By MIKE CHAIKEN
When you capture lightning in a jar, it makes sense to share the glow.
And that’s what 10,000 Maniacs did with its latest album, “Playing Favorites,” a live album that features many of the band’s hits.
The band—which includes Mary Ramsey on vocals, Jerome Augustyniak on drums, Dennis Drew on keyboards, Jeff Erickson on guitar, Steven Gustafson on bass and John Lombardo on guitar, performs at the Ridgefield Playhouse on July 17.
Mary, in a phone interview, explained the record took shape after the band recorded one of its live sets at a theater in Jamestown, N.Y.
“That show really captured a lot of energy and excitement,” said Mary. And the band decided it made sense to release the performance as a recording.
The album is called, “Playing Favorites.” However, Mary said, the title is not only a reference to the band’s favorites but the audience’s well.
“We put a set list together that included what we love and what the audiences love,” said Mary. Through trial and error, they found a set list that worked well and that’s what people hear on the CD.
10,000 Maniacs was recorded in 1981 and many of the songs on “Playing Favorites” have been part of the set list ever since they were recorded.
As the years have gone on, Mary said many of the songs have evolved from their original form. For instance, Mary—who joined the band in 1997—plays viola and violin. So, her instrumentation adds a different flavor to some of the older tracks. Additionally, the band has opened up some of the songs to jams that weren’t there originally. And the energy of the band that it exudes in the songs has evolved as well, said Mary.
As the singer, Mary sees her job to help along with the evolution of the band’s catalogue. She likes to add to the energy of the performance. And there are times where she plays with the melodies—adding phrases or notes. Mary sees her job as adding energy and some reinterpretation ofth melodies and phrases or add a few notes. “It makes it a lot of fun (to perform).”
In addition to 10,000 Maniacs’ hits such as “Trouble Me,” “Like the Weather,” and “Hey Jack Kerouac,” the album features the band’s performances of some cover songs such as Bruce Springsteen’s (by way of Patti Smith’s) “Because the Night.”
Another one of those cover songs, Roxy Music’s “More than This,” was the first single Mary recorded with 10,000 Maniacs after her predecessor Natalie Merchant went solo.
Mary said the song selection was hers. “I loved Roxy Music,” said Mary. She suggested the band tackle something by the band, which was led by Bryan Ferry. They settled on “More than This” and worked on an arrangement, landing on the on that was eventually recorded.
“The fun part of that song is that the words have a simple poetry,” said Mary. “When I sing them, they connect with my life.” And as the years pass, she said the words for the song often take on newer meanings.
When 10,000 Maniacs plays Ridgefield, the set list will be similar to what is on “Playing Favorites.” But some other songs may pop up, said Mary, including some new music.
“It’s not all about dancing,” said Mary of the set list. “Some songs are more listening pieces.” Some provide more room for her viola and violin. And some songs reflect some Celtic roots, which the band explored in its 2015 release, “Twice Told Tales,” which featured traditional British Isles folk songs.
10,000 Maniacs has not released an album of original music since 2013’s “Music from the Motion Picture.” But Mary said the band is always “squirreling” away new music it has written.
“Our thought is we want to continue to put out new music.” And Mary said 10,000 Maniacs’ next album will be all original material.
“Playing Favorites,” said Mary, took shape because the pieces fell into place. The band had a great recording. They had a successful crowdfunding effort to help put the album out (“It’s nice to have this new relationship with the fans”). And the art work on the album was a home run.
But, she said, next time around, fans will have that new material, 10,000 Maniacs has been squirreling away.
10,000 Maniacs performs at the Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge, Ridgefield on Sunday, July 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45. For more information, go to RidgefieldPlayhouse.org or Maniacs.com.