Cynthia G. Mason

Cynthia G. Mason

“I’m still drawn to the sad things,” Cynthia shared with the late, great Philadelphia City Paper. “Mournful, sad songs. I’ll hear a song that sounds like pure grief somewhere. I want it to hit me in the gut.”  

Her lyrics are about adult sons grieving their mother, a new parent’s feelings of terror and joy, the near-miss of almost not meeting someone monumental in your life, the ambivalence and dread that come with certain obligations. Small moments loom large and hit hard.  Magnet Magazine called her music “as vivid, evocative and narratively compelling as a film.”  Philebrity likened her music's “ageless directness”  to "a hypnotic sesh watching old Super 8 movies of people you don’t know.”  

Cynthia’s voice has been described as a little broken, plainspoken, and hushed, while her songs  have been called both “confessional” and “detached,” sometimes in the very same review. (Performing Songwriter Magazine)  She admits that while her lyrics come from a very personal place, they are left open enough so that the listener can relate to them in his or her own way.  In “One More Trip Back East,” you, the listener, sit in the room, listening for each breath.  By the end of the song you’re in the diner, too, sharing things that you once kept secret because now it doesn’t matter anymore:

Sons will gather round / Sit for every breath
Start for any sound / Any harbinger of death
You will flinch then fret / Over what went wrong
He split to forget / But now it won’t be long
I think you both know / He got here just in time to let her go
So he won’t come unwound / And you won’t kneel to pray
But that history is bound / To still get in the way
By fire by flood by beast / A peaceful passing is rare
One more trip back East / Is more than he can bear
But I think you both know / He got here just in time to let her go
We will sense our kin and town / In the twists and turns we take
On the way up and way down / In the roots of each mistake
We’re in this diner booth / Coffee is getting cold
Trading stories from our youth / All the ones he never told
And I think you both know / He got here just in time to let her go

A sense of place is also central to Cynthia’s music.  And for her, that place is the city of Philadelphia, with its beauty, melancholy, and grit.  You can hear it in “Telltale Song,” with the worry of driving through the city for that first ride home from the hospital with a newborn.  It’s in her single “What Forgiveness Will Allow” when she looks for a sign in the flickering lights across the Schuylkill River.  “18th Street” documents her departure from a beloved apartment, and the streets of Philadelphia are featured on the home-recorded Quitter’s Claim, horns honking on the corner.  In “What Forgiveness Will Allow,” a bus enters a break between verses, and the 34 trolley and West Philadelphia make an appearance in her earlier albums.

Born in West Philadelphia, Cynthia began studying classical guitar when she was seven.  Her first concert was Joan Baez at the Academy of Music.  Not long after, she and her friends were trekking down to Washington, DC to watch Fugazi and the other Dischord bands of the early 90’s.  She treasured both acoustic, folky things as well as the wilder stuff.  She joined her first band when she was fifteen.  In the coming years, Cynthia spent most of her free time at all-ages shows around Philly.  But she continued to have a strong attachment to her acoustic guitar and started developing droning fingerpicked patterns, influenced by what she was hearing on the electric. 

At the turn of the century, Cynthia met members of the band Need New Body and soon found herself playing with musicians Larry D. Brown, Chris Reggiani, and Christopher Sean Powell.  The Philadelphia City Paper’s observation at the time: “You can just see the standard press blurb: Acoustic guitar-strummin’ songstress joins forces with three-fifths of an art-jazz-rock freak-out troupe. But that’s a bit reductive when it comes to this group. Why accentuate polarities when they make music that sounds so natural?”  Cynthia collaborated on several recordings with Powell, most recently on Cinematic Turn, which they recorded at Miner Street Recordings with producer Brian McTear.  She has also made several recordings with Brown, including the stark and intimate full-length album Quitters Claim, which was released on the High Two label, as well as the single “What Forgiveness Will Allow.”

Cynthia contributed to a Muscle Shoals tribute compilation where she covered Duane Allman’s “Please Be With Me.”  She covered Richard Buckner’s “Surprise, AZ” for a Believer Magazine music compilation.  Cynthia also appeared on BC Camplight’s album Hide, Run Away, singing on several songs, including “Blood and Peanut Butter,” which was featured on Grey's Anatomy. Most recently, Cynthia graced the stage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and contributed vocals to Sun Airway's album Heraldic Black Cherry. 

When she is not playing music, Cynthia practices law.  She began her legal career at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, representing victims of domestic violence in their family law cases.  She currently lives with her family in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia where she runs a neighborhood law practice with her husband.