One of the stalwarts of Columbus music, Donna Mogavero had been performing regularly for over ten years when she decided to finally record a full album of her songs. At the end of 1994, she was recognized as Best Folk Singer, Best Rock Singer, Best Solo Acoustic Performer and was honored as Folk Talent Deserving Wider Recognition at the First Annual Columbus Music Awards held at the Newport Music Hall. Her first album, Acoustic, was released in 1995 and proved that the recognition was well deserved.
As Mogavero left the Newport the night of her Columbus Music Awards haul, she saw her van, with all her equipment inside, being towed away. A classic metaphor for life as a musician; high on success and immediately humbled back to reality. But she’d persevere with the release of Acoustic the following year. The years of experience and dues-paying she'd put in to that point are apparent. The album showcases Mogavero’s formidable voice and songwriting backed by some of the finest musicians in town.
Unfortunately, Acoustic tends to get overlooked in favor of her later releases, even by the artist herself. Mogavero’s liner notes begin, “It’s not my ultimate recording,” and in his 2016 Local Lix podcast, host Pat McLoughlin’s attempts to steer Donna towards discussion of Acoustic never quite succeed. “I think my songwriting has gotten better as I’ve aged,” she noted in a September 2021 interview with Brad Circone (The Toll) for his Getting The Brand Back Together podcast (gbbt.fm). “My first Acoustic album, when I listen to it, I’m like, there are some really good songs on here. But if you listen to ‘em, I mean, there’s where you can maybe hear my Joni Mitchell influence. You know? I mean, I’ve gone back and had to re-learn them, going, what was I playing? You know, what is that chord? None of it is commercial.”
I think she short-changed the album. Produced by Mogavero and Joe Viers at the first-class John Schwab Recording Studios, there’s no lack of professionalism, but it does have the impalpable feel of a tight budget. As is so often the case with recordings of this era, I’d love to hear a fresh mix and master. However, as a debut, it’s quite an impressive artistic statement. Opening with The Kick, it’s immediately clear that this album is not strictly acoustic - it may feature acoustic guitars, but it’s eclectic. It rocks when it wants to, but also has the jazzy sophistication of, say, Joni Mitchell in her fusion era. Big Dreams Come True is strumming along nicely when an unexpected jazz chord comes out of nowhere. Molly Pauken's banjo gives a taste of country to Fields. This gives the proceedings a lot of character. Mogavero had a fully formed sound and style by the time of this first album.
When a rhythm section is needed, Tony McClung on drums and Andy Woodson on bass drive things along with a tasteful and appropriate sense of dynamics at this relatively early stage of their recording careers. Playing with the accompaniment of Woodson's fretless bass, as on Tell Me When was a pretty bold choice. But it’s Mogavero’s voice that immediately grabs you. It’s impossible not to think of Bonnie Raitt, who Donna acknowledges as an influence, but Mogavero’s voice has a soulfulness and heft all its own. In This Room is a catchy, melodic standout song with some killer acoustic work by Mike Nugen. Sweet Care Of Mine is a touching tribute to late Columbus musician Ronald Koal, who sadly took his life in 1993, and to “lost ones everywhere.”
Bassist Dave Pomeroy (Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood) took notice of the album's accomplished songwriting and convinced Donna to go to Nashville to play some showcases. She tells a great story in the GBBT podcast about one of the Taylor showcases she did in Nashville which was in the round. When it came to her turn, she was set to play the open-tuned In This Room. The D string is tuned to an E and she broke the string while tuning. No worries, she borrowed another guitar - and then promptly popped that D string too! Oh, those fleeting opportunities in the career of a musician.
After three months in Nashville, she came back to Columbus. She'd also spend some time in Los Angeles, but Donna's always been vocal about her love of Columbus and is grateful for the support she’s received throughout the years. We’re fortunate to have her as a prominent part of the fabric of Columbus’ incredible music community. Her impact as one of Columbus’ finest singer-songwriters continues to endure.
1 The Kick
10 Like A Kid
Copyright © – Donna Mogavero Music
Recorded At – John Schwab Recording
Made By – Americ Disc
Artwork [Original] – Linda Apple
Banjo – Molly Paulken
Bass – Andy Woodson
Cover [Design] – Elisa Nicolas
Design [Scratchy Donna] – Eric Nuzum
Drums – Tony McClung
Photography By [Back photo] – George C. Anderson
Vocals – Betsy Cornell
Vocals, Guitar – Donna Mogavero