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Rebellion, renaissance & redemption: Billy Sedlmayr's 'Charmed Life'

Anyone who follows the local music scene knows all too well the tribulations of poet-author-singer-songwriter Billy Sedlmayr’s life. We know of the wasted years and poor choices. One could easily become bitter and hardened after enduring such trials as drug addiction and incarceration, but not Sedlmayr. He still has much to give.

It is said that grace is the amount of light in one’s soul and in recent years Sedlmayr, 53, has diligently used his imagination to fill the fissures through which grace might pass. His pain was a school unto itself and writing prose, poetry and songs enabled him to exorcise his demons and tap successfully into his vast store of creativity. Without the sand there would be no pearl and with the help of good friends, Sedlmayr has transformed the detritus of his life into a lustrous gem of a record.

His solo debut, "Charmed Life," was recently released by Fell City Records.

At a release party at Club Congress last week, Sedlmayr took to the stage in an air of humility and grace. The stage was simply set with a lone table, chair and a lamp. Sedlmayr sat, turned on the lamp and extended an intimate invitation to the audience, welcoming them into his life and beckoning that they come closer so they could listen to the stories just waiting to be told. The crowd was quite diverse with aging as well as young faces who watched Sedlmayr with rapt fascination, hanging on his every word.

The enthusiastic audience swelled to the front of the stage where they were delighted with Sedlmayr’s backing players, Mother Higgins Children’s Band. The band’s name is a cheeky nod to an old, punitive Arizona reference to a home for juvenile delinquents and young miscreants.

Headed up by musical alchemist and guitarist Gabriel Sullivan, the band played exuberantly in a constant exchange of high energy between the Sedlmayr and the musicians. In his characteristic reedy and slightly dry voice, he sang each of his new songs with passion and conviction. Sedlmayr references the Sonoran Desert in three songs on the record: "The Desert is No Lady," "Monsoon Florence," and "Tucson Kills"

In each of these songs, Sedlmayr effectively conveys his sense of reverence and respect for the desert, having learned very hard lessons of survival during the drought of his incarceration.

“Me, I done 10 years in y’alls backyard.
Florence prison yard.
Make a man go crazy, then hard.”
"Tucson Kills" – William Sedlmayr

Fellow singer-songwriter Gabriel Sullivan was a major assist in the raising the money to produce Sedlmayer’s record, helping him pull together over $10,000 for the project. Sullivan also hand-picked the musicians for the record, knowing exactly what elements to combine to create its sound. Backing Sedlmayr were Sullivan on guitars, Connor Gallaher on pedal steel guitar, Thøger Lund on bass, Jason Urman on keys and accordion, Efren Cruz Chavez on percussion, Winston Watson on drums, Dante Rosano and Jon Villa on horns with Tom Walbank on harmonica. This formidable body of talent lent richness and complexity to the arrangements, while delivering invigorating joy in the music.

Sedlmayr, in collaboration with Sullivan, created songs suffused with classic country torch and twang, rhythmic Latin flavor, a hefty dose of the blues and the sounds of life in a Southwestern town.

To the enjoyment of listeners, Billy Sedlmayr and Mother Higgins Children’s Band performed 22 songs in 90 minutes without a break on Friday. At one point in the show, Sedlmayr politely asked that a beer be sent to the stage to quench his thirst. Loyal audience members immediately relinquished their own beers and soon Sedlmayr was surrounded by a dozen beers in an attempt to keep him singing.

In the song "Korah’s Rebellion," he makes reference to a biblical parable in which Korah questions the authority of God. The rebellion of Korah demonstrates the grim consequences of usurping the authority of God and of those whom He has chosen to be leaders of His people.

Sedlmayr sings the ballad with the plaintive tone of one who is weary of struggling against the tide and the resignation of a beleaguered soul patiently awaiting some peace in his life.

“It went from so good, to so bad, so soon
So good, to so bad, so soon
But nobody told me, so I never knew
It goes from so good, to so bad, so soon.”
-Shel Silverstein

Sedlmayr closed the set with an acoustic interpretation of a Shel Silverstein song, "So Good to So Bad." Shel Silverstein was a celebrated songwriter of popular country classics such as "A Boy Named Sue." Similar to Sedlmayr, Silverstein was also an author, poet, songwriter and acclaimed cartoonist. "So Good to So Bad" was not included on the new "Charmed Life" but it should have been.

Sedlmayr credits swimming laps for increasing his stamina and improving his singing — a change evident in his onstage performance of this song. His voice had clarity and strength, delivering the poignant lyrics with a redemptive sweetness. This was the perfect ending to a monumental show.

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courtesy C. Elliott

Sedlmayr at a performance to celebrate the release of his first solo record, last week at Club Congress.