Songwriters In The Raw w/Nico Padden, Christine Sweeney, and Jessica Smucker
Run Time: 180 min.
Pirate Queen is also the nickname given to Padden by her friends and fans, and it represents who she is—musical leader, woman who defies gender norms, outspoken feminist, and lover/protector of those around her. Her music is both tender and fierce, laden with harmonies, powerful choruses, and catchy hooks.
Padden’s musical roots run deep— she comes from a music teacher family and earned a degree in opera performance before focusing on her career as a singer-songwriter. Her musical activities vary widely: her choral arrangement of her song “White Flag” went viral in 2018 and as a result, has been performed by choirs across the United States and Canada. She is the author ofUkulele Rockstars, a method book for teaching ukulele, and she is the composer ofRomeo & Juliet, the Rock Musical. She is a dog lover and an outspoken advocate for people with Celiac disease.
She sets the scene: “I had some cassettes and would also tape songs from the radio. I would play them over and over again, focusing on singing to a small part of the song. Rewind, play, repeat.”
To her, the R&B vocal influence isn’t unnatural in the folk setting. The result of this influence reminds her fans of Susan Tedeschi, Brandi Carlile, Sheryl Crow, KT Tunstall, or Grace Potter with music that grooves and rocks but also tells her story.
“I was an alto voice part. I really appreciated the alto harmonies. They’re always complex and stanky. We’ve got the nasty dissonant harmony notes because they’re so nice in the middle,” Christine says. She would go on to refine her voice as well as study music theory and songwriting at SUNY New Paltz.
Her recent album ‘Heart In a Hurry’ is a culmination of this pairing of folk and soul, with generous dashes of blues, pop, Americana, and yes, R&B, in sharp, open-hearted new songs — some drawn from life lessons learned the hard way and shared with her listeners. “I hope by hearing some of the more personal details or the more raw emotional descriptions in the songs … that the listener will be able to connect with their own experience.
Christine’s songs can exist in a big, full-band milieu or played solo in a hushed listening room, with equal impact. Whether rocking a festival stage with her full band or performing alone in a hushed, candle-lit folk club, Christine Sweeney will give you goosebumps with her voice and then hit you with the depth of her storytelling. While she got her start singing to songs taped from the radio, now she can be heard on the airwaves herself.
Although Jessica cares deeply about big picture issues like social justice, she tends to write about life’s more intimate moments. How it feels to walk through an empty house after love has left it. The difference between carrying a child in the womb and mothering them in the world outside. The particular ways a happy marriage can slide into decline. The simultaneous rush and terror of falling in love. The way humans can hunger for things (like peace on earth, or god) we don’t even believe in. The tricks and techniques we all use to shield ourselves from the kinds of knowledge that might lead to pain.
Jessica has toured nationwide, and performs regularly throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. She has opened for Cheryl Wheeler and Bill Staines, and shared billing with Heather Maloney, Meghan Trainor, Rachael Sage, Gangstagrass, Abbie Gardner, and the Stray Birds. Notable venues include the Tin Angel (Philadelphia), Godfrey Daniels (Bethlehem, PA), The Cellar Stage (Baltimore), Steel City Coffeehouse (Phoenixville, PA), World Cafe Live (Philadelphia), Muses in the Vineyard (Belvidere, NJ), Musikfest (Bethlehem, PA), and 30A Songwriters Festival (Santa Rosa Beach, FL). She has won or placed in numerous national songwriting contests including SolarFest’s Singer/Songwriter Showcase Competition, the Connecticut Folk Festival Song Competition, and the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest.
Her discography spans from 2008-2022 and includes two EPs, three full-length albums, and a handful of singles. The Sleeping World (2008), a self-titled EP released by Jessica’s first rock band, was recorded by Seventh Wave Studio in Harrisburg, PA. 2010 saw two releases, both recorded in Lancaster, PA basement studios: Reluctantly Yours (EP), a stripped-down acoustic recording featuring mostly piano, violins, and banjo; and This Broken Moment (LP), a full-band album released as Jessica Smucker & The Sleeping World. It wasn’t until she started working with producer Chad Kinsey in 2012 that Jessica really found her stride as a recording artist. Tumbling After (2014) was produced by Kinsey and features bassist Mike Bitts (The Innocence Mission) and drummer Paul Murr (Jeffrey Gaines, Fauna Flora, Jackie Evancho), with guest vocals by Heather Maloney (appearing courtesy of Signature Sounds Recordings) and Keith Wilson (Movies With Heroes). Lucid Stories, Tentative Lies, recorded with the same production team, dropped in October 2020, followed by an irreverent Christmas single, “Let’s Get a Tree” in December of that year. In August 2021, Jessica released “Dinosaurs,” a pandemic love song co-produced by Kinsey and keyboard/synth player Matt Thomas. “Rose of Jericho,” another synth-pop single, dropped a few months later, followed by “Stones to Throw” and “Phoenix” in February and March of 2022, and “War of Attrition” later that year. Jessica is currently working on another studio project, aiming for a 2024 release.
In her life beyond music Jessica is a published poet and essayist, a social justice warrior, freakishly good at Scrabble, and mother to two of the smartest people she’s ever met in real life.