For the first installment of our special portrait series, "The Big Picture," photographer Seth Jacobson captured the image at right of singer/songwriter Nancy Parent on one of the grassy medians which divides the salt marshes at Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington. As the Waterford resident releases the first single off her first solo album this month, the setting provided the perfect metaphor for this new season in her life as an artist.
Barn Island is a place where the wind coming off the water sighs through the grasses and the leaves shiver with applause. March rains make the walking paths a muddy gamble. Kitesurfers wing the water through the summer, their single bright fins sailing the skyline. In autumn, the variegated grasses ache with color, the ever-presence of ocean salt and the slow, sure smell of leaves being returned into earth. It is a place of transition, of new and changing life; reflective of where Parent finds herself with the release of "Vision of Angels."
"For the first time in my life, it is just me in my artistic journey," she said. "I'm finding my own 'voice,' you could say, after many years of trying to locate that. I see it as a real gift."
Parent's education included classical training in voice, and she performed in musicals and operas throughout her high school and college days. For the past 15 years, she has performed as co-vocalist and steel pedal player with The Rivergods, a New London-based alt-country-rock band fronted by her husband, Ben. "I learn so much being in that band," she said, adding that she didn't expect her own project "to evolve as quickly as it has — my songwriting has really taken off."
Surprising indeed, considering Parent's schedule.
She teaches anthropology and women's studies at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point, where she is pursuring her Ph.D. Her doctoral research examines science education in contemporary Native American communities. A mother of two, she also serves as the university's coordinator of the Faculty Learning Community.
Citing Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan among her influences, Parent says she strives for music that is "sparse and lyrically and vocally honest," and that her verses often begin as a personal reflection which develops into a song with universal import. She said she weaved themes from every area of her life into the songs on "Vision of Angels."
One song, "Sin-Sick Soul," was inspired by her university work. As part of her curriculum, students are encouraged to examine media and commercial constructs of beauty, the body and human sexuality.
"Other songs reference the struggles I've had and many women I know have experienced — depression, body image, addiction in a culture that degrades and exploits women's sense of identity and purpose."
"[The album] is both personal and political. It references women's wisdom and women's voices. And it addresses the empires of capitalism that oppress people all over the world," she said.
But Parent's music does not strand the listener in a sunless place. As compelled as she is to decry the things which wear away the human heart, she emphasizes that redemption is never out of reach.
"Hope is the message," she said. "Hope for personal growth and
recovery, hope for a more just world, and hope for all of us transcending our inner battles by listening to the truth/vision/wisdom that is potentially within us all."
You can read more about the photographer's lighting tips and techniques on the educational section of his blog,
You who don't believe the truth
in these voices
How foolish you are, how slow of heart to a vision of angels
Gentle whisper on the wind
You're vying for freedom, but you won't give up your things
And you turn away from the
wisdom. You turn away from the pain.
An empire of laws and idols that you worship
Turn around and 'round the cause
Denial of the hardship and a vision of angels
Gentle whisper on the wind
You're fighting for freedom, but you won't step in the ring
And you turn away from the heartache. You turn away from the shame.
You turn away from the wisdom. You turn away from the pain
You turn away from the
heartache. You turn away from
Oh … vision of angels.
Lyrics by Nancy Parent, reprinted with permission. For more information or to download songs from the new album, visit www.nancyparent.com.