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CHRISTINE ALBERT - EVERYTHING'S BEAUTIFUL NOW    

The Alternate Root - by Donna Marie Miller - October 24, 2014

Christine Albert’s serene expression masks a life torn by personal violence and loss. Her spiritual calm on stage seems to transcend memories of surviving rape and also being struck down by a drunk driver along a dark stretch of Texas highway. The original songs on her first solo album in 20 years, "Everything’s Beautiful Now", express messages of hope and renewal. As a result, her Austin audience attending the CD release party at the Strange Brew Sept. 25 felt lifted up and transported to an ethereal space created without walls or religious dogma.

Albert wrote or co-wrote six of the songs on the new album. Like her “Flower of the Moon” song co-written with her husband, Chris Gage, Albert illuminates the darkest moments in life as a time for growth and for transformation.

     “I believe in the holiness of whatever comes my way/and I’ve learned not to resist the urge to pray...”

“Moon flowers blossom at night. I was going through a period where I was not sleeping well. I had a lot of insomnia and I finally connected it with my own delayed post-traumatic stress disorder,” she said in a recent interview. Though she prefers that listeners find whatever message speaks to them inside her song lyrics, her personal story enhances them.

Albert survived a rape by an intruder in her Santa Fe, New Mexico home in the middle of the night in 1981. She moved to Austin less than a year later. In 1986, she survived being hit by a car along a highway outside San Antonio while the person standing immediately beside her died instantly. “My truck had broken down along the highway in San Antonio and a couple of really nice 17-year-old kids stopped to help me. They were best friends, two boys. While we were standing there, a drunk driver going 75 miles an hour and swerving from one lane to another swerved right into us,” she said. “I was thrown across the highway and the person I was talking to was killed instantly. The other young man was injured, but survived.”

Today Albert forms the other half of a personal and professional musical partnership known as Albert & Gage that in 2009 released the album, "Dakota Lullaby", with songs written 35 years ago by South Dakota singer/songwriter Tom Peterson. The 61-year old Peterson is writing again and Albert included two new songs, “On That Beautiful Day,” and
“My Heart’s Prayer,” for her current album.

Her new CD release represents a musical communion with Albert’s, Gage’s and Peterson’s creative muses along with a couple of famous friends and her son, Troupe Gammage. Gammage joins his mom to sing on the Shake Russell and Dana Cooper song, “Lean My Way,” in a harmonious mother and son duet best explained by common DNA. Troupe, a keyboardist and singer/songwriter in his own right as a member of the band, SPEAK, will open shows on tour for the popular Indie band, RAC, over the next several weeks and he will also be part of the RAC show as their featured vocalist. He is the son of Ernie Gammage, Albert’s first husband and also a local singer and musician who formerly fronted the band Ernie Sky and the K-Tels.

Her son also sings background vocals on Albert’s version of the Jackson Browne song, “For A Dancer,” along with other SPEAK band members, Nick Hurt and Joey Delahoussaye. Both songs imbibe a spirit of wisdom shared from one person to another. However, all the songs on the album feel purposefully chosen by Albert. Local legendary singers and songwriters Jerry Jeff Walker and Eliza Gilkyson joined Albert on “Old New Mexico,” a song she co-wrote with Walker that tells the story of her move from Santa Fe to Austin in 1982. Gilkyson adds her voice to the track appropriately as the two became close friends more than 40 years ago in New Mexico and moved to Austin about the same time.

At 59 years old, Albert has found her spiritual voice. The album’s theme also remarkably exemplifies a mission statement for the nonprofit organization she founded, Swan Songs. The group fulfills musical last wishes for individuals at the end of life. Albert also chairs the Board of Trustees for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) that recognizes musicians for excellence at the famous GRAMMY awards annually. The Recording Academy, headquartered in Santa Monica, California since 1957, has 12 chapters located all over the country including Texas. The Recording Academy pays Albert’s expenses for traveling back and forth to L.A. but the job is a volunteer position and demands sacrifice from her since it takes away time spent performing and shared with her husband and son. Her two-year term of office ends next May (2015).

The year 2005 represents a hallmark year for Albert. That’s the year she reinvented herself both by founding Swan Songs and by running for a position on the Recording Academy’s Texas Chapter board, which ultimately led to her national leadership position. Those two decisions followed a traumatic year in 2004 when Gage underwent back surgery and could not work for a while. She and Gage together also own MoonHouse Studio in South Austin and much of their work is interrelated. While her husband recovered from surgery, Albert carried the financial burden as neither of them owned disability insurance.

The Austin community rallied to create a benefit; MusiCares also helped the couple during the first month of Gage’s recovery from back surgery. “That experience changed me. I was so moved by what our community and MusiCares did for us and I wanted to give back and make sure that support continued for other musicians,” she said.  Albert and close friend Gaea Logan had informally begun organizing concerts for terminally ill patients in the early 1990s. By 2005
Albert was inspired to formalize the program. She chose the name, filed the paperwork, and it became an official 501(c)(3). Today Swan Songs offers each musician an honorarium to perform private concerts to fulfill the wishes of a recipient. In this way, the organization supports the music community as well as the patients and their families. Either one of her non-paying roles could suffice as a full-time job.

“I never get up in the morning and say ‘I wonder what I should do today.’ I always have long lists of things that I can’t put off,” she said. “When they’ve been put on the back burner long enough and finally make it to the front, I say ‘Today’s the day for this.’” Albert wrote the lyrics for the title track off the album, “Everything’s Beautiful Now,” after caring for Gage’s mom, Darleen Gage, during her final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The couple moved Darleen from her home in South Dakota to a facility in Buda in 2010. Then at age 87 she died in June of 2012.

Albert first heard the lyrics for her song, “Everything’s Beautiful Now,” in some of the last words Darleen spoke before she slowly slipped away. She said ‘I’m ready but I don’t think I can say anymore goodbyes.’ I think that was the thing that was holding her back. Then she said ‘I’ve had to say goodbye to so many people in my life, I just don’t know if I can face saying the goodbye part,’” Albert said. “I was really struck by that.” The song’s lyrics represent a combination of both Albert’s and her mother-in-law’s perceptions on life and death and grieving.  Albert has said goodbye to several people in her life over the past five years including her dear friend and fellow musician, the late Sarah Elizabeth Campbell. The two performed together every Monday known as “Mystery Monday” at El Mercado South in Austin for a year before Campbell’s death in December of 2013.  “When we started “Mystery Monday” we didn’t know Sarah was going to be so sick and that we were going to lose her. Then we didn’t know about Steven Fromholz, Larry Monroe, and countless other friends we lost. Every time we went to that gig, we were mourning someone else from the Austin music community,” she said. “It became a lot more than just a gig; it became a gathering place for our community to be together and to express musically what we were going through. It still is. In the last few weeks we’ve lost even more good friends.”

At weekly shows at El Mercado South, fans seem deeply connected to the musicians on stage, as the room remains uncommonly silent throughout the performances. Before 2013 Campbell also sang Monday nights at Artz Rib House and before that at La Zona Rosa. Some of Austin’s finest musical citizens including Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Marcia Ball and Toni Price have graced the El Mercado South stage in recent years, reminiscent of the days they performed Wednesdays at Threadgill’s North from the 1970s through the 1990s. When musicians gather for “Mystery Monday” at El Mercado South, their kinship extends beyond each singular performance.  Unscripted and unpretentious, band members baptize listeners in a wash of emotions.

Another tune on her album, Warren Zevon’s song, “Keep Me in Your Heart,” provides a sad goodbye. She never had the chance to meet Zevon before the rock singer/songwriter died in 2003, but she fell in love with his lyrics. Albert discovered Zevon’s song through their mutual friend and a vocalist with the Greezy Wheels band, Lissa Hattersley, who posted the lyrics on her Facebook page in a gesture of condolence following the death of Albert’s father.  Hattersley also recorded her 2009 solo album "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" in Albert and Gage’s recording studio and Chris co-produced it.

Another song, “Little One,” Albert wrote about a female friend before the lyrics slowly evolved into a dialogue with her son, Troupe, and later a mantra she had often spoken to herself. “’Little One’ refers to anyone who is in an embryonic stage of waking up to the world, especially a spiritual world; anyone who needs to find their direction, their strength, and their clarity again,” Albert said.

     “Wake up Little One/feel the warmth of the rising sun/wake up Little One to who you can become...”

Albert said she practices Buddhist mindfulness and meditation techniques, but she does not ascribe to any specific religion. Meditative practices led her to the song, “At Times Like These,” which Albert initially wrote in 2009 for her sister Linda who lost both her husband and a grandson within a few months. Another song, “Someday Isle,” Albert wrote with Kira Small, a former Austin singer and songwriter, who now lives in Nashville and performs studio session work and sings harmony [with Martina McBride on tour.]

“When Kira and I started writing it, we were inspired by the common phrase, ‘Someday I’ll do this,’ and ‘Someday I’ll do that’ when we realized by saying that, you’re always keeping yourself at a distance from what you want to do or from what your dreams are and there’s an isolation to it,” she said. “So we used the play on words, ‘Someday Isle.’ It’s that place ‘over there’ when we say ‘I’ll do it --later.’”

Albert experienced some of the darkest times of her life all within a span of five years from 1981 until 1986. In 1995, she met the love of her life, Chris Gage, after seeing him perform with Gilmore on stage at Bass Concert Hall as part of “The Broken Spoke Concert Series,” offered by the University of Texas at Austin’ Performing Arts Center. The couple later married on May 10, 2003. She recorded her last solo singer/songwriter album "Underneath the Lone [Star] Sky" in 1995 although she continued releasing the bilingual French/English "TexaFrance" series as well as six Albert and Gage collaborations.  "Everything’s Beautiful Now" is her 12th release.

“This album had more of a theme for me. When choosing the songs, there was something about it that was almost spiritual – what I was trying to say, why I was recording it, and the process was so personal,” she said. “I wanted to hold these songs in a little sacred space for myself and to help others find that through the music.”

Albert hopes the album “makes a statement” as a whole and is interested in performing the songs live in churches and other places of worship. “I think these songs fit in a more contemplative thoughtful environment and they could be helpful to people in that regard,” she said. “It’s also a way to spread the word about Swan Songs’ mission. I didn’t consciously set out to do that, but this album really does express what Swan Songs’ mission is all about.”