Early in 2020, Selah Broderick received a surprising piece of news: Her first album, Anam, was set to be released in October by Austin, Texas, label Western Vinyl.
That's an exciting development for any artist, but one that came as quite a shock for Broderick since she stopped playing music professionally in the early '70s.
"Of course, it's delightful," the 61-year-old says, speaking from her home in Sisters. "It's just that it's not something I planned for or pieced together."
The person responsible for this turn of events is Broderick's son, Peter. The renowned composer and former Portlander who, during his time here, was a member of folk-pop groups Horse Feathers and Loch Lomond, quietly recorded and collected performances by his mother over the past 15 years, tucking them away with the goal of eventually sharing them with the world.
That day finally came when Peter Broderick played the recordings of his mom's work for Brian Sampson, the owner of Western Vinyl, who immediately agreed to release it through the label. Broderick broke the news to his mother soon thereafter on a Skype call.
"I was just speechless," Selah Broderick remembers. "My daughter [singer-songwriter Heather Woods Broderick] was saying, 'I have sent so many musicians his way that I think he should record and he hasn't. So you should be very flattered.'"
The appeal of Broderick's music is immediate. The foundational influence of artists like Bruce Cockburn and Shawn Colvin is evident through her strong acoustic guitar work, but there's a gauzy ambience to her vocals and melodies and a cutting directness to her lyrics. The record is something of a diary, with joyful tunes about the birth of her first granddaughter ("Bella's Song") and expressions of harder times. Anam also includes a pair of lovely instrumentals that set Broderick's flute atop a bed of warm synth drones and field recordings.
Anam feels like the completion of a circle that began when Broderick was a kid in the D.C. area, falling back on her guitar as a comfort during a troubled home life. She made her way to the West Coast in her late teens and soon scored a gig playing a few nights a week at a bar in Bellingham, Wash. But when Broderick became pregnant the first time, she focused on balancing child rearing with her new career as a yoga instructor.
Music remained a central focus of Broderick's family life. Her kids started piano and violin lessons early on, and she would still play guitar at night when they were in bed. (Anam opens with a recording of a traditional folk ballad she made in 1979.) And she continued to encourage and support her children as their careers blossomed.
Both Peter and Heather Broderick return the favor on Anam, lending both their instrumental and vocal talents to several songs on the album.
"It's so cool and so healing," Selah Broderick says. "Our family's had its disappointments and hard times. It feels like a beautiful connecting of who we all are. It's really sweet."
Listen to Anam at westernvinyl.com/shop/wv212.