EDGE CITY, a folk-rock band out of Austin, Texas, calls its new CD "Mystery Ride," and its musical journey seems to trace a map to the former home of the group's composer and lead singer, Severna Park High School graduate Jim Patton.
The release of the compact disc will be celebrated Saturday, as Patton returns to the area with his wife and musical partner, Sherry Brokus, and performs at the Roots Cafe in Baltimore's Charles Village.
"Mystery Ride" explores Patton and Brokus' roots with a full rock 'n' roll band led by a strong lead guitar and augmented by fiddle, mandolin and dobro.
"My dad was Air Force, and we traveled all the time, so when I found a home in Severna Park, I put down some roots," said Patton, 48. "Severna Park has sort of stayed the center of things for me for about 30 years.
"Living in the Baltimore area was the best thing for me, but we had to move to Texas for the music. Austin is a more artist-oriented town," Patton said, adding that they wanted to work with Lloyd Maines, a steel guitarist and well-known Texas producer.
A writer of poetry since childhood, Patton composed all 12 tunes on the CD, with a little help from his friends on a couple of numbers. He credits modern American fiction and the lives of his friends from Baltimore as inspiration for his lyrics.
Severna Park listeners will recognize allusions to the Old County Road, the church where he used to play music (Woods Memorial Presbyterian) and the Severn River.
Play it for background music, and you'll find yourself listening closely to its soulful message: Life is tough on the outsider, but even when a person's feeling most alone, there's solace in music.
As Patton puts it, this album is "music for those of us who never joined up."
Patton met his wife-to-be one night when he was performing with his brother, Jon Patton, at the old Ox Bow Restaurant in Arnold. She was in the audience, liked their sound and asked to sing.
Despite his band's rule of not letting a stranger sit in, Patton insisted that Brokus sing because he didn't want the pretty vocalist to get away. And she didn't.
Brokus, 42, a Severna Park native, graduated from Archbishop Spalding High School in 1975 and earned her bachelor's degree and a master's in psychology from then-Towson State University. In addition to singing, her adult life has been devoted to her private practice in psychotherapy, which she continues in Austin, where her clients include children as young as preschoolers.
"Music is therapy for her," says her husband. "It allows her to handle all that stress."
That works for both musicians. Tunes on their CD, such as "Outsider," "Juggler" and especially "By the Water," come directly from the heart of the composer and his struggles to fit in.
Patton discovered another outlet for his ability to connect with the disconnected when he took a job in the mid-1980s as a part-time cross country coach at Severna Park High.
"I had to work hard to be a mediocre runner when I was in school," jokes Patton. "But Athletic Director Andy Borland was my coach and a major influence in my life."
After joining the staff at Severna Park as a volunteer coach, he earned a degree in American studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to qualify for a paying job as coach.
"Coaching gave me the perfect schedule to write and still hold down a job," he recalls. "I could write at night and coach in the afternoon."
Creating lyrics about being alone, Patton found that he spoke the right language to reach a teen-aged runner who also might be feeling isolated.
"Lil Shelton [SPHS' longtime field hockey coach] would send me kids from her physical education class or maybe the last ones cut from field hockey, because she knew I could help them," says Patton. "I could bring them out of their shell."
While boosting his runners' self-esteem, Patton produced winning track teams. His girls' cross country teams were county champions several years in the 1980s. His 1987 girls' team went on to win the Maryland State 4A Championships.
More than once, Patton was named coach of the year in Anne Arundel County by The Sun, and in 1986 the newspaper named him Baltimore Metropolitan Coach of the Year.
His influence at Severna Park continues. Ed Purpura, one of Patton's high school runners, coaches the school's year-round track program.
Patton and Brokus have a budding singer at home in their 10-year-old daughter, Meaghan Patton, who's showing signs of following in her parents' musical footsteps.
Lloyd Maines, who produced "Mystery Ride" and sat in during the recording, insisted that Meaghan sing background harmony on "I Turn To You," prompting Patton to quip, "He's just grooming Meaghan as a future replacement."
A replacement for whom? Possibly for Maines' daughter, Natalie Maines, who is one of the Dixie Chicks.
Patton and Brokus will be joined in their 8 p.m. show Saturday by his guitarist-brother, Jon, bassist Barry Warsaw and drummer Dave Lerew.
Roots Cafe is presented by the nonprofit, volunteer Society for the Preservation of American Roots Music on the second and fourth Saturday of the month at St. John's Church, St. Paul and 27th streets. For information, call 410-880-3883.
Pub Date: 11/25/99