Outside of certain, in-the-know musical circles, Phil Madeira is an unsung hero. A New England native who’s called Nashville home for 30 years, Madeira is beloved in Nashville’s tight-knit community of session players, and has shared stages and studios with artists like Neil Young, Leon Russell, Jack White, and Emmylou Harris, the final of whom has called Madeira a band member (one of her Red Dirt Boys) since 2008.
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Madeira is preparing to release a new solo album, Providence, on April 6. He recorded the album at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios alongside a few of the Red Dirt Boys and legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield.
Ahead of the album’s release, Madeira has shared a live performance video of “Crescent Park,” featuring Chris Donohue on bass, Bryan Owings on drums, and Jimmy Abegg filling in for Scofield on guitar.
Check out the track and read a short essay Madeira wrote about “Crescent Park” below.
Phil Madeira on “Crescent Park”
Crescent Park, an old school amusement park, was literally a half mile from my house, as the crow flies. It was a much further walk, because the crow would be flying across a body of water called Bullock’s Cove. Riverside was the town across the tracks, which all of us in Barrington considered beneath us. Barrington was the upper crust town with secrets and sorrow just beneath the surface. Of course, my dad was a pastor there, so we weren’t well to do; we just lived there.
The pull of a forbidden place is as old as time itself, whether it’s a tree in the Garden of Eden or Pleasure Island for Pinocchio. Crescent Park was the closest amusement park to Barrington, yet we usually went to Lincoln Park in Dartmouth, 45 minutes away. I don’t know why. They had the better roller coaster, I guess.
One day, a neighbor boy named Richard and I snuck off to the park, and as the song says, experienced the rides, deep fried food, cigarettes, and nausea. Our parents never knew until I confessed to my mother. I was never good at keeping my own secrets — yours, yes; mine, no. Being a preacher’s kid meant you had verses swimming around your head like “Your sin will find you out”, so I would just cut to the chase and bare all.
Years later, I was home from college for a summer and wound up working at the park. Their “Comet” roller coaster was just a skeleton, out of service, and the next scary thing was the “Flying Fish,” which I was in charge of. It was a small roller coaster with individual cars that looked like fish. (There’s a sketch of a car in the lyric booklet of the record.)
It was a three person operation: one to get people seated and start their ride, and two brakemen — one for each of the hairpin turns the cars would careen through. The park was failing and that meant that I was the only person running the ride. I would start the ride, then run to the first brake, and then to the second.
Sometimes things were so slow that I would forget that I’d put a person on the ride, and they would be on the most terrifying ride of their life. No brakes! They would come crashing to the end of the ride, and I’m amazed no one ever got a bloody nose due to my slothfulness. I would be reading a book (I believe that summer it was a CS Lewis book called Perelandra), when BAM! Someone’s ride would end.
I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Joyland, about an amusement park, and it is so similar to my experience at Crescent Park. Seedy, scary, yet somehow a weird little community of summer workers like me and year-rounders like Mr. Perry who ran the place. At the end of the day, the folks across the tracks were no different than the privileged upper crusters in Barrington.
We recorded this song, like the others, live in the studio, with the exception of John Scofield’s guitar, which he added later in New England, which seems appropriate. I tried to play the solo piano as if it were one of the shaky, unpredictable carny rides at the park, just like real life, I suppose… shaky, unpredictable, and occasionally thrilling.