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A sonic journey inspired by and dedicated to Rena Shebesta;
her life, spirit, memory, and family. 















Produced by Justin Matley

Featuring Contributions from:
Tall Heights, Michelle Willis, Ye Vagabonds
, Hannah Napier Rosenberg, Josh Dion, Everett Bradley, Khylie Rylo, Jerry Jean, Matt & Atla DeChamplain, Connie Martino, Roman Zeitlin, James Lowe, Jason Schwartz, Paul Wright, and Justin, Josie & Caroline Matley

Original Artwork by Filiz Soyak

"Caribbean no Kioku" mixed media on wood panel, from the Passages series

Mixed by Justin Matley & Nic Hard
except where noted †

Mastered by Randy Merrill at Sterling Sound
except where noted †

Produced in
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Scotland, Ireland, and Spain 


Tracklist & Producer Notes:


This project had a higher calling; more than rewarding, it felt necessary. And at least for the first listen, it's meant to be processed in order, in its entirety. It tells a story.

I'm so grateful to the assembly of people that contributed. It is my hope this album helps give Rena the lasting life Earth didn't offer her, and creates a timeless keepsake for Hannah, Christian, Peter, the family, and those close to this story. Moreover, I hope it resonates with anyone who has suffered the greatest of tragedies and is looking for a place to call home. The strength to mend. The will to remember. The purpose to move forward. 

It's also an ode to the sideman and sidewoman. The people here are the talent that make others their best. You may not know them all, but you've heard them and know who they prop up - and they're here to do just that. To solidify the ground beneath our feet. Every creative choice; every artist, arrangement, and lyric was made with Rena's soul deeply in mind; a soul proven profoundly inspirational.





1
Until I Thought of Myself as the Sea
written & performed by Hannah Napier Rosenberg, arranged by Justin Matley
Hannah Napier Rosenberg (@hannahrowrites) is an incredible, well known poet who writes autobiographical poems and prose on womanhood, marriage, friendship and more recently, motherhood. I love her writing. It is unadulterated and deeply observational in a way that is easy to read and relate to. This particular poem resonated intensely with our Hannah (Shebesta), and the poet herself graciously agreed to read it for this project. 

2
Ave Maria
written & performed by Justin Matley, featuring Everett Bradley with Roman Zeitlin, lyrics are the English translation of popular versions of the song, loosely based on the Sir Walter Scott poem, 'The Lady of the Lake' and the Hail Mary Prayer
This piece is meaningful to the family, and I wanted to try a simple, meandering version that wildly departs from traditional versions stylistically, melodically, and somewhat lyrically, but keeps its aesthetic of love and peace while acknowledging our place in time. It features the kindest friend, legendary Grammy-nominated Everett Bradley (@everettbradley) who you might have seen out touring with Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, or as his holiday alter-ego, Papadelic. Likewise, my good friend: composer and multi-instrumentalist Roman Zeitlin, former Music Director for Ingrid Michaelson among other incredible work, adds the atmospheric pedal steel.

3
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
written by Michelle Willis, arranged by Michelle Willis and Justin Matley, performed by Michelle Willis with Paul Wright, lyrics based on the poem of the same name by William Wordsworth
I've admired Michelle's work for several years, particularly her solo work and close collaboration with David Crosby. A tour de force of crafty, nuanced songwriting with a deeply emotive voice, I'm thankful Michelle Willis (@boutwillismusic) - now a native of Scotland - was able to provide her singular talent and heartfelt empathy here on this original song. The lyrics are pure William Wordsworth. A giant of the Romantic Age in English poetry, his work is identified by its accessibility to "common people" and regularly explores spiritualism and human's relationship with nature.

4
We Shall Always Be

written & performed by Josh Dion
They aren't many people like my friend Josh Dion (@joshdion). That's because people aren't octopuses. Josh started as (and remains) a generational-talent drummer, but with a voice reminiscent of Michael McDonald meets Howlin' Wolf, he added singing and keyboards to his arsenal - all at the same time. And he does this all, including as a bandleader and songwriter, with his own duo, Paris Monster, and with some of the most recognizable talent worldwide. Immensely grateful for his octopean contribution here.

5
Bubbles
(feat. Rena Shebesta)

written & performed by Khylie Rylo
Kyhlie Rylo (@khylierylo) has been a friend for many years, starting with an album we collaborated on nearly two decades ago. Not only is Khylie one of the most prolific bassists in the world, but their playing and composing has traversed genres on collaborations with Mexican-American LGTBQ icon Renee Goust, Public Enemy, and many, many more. This original song, in true Khylie form, features our little Rena herself.

6
The World is Waiting for the Sunrise / Blue Skies
lyrics by Eugene Lockhart, composed by Ernest Seitz / written by Irving Berlin, arranged & performed by Atla and Matt DeChamplain with Jason Schwartz
Matt and Atla DeChamplain (@mattla_music) are dear local friends who represent the best of traditional jazz. Atla, a protégé of the renowned singer Jon Hendricks, and Matt not only are illustrious players, but humans to boot. For two decades they have performed on their own and with a who's who list of living jazz legends across the world. Two most appropriate jazz classics in one, the DeChamplains add their signature spin on them here with a contribution from my incredible bassist cousin, Jason Schwartz (@jdsbass81).

7
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

lyrics by Ann Taylor, arranged & performed by Justin Matley featuring Connie Martino with Jerry Jean, James Lowe, Josie Matley & Caroline Matley
The people represented on this song are some of the closest in the world to me. My daughters, for starters, are my heart and soul and it was important I found a place on this project for them. Connie Martino, a Boston Symphony Orchestra choralist, and James Lowe, an accomplished bassist across jazz and indie rock, are two dear personal friends from school days. Jerry Jean (@jerryjeanmusic), my former roommate in NYC, is a versatile producer, composer, singer, pianist, and violinist who not only is featured regularly with artists like Florence & the Machine and Boyz II Men, but has his own prolific singer-songwriter repertoire to boot. This arrangement, adapted for this project, was originally written for the YouTube series, Healthy Feels.

8
Night Owl
written & performed by Tall Heights with Liz Vaughan, lyrics by Paul Wright and Justin Matley
Singer/guitarist Tim Harrington and singer/cellist Paul Wright form the heralded duo, Tall Heights (@tallheights). The band hails from my former home state of Massachusetts and were introduced to me by a mutual friend. Known both for their own stellar work and collaborations with artists such as Ben Folds and Ryan Montbleau, their music touches immediately on the soul; with poignant lyricism and harmonies that resemble the best of the electrofolk genre. Having them write this song was a gift.

9
For Rena
written & performed by Hannah Napier Rosenberg, arranged by Justin Matley
Hannah wrote this poem especially for this project and the Shebestas. It perfectly describes the journey forward with, not away from, the timeless presence of Rena. I'm, again, so thankful for her contributions to this project. She's been a beacon.


*Bonus Playlist Track*
Blue is the Eye
(for Peter)
written, performed, & published by Ye Vagabonds, produced & mixed by John Murphy, mastered by Noel Summerville
This is the only piece that was produced and released prior to this project, on Ye Vagabond's (@yevagabonds) stellar 2022 album 'Nine Waves'. The band, featuring brothers Brian and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn, hail from Ireland, and was recommended to me early on by Michelle. The band and their label were moved by Rena's story and welcomed the use of the piece as part of a special For Rena Playlist. The song is a lyrical masterpiece and was an enormous inspiration for the creative direction of this project. It is dedicated to Rena's blue-eyed big brother, Peter: whose blue eyes watch over the sea and forever looks after thee.

This track only available on "For Rena" Spotify Playlist and on the album 'Nine Waves' by Ye Vagabonds, available on all streaming services

I also want to acknowledge those behind the scenes:

Filiz Soyak (@filizsoyak) is a world-renowned, interdisciplinary artist who explores themes of consciousness, memory, and time. A friend and former client from a previous lifetime, she graciously donated use of her original artwork for this project. Her piece used, 'Caribbean no Kioku', was an early inspiration for this project for its aesthetic, translation, and meaning as a reference to the last time I saw Rena prediagnosis.

A newer friend, the thoughtful and talented Nic Hard (@nic.hard) has an impeccable reputation as a Grammy-winning craftsman behind the board, working with artists such as Snarky Puppy, The Bravery, Becca Stevens and more. Grateful for his experienced, second set of mix ears on this project.

And not to be forgotten, my friend from Queens days, Randy Merrill (@randymerrill_sterling) of Sterling Sound, with his attuned ears and heart, has become perhaps the single most prolific Mastering Engineer in the world. And knowing him, he probably wouldn't want me to list off his King's ransom of credits. That's what Google is for.
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