‘Historical Fiction’: Ted Walsh tells tales of everyday life on new solo album
Over the past few years, Ted Walsh has been one of the busier members of the Ithaca music scene. He’s a member of several bands: GoGone, Unreal City, the Beauchesnes. He plays in two duos: Madd Daddy, with his daughter Maddy Walsh; and Unreal Village, with longtime friend Tom Gath. And he also does the occasional solo set.
Along the way, he has recorded two albums. In 2018, the Beauchesnes released “Twilight Interstate,” which showcased Walsh’s diverse musical palette and narrative lyric style. And this Friday, Walsh will celebrate the release of his new solo album, “Historical Fiction,” which includes 12 songs that once again demonstrate his knack for writing in a variety of musical settings as well as his versatile guitar style (he plays all the guitar parts on the album).
While “Historical Fiction” is a solo album, Walsh is joined by several guests: Maddy Walsh, who contributes vocals to four songs; banjo master Richie Stearns (the Horse Flies, Richie and Rosie) and North Carolina modern folk duo Violet Bell (Omar Ruiz and Lizzy Ross), who all play on “Come On Back Home”; Beauchesnes bandmates Mike Starmer, Freddy Villano, and Robert Hunter; Mike Suave of the Blind Spots; percussionist Mike Mangini; and Eric Aceto, who contributes his self-built “Fadolin” to one song.
With a couple of exceptions, Walsh wrote the songs for the new album in the past five years, with a few coming more recently. “The Barrier” tells the story of two young men running from violence at a Black Lives Matter protest, while “Time to Break the Ties” was inspired by the January 6, 2021, insurrection, in which the narrator recognizes an old friend on screen during television coverage of the event.
As for the album title of “Historical Fiction,” Walsh noted that his first album, which came out 20 years ago, was called “American Lit” – no surprise from someone who taught for decades at Dryden High School.
“Having been a former English teacher, I sort of gravitate towards a narrative style anyway,” he said. “And so some of these songs are set in historical settings, like ‘Time to Break the Ties.’ But it's fiction.”
He added: “In fact, one confusing thing for some people about this album and about earlier songs of mine is that I often adopt a different point of view than from myself, a persona for the narrator – and the personas aren't always wonderful people. I'm hoping that people will see that the person telling the story is a flawed character, but the thing is, people probably, quite naturally, think it's me.”
As for the album’s musical variety, Walsh noted that if he writes a song that sounds like something he’s already done, he will try to change it up. He also noted that he’s never a “big love song kind of guy,” adding, “It's not that I have anything against them – I've written a few. It's just that it's been done so many times that I'm always looking for something a little bit different to write about.”
As with many musicians, the pandemic forced Walsh to change course last year, so he shifted from regularly gigging to posting a series of several dozen solo performance videos online. He also had the time to learn how to use the recording software he had been tinkering with for years.
“I spent a lot of time working on recording engineering skills – I went through a 72-lesson tutorial on YouTube,” Walsh said. He even attempted to master the album but realized that was a job better left to the more-experienced Hunter, who also mastered the Beauchesnes album.
As always, Walsh is grateful for having a chance to once again work with his daughter, Maddy.
“It's hard to describe the pride, and I’ve tried to do that with people before,” he said. “I mean, I'm more proud of her than I am about anything that I do, and it's a rare joy to be able to sing with her.
“You know, we didn't really sing together much through her childhood. She didn’t really start singing until she was in high school. And then the first performance that we did together was at her graduation, when I played the guitar for her for the song ‘Landslide.’ And there wasn't a dry eye in the house.”
That relationship ramped up this year, when Madd Daddy become the main outlet for the pair, as Maddy’s Blind Spots only played a few gigs while she worked to release her debut solo album, “Humanmade Thing,” which came out in November.
“It was basically based on demand,” Ted noted. “We usually would only play a couple of times a year, but this year venues were looking for smaller acts. So by the end of this year, I think we’ll have done about 18 shows, which is way more than we usually do.”
Continuing to draw on those family ties, Walsh had planned to celebrate the release of “Historical Fiction” Friday, Dec. 17, at Hopshire Farm and Brewery in Dryden as part of his almost-annual Ted Walsh Family Christmas Concert, which features a variety of his relatives and bandmates joining in the festivities throughout the evening. But with covid cases increasing in Tompkins County this week, he has just decided to cancel the show, and hopes to reschedule it for May 2022.
"This was a tough call, but I feel relieved now that we've made it," Walsh said Wednesday afternoon.
To learn more about Walsh’s many musical projects, or to order the new CD, check out his new website.