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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    A few detours — Veteran songwriter Jim Lampos juggles careers impressively

    Jim Lampos (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    Jim Lampos crafting pies in his family’s Pizza Palace restaurant in Groton (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Old Lyme folksinger Jim Lampos recently released a new CD called “Occulations.” It’s the latest in a series of occasional releases — and a welcome reminder that Lampos is a literate, complex songwriter who, two decades ago, was an ascending star with a growing national reputation.

    That’s when pizza came into play.

    At the time, based in New York City, Lampos performed regularly in top Manhattan and Brooklyn venues. He appeared twice on VH1’s “Midnight Minute,” and solo albums like “Dreamland in Flames,” “Innuendos of Lafayette,” “Rye” and “Cosmogram” were highly praised and creeping onto charts and radio playlists across the country. With his band, Lampos found himself playing up to 150 dates a year.

    But when his father, Ted Lampos, encountered difficulties with his lease at the family’s Pizza Palace restaurant in Groton, Lampos was eager to help. After all, it was family. He returned home.

    “The idea was to help get my father back on track, then get back to New York,” says Lampos, whose day jobs resume included working in various city-planning capacities. “I had plenty of experience with bureaucrats. I figured I could get it sorted out.

    “Then dad had bypass surgery and my wife and I had unexpected twins. We had to choose at that point between New York City and here. On one hand, I could have kept the music thing going at the level I’d attained, but I’d already been wondering: Would it get bigger? I didn’t know. I had a sense that I’d gone over one peak, and it would probably level out.”

    Settling down

    Lampos and his wife, Michaelle Pearson, decided to settle with their twins, Phoebe and Van, in Old Lyme, and soon Lampos was running the restaurant. Time did what it always does. Ted Lampos passed away last summer, but Jim’s mother, Christina, is still in the Palace every day making meatballs and salads. Van is now a freshman at American University in Washington D.C. and daughter Phoebe is a freshman at Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA.

    Lampos and Pearson have co-authored four local history books — “Remarkable Women of Old Lyme,” “Hidden History of Old Lyme, Lyme & East Lyme,” “Rum Runners, Beachcombers, Governors & Socialists: Views of the Beaches of Old Lyme” and “Revolution in the Lymes: From the New Lights to the Sons of Liberty.”

    Last fall, Lampos was elected as a Democrat to Old Lyme’s board of selectmen. And he’s got upcoming guest spots March 1-3 at the Granite Theatre in Westerly of Mike Bailey and Ron Gletherow’s musical “Crossing.”

    “Family is the best part of my life,” Lampos says, “and Pizza Palace has definitely been my career for the past 20 years.” He laughs. “It’s hard to raise a family and put kids through school on a folksinger’s salary. We have it good. We’re invested in our community, and this is a great area.”

    Meanwhile, the music never really went away. Lampos released the “Grand Illumination” and “Entangled States” albums in 2013 and 2016, respectively, and appeared twice on The Day’s “Live Lunch Break” concert series.

    The emergence of “Occulations”

    Now, “Occulations” is out, and it’s resonating big in a way Lampos didn’t anticipate. In the latest Roots Music Report, the album is #15 on the alternative folk chart and #37 on New York albums, and it was the top-added folk album on the prestigious Feb. 8 NACC (North American College & Community) music charts.

    Recorded at the Power Station in Waterford with keyboardist Joel Diamond and guitarist/producer/engineer Gabe Herman, “Occulations” is an intricate, ambitious collection of tunes with fresh twists on traditional folk blueprints and yearning melodies. Ranging in inspiration and subject matter from New England Transcendentalism to the spirit world to evenings in Mystic as a teenager, hanging out with a variety of local characters in the home of renowned runner John Kelly.

    Under Lampos’s aesthetic spell, these memories of people and places are wonderfully evocative and are further magical in that his narrator’s point of view seems to exist in a fusion capacity where past, present and future occur simultaneously.

    This perspective and literary device partially explains the “Occulations” album title. Literally, the word refers to an object that’s obscured to a viewer by the appearance of a closer passing object. Metaphorically, the possibilities are myriad and rich, and Lampos’s dazzling wordplay, rhythm, and imagery bring to mind yet another aspect to his personality. He’s written poetry since he was 12 and has placed many of his pieces in national magazines and poetry reviews.

    Stop! The light’s red

    It's all a prodigious output — including pizzas — and particularly intriguing considering Lampos consciously made the decision some years back to stop writing. He and Michaelle had relocated and were getting acclimated to their new life.

    “I decided I just didn’t want to play the quote/unquote writer game anymore,” he says. “I was gonna do other things.” He laughs. “And that lasted about a year.”

    Lampos blames his inability to stay artistically abstinent on a traffic signal.

    “There’s one light between my house and I-95, which I then take to Groton and the restaurant,” he explains. More often than not, I’d hit the red light, and I suddenly noticed that, while I was sitting there waiting for green, a line or an idea would insist itself on me. And often they were pretty interesting.”

    When he realized this phenomenon wasn’t going to abate, Lampos decided that, when he stopped at the light, if he could still remember the pop-up line from the day before, it might be worth filing away. He’d jot that line down and add the current day’s line. Soon, he was reciting these longer, accumulative scribblings. Even better, he LIKED what was coming out.

    “Sometimes, they presented themselves with vocal melodies, sometimes not,” he says, “but it all started to suggest songs and poems. Once you have words and melody, it’s easy enough to fit the chords and arrangements. And that became my technique. I guess it works!”

    That was the creative breakthrough that resulted in “The Grand Illumination” CD and continues to be the process by which he writes.

    Now what?

    With incoming news that more and more radio stations are adding songs from “Occulations” — Santa Barbara, Dearborn, Hartford, his beloved hometown WCNI, and so on — Lampos faces the possibility that he might have to act on a growing musical momentum he wasn’t sure he’d ever have again. The album is also streaming on all major streaming outlets such as Spotify, Apple, Pandora and Tidal.

    “You know, if the album keeps getting added and it gets to a few dozen charts, who knows?” Lampos says. He pauses. “If it makes sense to do something about it, well, as my daughter says, ‘Dad, you’ll figure it out.’

    “Once upon a time, I had the machine going and the contacts and it was rolling. Once you stop, it IS hard to get back, and the road is a hard place to make money. Right now, I’m still loving what I do and I don’t regret a thing.”

    Copies of “Occulations” are available for $15 at lampos.com.

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