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Doug Hewitt: Reviews

Amherst-based multi-instrumentalist Doug Hewitt has a new CD out, “Roots In the Sky.” Seven years in the making, the album kicks off with the tour-de-force “Starshine” — total sunshine pop, bright with brass, a modern descendant of jazzy swinging late-’60s gems like The Spiral Starecase’s “More Today Than Yesterday,” Keith’s “98.6” and hints of Chicago and The Cowsills.
It’s a cosmic collection (“Is it okay to be human?” asks one song) that covers a lot of ground — progressive rock and jazz fusion (“Enceladus”), Toto-esque adult-contemporary pop (the title track), even a breezy reading of the standard “I’ll Remember April” — but a common thread is Hewitt’s penchant for angular chord progressions. He uses a more complex color palette than the typical songsmith.
“Roots In the Sky” is clearly the passionate product of a focused musician, someone trying to do his own thing. “I’ve become impatient with everything sounding the same, with no imagination behind it,” he said in a 2010 interview. “I want every song to be different. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one style.”
Hewitt’s new CD is available direct from the artist at http://doughewitt.net/ — or perhaps at his next show, a free full-band performance at Sam’s Cafe in Northampton on May 17 at 8 p.m.
Doug Hewitt - Roots in the Sky
Written by Wesley Derbyshire
Eight years in the making, Doug Hewitt has surfaced with his latest release “Roots in the Sky.”  Melding jazz and rock, with a clear jazz leaning (no this is not fusion), Hewitt has assembled a vast amount of talent to support this well orchestrated album.  The overall feeling is extremely live placing the listener in front of a stage at an open air music festival.

The opening track may throw some listeners back to early Chicago tunes, with horns blaring, hard hitting drums, and heavy rhythm guitars, yet “Starshine” is uniquely the new Hewitt sound.  For those who have followed his musical career that spans 3 decades will instantly know he is a long way from the sound of his long out of print early releases that were primarily folk, albeit leaning towards jazz.  Roots in the Sky builds on his previous album “Picasso Tomato,” by adding powerful arrangements which feature horns and solos from literally all of the members in the band.  The mix is full and spread wide across the soundstage, consistently giving the listener a wealth of nuances to embrace.

Hewitt invokes a bit of Beatles on the second track “OK to Be Human,” with a strong jazz twist that joyously conveys the songs title.  I noticed how natural the drums sound, which Hewitt maintains throughout the recording.  The snare is light and cymbals are clear without any edginess.  There is a gentle roundness to the bass and the tops lack harshness even for a compact disc derived from a 24bit / 48kHz stereo master, coming extremely close to an analog vinyl sound.

As the album progresses listeners will find many well crafted solos embedded within the lushly arranged pieces.   I especially like “Another Long Wave Goodbye,” where Hewitt pulls out his  acoustic guitar and adds lovely string accompaniments.  He incorporates a subtle reverb that creates a warm deep space from which the music freely flows around you. His voice affectionately calls across the room with over-dubbed backing vocals providing another layer of elegance to this piece.

Later in the album on the seventh track titled “Nothing,” Hewitt pushes the bounds with a really striking rhythm.  By this point it is very evident that Roots in the Sky is by far his best and most accomplished work to date.  In fact it took many years to write, during which he painstakingly notated all the bass, drums, and piano, strings and other parts using Finale, a midi based software notation tool.  He subsequently re-recorded all of these parts with a vast number of local musicians starting in June 2013.

The following magnificent instrumental “Winter’s Bounty” is another fine example of the remarkable detail that has been paid to create this release.  With a Latin feel, the guitar solo harkens back to early Metheny with a tinge of distortion that reminds you that a rock sensibility still exists within these tunes.

But, if you were not sure if there is a rocker inside, “Congratulations” will make it evident that there truly is.  Two guitars arpeggiate the chords  with drums and bass kicking in, with Hewitt’s vocals covering the melody.  The dynamics and variety of the album makes for a wonderful listen.

Capping off the album is the classic jazz tune “I’ll Remember April,” which has been covered numerous times over the years originally finding its popularity in Abbott and Costello’s 1942 comedy Ride 'Em Cowboy.  A fitting close to an album that has the makings of  “must have” written all over it.

Strongly recommended for fans of jazz, followers of Doug Hewitt and any listeners seeking a joyous album that evokes the feeling of spending a Sunday at the park.
CD Review: Doug Hewitt: Roots in the Sky

Produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by: Doug Hewitt at Motif Recording Studio, Amherst, Ma 2014. www.hewittunes.com
Personnel: Doug Hewitt-guitars, bass, keys, percussion, vocals. Mitch Pine-piano, organ. Rudi Weeks-bass. Joe Fitzpatrick-drums. Bill Shontz-alto/tenor sax, clarinet, flute. Frank Newton-alto sax. Michael Akrep-baritone horn. Dave Bilodeau-trumpets, flugelhorn. Stephen Katz-cello. David Tasgal-violin, cello. Arielle Parkington-viola. Megan Rollins-harmony vocals. Danielle Lorenzo-harmony vocals.

Western Massachusetts guitarist/singer Doug Hewitt has put his romantic heart and soul into this most recent offering. Roots in the Sky comprises ten solid jazz/rock originals by Hewitt as well as a lovely rendition of the jazz staple I'll Remember April which is a seamless fit with the rest of the program. For this outing, Hewitt called in a sizable cast of other local professionals to ensure that his compositions would be fully realized. The love and workmanship invested in each tune is evident, the end result being a musically complex yet totally accessible experience for the listener. Different combinations of ensemble players were used throughout, the effect being sustained diversity, color and interest from start to finish.

I spoke to Doug Hewitt during the writing of this piece to get a sense of his creative process. He told me that conceptually this collection has been in the works ever since Picasso Tomato and that he essentially composed the work in its entirety, then negotiated solo space with the players in the studio. He was enthusiastic about the contributions of his players, who both honored his vision for the project while bringing there own creativity to the process.

This was not Mr. Hewitt's first rodeo by any means; he has been writing songs since he first picked up a guitar back in 1970. He produced an earlier collection of his music ( Picasso Tomato, also available at CD Baby) in 2006, as well as earlier ventures with the Zen Cats. And Zen cat he is, with subject matter that runs the gamut from existential concerns to a love affair with the Cosmos and the love of a woman right down here on Earth. All that love has made for a beautiful listening experience. I look forward to the next one.

Richard Mayer 3-23-14
Doug Hewitt is a perfectionist.
The local musician spent the better part of seven years putting together his latest release “Roots in the Sky,” and he will introduce the work to local audiences with a performance at Sam’s Café in Northampton on May 17.
“I am a perfectionist about my music,” said Hewitt. “And I take a long time to write music. Used to be I would write 20 songs a year but only four of them would be worth playing. Now I might write three songs but they are all album worthy. The songs are all orchestrated compositions being written and arranged just by me. It takes time.”
The recording of “Roots in the Sky” was done at Hewitt’s Motif Music studio. It includes work from several noted Valley players.
“I decided that if ever there was a time to ‘go for it’ this was it, so I asked the best musicians I could find,” Hewitt said. “After laying down all my guitar and vocal tracks, Joe Fitzpatrick came in and recorded all the drums. Then Rudi Weeks on bass, then all the other soloists. It was recorded one instrument at a time. The last year was devoted to recording everybody who isn't me, plus mixing.”
Hewitt considers the access to that caliber of musician a bonus to living in the area.
“After college in New Jersey, where I was a voice major, I moved to Amherst because I had visited friends here and I really liked the area,” he said. “I continued giving guitar lessons, voice and bass, and built the recording studio. The Pioneer Valley is a great place to be a musician.”
Hewitt’s “Roots in the Sky” is an effort to fuse two of his great musical passions; rock and jazz.
“It is my attempt to create a true jazz/rock album,” he said. “I grew up on the Beatles and Pink Floyd but I've been playing tons of jazz lately.”
The attempt was a success as Hewitt has indeed developed a sound that reflects a perfectionist’s diligence.
“I know my stylistic diversity confounds some people who like to put music into this bin or that box,” he said. “I think I have succeeded in injecting jazz sax solos into some songs and rock guitar solos into others and making the CD hang together as a whole.”
Along with the May 17 performance at Sam’s Café, Hewitt will also play Sierra Grille in Northampton on May 29.
For more information on the artist, visit www.doughewitt.net
Hewitt can do it

When he's not teaching guitar or helping a range of musicians record albums at his Watercourse Recording Studio in Amherst or playing with the Nancy Rockland-Miller Band or the E-Town Jazz Band or guesting with the Interplay Jazz Band, singer-songwriter-guitarist Doug Hewitt heads up The Doug Hewitt Group, a variable ensemble devoted equally to jazz, rock and folk, with the occasional excursion into classical and covers ranging from Coltrane to the Beatles.

While Hewitt has helped usher scores of CDs into existence, his painstaking compositional craftsmanship has ensured an extended gestation period for his own albums - his last, 2006's "Picasso Tomato," was 10 years in the making. Part of it is Hewitt's determined thrust toward originality. "I've become impatient with everything sounding the same, with no imagination behind it," he says. "I want every song to be different. I don't want to be pigeon-holed into one style." (According to Dirty Linen he's succeeded: "It's the unusual melding of inspirations - from folk to jazz to rock - that makes his music unique," said the magazine of "Picasso Tomato.")

Making one of its periodic appearances at the Black Sheep in Amherst, the Doug Hewitt Group - David Beauvais on sax, Keith Fontaine on bass, John Crankshaw, drums, Mitch Pine, piano and Hewitt on guitar - performs Saturday night beginning at 7:30. $5 cover.
Dan Denicola - Daily Hampshire Gazette (May 14, 2010)
Electric Jazz to art rock and sublime folk. A seamless mosaic from quiet acoustic guitar and violin to symphonic crescendo. Brimming with delicious vocal and instrumental complexity. Passionate, cosmic lyrics. Beautifully produced. Highly recommended.
CD Baby Webstore (May 21, 2006)
From instrumental jazz to spacey, vintage psychedelic and lyrical, intimate folk Picasso Tomato blurs boundaries and takes chances. Make sure to check out the beautiful collaboration between Hewitt and lyricist Claudia Rullman.
Local Buzz Magazine (Sep 1, 2006)
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Doug Hewitt returns with Picasso Tomato and it is well worth the wait. The intricate guitar-based instrumental "Antarian Blues" begins the album and sounds much like the jazz leanings of prime period Bert Jansch or John Renbourn. It is the unusual melding of musical inspirations - from folk to jazz to rock; that makes his music unique. With a pleasing and expressive voice Hewitt crafts sublime love songs to cosmic word-fests. Excellent backing and harmony vocals, saxophone and expansive violin. Mellotron and Hammond keyboards and phase-shifted or fuzzed guitar may put you into a retro mood but Picasso Tomato is firmly rooted in the here and now because of Hewitt and company's sterling playing.
Unbelievably heavily profoundly pithily electrically rockingly great stuff. Beautiful writing and playing; equally beautiful production values. The power and sheen of "Holes in Heaven" ("what do you exist for?") brought tears to my eyes. It's not lightweight stuff; an album that demands attention and thought for its sense of wonder and regret, cosmic consciousness and human pain. It's the most moving and thought-provoking thing I've heard in a long time. BUY IT, know you've supported a great artist with a few measley bucks ... and keep listening!
Todd Habla - CD Baby
Full of energy and eclectic rhythms and incorporating jazz, folk, rock, orchestra and chamber music, Picasso Tomato is anything but predictable.
Kristina Tedeschi - Hampshire Gazette (Jul 28, 2006)
This is Doug's most ambitious album to date. The former Zen Cats leader fuses jazz, blues, folk and rock styles into a seamless mosaic with intricate lyrics and strong vocals.
Sessions Webzine (Aug 9, 2006)
Picasso Tomato has been in and out and back in my CD player for almost a year now. I just wanted to write to tell you what a great album this is! The songs are imaginative and deep. The musicianship is stellar. The lyrics and vocals are topnotch. And the guitar, saxophone and violin solos totally rock. I'm giving this album 5 stars.
Josh Pelin - CD Baby (Dec 27, 2013)