Hawaii’s Award-Winning Vocalist, Pianist, and Songwriter Maggie Herron’s Sixth Album, Your Refrain, is a gorgeous, witty, heart-bearing set of original songs written with her late daughter, Dawn Herron, to whom she dedicates the album.
Recorded during the shelter in place order, the album features a dazzling cast of collaborators, including pianist Larry Goldings, guitarist Larry Koonse, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, and arrangers Geoffrey Keezer, Gillian Margot, and Bill Cunliffe
Pianist, Maggie Herron’s 2019 project, Renditions, won the Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award for Jazz Album Of The Year. The album revealed the jazz-steeped singer/songwriter as a beguiling interpreter of standards. Her poignantly enthralling new album Your Refrain was released on her Herron Song Records label and captures a creatively charged mother-and-daughter communion cut short by tragedy.
A luminous presence on Hawaii’s jazz scene for more than four decades, Herron has earned national renown as a gifted singer/songwriter. Less known is that she collaborated with her daughter, lyricist Dawn Herron, on many of her songs. They were in the midst of a fruitful patch of writing when a bicycle accident took Dawn’s life on April 5, 2020. She was 49 and left a husband and two teenage sons. Deep in mourning and on pandemic-induced hiatus from her eight-year tenure as a resident musician in the Halekulani Hotel-Waikiki, Herron decided to channel her love and grief into recording her recent collaborations with Dawn.
The title track, “Your Refrain,” is a powerful song about loss, but the album is brimming with life, wit, and humor. The opening track, “WhatNot,” is a bluesy ode to melancholy, featuring the brilliant pianist Larry Goldings and the superb, well-traveled tandem of bassist David Enos and drummer John Ferraro. The trio accompanies Herron on the hilarious “He Can’t Even Lay An Egg,” a sly piece of funk on which Dawn puts a fowl spin on the war of the sexes, and “I Can’t Seem to Find My Man,” a playfully wry piece that combines Frishbergian detail with Lennon and McCartney tunefulness.
The great Los Angeles saxophonist Bob Sheppard contributes exquisite soprano sax work on “Watching the Crows,” an uncommonly poetic affirmation about attaining insight into oneself. On first hearing of that song earlier this year, with Maggie backing herself on piano, Dawn told her, “mom, it’s my favorite collaboration to date”.
Maggie had spent years coaxing her daughter to work on songs together. “Dawn had been writing short stories and poems most of her life and I kept asking her to write lyrics for me. I knew she would be great at it. With this newest release we now have 19 songs recorded as co-writers,” Herron says.
The first two songs they wrote together were the romantic love song “Je T’aimerais”, arranged by Geoffrey Keezer, and “Le Printemps est Arrivé” where Dawn drew on her fluency in French. It is a graceful piece Maggie recorded with trumpet star Rick Braun, who also joined her on vocals. Both songs are on her 2014 album Good Thing.
Your Refrain draws from Maggie’s deep pool of musical friends on the West Coast. Piano maestro Geoffrey Keezer and vocalist Gillian Margot arranged “In Case Of Love,” a clever set of directions for newly fallen lovers. Margot and Brandon Winbush provide the lush vocal harmonies, while guitar great Larry Koonse adds some typically incisive fretwork. Another piano master, Bill Cunliffe, arranged and plays on the sensuous, aching ballad “Touch,” which also features ace studio guitarist Jim Chiodini. And the album’s title track, the devastating “Your Refrain,” features gorgeous strings played and arranged by Duane Padilla, a jazz compatriot of Herron’s from the Hawaii jazz scene.
She also includes two standards. Joined by her regular bassist Dean Taba, Herron delivers Billie Holiday’s classic “God Bless the Child” complete with a soul-steeped tenor solo by Bob Sheppard. She included Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which also features Taba, as a testament to her daughter’s influence, noting that “Dawn was a huge fan of Joni’s”.
Music has been a constant companion for Herron almost since she could walk. Born the ninth of 12 children in Muskegon, Michigan, she was something of a prodigy, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Muskegon Symphony Orchestra at 13. She earned a scholarship to Interlochen Center for the Arts at 14, placing in the top five finalists in their piano concerto competition. Herron’s high school years were filled with music as she continued her classical studies in piano and voice, performing in recitals and concerts, talent shows, and musical theater productions. But feeling stifled by her conservative family and longing for freedom, she hit the road with her boyfriend after graduation in 1969. Dawn was born during these adventures. Herron, still in her teens, hitchhiked across the country more than a few times with her infant riding in her carrier backpack. In many ways, they grew up together and were best friends and soul mates.
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