One thing Laurie Sargent can’t seem to do is walk away from music. With the demise of her band Face to Face in 1988, Sargent retreated to a series of horse farms, ultimately resettling in Hopkinton, her childhood hometown.
But two years later, she was back with a new group, and the Boston Phoenix named her the city’s best female vocalist in 1992. Her lone solo album, 1997’s Heads and Tales, is an underappreciated gem, a mix of Goats Head Soup-era Stones crunch and tuneful pop.
When Morphine leader Mark Sandman died onstage in 1999, Sargent joined Billy Conway, the band’s drummer and her long-term partner, and Morphine saxophone player Dana Colley in the nine-member Orchestra Morphine. Begun as an undertaking of mourning, the project evolved into Twinemen; the band has three studio records to date. She and Conway also led the rootsy Chip Smith Project.
Then four years ago, the couple moved to Montana and began raising organic food on a remote farm. Conway remained an in-demand studio musician, but Sargent moved on.
“I still write and play, but it’s mostly on my porch,” she said by telephone recently.
Occasionally, however, she’s coaxed to do another show — like the one happening Aug. 9 at Concord’s Spotlight Café.
“When we got here, I thought I would stop playing entirely, but I … just … can’t,” she says deliberately. “So every now and then we’ll come home and play with some incarnation of one of our bands — ‘back home’ being New England. It’s stuck in my vernacular; it’s still home.”
The Concord appearance is unique because it will focus mainly on Sargent.
“For me not to do an Orchestra Morphine- or Twinemen-affiliated thing is extremely rare,” she says. Billed as “Laurie Sargent and Wicked Special Guests,” the show will see her joined by Conway and Colley, along with two members of Boston large jazz band Either/Orchestra: Russ Gershon on saxophone and Tom Halter on trumpet.
The night will be both acoustic and electric, and Sargent expects to do material from her solo record, tunes from the last decade of projects and a few new things written on her latest interest, the mandolin.
“I go through these crazy phases where I get bored with myself and what I know and then I’ll try something new and it’s completely inspiring,” she says. “So I started fooling around on the mandolin in January, and it caused a burst of songwriting. So that’s the instrument that I am going to concentrate on in Concord.”
The latest songs, co-written last January with Chip Smith Project’s Evan Harriman on banjo, aren’t like anything Sargent’s done before.
“It’s traditional Americana played with what some people would term bluegrass instruments, but not bluegrass at all,” she says. “The mandolin makes a sound in a different key than I am used to singing in, [adding] a different color to my voice.”
When spurred for one of her sporadic performances, Sargent is always amazed at how quickly the pieces fall into place. “It’s really funny because we’ll just get these bizarre out-of-the-blue offers,” she says. “We’ll say, ‘OK, that sounds fun,’ and have a two-hour rehearsal [and] it’s as if we’ve never stopped playing together … when something pokes at it, it just wakes up and plays itself — and that’s wonderful.”
Sargent isn’t interested in reviving Face to Face, though she still works occasionally with members of the band. Bass player Stu Kimball joins Twinemen when he isn’t playing with Bob Dylan, and she recorded a song with drummer Billy Beard’s Session Americana. But she prefers that the electro-pop group, which cracked the Top 40 with their single “10-9-8” but never really blew up, remain a memory.
“It was an amazing band to be part of and still after all these years, we are all very great friends,” she says. “It’s absolutely an honor to have been part of that unit. We were really young and doing the rock life thing. It was the centerpiece of all our lives. We were dedicated … five nights a week of rehearsals for eight years, constantly playing.”
Along the way, they appeared in Steven Van Zandt’s anti-apartheid video, “Sun City,” and acted as the house band in the 1985 film Streets of Fire — Sargent was Diane Lane’s voice double. She recalls cutting a pair of songs for the film with writer/producer Jim Steinmann as a challenging experience: “You become more of a machine than a performer, you’re kind of obeying what he hears, what his vision is,” Sargent says.
These days, the care and attention once given to music is lavished on fresh produce.
“Going to the farmers market for me is like going on to a stage,” she says. “You take your song or your seed and you grow it and then you take it to the audience.”