Rural country

A Note on Gratitude

Rural country

Happy Thanksgiving!

I think this is a remarkable holiday because, unlike all the rest on the national level, we don’t celebrate a historic event or remember a specific person or group of people. Instead, thanksgiving is really a holiday which celebrates a virtue, and that virtue is gratitude.

There’s the old adage that goes something like; “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days while they’re still happening” and as one gets older, one recognizes the wisdom of this statement. But I can honestly say that things have not been better for me personally than they are today. And I think taking a moment to reflect on all the blessings of life and offering real gratitude may be the best way to realize that these are the good ole’ days.

I’ve long believed that there are four major pillars upon which we need to build a good life – physical, financial, social, and spiritual – and this year I’ve made great improvements in all of these. At this moment, I’m in the best physical health than I’ve been probably this century, my web business has been busier than ever in recent months, I’m working on the best music I’ve ever produced and I have . There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s good to be heading in the right direction.

And then there’s my incredible family, starting with my incredible wife of 27 years, our four adult children, my mother who is still going strong well into her eighties, and especially that pleasant, curious, and happy little granddaughter with whom I’ve been bonding with more and more as she gives me fresh enthusiasm for this world. And she could not have better parents than my son and daughter-in-law, who are so well adapted to being first time parents.

Now, with all this happy-happy stuff, I am still aware that a shoe could drop at any moment and all this great “luck” can come crashing down. There’s tragedy in every life ultimately, and it’s times like those when we really need to turn to God. But I’d like to make the far less common gesture of turning towards God at this incredible moment in time when I reflect on how fortunate my family and I are at this time.

~ Ric Albano

Karyn in Bristol, TN 2018

Seven Southern Sojourns in Seven Spring Seasons

Karyn in Bristol, TN 2018

For the seventh consecutive spring in 2023, my wife and I took a uniquely tailored vacation to the Southern United States. This year, we focused on the coastal areas of North Carolina and Virginia and with this we “closed the loop” on hitting every part of the 15-state region.

Our first (and probably most memorable) trip was in March 2017. The previous December, Karyn had offered to bring me to Nashville for my birthday in 2016 to see my beloved Denver Broncos play the Tennessee Titans. But instead, I proposed that, being it was our 20th anniversary that same month, we should go on a unique tour of very non-tourist places that had significance in music history. The first stop along our tour that year was the homesteader Patsy Cline in Winchester, VA before we headed into Tennessee, hitting Knoxville and Chattanooga on the way down. Next, we went across Northern Alabama to historic recording destination of Muscle Shoals before hopping on the Natchez Trace Parkway to Tupelo, MS where we spent some time at Elvis‘s birthplace and childhood home area. I brought along my acoustic guitar which I just purchase the previous summer in 2016 and I played on the quiet hill outside town where Elvis first played guitar.

The heart of our first trip in 2017 was spent in the Mississippi Delta, where we visited such legendary places where American blues music originated such as Dockery Farms, the Tutweiler train station, the gravesite of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters’ cabin, and the BB King Museum. For more on these, check out this interesting documentary on the history of blues. In many of these locations, I recorded footage for three music videos from songs on the upcoming album The Journey, the debut album by my group Sinclair Soul. In fact, in direct correlation with these seven Southern sojourns would be seven record releases, one each year from 2017 to the upcoming one I will release later in 2023. In fact, an accidental underdeveloped picture picture became the album cover for The Journey as we turned around at a crossroads just outside Clarksdale, MS. On the return we spent time in Memphis and toured Stax and Sun Records studios and saw a show on Beale Street before we headed up to Nashville for a short stop. In fact, after every quiet and rural place we’ve been, Nashville felt like New York City at the time.

The second trip in 2018 happened just weeks before the release of the second Sinclair Soul album, Reflections of Relevance, and would be the one where I was most musically active. Along with shooting footage for the official video of the song “Delicately Dancing the Dogwhistle Diddy” from that second album, I play a couple a live gigs in Ashville, NC and Cape May, NJ (our final destination). Along the way, we hit Southeast Virginia and the Carter Family Fold, Northwest Tennessee before crossing North Carolina from Ashville to Raleigh and heading up the coast through Virginia Beach, Ocean City, MD and across the Delaware Bay to the annual Cape May Singer-Songwriter festival.

In 2019 we headed to South Carolina and were joined by our son Bryen for part of the trip as he was interested relocating to the Palmetto state. We spent a fair amount of time in Myrtle Beach, Georgetown, Charleston, and Folly Island before parting ways with Bryen and heading back inland through Columbia, Charlotte, Hillsville and Roanoke on the way home. Many of the places on this trip we would revisit on future Southern sojourns. While no official music videos came out of this trip, we did release the third Sinclair Soul album, The Good Guys at the end of 2019.

While the first three trips all took place in March of their respective years, in 2020 we decided to go south in February, we turned out to be very fortunate because the Covid pandemic came in full in early March of that year. This trip first took us to the Atlantic coast of Florida to Flagler Beach (a possible retirement destination for us), Saint Augustine and Jacksonville, before we headed inland and continued a music-themed tour. We paid homage to Ray Charles in his hometown of Greenville before heading to Tallahassee and the Bradford blues club where we saw Southern Avenue perform (more on that here). We up drove up to Macon and spent the day with a whole bunch of Allman Brothers fans, checking out a lot of the famous (and infamous) sites including the “Big House” where the group collectively lived in their heyday and saw The Allman-Betts band (descendants of the original Allman Brothers Band) at the Macon Theater. This would the last concert Karyn and I would see for the next 2 1/2 years due to Covid. And, while I had not planned on recording any music in 2020, the isolation of the lockdown sparked we to compose and record my first solo record, Out There Somewhere, which I recorded at home and played every instrument.

By March 2021 we were ready for a big vacation, and this would be are longest of the seven both in milage and duration. On the very first day we drove all the way to Central Kentucky where I recorded the first of many footage for future music videos. Then we went down to Nashville and actually saw people outside having fun for the first time in a year or so. We stayed in Nashville for two days, walking through the downtown and visiting many destinations such as the Johnny Cash museum and Ryman Theater (original Grand Ole Opry location). After Nashville, we revisited many of the same places from our original 2017 sojourn, down the Natchez Trace parkway to Muscle Shoals and the Mississippi Delta, but this time we continued further. Through Southern Arkansas and Northern Louisiana into Texas, our major destination. First through Dallas and Dealy Plaza, then down into Waco and Austin where we hung out in the park and checked out the music scene and Stevie Ray Vaughn memorial. We next headed to San Antonio and the the Riverwalk and the Alamo before reaching our furthermost point of to Corpus Christi, where we stayed with Karyn’s cousin Carl for a few days, where we drove on the beach of Padre Island and I discovered a new love for Mesquite and Tex-Mex food.

On the long trip home we stayed along the Gulf of Mexico, touring Houston, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge before heading to the Mississippi beaches of Biloxi and Gulfport then Mobile and the the Florida panhandle to Panama City, where we stayed a few days. We then headed north through the heart of Alabama, Birmingham and Montgomery, and then up to Chattanooga where we took a tour on a duck boat tour around downtown and the Tennessee river. That summer, I released the fourth Sinclair Soul album, The Girl with No Name and produced two more official videos with much footage coming from this fifth Southern trip.

The February 2022 journey was all about beaches. We started in Virginia Beach, where we went on whale watch before once again hitting to Myrtle Beach and much of the interior of South Carolina. But our ultimate destination last year was Florida. We drove down the entire Atlantic coast of the state, stopping in places like Amelia Island, Cocoa Beach, Jupiter Island, Juno Beach, Boca Raton and ultimately Miami, where we stayed two nights, From there, we headed down to Key Largo and we took a glass bottom boat tour before going across the Everglades to Everglades City and then started up the Gulf coast. We visited Naples, Bradenton Beach, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa before stopping to see the manatees in Apollo Beach. We next went to Orlando to recharge for three nights and hang out with friends, visit Epcot and watch the Super Bowl before an expedited trip home. That year I released my second solo record, Another Rock to Roll.

So that brings us to this years seventh Sojourn. This may be the shortest in mileage wise but we packed a lot in. Our first major stop is Floyd, VA a cool little town with a “country store” where you can have lunch and hear life roots music from various local talent. We went to Mount Airy, NC to see a show dedicated to local legend Tommy Jarrell. After this we crossed the heart North Carolina – Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, and down to the coast at Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, where we stayed for a few nights and did a historic horse trolley tour through downtown Wilmington. From there, it was a slow ride along the beaches Emerald Isle, Cedar Island, Ocracoke and Hatteras Island, which include two long ferry rides along the way. On the Outer Banks we stayed at a fantastic place that was closest to the water we’ve ever been, toured many lighthouses and took a Jeep tour around Corolla to see wild horses and actual towns that are built on sand. We once again stopped in Virginia Beach before heading home.

This year I’ll be releasing the fifth and final studio album by Sinclair Soul entitled Frequencies, making it seven albums in seven years. This feel like the end of an era and which adventure we shall embark on in the future is currently unknown. But this sure was real and fun.

~ Ric Albano

Aja in 2015

Our Dog Aja

Aja in 2015

Last night our dog died. Her name was Aja and she was 10 years and 10 months old.

She was the second pet dog that I’ve ever had in my life. The first was Josie, a puppy chosen and named by my daughter Erin when she was 8 years old. Erin named Josie after her doll, Josephina. Josie grew with our children and we had 13 years with her until she died in 2014. At the time, I was at peace with the idea that Josie would be my one and only dog in my life. However, soon my wife and sons convinced me to go to the Humane Society and “just look” at the dogs. Soon it was apparent that this 4 1/2 year old Jack Russell was going to be our next pet. My only condition was that we carry on the “tradition” of naming our dogs after songs from the classic 1977 Steely Dan album. This dog became the title song with Karyn’s counter-condition being that we use the unique pronunciation of Aja as “Ossha”.

We were Aja’s third owners, with no given facts as to why her previous two families gave up on her. Soon we learned that this was probably because while she was smart and perfectly housetrained,  she was just too damn undisciplined for the previous two. And undisciplined she was.

Unlike Josie, who could be let loose in a field and reply from a far to verbal commands, when something caught the attention of or sparked a fear in Aja, she was off like a torrent. Our backyard fence? Yeah, right! She would leap over it in a single bound. No doubt, Aja had some serious abandonment issues as well as a keen sense of when Karyn and I were planning to go on a trip. And those were the days she would forge her greatest run-aways and be nearly impossible to catch. But also she loved to be chased, keep away was her favorite game. It drove us nuts for a while, until we decided to just stop pursuing her and soon after she decided to just stop running away.

On the flip side of that undisciplined frustration were the unique and incredible qualities of this dog. When she loved something, she loved it with every fiber of her being. This passion applied to going for walks, rides, eating, singing, chasing squeaky balls, yelling at the mailman, and most especially bonding with the people in our family.

When we first got Aja, she was very hesitant to bark. But after a day or two with me, those inhibitions loosened up. Soon we were barking at everything and we even set off the occasional “bark bomb” on some quiet summer afternoons when neighboring dogs reacted to us and that cascaded down the block until the whole neighborhood was a chorus of barks. When I played my guitar, Aja would often harmonize with high pitched howls and I even developed a song just for her, made of nothing but barks, grunts and howls. Aja got so tuned in to this special “dog” song that she would instantly react when I hit the very first E power chord. In fact, once I had my guitar detuned a half step (hence making that ‘E’ an ‘E-flat’) and when I hit the opening chord she sort of raised an ear and an eyebrow at me as to say “dude, I know what you’re trying for but it’s not quite right”.

She loved rides but only down familiar roads (again the abandonment issues made her nervous whenever we took her anyplace unfamiliar). So we developed some regular routines with the car rides, one of which became the inspiration for a song I wrote called “Cherry Avenue” (due out on the next Sinclair Soul album coming in 2021). While the song is largely metaphorical about life, Cherry Avenue actually does exist. Unlike the grandiose corridor in the song, the actual Cherry Avenue is an unkempt back alley filled with trash cans, dilapidated garages, sheds, overgrown weeds and various states of backyards. To Aja, this was the most interesting place on Earth – filled with cats, squirrels and various familiar dogs – and I would cruise at 5 mph so that Aja got as many barks in as possible and always leery that someday we’d be confronted by a shotgun wielding homeowner sick of us disturbing their peace.

Once we drove by a local horse farm as a group of horses were feeding behind the fence very close to the road. I pulled over as Aja stuck her snout out the partially opened passenger window to catch their scent and assess the situation. Then she let out a sudden yelp, which spooked the horses and caused a mini stampede. I’ve never seen Aja prouder than when these creatures, 50 times her size and weight, ran away on her “command”. Going to “yell at the horses” became part of our routine, although they very quickly became wise to her and never again got spooked.

Karyn was the primary dogwalker in the family, but I joined them enough times to know how absolutely exhausting these walks could be for us humans. Aja had boundless energy and when she got us off the property she was eager to alert of us of every happening in every nook and cranny of the neighborhood. She would try to chase squirrels up trees, communicate with other pets as we passed their properties and God forbid if we ever came face-to-face with a dreaded postman.

We had Aja for 6 years, which seemed to go by in a flash. She appeared to age very little or change much at all during the first 5 of those years, an era when Aja was also my one and only co-worker, being I’m a self-employed business owner. However, 2020 changed everything. With the pandemic, Karyn also started working from home in March and, although Aja was thrilled about her “mommy” not leaving every morning, it was right round this time that our dog to change. At first the signs were subtle – more fatigue from her walks, shorter times interested in chasing the squeaky tennis balls, less interest in the outside happenings when we went for our rides. Soon it was Aja who was getting tired out on the walks, so much so that we merged it into a walk/ride where I’d pick up Karyn and Aja half way through their normal routine. But then some more severe physical signs emerged. In June she started shaking at times, sometime not being able to walk straight so we brought her to the vet.

After an examination, we found out that Aja had a tumor on her pancreas and it was most likely inoperable. The net result of this was sort of like a reverse-diabetes where her body produced too much insulin and it was getting increasingly harder to keep her blood sugar high enough. At the vet’s suggestion, we started feeding her 5-6 times a day at modest levels and this did work to stabilize her for most of the summer, although her enthusiasm for all those things still waned. Then, about a week or so ago, Aja had a very bad day, but she did snap out of it and strung together about 4 or 5 good days right up through Saturday. In fact, on Saturday, Aja sang our “dog song” with me for the first time in quite a while. Like many other things, she had lost interest in singing in recent months and this “comeback” performance was a very pleasant surprised which turned out to be our last one together.

On her final day, yesterday, my wife cancelled all plans and spent the entire day with her. She could tell early on that something was not quite right but Karyn and Aja had several quality hours during the day. When I returned in the evening, things turned really dour and we had to bring her to the emergency animal hospital where we made the gut-wrenching decision to end her suffering.

The last song Aja heard on the radio as we arrived at the animal hospital was “Africa” by Toto, which contains the fitting lyric;

“The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company…”

Aja will not be forgotten.