When From Good Homes last released new studio recordings, Christine Todd Whitman was New Jersey’s governor, the Yankees were winning 114 regular-season games before sweeping San Diego for another World Series title and the roots rockers from Sparta mailed postcards to notify fans of gigs.
Now, FGH is back with new music in time for its annual holiday reunion shows at the Newton Theatre: a three-song EP, Time and the River.
“For the past few years now we’ve been trying to get into the studio, or at least get all together in a rehearsal space to try to get some new material going,” said drummer Patrick Fitzsimmons, who formed the band in the mid-1980s with high school buds Todd Sheaffer (guitar, vocals) and Brady Rymer (bass, vocals). “It’s been challenging with all of our schedules. This year, particularly last February, the stars aligned for us, everyone was available and we made it happen.
“We had a blast and were incredibly productive, and it was definitely the most enjoyable recording experience we’ve had as a band.”
The three songs — “Tallahassee Trouble,” “Sweet Spot” and “Lady Liberty” — were released Dec. 14 and will be on the menu when the quintet returns to its home turf, Dec. 21-22 at 8 p.m. at the 605-capacity Newton venue; visit thenewtontheatre.com. (Rymer will also perform children’s music with his Little Band That Could at the Growing Stage in Netcong, Dec. 22 at 11 a.m.; visit growingstage.com.)
The Newton Theatre shows will mark the 10th annual time the band is reuniting for shows in December, with the tradition having started in 2009 at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair. The concerts typically sell out, or come close to doing so.
“From Good Homes has been blessed with wonderfully loyal fans,” said Fitzsimmons. “It’s been great to see them continue to support us.”
Due to the new songs, expect there be more than the usual pep in the step of the quintet and their devoted following.
“It turns out it was quite a productive year, musically,” said Fitzsimmons, who lives in Vermont and tours the Northeast as a singer-songwriter. “I’d been in a bit of a dry spell. My last solo album before (this year’s) Bird Tree was 2012, so it’s nice to have a new batch of songs out there. And it’s been quite wonderful and a little surreal to be making new music with the boys again.”
The EP’s first track, “Tallahassee Trouble” sounds like a relationship song or a remembrance about an old friend. Listening to Sheaffer’s warm, fits-like-a-glove vocal gives the impression it also could be about a band with a lengthy history that is rising again: “We were bound to drift away from the home that we grew up in/But those good old, good old days left a never-ending smile.”
Rymer steps to the mike for “Sweet Spot” and adds some grit to his usual sweet-as-honey singing. This funk-sounding number rides on a punchy rhythm that is accented by Dan Myers’ sax. Rymer adds a spoken-word segment mid-song, with car horns adding to the streetscape sound and a lament about being struck in traffic.
“Lady Liberty” is a timely song, given the national debate over immigration and immigrants and the virulent rhetoric coming out of some quarters in Washington and elsewhere. After an introduction that can sound world-weary, Sheaffer soon brings out the fire and determination via the chorus. He writes — and sings of — the immigrant experience common in the heritage of so many, but one that now is changing:
I’ve come from a country
Torn with terror and strife
And I walk my children by the hand
For a brand new life
And what’s good for me
Is probably true for you
For a better life for your children
Anything you can do
Now I’m held at the border
Of the land of the free
I wait my days in an iron cage
Under lock and key
The new material was recorded just north of Sparta, at Ponderosa Studios in Lafayette. It was engineered by Joe Webster, Tom Askin and Myers, who mixed and mastered the songs at his Dirt Floor Studios in Denville.
Though the three songs and other new ones from a forthcoming release will be on the set lists this weekend, fans will find the songs have that familiar FGH feel. These songs are well-crafted, and full of texture. Longtime Homies — as fans are known — will sway to the dual-harmony, instrumental passages woven by Sheaffer, Myers (also on keyboards) and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Coan and rock to the propulsive rhythm set down by Fitzsimmons and Rymer. The band’s music, led by Sheaffer and firmly rooted in the roots/Americana/jam genres, is always well-executed and played cleanly and without excesses.
From Good Homes will be appearing in Newton without any guests, but they had help on Time and the River. New Jersey keyboard wizard John Ginty appears on two cuts, and first-time collaborator Marty Rifkin gives “Tallahassee Trouble” a country feel with his pedal-steel guitar.
That the band is flourishing with new music and a sold-out show Dec. 22 (a few tickets remain for Dec. 21) is remarkable. It’s been more than 30 years since Fitzsimmons, Sheaffer and Rymer began crafting a sound that would float out of the hills of western New Jersey, catch the attention of music lovers near and far, lead to a contract with RCA Records and the sharing of stages with Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, Bob Weir’s Ratdog, David Crosby and countless others.
Myers joined in 1988 and Coan came on board in 1990. FGH soon established a following at Wetlands in New York, and grew its geographic footprint and fan base through persistent visits to cities such as Albany, N.Y., Boston and Portland, Maine. By the time 1994 came around, they had outgrown Wetlands and moved on to Irving Plaza, where they began a streak of 12 consecutive sellouts.
Their RCA debut, Open up the Sky, soon followed and includes the stellar “Wide Open Wide.” A self-titled album for RCA label was released in 1998. Still, neither studio recording fully captured the dynamics and energy of their joyful live performances. Consequently, the quintet never quite broke through nationally and began to wind things down in 1998. A marathon farewell show the next year closed the books on more than a decade of touring and that chapter of the band’s story.
Each of the five went on to other musical endeavors, most notably Sheaffer with jamgrass stalwarts Railroad Earth. Still, fans never forgot FGH and came out in force in 2009 for the first reunions, recordings of which were offered right after the shows. The shows also were videotaped (see a standout version of the hypnotic “I Only Want” below).
Now, nine years after those first shows following 10 years of none, the band is writing a new chapter – one which its loyal following surely will welcome.
“It’s going to be great fun to be able to play these new songs – the three on the EP as well as some other new ones – for the shows at Newton Theatre,” Fitzsimmons said. “I hope all the fans coming to the shows get a chance to download the new EP and give it a few listens, so they can be singing along with us this weekend.”
Homies can expect more to come from their favorite band: In addition to the release of additional new material, the From Good Homes drummer said there will be more shows in 2019.
For information, visit fromgoodhomes.com.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.