Archive for Thursday, January 7, 1999


January 7, 1999


The New York singer-songwriter began his musical career later than most -- at age 27.

Singer-songwriter Richard Shindell's career is built on breaks.

First, Richard Meyer, an editor for Fast Folk Musical Magazine, included a few of Shindell's songs on a compilation album that received some radio time and caught the attention of Shanachie Entertainment. In 1992, five years after Shindell wrote his first song, he signed a recording contract.

Then in 1996, Mark Spector, manager for legendary folk singer-songwriter Joan Baez, suggested to his client that she consider Shindell's songs for her next CD. Baez was taken with Shindell's "Fishing," about a Customs official who intimidates an immigrant, and asked him to compose a song specifically for her. To date, Baez has recorded three of Shindell's songs and invited him to appear at several of her concerts.

"Dar Williams has helped my career, too," he said, adding that he and Williams met "years ago in Massachusetts" while appearing on the same radio show. Today, they have the same manager and tour together.

In May, Shindell and Williams teamed with fellow singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky to record "Cry, Cry, Cry," a CD chock-full of their versions of songs by other writers. Included are REM's "Fall on Me," James Keelaghan's "Cold Missouri Waters," Ron Sexsmith's "Speaking With the Angel," Robert Earl Keen's "Shades of Gray" and Greg Brown's "Oh Lord I Have Made You A Place In My Heart."

"We recorded it in Pawlings, N.Y., in a studio on top of a mountain," Shindell said during a recent phone interview. "It was a minor miracle that we were in the same place at the same time."

Because each of the performers was dealing with heavy touring schedules, he said, the trio deferred all musical arrangement and studio production duties to producer Darleen Wilson, co-producer-arranger Alan Williams and arranger Larry Campbell.

"I had nothing to do but waltz in and record the vocals and guitar parts," Shindell said.

The trio began a 30-city tour on Dec. 1 to promote the new CD. After playing the West and East coasts, they headed to the Midwest and will play Tuesday night at Liberty Hall, 644 Mass.

"The reception has been great, the reviews have been positive," said Shindell, who previously visited Lawrence in the fall of 1997 to perform with Williams.

Shindell, the oldest of four children, grew up in New Jersey and was raised in Port Washington on Long Island, where his father worked in the investment banking field and sang in the church choir and later the Baltimore Symphony Chorus. While in college, his father was in the chorus for the American premiere of Orff's "Carmina Burana."

"I grew up listening to him in church. He never sang the melody, always the baritone part and counter melodies," he said. "I would listen and try to weave between the two of them. That's how I got through long church services."

Shindell played guitar throughout high school and college. He graduated from Robart College in Geneva, N.Y., in 1983 and traveled through Europe and lived in Paris for six months. In September 1986, he enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan and studied there until 1989.

"I'm not so much religious today, but it still influences my lyrics. A searching quality comes out in my songs," he said. "I was not a clergy-bound person. It was more a vague questing that led me to go there. It was not a serious vocation. It's not so different now; (songwriting is) just a different way to search."

Shindell wrote his first song, "On a Sea of Fleur-de-Lis," while at the seminary.

"Since I was a kid, I always thought of myself as a musician but never a lyricist. I wrote my first lyrics when I was 27. I enjoy it, but it's work," he said. "Guitar is just fun; guitar is like a toy. It's not a struggle to come up with the melodies -- but there's nothing wrong with work."

Now he finds himself toiling over lyrics in planes, cars and hotel rooms. With three children under the age of 11, he has little time to write while at home.

"I'm a deadline person," he said. "I'm constantly coming up with ideas, but I have to chain myself to a chair to come up with the requisite number of songs (for a recording or show)."

In addition to "Cry, Cry, Cry," Shindell has three solo albums -- "Sparrows Point," "Blue Divide" and "Reunion Hill." In April or May, he will record a new, yet untitled CD with Campbell as producer.

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is

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