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With the end of 2019, the WKSU newsroom is celebrating the best stories of the year. From December 23, 2019 - January 1, 2020, we'll be giving you a chance to catch up on some of our favorite stories from the year. Catch them on Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Shuffle: Maura Rogers and the Bellows Share a Bond Bigger Than Music

Maura Rogers (center) received a kidney transplant in 2012 that saved her life. Accordion player Meredith Pangrace (right) was the donor. Other band members are Quinn Hyland, Jeff Babinski and Al Moses.

This story was originally published April 25, 2019.

Cleveland singer-songwriter Maura Rogers is out with a new album this week, seven years after her bandmate donated a kidney that saved her life. 

Surviving through music
It was 2011 when Rogers was fighting for her life. She was in kidney failure and waiting for a donor. But she said her survival was her music.

"I just could feel my body and my energy dwindling," she said. "It was scary, but I think it motivated me to do this music even more. The body was failing me, but my heart and my passion and my mind was all in it to win it."

'The body was failing me but my heart and my passion and my mind was all in it to win it'

An accordion player and match
Rogers posted an ad on the site Craigslist looking for an accordion player. Meredith Pangrace was the only person who responded. Pangrace joined the band, Maura Rogers and the Bellows. She also decided to see if she was a donor match. 

"A lot of people were coming forward and getting tested and and it’s just a simple blood test, it’s not a hard thing to do," Pangrace said. "I was like, 'I’m in a position where I could do this; I’m healthy.' There was always something in me that was like, ‘I bet this is going to happen.’"

Rogers and Pangrace continued to work on music together and went ahead with the transplant.

“We released our first album as a band in July of 2012 and then in August I had a transplant. So it was literally three weeks after our album release," Rogers said.  

A second chance at life
“It’s changed my entire life for sure to be given a second chance at life and have it come from somebody I really only knew for a year. I thought, 'I really have to live life the best that I can.' And I really started to make choices and changes in my life that would lead me to that space. You can’t take things for granted.”

'My survival is based on being able to create and share music'

New album, "Always"
The current lineup of the band includes Quinn Hyland (bass, vocals), Jaff Babinski (drums, vocals) and Al Moses (guitar). This week, the band releases its third album, "Always." It's a follow-up to 2015's "In Light." 

The band traveled to Brooklyn, Nashville and Austin searching for the right producer for the record. They didn't end up going far. Hyland connected the group with multi-platinum producer Jim Wirt, who works out of Superior Sound Studios in downtown Cleveland. 

“I had a really good feeling about him,” Hyland said. And Pangrace said recording with Wirt was smooth. “His kindness and support made it so much better.”

Rogers says the first single, 92 Days, is about her recovery from the surgery.

“It’s one of the older songs on the album, and it was written post-transplant. Post-any kind of transplant you go into a quarantine because you’re very fragile with your immune system and that was a hard experience to be isolated for that long. And then it just expanded --that sense of feeling trapped -- just physically after the transplant but in my personal life and the relationship I was in at the time."

Hyland also said "92 Days" is her favorite song on the album. “When I joined the band, I think that was the first song I wrote my own bass part to. It has a special place in my heart. And I love the lyrics."

Pangrace said one of her favorite songs on the album is called "Blush."

“It’s hard to sometimes work the accordion into rock music, but in this song it makes you feel like you’re in a European café,” she said. 

She also said "Anything at All" is another one of her favorites. “It’s our big southern rock ballad. At the end, all three of us ladies are just belting out. And that’s some powerful stuff.”

A growing family and finding her sound
Last year, Rogers got married. Her wife is expecting twins this summer and she just got a clean bill of health from her doctor. 

"My survival is based on being able to create and share music. And it's an outlet for me that is just so important to how I feel mentally, emotionally and physically on a daily basis."

She believes the new album reflects an evolution of the band and a symbol of the close bond she has with Pangrace. 

"I really feel as though this album captures Maura Rogers and the Bellows: Where we are at, and what our sound is. The blending of the accordion and the guitar is just so finessed in this album and then incorporating all these vocals. It has been a journey of what is, as a songwriter and musician, our sound."

Maura Rogers and The Bellows perform an album release show Saturday at the Music Box in Cleveland. The band will play "Always" in its entirety and perform songs from early in Rogers' career. 


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