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Florence Dore comes to Rochester, with new record and book in tow

Florence Dore
Florence Dore

Taking more than 20 years between albums probably isn’t the best career path for a musician. But that’s the road traveled by Florence Dore, the Nashville-bred, North Carolina-based singer-songwriter who will perform at the Abilene Bar and Lounge Saturday night.

Last year, Dore released “Highways & Rocketships,” her first album since 2001’s “Perfect City”; it was named Best Americana album of 2022 by Lonesome Highway Magazine. Since then she’s been hitting the road with her band – drummer Will Rigby, bassist Gene Holder (both of the dB’s), and guitarist Mark Spencer (Son Volt) – who bring Dore’s mix of country, rock, pop, and folk to life on stage.

Dore wasn’t exactly idle between albums. She and Rigby, who’s her husband (and was drumming for Steve Earle at the time), were raising their daughter, Georgie. Dore was also pursuing an academic career that included teaching stints at Kent State and New York University and becoming a full professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she now teaches in both the creative writing and literature programs.

“I couldn't raise a child with my husband on tour quite a bit and be a professor and be a musician all at the same time,” Dore said. “But that was fine. I wasn't unhappy about it; I was so happy to have my child.”

In the ensuing years, Dore kept on finding connections between literature and music, whether via conversations with Steve Earle and John Prine or through her research and writing. Her second book, 2018’s “Novel Sounds: Southern Fiction in the Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” explored links among Bessie Smith, Lead Belly, Bob Dylan, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner and how their books and records informed each other. She also read all of Peter Guralnick’s books, which delved deep into the leading figures of blues, country, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll

“You can't read those books without listening to all that music and listening to it differently,” Dore said. “Getting some kind of context of that made me want to just write songs again.”

The result was “Highways & Rocketships.” Dore credits Rigby, Earle, author Rick Moody, Peter Holsapple (also of the dB’s), and co-producer Don Dixon with helping her to hone the album’s 10 songs.

Some of those songs draw from Dore’s background, including “And the Lady Goes,” which addresses menopause.

“You write what you're going through, in some ways,” she noted. “I was having hot flashes, and the line ‘And the lady goes’ came to me. And I was like, ‘Okay, well, what's that song about?’

I'm sure it has everything to do with the fact that I was waking up in the middle of the night sweating, but it's also about mortality, which different people of different ages relate to in different ways. It's about having a good life and having fun, no matter what stage you're at. I like to get the middle-aged ladies dancing on that one.”

The catchiest song on the record is “Thundercloud,” which would need to be bleeped for airplay.

“I’m just one for dropping the F-bomb, you know – what can I say?” she joked.

Dore promises she won’t take another 20 years to release her next album. Indeed, she’s been writing new songs and is looking forward to getting back in the studio.

“I'm just so excited,” she said. “I've got this great label, Propeller, so that’s all set. My child is going to be in college, so I don't need to attend to her as much as I have been as she's been growing up. So, ya know, I'm writing songs all the time. And I’ll play a couple of, if not three, out when you come to see us for the show. And they're definitely influenced by being on the road with this really killer band.”

Dore just published her third book, “The Ink in the Grooves: Conversations on Literature and Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Cornell University Press), a collection of essays and interviews that explore the creative relationship between musical and literary inspiration. Musicians such as Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, and Dave Grohl sit alongside authors such as Rick Moody, Michael Chabon, Roddy Doyle, and Lorrie Moore.

To continue examining the themes in the book, Dore put together what she’s dubbed a “Traveling Public Humanities Program,” which she’ll be bringing to a few schools – Hamilton College, Amherst College, and the University of Toronto – on the current tour. She’ll play old folk songs and discuss how they evolved into modern versions, and also perform some of her own material.

“I was trying to figure out how to combine the book, and the literary piece of what I do, and the rock and roll piece of what I do,” she said, crediting Robert Newman of the National Humanities Center and Darryl Harper of Amherst for their encouragement. “Humanities programs all over the country are trying to figure out how to reach the public beyond the ivory tower. And we realized that music is a natural connector, one that’s available to everyone whether or not you play it. The music draws the people in, and then we can have a conversation about the history of it all, and so it just seemed kind of natural.”

Florence Dore
Melissa Payne
Florence Dore

If you go

Who: Florence Dore, with opener Cloudbelly

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 1

Where: Abilene Bar and Lounge

Cost: $15 in advance, available online and at the bar; $20 day of show

Dore and her band also will play a house concert in Oswego at 4 p.m. Sunday; a few $23 tickets are available online here

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, and its affiliates.