Lissa Schneckenburger’s early albums feature song titles like “Lady Walpole’s Reel” and “Fair Maid by the Sea Shore.” As you’d probably guess reading those old-timey titles, these were not her own compositions. This professional fiddler has been studying and performing the traditional music of America’s Northeast ever since she was six. She even got her degree on the subject in 2001 from the New England Conservatory of Music.
On her new album Thunder in My Arms, though, this expert player of centuries-old music tried something new: recording her own songs. And not compositions that sound like old reels and jigs either, but contemporary folk-rock songs. Songs that sound like the 21st century, not the 17th.
To get a more modern sound, she even set aside her primary instrument. “I felt like the nature of the songs I was writing, and the intensity of the subject matter really needed some more aggressive sonic textures, and the fiddle style that I have used for most of my life wasn’t the right fit,” she writes in an email. Instead, backed by horns and strings and other vocalists, she channels jazz-tinged pop singers like Norah Jones (“I Need Us Together”) and Regina Spektor (“I’ll Stick Around”).
The polished and catch songs on Thunder in My Arms hardly sound like someone first dipping her toes in the singer-songwriter waters. Turns out, Schneckenburger has been writing music this whole time. But until now, she was never satisfied with the results. “In the last four or five years, I became more interested in working on writing better songs as a creative and personal challenge,” she says. “I developed a writing practice, started studying other songs that I really loved, and did some writing in collaboration with others, which all helped me move my compositional output to a level that I felt more comfortable with professionally.”
The inspiration that finally led her to songs she felt satisfied with came from parenting. She’s been both a foster and adoptive parent, and volunteered in an advocacy group working with others in similar situations. “In my attempts to be a better parent, I found plenty of invaluable books and workshops that got that point across, but no songs,” she writes. “I set out to write songs that would resonate with other parents like myself. Songs about loneliness, exhaustion, beauty, abandonment, love, loss, and above all, hope.”
Stream Lissa Schneckenburger’s Thunder in My Arms below, and buy it at Bandcamp.