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Friends Having Breakfast

Meet Me in Medford | Singer-Songwriter Susan Cattaneo

Updated: May 3

Newcomers to Medford may be pleasantly surprised to discover that an enclave of musicians and artists exists beyond its lush landscapes and vibrant economy. Among these creatives is the gifted singer-songwriter Susan Cattaneo, nominated for five (!!) Boston Music Awards as Best Americana Artist and also for Singer/Songwriter of the Year. 


Our exploration into Susan's story unveiled the profound influence her Medford surroundings wield on her artistic vision, enriching her creative expression in myriad ways.


What roads led you to Medford, and why do you continue to choose Medford as your home? 

I grew up in New Jersey and spent my childhood on a farm situated in a remote area. I recall how, during Halloween, we hardly ever had any trick-or-treaters because of our distance from town. We even had to make a journey just to collect our mail. I later went to school in California and then, after graduation, moved to New York, where I met my husband Dino, who is from Milano, Italy. We later moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts so that he could attend grad school. 


We discovered Medford through friends who lived in West Medford, and we simply fell in love with the place. First, all the nature around us here in Medford was phenomenal. In our Inman Square neighborhood in Cambridge, our "yard" was just a tiny fenced-in patch of grass. I vividly recall our son trying to play soccer, which was more like soccer against the wall. He'd kick the ball; it'd hit the wall, we'd pick it up, repeat. The noise factor was also a struggle for us; we couldn’t open the windows because of traffic, and people returning home were so loud that we couldn't even enjoy watching TV with the windows open. Our kids, six and eight at the time, needed space to roam. Being raised on a farm, I understood the importance of space, but I didn't want to be way out in the boonies. Moving somewhere super remote wasn't of interest. We wanted a little bit of city life to complement the quiet.

That's why Medford seemed like the perfect fit—it has that suburban charm without being too far from the hustle and bustle of Boston. I can zip into the city in no time. Then, that first night in our Medford home, lying there, hearing the birds—I was blown away. It was incredibly peaceful and serene.


While we’ve loved living here for the past 15 years, I especially came to appreciate Medford life during and after the pandemic; I felt like I truly lived in my home in a way I never had before. Every room became a sanctuary, and I savored every moment. Walking our dog around the neighborhood, soaking in the greenery—it filled me with such gratitude.



What are some of the things that you enjoy about West Medford?

What I love most is the walkability. I walk regularly, especially during the pandemic, and when we had our dog, I explored our neighborhood like never before. I feel like I’ve been down every single street and know all the houses.


One lesser-known fact is the thriving artist community in West Medford, where art flourishes in various forms. For example, one day, as I was strolling down the street, I noticed this tree on the left-hand side. It's got this low-hanging branch with a wide area close to the ground, perfect for resting your hand. And occasionally, someone—no idea who—will paint a rock and nestle it between the two branches of the tree. The stones are painted with inspirational phrases like "think spring" or "find joy." It's such a simple yet uplifting gesture, and it always makes me wonder, who's behind it?


Another delightful aspect I absolutely adore is the tin can flowers adorning various street signs across the area. These beautiful creations are crafted by a talented woman who transforms tin cans into stunning flowers. She slices off the bottom of the cans, shapes them into daisies or smaller blooms, and attaches them to street signs. It's the most amazing thing. You walk along, and you’re greeted by a beautiful flower on a stop sign. I’ve posted about it in the Medford Facebook group, but I can't remember who it was who is doing it, yet it brings me such joy.


In another spot, there's this driveway flanked by two stumps. I’m guessing a child lives there because now and then, you'll spot painted rocks on either side of those stumps. Sometimes, there's a festive touch, like a Christmas rock adorned with Santa or a tree. I even recall seeing an Easter-themed rock once. There’s another home on the way to the Brooks School with a yard filled with dinosaurs!


It's all quite amusing, and these little touches make living in West Medford so special to me.

Speaking of artistic endeavors, you're a singer-songwriter who has collaborated extensively within and beyond Medford. For those unfamiliar with your work, share a bit about your musical background and the projects you're currently involved in.


I’m known as an Americana singer-songwriter, a genre that blends rock, country, folk, and blues influences. It's like a melting pot where artists like Bonnie Raitt and Elvis Costello reside, and I find myself in that mix. Initially, my focus was more on country music, especially during our time living in Nashville, where I worked as a songwriter and an artist. 


When it comes to diving into the music scene here in Medford, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Laura Brereton. She is an absolute force of nature and has worked tirelessly to celebrate artists and their work in this community. She's gone above and beyond to champion me, pushing for me to perform at numerous venues around town. Thanks to Laura, I've had the privilege of playing at iconic spots like the Condon Shell for various events, rocking out at street shows, and gracing the stage at Circle the Square as well as the Chevalier Theatre for the On Stage series she coordinated a few years ago. I owe it all to Laura Brereton for opening doors to these incredible opportunities. She's truly one-of-a-kind, and I'm forever grateful for her support.


One project that holds a special place in my heart is my latest album, All Is Quiet, which delves into my reflections and experiences during the pandemic. Like so many people, I found myself at home, alone in my office, not having written anything for a while, which was unusual for me because I am typically prolific. I enjoy collaborating with others and making music together, but with the pandemic, that all came to a halt, and there was uncertainty about whether we’d ever get back to it again. I started writing these songs that were vocals and guitar because that’s all I had available, and I had the great pleasure of recording with two incredible guitarists: Kevin Barry, lead guitarist for several musicians, including Jackson Browne and Roseanne Cash, and Duke Levine, who plays lead guitar with Bonnie Raitt. We recorded our parts remotely, separately: vocals and guitar parts. It's a folk album, stripped down without drums or bass, reflecting the quiet and solitude of the pandemic.


Another project that emerged during the pandemic was collaborating with my friend and Medford neighbor Paul Hansen. We had been writing together for a couple of years before 2020. Encouraged by my husband, we formed a side project called Honest Mechanik, named after the rarity and value of honest mechanics. Our music leans towards indie pop. We began recording our album in March 2020 before everything shut down. Despite the challenges, we continued to record, taking turns going into the studio and letting the air rest between sessions. It was an unusual process, but we made it work. During the pandemic, we released our first album, Honest Mechanik, and were delighted to be nominated for Best Folk Duo at the Boston Music Awards. 


I'm thrilled to be diving back into collaborations, which brings me immense joy. It's surprising how many incredibly talented musicians call Medford home. It's a vibrant community with musicians spanning various genres and backgrounds. We're planning a Medford Musicians Party at our place, where we invite all the talented folks we know, from Grammy winners to classical composers and heavy metal artists; Medford has it all.


What are some of your favorite spots around Medford, the hidden gems you’d want newcomers to know about most?

Given the abundance of musicians in Medford, one hidden treasure I’d mention is Carlino Guitars, the guitar luthier on Mystic Avenue. He's renowned for crafting guitars for notable musicians such as Paul Stanley from Kiss. Dino has been a customer there for years and loves the place.


Photos, from top left: Cover art from Cattaneo's Honest Mechanik, some Donuts with a Differance (and a dog), Carlino's guitars and Medford's street sign flora, photographed by Cattaneo.



When it comes to food, one of our favorite places to eat is Real Gusto, an Italian restaurant in downtown Medford. I love it because my husband is Italian, having been born and raised in Milano. We’ve made friends with the owners, who are also from Italy and are kind and wonderful people who love Medford. We love their pizzas there, so that is my favorite little out-of-the-way place. It’s our go-to pizza place, and their bolognese sauce is delicious and authentic. Plus, it’s a beautiful restaurant overlooking the river, where you can sit and enjoy a meal with a gorgeous view.


We’re also fans of the Medford Brewing Company, which is within walking distance of our house and, interestingly enough, was co-founded by Max Heinegg, a musician and poet. We love that you can sample their brews with a flight of smaller glasses and enjoy a pint of a favorite. 


Another great place that’s probably not great for my waistline but good nonetheless is Donuts with A Difference on Riverside Avenue in Medford Square. It's undoubtedly a hidden gem with a genuine, welcoming local atmosphere. I love their classic glazed donut; the maple ones are like a little slice of heaven. When my kids are home from college, I buy a dozen "for them," but it’s an excellent excuse for me to enjoy them, too. And their coffee—it's the perfect pairing to those delicious donuts. 


If your best friend wanted to move to Medford, what would you tell them?

Actually, one of my best friends lives in Portsmouth, and she once considered moving to Medford. I told her, "Please come!" Medford is such a wonderful place—it's peaceful yet vibrant, and it feels like it's on the brink of even more growth in terms of art, diversity, and community. It's been a fantastic home for my kids, and I'm truly proud to be from here. I'm proud to call Medford home.


Listen to Susan Cattaneo's single "Borrowed Blue" this Mother's Day for a heartfelt tribute to motherhood, and let her soulful melodies and poignant lyrics resonate with you as we celebrate the enduring bond between mothers and children. You can learn more about Susan’s music and upcoming appearances by visiting her website, www.susancattaneo.com.


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