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Joel Thetford and band shine on ‘Broken Things’ EP

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The cover image from Joel Thetford's "Broken Things" album. The cover image from Joel Thetford's "Broken Things" album. (photo courtesy Lauryn Hottinger)

Americana singer and songwriter Joel Thetford and his band entered Halo Studio in Windham last October with a mission to record a truly collaborative project with producer Jonathan Wyman. The resulting “Broken Things” is Thetford’s third and most impressive EP to date.

“I’m excited for people to hear these new songs,” Thetford said during a recent phone interview. “I have some very talented people in my band and this was a real collaboration with everyone contributing ideas, including the songwriting.”

“Broken Things” opens with the title track, a song about a relationship that had taken a detour, a consistent theme for the Texas-born, Maine-based Thetford.

The song unintentionally conjures a mood and sound reminiscent of Jeff Tweedy’s pre-Wilco outfit Uncle Tupelo. “Broken Things” was originally recorded in stripped-down form for Thetford’s debut EP “Here I Go” in 2015, featuring backing from Thetford’s roommates in the Mallett Brothers Band.

Sustaining the theme with “Come Home,” Thetford’s emotional vocal, combined with Nate Soule’s (formerly of the Mallett Brothers Band) lead guitar, work in tandem with some gorgeous pedal steel, to deliver this song about pulling the plug on a long-distance relationship.

“She was a very special lady,” Thetford explained. “She had to move out of state but it was supposed to be temporary.”

Thetford and Soule co-wrote the catchy “Like You,” a highlight of this project. It’s a prime example of a song where the writing, performance and recording work in tandem to create a superior track. When I mentioned that fact to Thetford during our interview, he was quick to credit Soule for his contribution.

“Nate is one of the best guitar players around and is also a great songwriter,” Thetford said.

“Better Life” is a ‘what if?’ song that came to Thetford very early one morning.

“I go up and started writing,” he said. “The whole thing came to me in about a half hour. I generally write at night so this was a little unusual. I felt strongly about the idea presented in this song. A lot of folks wonder if it would be a better life no matter what you do. I think everybody can relate to that.”

Soule’s lead guitar emphasizes Thetford’s speculative lyrics on this slow-burning waltz.

“Whiskey,” sung by bassist Ian Riley, closes the EP with comic relief and is destined to become a crowd favorite when Thetford and his band perform these songs live this spring and summer.

“Ian wrote this song and it just made sense for him to sing it,” Thetford said. “It’s his first lead vocal and he was pretty nervous but Jon [producer Wyman] put him at ease.”

“I don’t know how many glasses I’ve swallowed this week,” Riley sings. “But this whiskey keeps swallowing me.” The entire band joins in on backing vocals and handclaps.

The EP’s striking cover image by photographer Lauryn Hottinger features Thetford with his guitar standing on a walkway surrounded by a wetland.

“That was taken at Scarborough Marsh,” Thetford said. “She’s an amazing photographer and I think it’s a great shot.”

“Broken Things” was mastered by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering in Portland.

Thetford is grateful to be surrounded with stellar musicians and a producer who instinctively knows how to best present his songs.

“Jon Wyman really took control and helped with the arrangements,” Thetford said of his producer. He came up with some great ideas in terms of instrumentation and where they should appear in the songs. He’s an amazing producer, just a wonderful person, and a great cook too (laughs).”

“Broken Things” is available for immediate download on iTunes for $3.99 and will be released on CD in May. Thetford and his band plan to perform the new songs live at a CD release party (date and location TBA), and will also appear at the All Roads Music Festival in Belfast on May 19.

“I hope people will listen to it and enjoy the ride,” said Thetford. “When I listen to music by other people, I sometimes reflect on my own life. Good songs will do that for you and I hope these songs give people a chance to do that.”

“Broken Things” is an exceptional collection of songs from an artist who keeps getting better with each release.

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