Summer-Winter is a band from Pittsburgh, PA that features Terry O’Hara and several contributing musicians from Pittsburgh and NYC. The music that results is mature, nuanced, and beautiful. On Terry’s most recent album – Bewildered – the influence of bands like Mojave 3 simply can’t be overlooked. The album is gentle in its langour, and recalls introspective moments of sitting on someone’s back porch and sipping whiskey deep into the twilight. Perhaps even more compelling, however, is the path that this album took to arrive into the world. A journey that its simple disclaimer – “The second album from Summer-Winter, Bewildered, was feverishly written in a week during dreamlike spells of insomnia.” – doesn’t really capture. Let’s take a look…
It’s a common enough observation that music is an expression of the soul. In Terry’s case, the amazing story of his own survival and perseverance really shines through in his music. Here’s how his bio describes his journey:
Orphaned in Northern Ireland at a young age, Terry O’Hara was sent to a distant aunt’s residence on the outskirts of Galway Town. Though she was an alcoholic and floozy, she loved music and went through musicians like the whiskey. She often had musician boyfriends to the ramshackle house, and O’Hara would come in from the fields to try his hand at all sorts of instruments.
After the death of his aunt, and following a series of low-paying, arduous jobs full of back-breaking consciousness, O’Hara found himself in Pittsburgh, yet he was aloof from the tight-knit music scene, talented and dominated by indie pop music. Nationwide, men and women with beards and high end flannel shirts took up guitars and glockenspiels and sang epic harmonies involving epiphanies, redemption, and triumph. Bands sprouted up with animal names like Bear and Deer. Pop music responded to and reflected an inevitable cultural shift towards alienation and superfluity with catchy choruses and vacuous smiles.
Meanwhile, O’Hara, ever engrossed in banalities, was victimized in a brutal mugging while collaborating with unknown street artists in Baltimore, and given less than a month to live by ER physicians–it was inaccurately reported in the local paper that he had died. His convalescence was spent reading Sherwood Anderson, disabling televisions, shaking anxiety, and experimenting with minor chord folk songs. Struck dumb by the falsities in his life, like the recording of music versus simply playing guitar under a telephone pole, and feeling death was tracking him down, O’Hara, hyper-aware of the cliche, rented a dilapidated shack in northern, rural Pennsylvania to escape the tedium of everyday existence and play music most of the time, except to do menial jobs for his curious, rustic, and salt of the earth neighbors. This was one of the few times O’Hara felt embraced by life as he was drawn into the interior of the seasons and of words and music. Locals would stop by unannounced, often at strange hours, to catch a glimpse of this unkempt recluse who seemed absorbed in vague dreams.
Which brings us to the music. Bewildered is breathtaking in its simplicity. It is an album that balances on fuzzy textures and vocals that seem to float across the landscape like wisps of fog in the early morning. And yet, for all that softness, it’s an album that carries a world of experience, and a lifetime of raw living, in its clutches.
As I write this, Bewildered is playing, and I honestly have to keep stopping what I’m doing to close my eyes and let the sounds take me away. It’s that kind of album, really, and it’s just perfect for a time of year when the air turns crisp, the days turn shorter, and the night sky seems to widen and settle above the rooftops.
Of course, rather than have me tell you all these fanciful things, I can show you! Terry has graciously sent along two tracks – “Shine” and “Tricks,” which are below. If you like what you hear, consider buying a copy over at Bandcamp, or visiting Terry and Co. on Myspace. You can also hear and learn a bit more over at NPR’s Second Stage.
And here’s “Tricks:”
And here’s Bewildered: