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The Romance of Summer: Donnelly & Richardson’s The Gift & The Rock

by Rebecca M. Alvin

“I don’t know how people do radio, where you talk and you don’t know if people are laughing or not,” says Peter Donnelly, one half of the performing duo Donnelly & Richardson. We’re talking about the past few months when musicians and other performers had to resort to virtual shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, eliminating that certain energy that is only created live, onstage with an audience in real life. But beginning Friday, July 31, at the Crown & Anchor, Donnelly & Richardson will kick off a weekly live show with the release party for their new CD The Gift & The Rock.

Although the duo may be livestreaming their shows again later in the season or in the fall, the live connection is an important one for a performer. “We’re so relieved to get back in front of an audience,” Donnelly says. Jon Richardson concurs, saying, “Being onstage with Peter, and our relationships with the audiences that we were building in Ptown, that was something I missed dreadfully. And I didn’t realize it until it didn’t really exist anymore.”

Donnelly and Richardson met on the street here in town when a mutual friend suggested they might want to connect since they were both musicians and songwriters. Donnelly has been performing in Provincetown for three decades and has recorded three CDs on his own, as well as performing and recording with other musicians (he also works for Provincetown Magazine). Richardson came to Provincetown in 2017 and started out as a piano bar musician here after receiving a master’s degree in musicology from the New England Conservatory and working as a business consultant in Boston for a time. They both liked playing the Everly Brothers, according to Richardson, and their musical relationship grew from there.

They recorded a CD of Christmas songs together last year, but The Gift and the Rock is really the first CD they’ve recorded as a songwriting team. That concept of being a songwriting team is something the two have been working on, noting that in reality it isn’t what you think of, where two writers literally write together, in one room, at the same time, bouncing ideas off of one another. Instead, it’s more like an ongoing workshop; each writer will come up with something on his own and then bring it to the other for feedback, which then informs the final creation. And in some cases, knowing each other’s strengths alters the way a song is written. For example, Donnelly says since they have gotten together he’s hearing things differently. “Jon sings a lot of the harmonies, so I actually start to write now for the harmonies,” says Donnelly. He adds that he’s also tried to write with a swing style a la “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” for Richardson, who is delighted by this, saying, “The Andrews Sisters is my ideal sound.”

Although the songs on this CD were written at all different times by two different people who didn’t write them to go together on an album necessarily, there is a certain romantic element that links them: romantic in the sense of being in love, but also the romance of nostalgia. For example, Donnelly’s song “Rockin’ Robin” is about a radio show and references the works of other musicians heard on the radio decades ago. It’s a fun song that conjures up images of youth and summer, and the luxury of just listening to pop music and enjoying it. This album, Donnelly says, was made with an awareness that it would be released in the summer, and so together with that nostalgia and Richardson’s romantic love songs, the overall vibe is light and open. Even a song like “Morning Birds,” with its bittersweet lyrics and harmonies never gets bogged down in any heaviness. The album art itself, created by legendary artist Peter Hutchinson, with its floral imagery and handwritten text in the background lends a poetic air to the collection, with a celebration of the blossoming Earth in summer. The collection of songs has emotional depth and range, but always with an uplift.

Donnelly and Richardson each bring something different to the CD, even as it is a cohesive album. Thinking about Richardson’s style in these particular songs, Donnelly says, “he was on like a Hank Williams jag. So they’re in that style and they’re mournful, country poetic. And he likes to just let his voice whine a bit, it’s like a midnight train singer.” Richardson agrees and says Donnelly’s diverse musical inclinations, ranging from folk (the popular “Raccoon Peggy and Raccoon Pam,” which has never been recorded before) to the more jazz inspired September Moon, which he says, “has a Cape Cod samba feel to it,” adds a different dimension. “[Peter] is more and more interested in rhythms, like different rhythmic styles, whereas I think my songwriting, especially with this, is just coming from a place of trying to get to know the guitar a lot better and feeling more comfortable playing it in the Hank Williams style.”

Richardson’s songs, such as “Still Waiting” and “Make Believe” definitely add an old-style country feel to the album, which is a nice variation, while his “Mighty Mississippi” feels solidly folk, in a Simon & Garfunkel way. In their live shows, they often play covers, much of the time choosing works by female songwriters like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Kacey Musgraves. The pair is drawn to these songs for a variety of reasons.

“They’re so feisty and strong,” Donnelly says. “And they’re so well done.”

And, Richardson adds, “It’s nice as two gay guys, we get to sing the right pronouns because these women were singing about their problems with men.”

Crown & Anchor presents Sunset Sessions, featuring Peter Donnelly & Jon Richardson, poolside, every Friday at 7 p.m. through the summer at 247 Commercial St., Provincetown. Friday, July 31, will be a special CD release party/concert for the new CD The Gift & The Rock. All shows are outside with social distancing. For tickets and information call 508.487.1430 or visit Music can be heard and purchased at #Donnelly and Richardson.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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