Like many people, Greg Loiacono found himself at loose ends during the Covid lockdown. He should be familiar to Bay Area music lovers for his work with The Mother Hips, a band with a wide-open musical approach that incorporates folk, country, roots and rock into their signature style. During the band’s down time, Loiacono’s a solo artist, with three albums to his name. He put the finishing touches on his latest solo effort, Giving It All Away, during the uncertain days of the pandemic.
“My last album, Mystic Traces, was released at the height of the shut down,” Loiacono said. “I was planning on doing shows and putting a band together. I couldn’t play live, so I did live streams from my home, once a week. I had an audience and was able to sell the LPs through two pressings. People supported it, even though I wasn’t playing shows. I usually don’t do a lot of touring with my solo projects. The Hips, producing albums for other artists and my job as an addiction counselor take up most of my time.
“I’m a freelance worker, so I put on workshops in facilities all around Marin and Sonoma, using music as therapy. Being in treatment is about expressing your feelings, but when people are asked directly, ‘How do you feel?’ they’re often unable to communicate them. When music is involved, it’s a lot easier to be in your feelings, even if you don’t know what they are. Seeing people using music as a tool for emotional work, or for feeling less anxious, is an inspiration.
“During the downtime, I started putting out singles. I recorded them in my home studio and with a band at Coyote Hearing Studios in Oakland. I sent them to my friend, Scott Hirsch, to mix, remotely. He produced Mystic Traces. One of the songs was ‘What Can I Say,’ something I wrote during the pandemic. The vocal is all falsetto. I used vintage ribbon mics to get a warm tone.
“I was listening to a lot of old heartbreak music from the early and late ’60s and early ’70s—Stax, Memphis soul, Motown, a bit of doo-wop. They influenced the song. It didn’t deal directly with Covid, but there was a general feeling of concern and fear of the unknown in the air, what with the global health crises—not even talking about the whole political mess we’re in. I tend to lean towards sad songs and melancholy music in general, so it was all in there. Scott said, ‘Let’s do a whole record in that style.’ I pulled out some old songs I had, wrote some new ones and picked a couple of covers that lent themselves to this soulful R&B style.”
The music’s deep groove is evident on every track, with Loiacono putting his own spin on the sounds coming out of Memphis and Detroit in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “Giving It All Away” opens the album with Eisenberg’s smoky B3 laying down a poignant backdrop, on top of a smooth, mid-tempo pulse. Loiacono sings in a mellow falsetto that adds a kick to the slick vocal hook.
Eisenberg’s triplets on grand piano and Schools’ bass create the illusion of a doo-wop vocal group on “Mister G,” an R&B tune that gives Loiacono a chance to dig in and deliver a tearful plea for love and understanding. Urbano’s drumming adds a New Orleans accent to the Stax/Volt thump of “Even Though I Lost.” The lyrics describe the power of music to heal a broken heart, with a touch of cynical humor.
“I wanted most of the words to be as straightforward as the music,” Loiacono said. “I was talking about love, heartbreak and happiness, but I didn’t want to use too much esoteric language. I like to play with words and come up with complex combinations that sound good together. This time, I went with plain, powerful language, with minimal use of similes and metaphors. I wanted to use simple language to guide you through complex emotions.”
Loiacono and his band will play selections from Giving It All Away on August 12 at The Sweetwater, 19 Corte Madera Ave, Mill Valley (sweetwatermusichall.com); on August 13th at Harlow’s Nightclub, 2708 J St, Sacramento (Harlows.com); on August 19th at Michael’s on Main, 2591 Main Street, Soquel (michaelsonmain.info) and August 20th at the Chico Women’s Club, 592 East 3rd Street, Chico, (chicowomensclub.org)
The album will be released by Blue Rose Records on August 12th.