The following was published in The Floyd Press on January 24, 2008.
Bernie Coveney – who has played with Grammy award winner Emmylou Harris, contributed to the soundtrack of King of the Gypsies, and taught Robert Duval how to play guitar for his role in Tender Mercies – has just released a first CD of his own music.
One of the CD’s best reviews came from his neighbor’s mother who received a copy from her son for Christmas. “There’s no yelling. There’s no swearing. And the man plays from his heart,” she said, thanking her son for the gift.
Coveney’s music has been described as mix of gypsy, jazz, and bluegrass. When asked about the meaning of gypsy music, he explained it as a musical style, both emotional and ethnic, rooted in the folk tradition of roving tribal people. The CD, named Whispering Pines, is an instrumental collection of original old and new songs that reflect the inner and outer journeys of Coveney’s life story.
Born in Massachusetts and raised in New Jersey and New York, Coveney already had an impressive musical history when he and his wife Lucy came to Floyd in the mid 90’s to escape crowded city life. It was Lucy who first fell in love with Floyd, while Bernie wondered what he would do for work in a small rural town and worried that his life as a musician would suffer. He had no idea at the time that Floyd had an active and historical music scene.
It didn’t take him long to discover the Friday Night Jamboree and to feel like he had come full circle, back to some of his earliest roots in country music. When he met Jimmy DeHart, a prominent Floyd musician and jamboree mainstay, Coveney discovered an eerie connection to Floyd that had preceded his own arrival.
In the late 1970’s when Coveney was a single father of two, he sold his old Martin guitar to a collector because he needed the money. DeHart’s daughter later bought it in Ohio for her father. It was Coveney’s first time at the Country Store jamboree when he recognized the hole near the pick guard. It took a photo of Coveney with the guitar and a matched up serial number to fully convince DeHart (who has since passed away) that such an unlikely coincidence was indeed true.
The cover design of Whispering Pines is from a photograph by Doug Thomspon. The music was mixed and recorded at Martin Scudder’s Mountain Lighthouse Studio in Floyd. Scudder also plays electric violin on many of the songs. Other Floyd musicians who are well featured on the CD include acoustic violinist, Mike Mitchell, mandolinist, Abe Gorskey, and bassist Chris Luster. Luster’s bass accompanies Coveney’s guitar throughout the CD and is highlighted in a solo segment on a song titled “Coming Home.” Another song features the rise and fall and weaving together violins in a duo by Scudder and Mitchell. Gorskey’s mandolin adds a spirited up-beat to two of the selections.
The first song on the CD, Lucky Lou, was written for Lucy who died from cancer in 2002. It’s a playful song, composed soon after they had met. “I felt so lucky to have found her,” Coveney said.
The title song, Whispering Pines, named by Lucy and inspired by the pine trees that border Coveney’s Floyd property, opens with the sound of wind and the cry of a hawk.
“BJ’s Rag,” the shortest song in the collection bears the name of Coveney’s vanity license plate and was written when his first son, BJ, was born. “The fretting reminds me of tickling a baby,” Coveney writes in the liner notes.
“Still I Wonder” was inspired by a Virginia setting where Trappists Monks once meditated. It includes the only vocals on the recording. The ethereal voices of Dorian Dugger and Kari Kovick add a sense of mystery to the penetrating melody.
“En La Frontera” is a border song written when Bernie lived in San Antonio, Texas. It was named by a local resident and plays out like the soundtrack to a cowboy adventure, complete with a love story.
For “New Love,” a song about exploring the freedom of expression, Coveney traveled to New Jersey to record it with his high school friend and fellow musician, John Carlini. Country music wasn’t widely popular in the Tri-state area in the 1960’s when Carlini and Coveney would listen to it on a car radio. They liked it so much that they traveled to Pennsylvania to hear the Campbell Hour radio show, broadcast from the back of Ola Belle Reed and Alex Campbell’s store, where Coveney and Carlini eventually were invited to play on the air. Carlini went on to play with New Jersey native David Grisman, who was a forerunner in the fusion of bluegrass into what is sometimes referred to as “newgrass.” Grisham gained some notoriety through his musical collaborations with Gerry Garcia and has played at Floyd Fest.
Coveney, who makes his living teaching music and playing private events, has headed up bands since first coming to Floyd and has finally settled on a name: Bernie Coveney with Natural Selection. Natural Selection refers to the roving roster of musicians he plays with. Besides the musicians featured on his CD, Coveney frequently plays with actor and former owner of Oddfellas Cantina, Rob Neukirch who sings as well as plays guitar.
Bernie says developing one’s own recognizable sound is what is important to him as a musician and what he encourages his students to work towards. On Whispering Pines, he closes out the rounded sound of the CD with a signature sweet guitar solo, the last plunk of which plays like a period at the end of rich conversation. ~ Colleen Redman
Post Notes: For more information, visit berniecoveney.com. Whispering Pines can be purchased for $15 locally at Blue Ridge Muse, Café Del Sol, New Mountain Mercantile, and The Floyd Country Store, or online at cdbaby.com where the songs can also be heard. Photos are: 1. Bernie at Over the Moon Café. 2. Whispering Pines CD. 3. Bernie giving a porch guitar lesson to Joe.