Yes, Liz Longley has arrived, though she might beg to differ. And she returns to Ardmore Music Hall on March 20 to celebrate the release of the album with friends, family and fans. And for the first time Longley will be performing and touring with a band.
“I don’t think I’ll ever arrive,” said Longley in a phone interview from her home in Nashville. “I don’t think you can ever arrive as a musician. You always want to be better. So that’s the pressure that I feel. And that’s all my own doing.”
So maybe Longley hasn’t “arrived.” But she certainly has made quite the statement with her first album for Sugar Hill.
Ironically, the album was recorded two-and-a-half years ago, shortly after Longley arrived in Nashville. So the songs aren’t exactly new. And though she made it available to fans at her shows, she never officially released it. Sugar Hill chose to issue it with only a few changes; three songs were re-mixed by Grammy Award–winning engineer and producer Gary Paczosa. And they changed the track sequencing and updated the artwork. The fact that Sugar Hill released it with so few changes is a testament to Longley’s competency and maturity as an artist.
Yet Longley is already thinking about the follow-up and she has decided to move in a different direction. And no, don’t think that because she lives in Nashville now that she’s turning into a country artist.
“I’m writing in a more pop direction,” said Longley. “I think this latest record has some very light flavors of country, and ironically I had written those songs in Boston. Now that I’m actually writing in Nashville I’m writing more (in) the pop genre … a little less folky and definitely not country at all.
“(This) record is very clean. It was made with the best musicians in Nashville and I think you can hear that in it. And I love that about it, but I also think it’s really important that a record has some of the magic that a live show does. You want to feel how you feel when you go to a show when you listen to a record. You want it to feel like it’s a little bit raw. At least I do. I really want to try to capture that in the next record and make it a little bit more raw, maybe not as pristine and clean and perfect.”
And how will Sugar Hill react to her idea of a change in direction?
“Sugar Hill is such an artist-friendly label, and I told them going into it ‘hey, if you sign me and put out this record the next record isn’t going to be like it.’ I’ve told them my ideas for my next record and the direction I want to go in and they’re fully supportive, and (they said) ‘do what makes you happy.’”
Longley is also looking forward to her first full band tour.
“I am so excited about it. I went to college with all of (the musicians) so there’s a lot of history there. It will be really cool to have a fuller sound and more players to feed off of. I’ve been touring for the past year solo, so to be able to share the stage and make music with my peers is something I’m really looking forward to.”
I suggest that we all get to Longley’s show at Ardmore Music Hall before the rest of the world catches on, when she’ll only be performing in stadiums.
IF YOU GO
What: Liz Longley album release with Brian Wright
When: Friday, March 20. 7 p.m. show; doors open at 6:30.
Where: Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore.
Tickets: $17 in advance, $20 day of show
Info.: www.ardmoremusic.com. For more on Longley, check www.lizlongley.com.