‘Soul Speaking’ gives voice to grateful musical journeybrenda hanna

By May 10, 2011

BRENDA HANNA is presenting a house concert with special guest Joe Craven on Friday, May 14. Courtesy photo

BRENDA HANNA is presenting a house concert with special guest Joe Craven on Friday, May 14. Courtesy photo

What: CD Release Party

Who: Brenda Hanna with special guest Joe Craven

When: Friday, May 14, 7:30 p.m., doors open 7 p.m.

Where: Lotus Hocus Pocus House Concerts

Cost: $20 donation (call for reservations, address and directions)

Information: 530-622-4914,

When you crawl out of the darkness of utter despair, your soul has a lot to say.

Just seven years ago, agony and hopelessness was Brenda Hanna’s unexpected lot in life. But the songs on her latest CD, “Soul Speaking,” are full of light and love from a spirit that shined through the torment.

Nearly cut down in the prime of life by a stroke, Hanna, now 53, has emerged from stark, dark terror into brilliant thankfulness.

Before the trauma, Hanna had it made: good health, a good job, good kids, a good husband, a nice house, a nice garden, a nice horse and musical talent to boot.

Like the cliché, her whole life was changed in an instant.

“I was no stranger to trauma,” Hanna said. She had overcome childhood tribulations to become successful in cover bands, belting out songs in the “fun times” of the ’70s and ’80s, doing great renditions of Pat Benatar and Heart songs to name a few.

But the stroke rocked her world.

A typical oldest child, Hanna had been an overly conscientious, classic over achiever who worked around the clock. But suddenly she was helpless.

The stroke came out of the blue, something totally unpredicted for a 46-year-old athletic runner, vegan and non-smoker.

“I had to relinquish a lot,” Hanna said. “I had never accepted help.”

For Hanna, the hardest thing was asking for help. She learned to depend on others, especially her husband Neil Hanna.

“Neil was and is absolutely wonderful,” Hanna said. “He’s an angel. He had to do everything. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t do anything. All my cognitive skills were compromised.”

Lightening strikes again

After the devastating effects of a stroke, Brenda had several strokes of luck.

But not before she suffered once again. Just as she seemed to be recuperating and regaining her skills, Brenda suddenly felt awful. Again, she was hospitalized just in the nick of time.

Brenda was riddled with breast cancer. Blood transfusions, surgery and radical treatments kept Brenda alive.

But she lost everything else.

“When I looked in the mirror, I said ‘who am I?’ It was so extremely depressing to see myself with no hair, no eyebrows and no breasts. I had to work things out from the soul out.”

“Soul Speaking” reflects that journey of realizing just how tentative and precious life can be.

“My CD is about gratitude for the things that are truly important,” Hanna said.

Brilliant collaboration

Just seven years before the stroke, Neil and Brenda married. It was music that had truly brought them together.

“It was our common ground; it’s where we clicked,” said Brenda. “I wrote a song for him called “Sweet Dream,” and when I sang it for him, he cried.

We used it at our wedding and it became our song.”

A guitarist, Neil is instumental in all of Brenda’s songs. Neil plays guitar on the CD and at live performances, thereby allowing Brenda to do what she does best: to sing from the heart.

While Brenda writes most of the songs, the couple truly collaborates. Brenda’s songs just come to her from the soul, hence the CD’s title, “Soul Speaking.”

Usually her inspirations are accompanied by a tune, which Neil readily translates to music. Sometimes Neil is the catalyst for the songs, picking a few notes that inspire Brenda with the words. It sounds like a magical process and it tends to be so.

Brenda comes from a rock background, and Neil’s passion has been more of a blue grass sound. Between them, their compositions reflect a mixed bag of what can only be called a sort of versatile “Americana.”

According to Brenda, their music has Celtic, blues and gypsy influences.

Brenda plays some guitar, which she used to accompany herself as a fledging singer and songwriter. In fact, she performed Bob Dylan/Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” for her first talent show when she was 14.

There were a lot of blessings involved with “Soul Speaking,” including having it recorded at Lotus Hocus Pocus studios. The other boon was Joe Craven’s accompaniment on violin, mandolin and percussion on six of the songs on the CD.

A brilliant folk hero

Craven comes with an impressive resumé. He won the “Best of  the West” designation in 2009 and is famous in the folk world. His music, though, encompasses roots, folk and many other styles, and his stage set is said to resemble a yard sale. In the folk tradition, his music is very spontaneous and inspired in the moment.

That’s because anything can make music. Not only does he create music from a wide array of everyday things like pots and pans, Craven draws the audience in, making the audience an integral part of the scene.

Craven recently became director of the American River Music Camp, where musicians congregate each summer to improve their skills and revel in a week of music.

It sounds like Craven is synonymous with creative energy, playing any stringed instrument and any musical style. Craven says that if “you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

An educator and teacher who encourages the arts and all creative expression, his fascinating story can be found at

“Joe is a crazy guy and a wonderful human being,” Brenda said, “besides being a fabulous musician.”

Suffice it to say that Craven generates brilliant power at all his venues, and he electrifies the audience with fun, folksy conversation and sincere appreciation for life and music. Between Craven and Brenda Hanna, the Lotus Hocus Pocus House concert should be like experiencing musical church.

The power in their music is the appreciation for life, humanity, music, beauty, love, truth and fun.

A brilliant venue

Rain or shine, the beautiful setting at Lotus Hocus Pocus House is unimaginably magical. Nestled in the foothills, it overlooks the American River and is especially designed for awesome house concerts.

“If you’ve never been to a house concert,” says the Website at, “you are in for a treat. The intimate setting gives you an experience that you could never have at other venues.”

Reservations are required and seating is limited.

“It’s going to be an incredible evening, whether it is inside or outside,” Brenda said. “And I am just so grateful for Bob and Denise Hansen for making this all possible.”

Love shines through

While Brenda has undergone some traumas most can’t even imagine, she’s also had a wonderful life, obviously filled with love.

“My children are my greatest joy,” Brenda said.

Now grown up, Danielle Fields, 30, and Jessie Fields, 27, were the light of Brenda’s life, even when in the depths of despair. They were supportive and loving, and like Neil, they kept her going. Brenda also adores her stepchildren Rebecca Hanna and Robert Hanna, and Rebecca has provided two lovely grandchildren , Sierra, 18 months, and Sofia, who was just born recently.

In fact, Sofia was born on the morning of Brenda’s latest concert at the Cozmic Café.

“I did that concert without any sleep,” Brenda laughed. “I guess it went all right.”

Brenda paints a picture of herself, and in fact, her e-mail moniker is “red dirt girl.” She loves babies, she loves her children, her husband, her animals and she loves her garden. If you were to drop in on her, she said, she would be in her sweats, grubby and working in her garden.

It’s a far cry from the glamour days of rock ‘n roll with big hair, a buff body (she used weights) and the incredible outfits she wore.

“I dressed the part,” Brenda said modestly.

And yet, she almost lost everything, including her house. Besides all the traumas of ill health, the financial repercussions were devastating. But now Brenda cares for her house, her four horses, tends to the garden and makes music. The stroke and the cancer were blessings in disguise.

A shining horse

It was her horse, Petey, who carried her through to health. When Brenda worked as a court clerk in Placer County, she became friends with a judge who insisted that Brenda go riding with him.

“He would come over and say ‘let’s go riding’ and it was scary, because I couldn’t see or talk well, but that horseback riding was so therapeutic. I am so thankful that he took the initiative to make me ride again.”

Petey was always a spirited horse, but apparently he knew something was wrong both times that Brenda’s health faltered. “Petey just started acting weird. I think he knew. I had a hard time brushing him and he sensed it,” Brenda said.

When Brenda started recovering from the stroke, she cut a CD called “Welcome to Another Day.” After going through what she did, every day is a miracle for Brenda.

And now she shares that miracle with others.

A beacon of help

Neil works for Placer County, too, and recently a colleague confided his concerns about a young woman struggling with drug addiction. Neil gave the CD “Soul Speaks” to his friend, who gave it to the woman.

“She’d had a horrible life and was about to relapse,” Brenda said, “but she said that “Soul Speaking” was just what she needed to hear. It kept her from relapsing.”

She and Neil look forward to sharing their music and appreciation for life on Friday night at the Lotus Hocus Pocus House. With their sincerity and skill combined with the gorgeous setting and Craven’s inimitable verve, it should be a magical night filled with music and reverence.

For more information visit, or call 530-622-4514 for reservations.





Susana Carey Wey

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