Nobody with any degree of hipness aspired to sing on Broadway in 1966, so when 16-year-old Cynthia Gano ruined her voice smoking cigarettes, she didn’t much feel the loss of withdrawing from those classes. Thirty years later, she finally found time to sing what she really loved, and recorded her debut, Blue Highway.
“I was getting to a certain age, and I had been writing songs for a number years,” she says over the phone from a temporary assignment in San Francisco. “I just finally felt, well, I’m going to put out a record so, if I die tomorrow, the songs are out there, at least some of them.”
Her second outing, Postcards From My Mind, recently set another 16 songs free. Both albums reveal Gayneau’s high, always graceful vocals. In range and phrasing, her voice is vaguely reminiscent of another late bloomer, Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Her songs, despite drawing frequently from country’s broken-hearted tradition, share the sense of inner peace that Gilmore exudes, though she doesn’t approach his hard edge of sadness. Musical settings match her frequent travels, including nods to the Opry she heard as a child, Cajun music, honky-tonk and coffee shop.
Inbetween, Gayneau — she reclaimed the family name from its anglicized spelling along the way — can point to a life well-lived and, well, more miles than money. That includes raising two children (she now has two grandchildren) and pursuing a career as a photographer (she won an NEA grant in 1984; her most recent show was at the Seattle Art Museum), occasional guest appearances in the studio and onstage with younger brother Gordon, of the Violent Femmes; and gigs opening for Bill Monroe, Hank Thompson and Josh Graves.
The daughter of a now-retired Baptist preacher who holds Screen Actors Guild and Equity cards as an actor and director, Gayneau became accustomed early on to a nomadic lifestyle. Her adult life has moved from the mountains of New Mexico, to Tucson (where her kids talked her into playing coffee shops), to Portland, to Seattle, and soon, at least for this fall, to Austin. With plenty of side trips along the way.
“I guess about February I gave up my job and my house and [my husband] and I parted ways,” she says with a bright, easy laugh. “I mean, we’re playing Folklife together and stuff, we’re still friends.” That’s good, because Walter Cryderman has been an integral part of Gayneau’s two albums as producer, arranger and guitarist.
“Until August I’m in limbo,” she says. “In August I’m going to go to Austin and seriously figure out what I’m doing. But it does all revolve around this record, for sure.”