Amanda Duncan celebrates CD release in Hazlet by Asbury Park Press by Stephen B
Lucent in her aura of breezy candor, Amanda Duncan is that rare sort of person who seems like she could conquer the world -- completely by accident.
I guess I just try to write good songs that make people feel good; that's really my main goal. I'm not trying to change people's lives in any major way,'' says Duncan, of Hazlet. "I just want them to feel like dancing or just kind of smile, maybe put my CD on in the car and just jam out.''
On Saturday, Duncan will celebrate the release of her new EP with a show at the Hazlet Firehouse hosted by 16-year-old talk-radio extraordinaire Zach Sang (of Internet radio station WZAP) and opened by the touring high school music program Rock 'n' Roll Chorus.
The firetrucks are going to be all cleared out; a stage is going to be set up,'' she said. "We're having local businesses cater some of the food, and we're trying to get a raffle going of some sort. Basically, we're throwing a huge party, and everyone is invited.''
The decision to throw an all-ages release party in such an unconventional setting is an accommodation to Duncan's younger fans and her own larger-than-life aspirations.
I'm a very grass-roots type of person; I've found that approach works best for me,'' Duncan said. "But I also have big ideas. I can't help it; it's just how I work. And I wanted to find a place that was big enough but also community-oriented. I've done a lot of volunteering throughout my life -- that's always meant a lot to me -- so it was important that this show was held in my hometown.''
Of course, the show might have never got off the ground had it not been for the support of Duncan's unwavering longtime fanbase.
It's so funny, my parents are so, so excited, they've really got involved in helping me with this,'' she said. "I guess a lot of musicians wouldn't let that happen, but for me, my parents are so proud, and it's an honor. Everywhere they go, they keep talking about it. It's amazing what good promoters they are. I made up a flier, and my mom went and sent out 400 invitations to family and friends. In a sense, it's kind of like my wedding.''
Performing with Duncan will be fellow Hazlet musicians Joanna Burns (who produced Duncan's EP), Dave O'Brien, Charlie Pranio and Mike Basmagy.
It's so weird because when I was in high school, there really wasn't a whole lot of music making going on. Some of us were musicians, but we were considered the weirdos,'' Duncan said. "Now, there's so much music coming out of this area -- me, my band, Joanna Burns, Phil Bensen (who sings backup vocals on Duncan's EP) -- there are a lot of people coming out of Hazlet that are really doing some cool things.''
Duncan thrives on the art of collaboration, its constant challenge and long-term rewards.
I feel that working with other musicians, as opposed to just writing songs in a vacuum, really helps turn you into a better musician,'' she said. "A lot of times I co-write with Joanna (Burns), and she'll say, "Well, I think you could change this,' or "I really like that, but if you did this, it could really make things pop.' It's important to have people whose opinions you trust, people who will help you improve what you're doing and not just tell you what you want to hear.''
Duncan, whose goals include establishing a foothold on the college-campus circuit, says although she's been performing and composing since she was a child, her career is only now at its daybreak.
This show, this album, it's a really big deal to me. I've been writing songs for a long time, and finally I have something legit as far as recordings go,'' she said. "It's funny, everything is finally coming together, and, well, I'm just really excited. I've been playing and recording all this stuff for so long, I just kind of feel like, once this is over, my life can begin. Once I have these CDs in my hand, my life can begin. It's been a long process, and I can't wait.''
Amanda Duncan/Building Bridges And Genuine Connect by John Pfeiffer - The Aquarian
I remember when I was playing full-time in the music scene. While there were some crazy bands out there, most of us had no phony expectations about what we were doing.You pretty much did what you did because you were known for that and it just came naturally. Early development included heavy practice, vision and, above all, passion for the music. But, as you start to chase those elusive dreams of fame and fortune, the managers and agents ooze out of the woodwork, hissing commands like, “Don’t do that! Think this way! Wear this! Play here, but don’t play here! Smile, baby smile!!”… And so, the innocence begins to scream away like a deflating balloon on the hot summer roof of a North Jersey strip mall.
This being said, that’s one of the many reasons I love Amanda Duncan. She safeguards her appeal by never forgetting why she’s doing what she does.As she says in her song “Love I Have For You”:“Fifty cent words cannot explain all the feelings I have for you.No need to pay for words to say, for something so deep down and true.”
Duncan’s innocence and genuine appeal are completely contagious, and you might think she could care less about this dysfunctional business of music, but of course that’s not the case. Never underestimate a player such as Amanda Duncan. While it is true that she may be petite, Amanda is blessed with one giant set of pipes and a knack for writing lyrics so honest they cut right to the core of her audience’s listening lobes.It doesn’t hurt that she’s entertaining and funny as well.
So, as the story goes, after discovering her uncle’s guitar in high school, she began writing songs about silly things at first, but as her musical understanding grew, so did her desire to really connect with people. She realized that if she was feeling strongly enough to dignify a situation there must be others who could relate and benefit from hearing their own story. Amanda says, “There are so many songs out there that are reflective of negative issues of people’s lives.I want to connect with the positive.”
A self-taught musician, Amanda is one hell of a guitar player and most interestingly, a mandolin picker as well.For those listeners looking for something refreshing, Duncan delivers.I got the chance to catch Amanda at The Twisted Tree in Asbury Park on earlier this month and was entranced with her original style as she dropped tunes like “Straight Up,”by Paula Abdul, done smartly on the mandolin, and her own compositions, like the above mentioned gem, “Love I Have For You,”and “Words That I Say,” as well as several others.And I noticed that after Duncan performed her set, she stayed for the whole show as AMA nominees took their turn on the Twisted stage.
And while Duncan excels in the intimate setting, she is no stranger to the big stage, opening shows for Melissa Ferrick as well as Teddy Geiger and even Debbie Gibson.Her talents as a writer and musician show by the steady increase in popularity in the Jersey scene and the world beyond.She has also been nominated for the “Best Female Acoustic Performer” award this year (and may have won that honor by this press time) at the world famous Stone Pony on Nov.17.
Duncan has been Influenced by everyone from Bela Fleck And The Flecktones to New Jersey’s very own Joanna Burns.She infuses the pop country structure with a folkier sound reminiscent of Joni Mitchell meets Natalie Maines and makes it all her own.
While currently unsigned, Amanda concentrates on building her sound and maintaining a nice web presence as well as collaborating with artists in and around her native New Jersey, something that seems to be catching on quite a bit lately.And with Amanda involved, it can only be good news for us music fans.Go see what she’s up to online at amandaduncan.com