Mike Reese has seen the music industry change over the years.
When the 43-year-old was in college, he was a DJ for the school radio station. The station would receive compilation albums from record labels, and he and his friends would gather to learn about new styles of music.
With the advent of online streaming services, music isn't shared that way often anymore, he said. Feeling nostalgic, he sought to put a Catonsville twist on his college tradition.
As he was going for a run one day, he was thinking about Catonsville's music scene when an idea struck: Create a CD featuring Catonsville musicians.
Reese thought that if he was able to connect the album to a good cause, people may be more willing to purchase it. Proceeds go to the Catonsville Celebrations Committee, which organizes the annual Fourth of July activities that take place in Catonsville.
"I've been joking with people that you're really not buying a CD, but you're making a donation to the July Fourth celebration committee and getting an album as a thank-you gift," he said.
Reese began to contact local musicians in September to ask if they were interested in contributing. The result is "Life Sounds Great: Songs from Music City, MD Vol. 1" — an 11-track album exclusively featuring bands with Catonsville connections.
The bands had free rein as to what they would contribute. The recording took place during the winter, and production took about two months, Reese said. The album was released May 20.
Reese has listened to his share of music, but he had never produced an album and has little experience playing in bands, so making an album was a major challenge. Over the duration of the project, he joked with the artists involved that he was being fueled by enthusiasm, not by experience.
But the local music scene came together to make the album a reality. Artist Ian Herrick designed the album cover. Shawn Lawson donated photographs from previous Fourth of July parades and fireworks. SongBuilder Studios in Catonsville helped with the mastering. Matt Regan, who grew up in Catonsville and works at Baltimore digital disk transfer company CDigital Markets, helped with duplication of the CD. Reese received help from Pat Dement, Greg Wall, and Joe Schwartz on technical issues and from Dave Broscious for creative writing.
"This project was truly a community effort," he said. "While I might have been involved in producing it, there were a lot of people involved."
While Reese deflects credit, the musicians say he deserves it.
"He was the one who had this concept of bringing us together in Catonsville. My hat's off to him," said singer-songwriter Rod Sebastian, whose song "Second Gear" is on the album. "He did an absolutely perfect job putting this together.
Reese, a faculty member at Johns Hopkins University who has lived in Catonsville for most of his life, is appreciative of the community's music scene. He defines a strong music scene as more than having a high density of bands in an area. It also has to do with collaboration and conversation among musicians, he said.
Those are what Allison Dietz, a singer-songwriter and guitarist, hopes to be more involved with as time goes on. Her song "Can't Get Away" is on the album.
A relative newcomer to the Catonsville music community, the 38-year-old moved there about four years ago. The area's proximity to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., appealed to her, as well as its charm.
"It's got an old-soul feel and I think a lot of musicians are drawn to places that are charming and have more of a soul than your cookie-cutter residential areas," she said.
She wanted to take part in the project to help spread awareness of Catonsville musicians. Since recording, she has met fellow artists and is excited for opportunities to collaborate.
The album has a wide range of music styles, ranging from hard rock to Irish pub songs to country and the sounds of the Catonsville High School steel band, CHS Steel. The experience level varies from Cinder Road — a band that has toured the world — to The North Americans, the band Reese is a part of, which can occasionally be found at a backyard charity event.
When Reese reached out to Dement, the lead guitarist for Cinder Road, Dement was hooked, too. Dement still remembers moving to Catonsville in 1995 and being greeted by a "Music City, Maryland" sign.
"I think he's another guy who loves Catonsville and thinks anything he can give back to the community is a good thing," he said about Reese. "The moment he approached me about it, I felt the same way."
Gordon Fog vocalist and guitarist Shawn Legambi was intrigued by the idea of taking some of the talent in Catonsville and putting it in a format more people could experience. The band wrote a new acoustic song for the album titled "Rid of Me."
"The entire project sort of speaks to the passion of music in the Catonsville area, what it means to their lives and the good it brings to them," he said. "I think it's cool that it's captured in a CD."
Locally, the album can be purchased at Bill's Music, Trax on Wax and Opie's Snowballs for $11, and it will also be made available at events where some of the musicians are playing. Digital copies can be bought at cdbaby.com/cd/lifesoundsgreat and through iTunes and Amazon.
Reese hopes this is the start of a new tradition in Music City — he knows that the album doesn't include every area artist.
"I was a bit bold in labeling it Vol. 1.," he said. "I'm hoping there will be a Vol. 2, if the community embraces it."
Music City lineup
"Life Sounds Great: Songs from Music City, MD Vol. 1" is an 11-track album exclusively featuring bands with Catonsville connections. The album was released in May. Here's a list of the tracks:
1. "Carry Me" — Cinder Road
2. "Propose a Toast" — The Silverites
3. "Top of the Hill" — We Are Stone Mason
4. "Infinity Ruby" — Acoustic Limit
5. "Rid of Me" — Gordon Fog
6. "Can't Get Away" — Allison Dietz
7. "Second Gear" — Rod Sebastian
8. "Callin' in Rich" — The Dive Bombs
9. "Save Me a Chair" — The North Americans
10. "Maybe Someday" — Jeremy Gilless
11. "Sweet 50" (live) — CHS Steel