LIGHTING THEIR PATH: Want to celebrate the holidays with a concert that combines charity, family, love, and good, new music? Grammy-nominated Amy Holland will join her longtime musical partner and husband, Michael McDonald, on Saturday, December 17, at the Plaza Playhouse Theater (4916 Carpinteria Ave.) in Carpinteria for a special concert benefiting the theater. Holland will be playing songs from her newest album, Light on My Path, on which she performs both with Michael and their son, Dylan. In fact, it was Dylan’s performance at the Plaza Playhouse Theater last year that inspired this benefit concert, an event at which Holland hopes to “spread a little joy” with a “potpourri of Christmas songs” and pieces from her new album.
Produced by Fred Mollin and recorded in Nashville, Light on My Path, Holland said, is about finding your way in times of feeling lost and trusting in following your life’s guiding path. Mixing country songs, light pop, folk, and Motown-inspired numbers, the album also features an appearance by one of her all-time favorite musical artists, David Crosby, whom she bumped into one day in the Gelson’s parking lot. “Why aren’t you singing lately?” he asked her, and in no time, collaboration ensued. “You gotta be careful about what blonde you ask to sing,” she joked to him.
Proceeds for the evening will help the Playhouse continue its excellent lineup of theater performances, touring rock acts, and movie nights. Attend the show, and help the theater that has lit the path for so many entertainers in Carp and beyond.
8.7 out of 10
Light on my path is a very interesting and sensational new album release from the legendary American singer/songwriter Amy Holland (of Dutch origin). She released a few lightweight Westcoast/AOR/Poprock records in the early 1980s, scored a major hit with How do I survive and recorded a bunch of awesome 80s AOR tunes for the classic movie soundtracks of both Scarface and Teen Wolf as well as more movie soundtrack songs during the 1980s. She is married to one of the greatest singers of all time (Michael McDonald) since 1983, but after the release of her 2nd solo album On your every word in the same year, it took some time before we could see a new album of Amy Holland. Thankfully Amy survived cancer in the 1990s and since the late 2000s she started releasing new records again, of which now we can welcome this beautiful new solo album. It was released on the label of Michael McDonald and as soon as the album starts, you can hear that Amy still has a superb voice after all these years, shining just perfectly on each and every of the 14 included tracks. A lot of well-known guests appear on the album, including husband Michael McDonald of course, Joseph WIlliams of Toto, David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and David Pack (Ambrosia). The album starts with Bridge of sighs, which is one of those classic 1970s sounding soft/yacht pop tunes that major labels released non-stop almost 40 years ago. Next track I must have left my heart (and also the song Holiday, which can be heard later on the album) is a terrific laid-back piano-led classic Jazz song that smells like the 1950s/1960s when old-school Jazz (with female vocals) was very popular worldwide (think Ella Fitzgerald). Amy changes once again the style and comes up with a great Heart/Robin beck ish 80s AOR tune called Walking on a wire. Things slow down during the calm semi-acoustic ballad Stained glass love and also Me, my heart and I is a great ballad. Gravity is a singer/songwriter piece with both of the earlier mentioned David's as guest vocalists. The piano ballad We're all strangers here is exceptionally beautiful, with perhaps the greatest vocals ever put on record by Amy. Her voice really hasn't changed a bit, just amazing to listen to... And so it goes on and on, with many beautiful calmer songs that all feature those superb vocals of Amy (don't forget to check out the lovely Westcoast/AORish ballads Impossible love, Hat full of stars and the Michael McDonald duet Prove that by me). Amy deserves to be heard by so many more people, because she has one of those voices that truly touch you and you will never forget her voice after you heard it.
She’s one of the great singers of our time, famous and beloved for her expressive lead vocals, but also a genius of soulful harmonic singing, of wrapping her voice around another voice, or voices, to perfection.
Add to that a sumptuous selection of songs by many of our greatest songwriters, elegant production and her voice combined with the voices of some other great champions of song, including her husband Michael McDonald, David Crosby and Joseph Williams.
Rather than reach back decades for previous standards, she chooses modern songs which all resound with an inspired timelessness. It all starts with Louise Goffin’s gorgeous “Bridge Of Sighs,” which is the perfect amalgam of jazz and soul for Amy to sing with Michael McDonald. The sound of their voices wrapped so warmly together on this beautifully aching chorus is enchanting. Louise, the daughter of Goffin & King, obviously has song greatness in her DNA; this is a classically structured song, as solid as songs get.
And it just doesn’t get much better than the sound of Michael and Amy singing together, these two vocalists both brilliant at singing the perfect harmony part to complete the vocal sound of a record. Michael has brought that amazing sound to classic records by Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers over these years, and his voice remains one of the greatest sounds in modern pop music. And when he sings with his wife, as he does here, it is greatness of real moment and magnitude.
Every track is inspired, but a few favorites have emerged: Marc Jordan’s “I Must Have Left My Heart” resounds like another modern standard, in the beautifully melodic and lyrical realm of Rodgers & Hart. “Walking On A Wire,” written by the late Eric Lowen with Dan Navarro and Rick Boston, is a perfectly conceived song, with a greatly visceral chorus and urgency. It’s a duet with Joseph Williams.
One of the few vocalists whose harmony vocals have been as impactful on modern music as McDonald is David Crosby, long known as the `glue’in CSN for his magical way of finding the elusive middle part, the harmony line that perfectly bonds two other voices. So it is appropriate that the great Croz is also helping to steer this great harmony cruise. He’s on “Gravity,” a dazzling ballad sung as a trio with Amy and David Pack, written by Randy Sharp and Jack Wesley Routh. It was the perfect choice for Croz, as it sounds like a classic open-tuning Crosby gem from the first days of CSN. Mystical and haunting, it’s very beautiful, the voices fused together like the best of CSN, when all three voices become one.
Another Sharp-Routh song is also here, the lovely “Prove That By Me,” which is a duet with Michael McDonald, and with another beautifully visceral choruses brought home by these great voices.
We even get one of Cyndi Lauper’s most lovely compositions, “Hatful of Stars,” a delicately poignant and magical song made even more magical by Amy’s delivery of tenderness and clarity. It’s a song about holding onto days of dreams, those early days when there is more magic than substance in our lives, and Amy inhabits it.
It ends with the title song, written by Amy. A ballad of faith and redemption, it’s as much prayer as song, and the ideal culmination to this luminous journey. “Please Lord,” she asks, “shine a light on my path.” It is a humble and human request, to walk in the light of love. That love shines throughout this beautiful album. In these days of dissonance and chaos, few sounds are more welcome or nourishing than human voices in perfect harmony, united around one lyric, one message. Amy Holland’s music is both sophisticated and simple, rich with genuine heart and soul, and an infectious passion for great songwriting. At its heart is the purity of exquisite singing. A perfect album for now, this is a beautiful musical remedy for the discord of modern times.
When the doctors found something, I didn't know what to think.
by Amy Holland McDonaldAs appeared in Guideposts
Not long before the terrible visit to my doctor, my husband, Michael, and I bought a farm.
The farm was in Tennessee, 2,000 miles from Los Angeles and a world away from the music industry Michael and I had spent most of our lives in.
We’d lived the proverbial rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, the endless cycle of touring, recording, more touring. But we longed to settle down.
We had two kids, Dylan and Scarlett, and Michael, who practically lived on the road, was doing an album in Nashville, easy driving distance from our 100 acres of rolling hills, grazing cows and horses.
It was family time, time for hayrides and camping by the creeks and fishing in the pond. We began remodeling the farmhouse, filling it with antiques and, hopefully, memories.
Then one day in spring I planted some flowers around a playhouse we’d built for Scarlett. The guys working on the remodel had turned off the water, so I went to fetch some from the pond.
I lugged several buckets, getting the flowers good and drenched. The next day my bucket-carrying arm really hurt, especially underneath.
A couple months before, I’d found a small lump near that spot, but the doctor had said it was probably harmless.
This time the lump seemed bigger and the pain centered right on it. I tried to remind myself that I was only 41 and in great health. But the pain was sharp enough, and I was worried enough, to get it checked out.
Michael came with me to the appointment. I was glad he was there, but I figured we would be in and out pretty quickly, like most mammograms. The doctor, though, said I needed to stay for a sonogram.
“We saw something,” he said. That was all. Something.
We went to another room and I did the sonogram. I watched the doctor’s brow furrow with concern as he looked at the image. He turned to me. “Ms. McDonald,” he said, “you need to see a surgeon here at the hospital. Today. As soon as possible. We’ll call and get you an appointment. It’s very important.”
I walked out of that office in a daze. I know Michael had his arm around me, but I could barely feel it.
Weirdly, what I kept thinking about was that 1970s movie Love Story with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw. Was I going to be like Ali MacGraw’s character, I wondered, diagnosed with a terminal illness?
Michael and I slowly made our way to the hospital cafeteria to wait for the appointment with the surgeon. I sat there for a minute, then suddenly put my head down and sobbed. Fear overwhelmed me.
I saw everything that I cared most about—Michael, our son and daughter, our new life just beginning. Was I about to lose it all? Why? And why now? Michael and I had finally put everything together. I wasn’t ready to die!
The surgeon put my X rays against a backlit screen. “I’m going to be direct with you, Ms. McDonald,” he said. “When I see pictures like this, ninety-nine percent of the time it’s cancer. I think we need to schedule surgery, and we need to do it soon. As in tomorrow.”
His words came at me like blows. I sat immobile, unable to think. Somehow I went through the mechanics of scheduling the surgery. Then I collapsed against Michael and he helped me to our car.
That evening at home I was in a terrible state. I couldn’t look anywhere without seeing something I was about to lose. Cancer! Where had that come from? What had I done?
Michael and I had been trying to make good choices. And life was good. Years before, I’d put my own music career on hold to raise our kids and create a stable family. Michael was a committed father and husband.
Now we were reaping the fruits of those choices. Dylan and Scarlett were happy and healthy here at the farm. Michael was fully involved in our lives and as happy as I’d ever seen him.
The minute we got home from the hospital he called the studio to let them know he’d have to suspend recording. We had a rich circle of friends, who all called us that evening—I have no idea how they found out. Michael, probably. They were so comforting, so supportive.
But everyone I talked to felt like another potential loss, another reminder of cancer’s malicious timing.
“The news isn’t good,” he said. “Eleven of the fourteen nodes are cancerous. At this point we don’t know how far it has spread. You need to come in tomorrow for a full-body scan.”
I hung up and stared ahead. The news seemed impossibly bleak. I didn’t just have breast cancer. I had cancer—maybe everywhere. I looked down at myself. How much cancer was in there? I wondered. How much of me had it already eaten away?
I desperately wanted Michael to come in, to take me in his arms and tell me that everything was going to be all right. But the fear kept saying, It won’t be all right.
In the morning we again made the drive I’d gotten to know so well, past the green hills and picturesque farms outside Nashville. The rows of crops flashed by, cows grazing, horses with their sleek necks bent to the earth.
The early light was so pretty, making everything seem somehow deeper, more real. I kept my eyes fixed out the window, just taking it all in.
Suddenly I heard a voice. Not Michael’s, not any voice I recognized. You’re going to be okay. Just those five words, sounding simply and clearly inside me. Then silence.
The message was totally counterintuitive. I mean, I was on my way to find out whether my entire body was riddled with cancer! But somehow that didn’t matter. Comfort immediately flowed through me.
My fears, which had once seemed so overpowering, shrank until I could get my hands around them and shove them down. They didn’t go away. I just got stronger. I’d spent the past days feeling like a helpless victim. All at once I became a fighter.
I went through the scan and was stunned and relieved to hear the doctor say they had found no more cancer. Breast and lymph nodes—that was it. Still a lot, requiring extensive treatment. But suddenly I had a chance. I had hope.
And as the days, then weeks, then years of recovery unfolded, I began to see just how true those five words I’d heard on the highway really were. They weren’t just telling me I was going to be okay. They were reminding me I was already okay.
I’d cried out to God, Why now? Those words were the answer: Because now is when you can handle this. All those things I’d feared losing to cancer—the kids, a solid marriage to Michael, our new settled life, our beautiful home—they were precisely what gave me the strength I needed to beat cancer. Without them to rely on I might have died.
It’s been 14 years since that terrifying day when the doctor looked up from my mammogram results and told me he’d found something. I sure wish I could say it’s been 14 years of trouble-free recovery and recaptured health. It hasn’t.
I underwent a form of chemotherapy so powerful it kills a small percentage of people treated with it. My body changed profoundly. I went through early menopause, had both hips replaced and struggled with depression.
And yet I’ve never really doubted the truth of those five words I heard. That’s because every time I’ve confronted some new challenge I felt sure would break me, I’ve found God supplying—sometimes just reminding me about—resources I never knew I had.
Nowhere is that truer than in my marriage to Michael. We thought we were close when we moved to Nashville. Now, after endless rounds of chemo—Michael accompanied me to every session—and my draining emotional ups and downs, we truly know what it means to be partners for better and for worse.
A couple years ago, with the kids in their late teens, I returned to the studio and recorded an album. The album’s called The Journey to Miracle River, and there’s a lyric in the title track that I think sums up what I’ve learned from my battle with cancer.
It goes like this: “When you finally reach your destination, fall down on your knees and thank your maker for all the crosses and the blessings on the journey to Miracle River.”
Crosses and blessings. Yes, there are crosses in this life, always. But for every cross there’s a blessing. And for every hopeless moment there’s a God who provides.
You’re going to be okay, he says.
By MIMI JOHNSTON
Photograph BY ANTHONY SCARLATI
A few months ago as I sat in my friend Anne Goetze's Leiper's Fork store R Place, I heard a CD that quite literally took my breath away. It was Amy Holland's new project. Though I'd known Amy for years, I'd never heard her sing and was moved by vocals at once spare and lush, and the absolute rightness of her musicians' perfectly rendered arrangements. Amy, nominated for a Grammy for her 1980 record Amy Holland, has sung with the likes of Kenny Loggins, Joni Mitchell and Willie Nelson, as well as her husband, Michael McDonald. Amy and Michael were kind enough to meet with Anthony and me at their Leiper's Fork area home. While he made the coffee, she and I talked about music, coping with serious illness, and being the spouse of someone everyone wants to know.
Hills & Hamlets: Where did you grow up and when did you fall in love with music?
AHM: I grew up in New York State, close to the city in a little town called Palisades. It was a beautiful old town and very small. I've always loved music. My mother and father were both singers—he sang opera and she was a hillbilly singer, so they were quite a pair. My mother was from Memphis and was one of the first women DJ's there to have her own radio show. My dad came on to fill in for one of the singers one day and that's how they met.
H&H: Tell us about your musical life before you and Michael met.
AHM: Well, I met him when I was 16 and we became friends then, so I've known him a long time. When I was 16 I went to California, where I was offered a record deal by the Beach Boys. It didn't pan out because their label folded but my sister already lived out there and my mother had some contacts at A&M
Records, and one thing led to another. I worked with the Carpenters' producer and a couple of other people before my manager introduced me to a producer named Rick Gerard. Right after I'd signed to record two sides with him, he said, "You should meet this kid I just signed because I think you'd have a lot in common musically." He introduced me to Michael and I flipped when I heard his music. His wisdom and maturity, not only in his lyrics but also in his voice at that age, were mind-blowing. I'd never heard anything like it.
H&H: Neither had anyone else.
AHM: And no one has since. Anyway, they hired him to play piano on my record and we hit it off right away. When the record was finished we lost touch for
about five years, and then I saw him on the back of a Steely Dan album cover. I was working with a publisher who was helping me get some songs together for a demo and he asked me who my favorite writers were. I named a few like Daryl Hall, and then said, "There's this guy named Michael McDonald that I worked with a while ago." One day, he invited me to go with him to see the Doobie Brothers at the Forum in L.A. After the show I was so excited, acting silly as people do that I meet today, and I handed my phone number to the lighting guy and asked him to give it to Michael. About ten days later, Michael called and said he'd just gotten the message on a plane to Las Vegas. He said he'd always wondered what happened to me, so we arranged to get together and meet. I took a producer to the meeting, and they hit it off and produced a demo on me. When Capital wanted to sign me, they asked if
Michael could produce it. At this point he was at the height of his career—he had no time to do that. He would go on the road for six months at a time, so it took two or three years to do the record.
H&H: So you decided that rather than go with somebody else, you'd wait till he was free.
AHM: Yes. The musical chemistry on our original stuff was so much fun and so right. And it was obvious—who wouldn't want to work with him? It was perfect. And together with the influence of the other producer, who had a gospel background, they wrote some great songs. It was a fun time and I think it came across—it was really just a dream for me.
H&H: When did you two decide to leave L.A. and come here?
AHM: We've been here 13 years, but first we went from L.A. to Santa Barbara for 15 years. When the kids were little I wanted to have a change of seasons and have them grow up in an area where kids weren't taken to birthday parties in limousines. I just wanted them to have a nice, fun childhood with Halloween and lemonade stands and things like that. Mike says it was his idea to move here; I say it was mine, but in any case we moved and it's been great. The kids have been so happy here.
H&H: How did you find Leiper's Fork?
AHM: When we came to Tennessee, there was a drummer who had worked with Mike for a while, who'd moved out before we did. I talked to his wife one day and she said, "There's this cool area called Leiper's Fork; you should go look." We fell in love with the area and almost bought a place but it didn't work out, so we wound up moving almost out to Dickson. I developed some health problems and our farm was so far out. The kids were starting to go to Hillsboro and it was just too much driving for me, so we moved over here and it's been wonderful. We love it.
H&H: It must have been a huge culture shock for your kids to move here from Santa Barbara.
AHM: No, not really. They were young and loved it from the beginning. We'd lived on a little ranch in Santa Barbara, but here we were on a farm with ponds
and creeks, driving around on the gator and hayrides, so it was perfect for a kid.
H&H: And you decided to send them to school out here at Hillsboro.
AHM: They went to a Montessori school for a year or two in Nashville, which went really well. But we looked at some other private schools and the kids didn't want to go. Scarlett did go to Harpeth Academy for kindergarten, but they begged us to let them go to public school. They went to Hillsboro because of Kids On Stage. Working with Rick Wheeler was wonderful for Dylan. Rick is such a gifted teacher. I miss Kids On Stage; it really changed Dylan's life.
H&H: Speaking of Dylans, your Dylan is a good friend of Dylan Morrison, the young bass player who played on your CD. Do they still work together?
AHM:They do from time to time. Dylan Morrison is doing all kinds of stuff. He's so talented. And my Dylan is doing other things—he just sang a song in a movie that may be coming out on Disney. I'm so proud of him.
H&H: How old are your kids?
AHM: Dylan's 20; he'll be 21 in a month or two. Scarlett is 17 and is home schooling now.
H&H: You've been dealing with some really tough health issues. Last month I interviewed Bee Spears and talked with him about what Julia had to go through with hepatitis C. It must be so hard for you to handle life being seriously ill while your husband is out on the road.
AHM: Yeah. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Mike, who has never missed a day of work in his life, took a month off and was by my side. We went from horror to numb and back. The kids were scared. But he was there for me. He'd just started a record but he stopped and we went through it together. As far as him being on the road, the hardest thing was where we lived at the time. I went through an experimental treatment that was shut down after a while because a lot of people died from it. It was really high doses of chemo, more than the usual amount that people get. I did that and also did a stem cell transplant— I was my own donor. And I also did five weeks of radiation. The treatment took a real toll on me, to be honest with you. I've had a lot of health issues as a result of the chemo, from not being able to sleep, to having both hips replaced. But I'm here. Some days are easy and some aren't but I just keep remembering that I'm here, life is good, and I've been able to watch my kids grow up. It's all good and I'm really blessed.
H&H: Let's talk about your CD.
AHM: This took us almost 10 years, because of my illness and because right after my treatment Mike's career took off again. And Bernie Chiaravelle, who produced the record, plays guitar for Mike and they were on the road all of the sudden and have been gone ever since. Between their schedule and the dips in my health, it just took a while. I guess I started writing about a year after my treatments were over. I really hadn't written a lot in my life, a little here and there, but I was so lucky to work with Bernie. He just got what I wanted to do. We started writing some things together and I brought in a lot of ideas, musically and lyrically. Then we hooked up with John Goodwin, who is the most gifted lyricist I've ever heard besides my husband. That combination made it all worthwhile—the thrill of my lifetime was to write with these two guys. And Jon Vezner, who's also a very talented writer and good friend. All the other
people who were involved—it was a real labor of love. It was a long time coming but toward the end we built up speed. I didn't have a record company coming after me, telling me I needed to write a hit, so it was great. We could do what we wanted to.
H&H: I loved reading through the lyrics; it's hard not to get a sense that some of this, at least, is fairly autobiographical.
AHM: Some of it, yeah. Again, I didn't write all the lyrics and some of the ideas were written with other people, but I'd say half of it is, yeah.
H&H: I'm thinking now of the song "Everybody Wants to Be Your Friend." It must be kind of bemusing at times, being married to an American icon.
AHM: It's my life—I've been doing it almost 30 years with him. I'm used to it but you know, I had to write about it. It was obviously something that bugged me but I also realized that it was really my issue, not his, which is what the song's about.
H&H: What are your plans now? Are you going to go out and tour to support the project?
AHM: That's a good question. I don't have plans right now. I don't have a record company involved—we started our own record company, Mike and I; it's called Chonin Records. I'd love to do some of these things live and I'll certainly be open to doing little things here and there, but I'm not planning to tour just yet.
H&H: What drives you?
AHM: You know, I really fought to stay alive and I want it all. I want to wake up and hear the rain. I want it to snow. I love to remodel houses—that's a real passion for me. We invest in property, then we sell it and I start another project. I love that. I'm really over travel. We've invested in places that we like to be, so we go between here and Hawaii and we're thinking of investing somewhere else. I'm a gypsy; I really love change. Michael does not but he goes along with it and then he loves it. But this is our home.
H&H: You have a really good support network here—wonderful friends in the community who love you. And in the church.
AHM: I do, I really do. It's wonderful to have found women who hang together and support each other. Which is the way it should be, because everybody holds their own gift. I'm blessed. I really am.
Mimi Johnston lives in the Leiper's Fork area with her husband and two daughters. She is the director of Kids On Stage Summer Academy and can be reached at email@example.com.
© 2016 Amy Holland, All Rights Reserved
Stunning. A beautiful masterpiece of song, rendered resplendently by Amy and lovingly crafted by producer Fred Mollin. It’s a love letter for those of us who yearn for full albums of great songs and singing like the kind we grew up loving. If you also crave those kinds of unified and inspirational musical journeys, like the great albums of the 70s, songs all about serious songwriting and sumptuous voices in harmony, this is an album you will cherish.
The next morning doctors removed a tumor from my breast and 14 lymph nodes from my arm—they feared the cancer might have spread. Three days later I was back on the farm, recovering, when the phone rang. Michael was out on a tractor. It was the doctor.