These days, Mark Jewett feels immensely grateful.
The Plymouth Americana singer-songwriter remains thankful for a supportive family, an introspective new album, The Lucky One, and a Dec. 3 headlining show at Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre.
“When I look back on it, I still feel like gratitude is the theme. ‘The Lucky One,’ ‘Warren Zevon’s Birthday’ and ‘Sophia’ have threads of gratitude that run through them. Then, there’s some curious pondering of things, like ‘The Only Thing,’ and ‘Voices’ is a little bit mystical,” said Jewett, who recently retired after a long career in program management.
“Yeah, I think almost everybody can probably relate to it in some way, but ‘Guilty’ is the outlier, and I have a fondness for dark music.”
Whether dark or uplifting, Jewett’s insightful music beckons listeners to reflect on their life’s purpose, their favorite moments and the people who surround them. His third release, The Lucky One, provides a thoughtful, folky passage through time across nine astute, indelible tracks.
“There have been a lot of changes in recent years that have caused me to step back and think, ‘Wow, it doesn’t seem like it’s been very long since that happened,’ or ‘Wow, it seems like it’s been forever since that happened,’” Jewett said. “And how you get both of those feelings about similar events, it’s just kind of mysterious to me.”
The Only Thing, Voices and Sophia
Jewett closely examines the perception of time on “The Only Thing,” a ruminative country ballad that elicits deep reflection and instant appreciation.
Gleaming pedal steel, churning acoustic strums, wistful electric guitar and tranquil bass surround Jewett and Amy Petty as they sing, “Time is a thief and a giver of grace/Time draws battle lines and lines on your face/Lines that tell a story/Every heartache and glory.”
“It’s the mystery around how people perceive time. Some people say time isn’t real; it’s a construct that we created to try to understand it. And there are theories that everything is happening all at the same time,” he said.
“It’s also about the effect time has on people and how time draws battle lines on your face. I’ve seen relationships kind of fall apart, and it happened over time. It takes its toll.”
In addition to time, Jewett explores the power of intuition and the need for an inner monologue on “Voices.” Hypnotic acoustic guitar, somber violin, airy bass and soft drums slowly awaken sleeping giants inside the mind as Jewett sings, “Voices/I hear voices/They tell me not to worry/Everything will be okay/They tell me not to hurry/Not to wish the time away.”
“I was on the phone talking to Amy Petty, and I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do for the last one.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry; you’ve got ideas running around in that head.’ I said, ‘Yeah, they’re like little voices,’ and at that instant, I thought, ‘OK, that’s the idea – the voices,’” Jewett said.
“This one just kind of unfolded, and I did a demo at home, and it was one where the effects were over the top with floaty, echoey voices. I played the demo for Billy (Harrington) and Amy, and they said, ‘You’ve got something.’ As we finished the skeleton of the song, I thought, ‘What do we need to put in here as a featured solo instrument?’ It’s got to be something that feels kind of fluid.”
Jewett quickly landed on violin as the instrument of choice and collaborated with acclaimed violinist Sonia Lee on “Voices.”
“She killed it all in a matter of a couple hours, and she brought some new ideas. We wanted her to shred a solo in that spot, and she does some parts where there’s an ambient pad and some other effects. Then, she wanted to do something with these little harmonics, and we captured that. We applied some more effects to those things, and they really gave it that spacey feel,” Jewett said.
Jewett beautifully returns to earth on the hopeful, lullaby-esque album closer, “Sophia,” which pays tribute to his two-year-old granddaughter of the same name. Serene acoustic strums glide alongside Jewett as he proudly sings, “Sophia came in her own time/In no hurry to proceed/She and her mama traveled everywhere together/Mama satisfied her every need.”
“She’s really fulfilling the prophecies in the song. The verses are all true and so are the choruses. I never wanted anything more for my own daughter than for her to just be strong and independent,” Jewett said.
“A couple of weeks ago, I had a copy of my CD on a bookstand because I was taking things from the liner notes for promo work. Soph got up from a nap, and she came into my office, and she pointed to it and said, ‘Papa’s song.’”
The Strategic Advisors
For his latest release, Jewett invited a host of talented Michigan-based collaborators to help shape it over a two-year period (due to pandemic delays) at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording.
Producer-drummer Billy Harrington, Michael Harrington (pedal steel, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and electric bass), Ken Pesick (upright bass, electric upright bass and electric bass) and Petty (harmony and background vocals) serve as Jewett’s self-appointed “Strategic Advisors” on the album.
“It’s been a real natural feeling working together. They get everything that I’m thinking,” Jewett said.
Along with Lee (violin), Jewett also included two special “Guest Advisors” on The Lucky One – Dale Grisa (piano, organ and Wurlitzer piano) and Jason Dennie (mandolin).
“Everybody who played is just so good at what they do. The whole idea was to sketch out some song structures and ideas, communicate the feeling and let people do what they want to do,” Jewett said.
“We were on pause a few times for various reasons at the worst of the surges. Then, there were other times where we had to skip a week or two. But in retrospect, I’m glad it worked out that way because it gave me something to look forward to during all those months when there was nothing else to look forward to.”
In the meantime, Jewett and his Strategic Advisors – Billy Harrington, Michael Harrington, Pesick, Grisa and Petty – are looking forward to a long-awaited Dec. 3 headlining show at Livonia’s Trinity House Theatre with Ypsilanti rock-country-soul singer-songwriter Adam Plomaritas.
“They all know how to serve a song and pick up on the sentiment and the dynamics without much instruction. In about 35 minutes of music, I probably gave four to six seconds of specific instructions on what I wanted in a certain place and let it grow layer by layer,” said Jewett with a laugh.
“Trinity House is a great place to connect with an audience because they’re right there. There are some songs that we’ll be doing and others we could do when you don’t even need amplification. It’s been an important venue and community for my own development, and there are many songs that I took their first test flight there.”
In the meantime, Jewett plans to write and test-flight new material, including a potential EP. “From here on out, I’m tempted to do things in smaller, thematic bites, like an EP of five songs. No concrete plans yet, just some crazy ideas,” he said.
Mark Jewett & The Strategic Advisors with Adam Plomaritas
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3
Trinity House Theatre, 38840 Six Mile Road in Livonia