Jim Abel's Music Hall

                                                        The Kansas City Star September 5, 2007


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Wednesday, September 5, 2007  

Leawood investor brings songwriting into focus

Investing and songwriting aren’t typically harmonious lines of work, but for one Leawood resident, the two career paths have struck a chord.

Jim Abel has been writing songs since he was a young college student, but he never figured he’d make money with music. Now 60, he makes a living in investing and spends the rest of his time twiddling with his guitar and trying out new tunes.

“I don’t really see myself as a guy with a performing career,” he said. “What I like to do is write songs, and I’d really like to have others sing my songs.”

Although Abel worked as a corporate executive for several years, after his son Ted, was born, Abel decided to focus on investing and be a stay-at-home dad. Now that his son is 19 and in college, Abel has more time to focus on his music.

When he’s not watching the stock market, he’s at work in his home music studio writing contemporary folk music. He tries out new melodies on his piano and guitar and then records it using a computer program.

He regularly performs publicly at local coffee houses and pubs, and often meets up with the Kansas City Songwriters Circle to try out new songs.Sometimes his songs are personal and detail stories about his youth and his family’s history, and others are funny and aimed at society.

Abel is at ease with a guitar in his hands, and as he sings, his calm voice transfers his listeners to a different time and place as his fingers softly strum the guitar’s strings.

He keeps a soft tone as he sings one of his favorites, “Greenhouse Windows.”

With eyes closed, Jim Abel rehearsed one of his songs recently in the studio of his Leawood home.

The song narrates the story of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, whose collection of battlefield photos were popular during the war but fell out of favor after the war ended. Some of the glass negatives were sold as glass and used in greenhouse windows.

As Abel strums his guitar, he coos, “We all make greenhouse windows of the pieces of our lives/for sun and moon and stars to see/And so the light that falls on your child and mine/contains the soul and the heart of our story.”

The song is one of Abel’s favorites, because he not only sings of Brady, but of how his own family’s story will be passed on.

“We don’t necessarily leave behind physical things or physical portraits, but the story lives on in the stories that people tell each other,” Abel said. “That’s our legacy.”

Abel calls himself an unrepentant hippie, and many of his songs are political and influenced by his involvement in the antiwar movement as a youth.

“I still believe in all those simple things we believed in the ’60s,” he said.

As he sings a humorous political song, “Modern Diplomat,” he takes on a noble air and belts out the words as he delivers one tag line after another.

“I know what form your government should take/I know what sort of bidness deals to make/and if it suits me there’s no promise I won’t break/That’s the way of the new diplomat,” he sings.

Even though many of the songs are personal, Abel isn’t shy. Instead, his music gives him freedom.

“It’s like I’m an essayist or I’m writing an Op-ed piece,” he said. “I can say what I feel.”

His wife, Deborah Hays, said she’s not a musician but has always enjoyed her husband’s talent for songwriting.

“He really puts his heart and soul in everything he writes,” she said.

She said that folk songwriters like her husband don’t have a huge following. However, their songs are clever and each word is chosen carefully, making for an enjoyable performance.

“Some of the local talent is really very impressive and if you listen closely, you’ll find their songs are a lot better than what you hear on the radio,” she said. “It’s just a matter of seeking them out.”

To learn more about Jim Abel, order a CD or see his performance schedule, visit http://www.wordsandmusic.us/.

All songs, words and music, plus the entire website © 2008 and various dates by Jim Abel


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