Veteran singer-songwriter, Tim Gearan, comes to Nashua’s River Walk Cafe

Photo by Rich Gastwirt

Clad in a well-worn winter stocking hat, faded tattered jeans and a t-shirt that had definitely seen better days, I watched him as he stood off to the side of the stage, outside the glow of the bright spotlight tuning his guitar and holding the instrument as tenderly as one would hold a lover. Standing there, I could almost feel the undercurrent of electricity humming softly through the room like a living thing. Then, with no fanfare, he quietly sidled up to the microphone with a warm and bemused lopsided grin crawling slowly across his bearded face. He cocked his head over to the right, squinted out at the crowd and then in a singing voice that echoed the distant sound of legendary swamp rocker, John Fogerty, and a touch of the soulful Nashua-born blues singer, Ray La Montagne, as well, he kick-started his playset with a pounding song that had every eye in the room glued to him.

In a gritty tone that would be right at home in the fabled French Quarter of New Orleans, his voice put a collective smile on the faces of everyone there as they involuntarily began swaying their hips and shaking their heads to the beat.

On stage, Gearan and his guitar virtuoso bandmate, Russell Chudnofsky, seamlessly switch scorching lead riffs back and forth in a way that makes me think of fabled Rolling Stones guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood. Yup, it’s that good.

This was what my eyes took in quite recently, when I caught Tim Gearan’s show at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has been the “resident” Friday night performer for ages. A few years ago, he was actually dubbed, “The Residency King of the Hub” by the Boston media. After all this time, Gearan still keeps packing them in every week, and I believe that he is Cambridge’s best-kept secret.

That being said, for those Granite Stater’s who have not yet seen him, Gearan and his band are heading to Nashua’s River Walk Cafe this Saturday night, March 3rd. He’ll be coming into town with a catalogue of songs that capture the heart and imagination of listeners. For this singer-songwriter is one who crafts lyrics with a human touch. His words drill down and tap into those real-life inner feelings that live deep inside of all of us. For his songs give a voice to those bottled-up silent thoughts and emotions that percolate in people, and that hold all of us in their grip as we journey down life’s highway.

Of his creative writing process, the well-traveled New York-born troubadour, who lives in Lowell, Massachusetts says, “The writing is not a strict format by any means. It’s not an office job, but when it bubbles over, I write very fast. I tend to go looking for little progressions that seem to interest me, and then mumble nonsense lyrics until the gem of an idea burrows its way through the old-subconscious, and presents something that I may or may not find worthy.” His process definitely works, as there is a poignant honesty and simplistic beauty in his lyrics that strikes a chord. “I’m fairly well-read, but I just can’t read your mind.”

His self-depreciating humor, as he jokes with the crowd from the stage, could melt the frost off a cold winter night, as his unassuming persona makes it easy for people to like him. Gearan is a live performer who offers-up a unique cocktail of music that is an eclectic mix of bluesy slide guitar that carries the feel of Bourbon Street, a dash of country-rock, and believe it or not, even an alluring touch of Tex-Mex as well. It is this intoxicating musical brew that affords Gearan the opportunity to bond, and to share some common ground with regular folks; people who get up and go to work every day, who have, along the way, had their hearts broken a time or two, and who also just like to get out there on the floor and dance like there’s nobody watching. People like you and me. As an audience member, watching him perform kind of feels I’m like sitting in the comfort of my living room and talking to an old friend.

While he is reticent about hanging a label on his sound and musical genre, Gearan says of his style, “After years of playing straight-ahead blues, I felt a strong need to tell my own stories, and my earliest influences surfaced in the form of narrative song writing.” Where his musical influences are concerned he says, “I was a kid in the 70’s with a radio and a few albums by the usual suspects as in the Beatles, Stones and the Faces stuff. I still love the classic 70’s songwriters like Randy Newman and Paul Simon, and I’m certainly influenced by the eclecticism of groups like Los Lobos.”

Across New England venues such as the aforementioned Atwoods’ Tavern in Cambridge, MA, the Me & Thee Coffee House in Marblehead, MA, Stone Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, or the upcoming River Walk Café gig in Nashua, Gearan and his often interchangeable bandmates that, on any given night include electric guitarist, Russell Chudnofsky, drummer, Andy Plaistead, standout mandolin player, Sean Staples, and Scott Aruda on trumpet, always deliver, and always have the house rocking. Gearan has a musical style that can wash away the memory of having had a really bad day at work, draw you in, and infuse you with the feeling of wanting to see this performer again and again.

In my mind, perhaps a timeworn Lennon and McCartney lyric off a track from the Beatles Sargent Pepper album, the holy grail of popular music, captures perfectly the experience of seeing Tim Gearan and his ban perform; “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

Paul Collins is a Freelance Writer from Southborough, Massachusetts.