WILLIAM FITZSIMMONS-CHARLEROI: PITTSBURGH VOLUME 2.

WILLIAM FITZSIMMONS-CHARLEROI: PITTSBURGH VOLUME 2.

It was Mark Twain who wrote: “write about what you know.” Many aspiring writers have taken Mark Twain’s advice, and have gone on to enjoy long and successful careers. However, Mark Twain’s quote also applies to songwriters. This includes William Fitzsimmons who has drawn upon personal experience throughout his career. His latest mini album Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2, which was recently released by Gronland Records. 

Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 is the followup to William Fitzsimmons 2015 album Pittsburgh. It was an intensely personal, moving and hopefully, cathartic  album that dealt with the death of the grandmother he knew and loved. However, Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 also deals with the death of William’s grandmother. This time, though, it’s the grandmother he never knew,

The story began when William’s grandmother took her son to the hospital, suffering from whooping cough. Although the baby recovered, his mother never returned. For several months, the orphan remained in the hospital. Fortunately, a doctor in the hospital  adopted the baby, and brought the child up. Since then, mystery surrounded what happened to William’s grandmother.

As the years passed by, William’s father had almost given up finding out what happened to his parents. All William’s father knew about his parents, was that his father died when he was an infant. Apart from that, details were sketchy. The rest of William’s father family never tried to trace him.  As the years passed by, there seemed less chance that William’s father would ever known the truth. Then in 2015, after neigh on sixty years, the Fitzsimmons’ family made a remarkable discovery.

After almost sixty years of wondering what happened to his parents, William’s father finally traced  his mother. Her name was Thelma, and she had lived in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Tragically, she had passed away a few years previously, and was never reunited with her song, and her grandson William Fitzsimmons. The songs on William Fitzsimmons’ mini Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 are about Thelma, the grandmother he never knew. Just like previous albums, Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 is a highly personal album from a William Fitzsimmons, a truly talented singer-songwriter.

William Fitzsimmons was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1978. He was the youngest child in the Fitzsimmons family. Both of William’s parents were blind. Despite this, both parents were talented musicians, capable of playing a variety of disparate instruments. Their talent rubbed off on William.

By the time William was in elementary school, he was already able to play piano and trombone. This meant that William could join in the impromptu musical evenings in the Fitzsimmons family home.

With William’s parents both blind, music played an important part in the family home. Some nights, William’s parents, and the rest of the family, sang, and played the musical instruments that filled the house. For the Fitzsimmons’ family, these were happy times, with everyone sharing in a common interest, music. It would play an important part in William’s life.

When William entered junior school he began to teach himself guitar. Later, William learnt how to play banjo, melodica and ukelele. This would stand William in good stead when he embarked upon his musical career. That was a long way off.

Before that, William headed to college. He had decided to pursue a career in the mental health. Eventually, William hoped to become a therapist. This meant many years of study at Geneva College in Pennsylvania. Eventually, William graduated with a Masters Degree in Counselling. 

Already William had experience working with people with mental health problems. This came during the summer months, when William was on holiday. However, during one summer, William’s interest in music was rekindled.

It was towards the end of his training, that William started writing and recording music. William was on a summer break. As usual, William was working. However, this summer he had been asked to write some songs. Rhis was in preparation for William beginning work as a therapist. However, it was partly a cathartic experience. 

For some time, William had been suffering from some psychological problems. Through writing and recording a collection of songs, he was able to exercise some ghosts from William’s past. These songs became William’s debut album Until When We Are Ghosts. William self-released Until When We Are Ghosts in 2005. 

Until When We Are Ghosts.

William wrote the eleven tracks that became Until When We Are Ghosts. He also played all the instruments and produced the album. Until When We Are Ghosts was then sold via William’s My Space page. It was a very personal album.

For Until When We Are Ghosts,William drew upon personal experience. With titles like When I Come Home, My Life Changed, Forsake All Others, The Problem Of Pain, When You Were Young and Shattered, it’s a soul-baring album. Until When We Are Ghosts is almost a cathartic confessional. This would be the case with much of William’s music.

Goodnight.

A year after releasing Until When We Are Ghosts, William was still juggling his career as a therapist, and as a musician. However, he had found time to write and record his sophomore album, Goodnight. It too, was a very personal album.

Just like Until When We Are Ghosts, Goodnight  which was released in 2006, was a personal album. It dealt with his parent’s divorce. This obviously affected William badly. Songs like It’s Not True, Everything Has Changed, Leave Me By Myself, Please Don’t Go, You Broke My Heart, Never Let You Go, I Don’t Love You Anymore and Goodnight show just how his parent’s divorce affected William. It was a huge body blow, where the foundations of his life were shaken to the core. Suddenly, nothing seemed the same again.

The Sparrow And The Crow.

After a gap of two years, William returned with his third album. Ever since he release his first two albums, William’s profile was on the rise. His music began to feature on national television programs. Professionally, William was just as busy. Something had to give,

Ever since the making of Goodnight, William had been struggling. Things had been difficult. His marriage had come to an end, and William was undergoing a painful divorce. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the demons that had long haunted William had returned. What’s more, psychologically, William was struggling. So when the time came to write and record his third album, William had plenty of experience to draw upon.

Just like his two previous albums, The Sparrow And The Crow was a  very personal and intense album. It was akin to a  confessional. 

On The Sparrow And The Crow, William relived relived the pain and trauma of his divorce. That was apparent on I Don’t Feel It Anymore (Song Of The Sparrow), I Feel Alone, Further From You and Just Not Each Other. Then on Please Forgive Me (Song Of The Crow), William apologises to his wife. There’s a sense of hope on They’ll Never Take The Good Years. It finds William remembering that their time together wasn’t all bad. Like so much of The Sparrow And The Crow, the music is powerful, poignant and personal. So much so, that William revisited The Sparrow And The Crow the following year.

Derivatives.

Derivatives, which was William’s first release on Grönland Records, saw various songs from The Sparrow And The Crow reinvented. 

For the reinvention of The Sparrow And The Crow guest artists and remixers were brought onboard. Guest artists included Brook Fraser. She featured on the George Raquet Remix of I Don’t Feel It Anymore. Loane featured on I Don’t Feel It Anymore. The Great Neck South High School Choir featured on You Still Hurt Me. Other tracks were remixed. Mikroboy remixed If You Would Come Back Home, while Pink Ganter remixed Good Morning and So This Is Goodbye. All this resulted in the reinvention of The Sparrow And The Crow. This showed a very different side to William Fitzsimmons’ music. Normal service was resumed on Gold In The Shadow.

Gold In The Shadow.

Three years after the release of The Sparrow and The Crow, William Fitzsimmons returned with his fourth studio album, Gold In The Shadow. It was another personal album, one where William reflected on what was one of the most difficult periods of his life.

Following his divorce, William was at his lowest. Psychologically, he wasn’t in a good place. He had been struggling to come to terms with his divorce, and the psychological problems that had long troubled him. It seemed that he had to reach his lowest, before rebuilding his life. That’s what he did.

Over the next couple of years, William confronted his inner demons. He came to terms with his divorce, and the other mistakes he had made. Most importantly, William sought help for the mental health problems that for a large part of his life, have afflicted him. With the problems of his past addressed, William set about healing his life. Part of this comes through music.

On Gold In The Shadow, William he describes the songs as: “a real and long coming confrontation with personal demons, past mistakes, and the spectre of mental illness that has hovered over me for the great majority of my life.” However, William concedes that the healing has begun.

No longer is William willing to submit to the illnesses and problems that have blighted his life. He had to change. There was no way he couldn’t continue as he had been doing. So William bravely confronted his problems and illnesses head-on. That was apparent on Gold In The Shadow.

There’s a sense of optimism and hope on some of the songs on Gold In The Shadow. Fade and Then Return is proof of this. However, Gold In The Shadow also sees William combine therapy and music. This is the first William has broached  first external perspective taking musically. On Gold In The Shadow, William examines not just his own life and psychological struggle, but those around him. He does this on songs like Psychasthenia, Wounded Head, The Tide Pulls From The Moon Most and Blood And Bones. This results in a compelling, cerebral and personal album from singer, songwriter and therapist William Fitzsimmons, who was slowly, rebuilding his life.

Lions.

This continued on Lions, which was released in 2014. The long-awaited follow-up to Gold In The Shadow, was produced by Death Cab For Cutie guitarist Chris Walla. He played his part in what critics referred to as a “career defining album.”

Lions saw William pickup where he left off on Gold In The Shadow. He continued to document how he had rebuilt his life on Lions. It was an album to be proud of. 

Prior to the release of Lions, William described  his journey as “wonderful, painful, long, incredibly brief, and more educational and rewarding than any I’ve ever lived before. Lions is something I’m terribly proud of and utterly connected to.” And so he should be.

Critics hailed Lions, the finest album of William’s career. Songs like Well Enough, Josie’s Song, Hold On, From You and Speak were proof of this. Lions was a career defining album. It was the album many critics knew he was capable of producing. Everyone wondered what the future held for William Fitzsimmons?

Pittsburgh.

Just a year after Lions, William Fitzsimmons returns with another incredibly personal and poignant album, Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh featured seven songs, which were written, and produced by William. They play their part in what William describes as:  a memorial for my grandmother.”  She died in late 2014, “having lived her whole life in Pittsburgh.” William was obviously close to his grandmother. He wanted to tell the wold how: “amazing a woman my grandmother was.” His way of doing this, is through the medium of music. The rest of Pittsburgh, is “an honorarium to my hometown” the city William and his grandmother shared for decades. It provided the inspiration for one of  William Fitzsimmons’ most moving albums, Pittsburgh.

On its release, critics hailed Pittsburgh a fitting followup to Lions. Words like personal and poignant were used to describe an album that was incredibly moving, and hopefully cathartic for William. It was as if writing and recording Pittsburgh was part of the grieving process for William. However, Pittsburgh was also the finest album of William’s career. Maybe William was determined that Pittsburgh would a fitting homage to the grandmother he knew and loved. Just under year later, William would release a mini-album about the grandmother her never knew, Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2.

Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2.

Having gotten to the bottom of the mystery that had puzzled the Fitzsimmons’ family for sixty years, William set about making sense of this new information. Just like before, William expressed his feeling via songs. 

So for Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2, William penned six new songs. With titles like People Change Their Minds, Hear Your Heart, A Part, Charleroi, Fare Thee Well and Nothing Can Be Changed, William tried to make sense of the situation. His father had been wondering what happened to his family for nearly sixty years? So must William. Then after all the years of uncertainty, to discover that the grandmother he never knew must have been a devastating blow. Both William and his father must have felt cheated, at not knowing Thelma. So William poured his thoughts and feelings into the six songs that became Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2.

Recently, Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 was released by Groenland Records as a mini album. These six tracks on this mini album are about Thelma, the grandmother he never knew. The result is another moving and poignant album, Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2.

Opening Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 is People Change Their Minds. There’s almost a degree of urgency as William picks his guitar. It’s as if he’s desperate to tell Thelma’s story.  Sadly, he only knows part of the story. Tenderly, he sings: “she was seventeen…as she left you.” Then a piano replaces the vocal and combines with an acoustic  guitar and strings. Together, they create a melancholy backdrop, and frame William’s tender vocal as he sings:  “you were just a boy as she moves on, I’m told that you were better off.” He wonders; “where did she go?” As haunting strings play; William reassures: “people change, Thelma she was happy once.” Much later, William sings to his father:  “I know it’s been a real hard year, but I’m hoping you can let it go, cause you’ve still got so much love to give, to those that still need you.” By then the arrangement is slow, minimalist and quite beautiful. William’s vocal is heartfelt and emotive on this, poignant and moving song. 

Just William’s pocked guitar opens Hide Your Heart, before it’s double-traced and panned right and left. In the middle, sits William’s vocal. He takes the listener back sixty years, to the day his father was born. Soon, William dawns the role of his father, and sings: “I never saw you face, before Jesus took my eyes.” Soon, he’s saying: “I don’t what I’d have said if I’d found you alive? I can hear your heart from hear.” Meanwhile, chiming guitar dominate the arrangement, as William sings: “I know it broke your heart, when they took away your son.” Tender, harmonies sweep in, adding to to the melodic nature of this heart-wrenching track about a mother who lost her son.

With a degree of frustration, William plays choppy guitar licks on A Part. Again, he dawns the role of his father: “I was I was born another, heard she was a teenager mother, told it was a painful birth.” By then, the vocal drops out and vibes and cooing harmonies combine. When the vocal returns, somewhere in the depths of Pittsburgh, there’s a kid who looks like me, sleeping softly with his mother, wonder if she thinks of me, I was apart from her.” As he delivers the lyrics frustration, sadness, loneliness and even anger shine through, at not knowing his mother. Meanwhile, the soothing, reassuring harmonies, the choppy guitar licks and wistful strings provide the perfect accompaniment to William’s hurt-filled vocal on this soul-baring song.

As William plays his guitar on Charleroi, he ruefully remembers: “summer was all that we had.” There’s a sense of melancholia to his vocal. Especially as he sings “you are on my shoulders.” The when he adds: “I will never know.”  This realisation comes as he’s sorting through his father’s papers. Just tender, reassuring harmonies  accompany his vocal. They take care not to overpower William’s vocal as he reflects. There’s a sadness in his voice at the thought of all the questions he’ll never receive an answer to. Although tinged with sadness, and dealing with loss and unanswered questions about his roots, Charleroi is also a beautiful, ruminative track.

Again, it’s just William’s guitar that opens Fare Thee Well. His chord changes are swift, and the listener cam hear each chord change. That’s no surprise, as William immerses himself in the song. He sings the song from the perspective of his grandmother. As the lyrics: “I left you on your own child” are delivered sadness and regret fills William’s voice. By then, a banjo and harmonies accompany him. and briefly replace his vocal. When it returns there’s still a sense of sadness as he sings “Fare Thee Well, Fare Thee Well.” It’s then that the arrangement grows and builds, adding me an element of drama. When the lyric: “you left me first” is sung. is this William’s father replying to his mother he never knew? If it is, she replies “Fare Thee Well, Fare Thee Well” as swells of strings, piano, banjo and harmonies combine on what’s one of the most moving songs on Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2.

Nothing Can Be Changed closes William Fitzsimmons’ mini-album Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2. There’s a melancholy hue to the guitar that sets the scene for William’s thoughtful vocal. As he briefly scats,  rolls of drums accompany the guitar. Soon, he sings from the perspective of his father: “forgive my doubt, I was only only told I was better off.” Things might have been different if he had known his mother’s background. Later he learns, “in that motel room she passed alone… Nothing Can Be Changed.” When the vocal drops out, a xylophone is added to the understated arrangement. Equally understated, but full of sadness, regret and even frustration is William’s vocal. Although deep down he knows “Nothing Can Be Changed” he wishes that it could be, and then things would’ve been different for three generations of his family.

For Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2, William Fitzsimmons heeded Mark Twain’s advice, to “write about what you know.” It just so happened that the Fitzsimmons’ family had solved a sixty year old mystery. This was what happened to William’s grandmother? She had left William’s father in the hospital, as he recovered from a bout of whooping cough. After a few months, it became obvious that she wasn’t returning, and the infant was adopted, Since then, William’s father wondered what happened to his mother?

It was only in 2015, that the truth emerged. William’s grandmother was just seventeen when her son was born. She left him in the hospital safe in the knowledge that he would be well looked after. While that turned out to be the case, not knowing his mother haunted William’s father. Eventually, after sixty years, parts of the story became clear, and this provided the inspiration for William Fitzsimmons’ new mini-album Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2, which was recently released by Gronland Records. It’s fitting followup to Pittsburgh.

Just like Pittsburgh, Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 is a truly poignant and moving album. Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 is also an intensely personal album. Not every artist would be willing to share such intimate details of their life. However, it’s a story many people will be able to relate to. William, who was a therapist before embarking upon a musical career, will hope that Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 will help other people in similar circumstances. I’m sure that will be the case. However, Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2 is also is a reminder that William Fitzsimmons is  a talented singer, songwriter and musician.

He’s responsible for the six carefully crafted songs on Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2. William wrote and produced each song. They’ve mostly got subtle, sparse and understated arrangements. These arrangements frame William’s vocal, which quite rightly, takes centre-stage. William’s vocals are heartfelt, and full of emotion, sadness, regret and melancholy. So are his lyrics. They range from between  beautiful, melancholy and poignant, to thoughtful and moving. It’s impossible not to be moved by the lyrics on  Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2, which have a cinematic quality.

As one listens to  Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2, it’s almost possible to imagine the story unfolding before your eyes. The seventeen year old giving up her baby, and spending the rest of her life wondering what became of it? Similarly, one can image William’s father constantly wondering what happened to his mother? Has he passed her on the street, sat beside her on the bus or spoken to her in a shop. Sadly, Williams father: “never saw your face, before Jesus took my eyes.” This is another twist in what was a tragic story that took sixty years to solve.

Eventually, it emerges that the grandmother William never knew  died alone in a motel room just a few years before. Neither William, nor his father got the chance to meet Thelma.  However, William decided to tell Thelma’s story on Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2. It’s a personal, poignant and moving album from William Fitzsimmons, where he tells the story of the grandmother he never knew on Charleroi: Pittsburgh Volume 2.

WILLIAM FITZSIMMONS-CHARLEROI: PITTSBURGH VOLUME 2.

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