Alana MacDonald Submitted photo

There are some Maine acts that have had a huge impact on me and what I do. One such group is Devonsquare, a trio of folk/rock singer-songwriters that, in my humble opinion, was the best vocal band this state has ever produced. I interviewed Herb Ludwig many times over the years before his untimely death at age 58 in 2005, and I also chatted with Tom Dean when he began his solo career. The only member I never had a conversation with was Alana MacDonald, until I discovered she will be performing with her band at One Longfellow Square on Feb. 10. Katie Matzell, who works at OLS, was able to connect me with MacDonald on the 10th of this month. We had a 37-minute chat, which I had wanted to have for decades. I reached her, by phone, at her home in Eaton, New Hampshire. The warm, rambling interview got me up-to-speed with this powerful, resilient performer.

Q: In preparing for this interview with you, I pulled out all of my Devonsquare CDs and have been binge-listening to all five, and I have been falling in love all over again with the sounds you three created: accessible folk/rock backing incredible vocal harmonies. Was your last album “Bye Bye Route 66” or was it “Industrial Twilight”?
MacDonald:
“Bye Bye” was the second release on Atlantic Records. The first one was “Walking on Ice,” and it was the one we sold the most records from, and we toured with Peter Frampton. That’s my favorite CD.

Q: I like the edginess of “Industrial Twilight” myself.
MacDonald: Oh, me too! That was the last one we did independent, Atlantic Records did not want to represent us with that. The writing was too dark and it wasn’t pop-y enough, so we put that out on our own. “Industrial Twilight,” I love. That was pretty much Herbie’s baby, he was the one that was behind the wheel driving that one. I also like the headiness of it, I call it. With myself now, people say, “What kind of music do you do?,” and I’m writing new songs, which I’ve been doing since Devonsquare folded, and I say, “I’m writing ‘heavy mental’ (laughter). … I came up with that and I think it’s hysterical.

Q: (Laughter) Not to mention clever, as well.
MacDonald: Well, we did the pop thing — we were young; we were beginner writers; we were struggling to find out where we were standing, I guess, musically speaking. With the input of three people, you get quite a variety of song material. Herbie and Tom and I all wrote, so you get different flavors.

Q: So “Route 66” is your favorite of the five?
MacDonald: That one was pop-y, but it also had some grit to it. I liked “Bye Bye Route 66” and “Raining Down on Bleecker Street,” “If You Could See Me Now” — that was our single off it — and that was a lot of fun. Still, when I do a performance, those are the people’s favorite songs; those are the songs that get the warmest hands every night from my audience.

Q: Your thoughts on “Industrial Twilight”?
MacDonald: That was mostly Herbie’s idea; I love it! Lyrically it’s just like poetic and Bob Dylan-esque. It’s very brilliant, actually. Herbie was growing into a poet and didn’t know it, ya know? (Chuckle) But “Industrial Twilight,” that’s a piece of work, and I’m proud of it. We worked on that intensely in the little studio Herbie had built us behind his law office. We spent hours and hours and hours on it. I don’t know if people realize how much time you spend putting together an album.

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Q: It was a cohesive unit. That’s what I like about it the most, the fact that it stands as a whole.
MacDonald: Yes, it does. We were on a course, and we were going there. “Grenade” and “Industrial Twilight,” they were odd songs, “A Dream at the Wheel” that was Herbie’s, great lyrics in that. And “Brave New World,” was that on there?

Q: Yes, it is.
MacDonald: I wrote most of that, and that song got us a record deal in Germany. We got signed in 1996, maybe? We went over there on a mini-tour.

Q: I must declare that it was those fantastic vocal harmonies you and Tom and Herb laid down that made me an instant and rabid fan of Devonsquare.
MacDonald: The harmony I miss, because that was a Herb-Tom-and-me thing. We were a functioning machine of harmonies, and when we were touring with Peter Frampton we were in the dressing area at one show, we were sitting around and started singing “Ooh baby, I love your way,” just kidding around and drawing on this natural harmony, and he came around the corner and goes, “Would you please do that again?!” so we did. And then he said, “Show up at our sound check at 7 o’clock onstage, please, I want to use you for my back-up vocalists!” (Laughter)

Q: Oh, wow, that’s so cool!
MacDonald: Yeah, but we only had two more shows with him after that so it was fun while it lasted. It does make a neat story, though. That was our signature sound for all those years, but we actually got away from it on “Industrial Twilight.” We started getting tired of our own three-part harmonies, so it’s not laden with them. We took a chance with that on our fifth CD.

Q: I understand you have some backing musicians for these solo shows that you’re doing nowadays, like the one coming up at One Longfellow Square.
MacDonald: Yeah, there’s Robbie Coffin, Mike McInnis and Teg Glendon. They have been backing us for 35 years or so, so they know the music well.

Q: Do you get out to perform a lot?
MacDonald: We’re not playing often. Before COVID I had done three shows. At Jonathan’s in Ogunquit we were nervous, and I didn’t think it was very solid, but our next show at The Farmstand in Tamworth we sold out, and the show was really good. And it got really good reviews. Then when I played at the Stone Mountain Arts Center we sold out there, two weeks before COVID hit. It was a thrilling show and one of the best shows I’ve ever done, personally. It was me stepping out without the guys. I was so used to Herb and Tom being there; they were like my stabilizers or my moorings, my anchor. Because when you’re leading a band, man, you’re it, you’re their focus: you are there to entertain them and to be good (laughter). At 74, I get a little nervous, but I haven’t lost my voice nor my passion for this. And I think my shows have proven to be pretty strong, and people really like the new material. I’m not relying completely on old Devonsquare songs.

Q: Is there anything, Alana that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
MacDonald: Just maybe that I love performing and I always have. I’ve been doing this since ’69, missing some years when Herbie died and Tommy quit. I kind of went right forward with it. It’s the same flavor as Devonsquare, but I think it’s more humorous. I’m looser than I was with Herbie and Tom, and I’m not worried about making mistakes (chuckle), and I haven’t changed that much, except that I’m 74!

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.