Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Musicians and Music

January-February issue, 2010

By Paul Clark

If you think you've heard all the music there is to hear in the Lower Hudson Valley, chances are good you ain't heard nothing yet. From classic opera to anti-folk, classy jazz to electro-art rock and zydeco, plus instruments designed for your own personal beat, the Lower Hudson Valley is definitely playing your tunes. Here are six of our talented friends and neighbors you'll want to see and hear in this new year...

Jamie Block A universe rekindled
In the decade preceding his 30th birthday, alt-folk/anti-folk singer/songwriter Jamie Block had something a lot musicians wish they had too, but probably never will: an original record deemed "perfect as is" by Capitol Records, and signed and released into the public domain exactly the way he wanted it. The music press was equally dazzled by that 1998 album, Timing is Everything. The same press that had also praised his first album, Lead Me Not into Penn Station, two years before.

For all intents and music-career purposes, this bright, sardonic and intently observant English-major transplant from Chapel Hill was well on his way to claiming a primo chunk of the universe as his own. But by the time he was 30 touring, partying, exhaustion and doubt overtook him. He was, as puts it, "done, forget it, good-bye."

In 2001 he wound up on Wall Street, having being hired by an investment firm that figured if Block could get himself signed to Capitol, he could sing just as convincingly about the value and risk of investing. As it turned out, he sang quite well and in time settled into the life of a financial advisor. Then early one morning a few years later, dressed in a suit and driving to Manhattan, he heard one of his songs on WFUV. As the song ended, DJ Claudia Marshall began talking about the talents of a vanished artist named Jamie Block, and a remarkable album he'd put out a few years earlier. "She literally said, 'Jamie. Phone home,'" he recalls, "and I got out my cell and called."

Before long, he was interviewed on WFUV and, thanks to Marshall, reacquainted with the beauty, faith and approval of a universe he'd convinced himself was lost forever. "Jamie, she said, "you put out a great album and you work on Wall Street. Get over it." He did.

And a year later, while still working on Wall Street, Block released The Last Single Guy, and quickly found himself "welcomed home" by enthusiastic reviews and audiences alike. Today, he's not about to give up his day job, but he is back into music in a way that's less frenetic and more on his terms. The future, he says, is "best left undefined." But for the present, there's another album in the works. Which means for Jamie Block — and his fans — all is right in the universe. Again.

For more about Jamie Block's music and upcoming performances, go to blocknyc.com.

Glint Getting noticed, going places
For Glint, the smart, talented and forward-looking band based in Grand View, 2009 was a very good year. Powered by two hit albums and growing international attention, Glint's well-paced and managed path has propelled them from their first show in Central Park the year before, to a new EP and wildly successful 10-country, 30-show European tour last summer. Now, with an ambitiously planned new year of recording and touring in New York, the U.S. and Europe, 2010 looks to be even better.

Founded by guitarist and vocalist Jase Blankfort and drummer Mateus Tebaldi, this versatile group of musicians has evolved to its present strength by the addition of bassist Dave Johnsen and Alon Leventon on keyboards and synthesizers, along with sound engineer Chip Valentino and live VJ Chris Piazza. All of whom have transmuted Glint from the more acoustic rock of their debut album, Mode to Joy, to the theatrical electro-art-rock-with-a-streak-of-industrial signature that emerged in Sound in Silence, their second album, and took hold in their latest recording, Glint EP.

Glint's steadily rising presence and success are due, in no small part, to their own persistence. "Big labels don't throw a million dollars behind a band any more," says Robert Ryan, director of Rely Records, the band's independent label. "You have to do a lot of the work yourself." And they have. Their ubiquitous, self-generated presence on the web, iTunes and social networks has drawn more and more fans, and sold more and more songs. A recent feature on the iTunes home page resulted in over 200,000 downloads.

During last summer's busy European tour, both he and Jordan continuously cold-called and interviewed on local radio stations and used local promoters to advertise the band's performances everywhere they went. They've also garnered help from notable greats like Michael Brauer, who mixed for Coldplay, and liked Glint's sound and energy so much he mixed Glint EP for free. And also from major promoter Live Nation's Harvey Leeds who now, along with Jordan, co-manages the band. "Our immediate plan, says Jordan, "is performing for some of the best booking agencies in the country, and Harvey happens to be close friends with many of them. So we're well positioned now to do just that."
In the days and months ahead, and ever mindful of Leeds' advice that "you have be known in your own hometown," Glint will be playing at least once a month in the New York area this year, where you can catch them at one the city's major live venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as locally like last December's performance at The Turning Point in Piermont.

In the meantime, the band is busily perfecting a new album while also getting ready for their "first serious U.S. tour" starting in March, when they'll play prominently at the Southwest by Southwest festival in Austin. Then it's back to Europe for appearances at major music festivals and cities this summer.
All of which assures that anywhere you go this year, there's a good chance this majorly "on-their-way" band will be there too.

For more about Glint and their upcoming performances, go to glintonline.com and relyrecords.com.

Anne Tormela Opera for everyone
If your appreciation of opera never progressed past Tommy, or "The Opera" episode of Seinfeld where an overbearing suitor channels Pagliacci to claim Elaine as his own, Anne Tormela would love to broaden your horizons. An accomplished lyric coloratura (a singer who literally "colors" the character of a song with the power and precision of her voice), this talented New City musician, yoga practitioner and fourth-degree black belt, has performed operatic roles all over the world, including perhaps the toughest stage of all, the subway platform beneath Grand Central Station.

For the last several years, her company, Manhattan Lyric Opera, has been changing people's minds about opera by deftly portraying it not as "trained screaming," but for what it really is: often witty, always human stories of the themes and emotions that forever fascinate us all — love, betrayal, jealousy and, sometimes, murder. Her methods are as innovative as they are rewarding.

By condensing full productions to a crisp 90 minutes, and projecting supertitled English lyrics and interior and exterior scenery onto the stage area and background, audiences can comfortably understand and enjoy the performance.
Accompanied by top operatic talent, Tormela has staged performances of Die Flediermaus, The Merry Widow and other classics in theatres and opera houses in Iowa, Wisconsin and Florida. And she regularly performs special repertoires of opera, operetta and Broadway to the delight of audiences in such diverse local venues as libraries, music festivals and restaurants, private homes and specially arranged "Dinner and an Opera" evenings. In doing so, Tormela has succeeded in opening the eyes and ears of more people in more and different places than ever and, in the process, made opera more accessible and meaningful for everyone.

The real joy of opera for Tormela is sharing the beauty and strength of the music. And making the kind of one-to-one connection that only a live performance can generate. "Every song has a spirit," she believes, "and a singer has the responsibility to tell the story each song contains. A singing teacher once told me to mean what you say, and say what you mean. I do. And people respond to that." So when you're ready to move past Pinball Wizard and broaden your horizons in ways you never thought you would, Anne Tormela will take you there gloriously in 90 enchanting and very entertaining moments.
For more about Anne Tormela go to tormela.com

For more about her Manhattan Lyric Opera programs and upcoming performances, go to manhattanlyric.com.

Billy Roues Bands of Brothers
Ever since he and his brother first breathed in the lilting lyrics of a live a cappella group singing outside their grandparents' Brooklyn apartment, Billy and Steve Roues, then 9 and 7, knew they wanted to live a life of music. And to this day, they have. A life, in fact, so filled with influences, styles, songs and directions, they write, produce and perform in four different bands just to fit them all in.
Their astutely named UpSouth Twisters, a rockin' zydeco quintet, is a high-speed blenderful of blues, creole and cajun accented with dialects of rockabilly, salsa, Tex-Mex and New York attitude. A raucous, spirit-lifting twist of energies, all brought together by Billy on guitars, mandolin and vocals, Steve "Muddy" Roues on stand-up bass, harp and guitar and the rest of the band on accordion, drums, rub board, timbales, and piano.

The quartet Finn & The Sharks delivers straight-up, room-rattling guitar, sax and bass-blasting American rockabilly. "We got together in the late '70s merging punk with rockabilly," Billy says, "and it just blossomed from there." Today, it's a catchy and distinctive style known to fans everywhere as "100% genuine Sharkabilly." In 1994 Billy and Steve joined up with Big Jim Wheeler, a well-traveled country/western and folk singer from Upstate New York to create a style of deep-voiced originals and covers of country, rockabilly and folk. The crowd-pleasing band that resulted, Big Jim Wheeler & Wheels of Fire, released its first CD in 2003.

Rounding it all out is the band of brothers themselves, The Roues Brothers, a real-deal American roots rock, country, soul and rhythm-and-blues band with a singular style all its own. And to help keep everything going and flowing, Billy operates UpSouth Recordings, his record label, in West Nyack.
Billy estimates that he has probably written 6,000 songs over the years (some better than others, he laughs). But after decades of writing, recording and performing, he believes that a musician's career is measured not by how much money he has — or hasn't — but by the musicians he's played with. Thus far, he has jammed on stage with B.B. King, worked with Johnny Johnson (Chuck Berry’s piano player and bandleader), Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Pete Seeger and many other of his heroes. 

If that's not a life of music lived and played well, what is?

For more about Billy Roues and his upcoming performances, go to myspace.com/billyroues and myspace.com/upsouthrecordings.

Tommy Goodman Paths well taken
By his own description, jazz kicked Tommy Goodman in the stomach when he was 11 or 12 years old. And to this day, he has never stopped reveling in its jolt; an enduring influence that has kept this classically schooled and equally enduring pianist, composer and arranger on a still-evolving path. A journey that has taken him confidently from working keyboards in jazz combos comprised of some the best players of the '40s and '50s like Art Tatum and Louie Bellson (whom he first met and played with in an army band during World War II), to arranging It's a Wonderful World with Louis Armstrong, and other successful orchestral associations with icons like Benny Goodman (no relation), Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horn and John Denver. Plus, music and dance arrangements for Broadway hits like Cole Porter's Silk Stockings.

Along the way he also applied his considerable verve and experience to compositions that created the musical pulse of popular soap operas and over 800 broadcast commercials. All of which guarantees that if you hadn't heard Tommy Goodman in a jazz club or on stage at some point, you're virtually assured to have heard his tunes for everything from Chrysler and Mabelliene to Hasbro and McDonald's between segments of your favorite TV shows.
For the last ten or so years — a period he laughingly refers to as his "retirement" — the path of this long-time Nyack resident has continued in both familiar and different ways. After decades of playing, touring and commercial work, these recent years have given him time to get back to his two creative passions: classical and jazz piano, both of which he has performed, and in some places still does, in local spots like The Turning Point, LuShane's, Wasabi Grill, The Nyack Center, Reality Bites and Tascha in Nyack. At the same time, Goodman also composed a ballet, and scored The Dybbuk, a chamber opera produced and performed to sell-out crowds at Riverspace.

So for a cool and relaxing afternoon or evening of stylishly performed jazz standards, contemporary favorites and show tunes, be sure to catch Tommy Goodman in the Nyack area. And if you're planning a trip to Florida during the cold winter months, you can also cross paths with him and his jazzy friends at several spots in Sarasota and Venice.

For more about Tommy Goodman's upcoming performances, check the local papers or drop him an email at tommygo@optonline.net.

Bob NcNally "No wrong notes"
Practically everyone has wished they could play music at some point in their lives.

And a lot of people — including Eric Clapton — have taken lessons, only to give up because they thought it was too difficult. Luckily for everyone, Clapton went back to the guitar. But for everyone who has ever wanted to play but never thought they could, Bob NcNally has the answer for all those hopes and wishes: the Strumstick. 

This simple, elegant, three-string instrument that he designed, makes and sells is the ingenious result of NcNally's desire to put music into everyone's hands. The idea developed 25 years ago when, as an experienced maker of "regular" instruments like guitars, banjos and dulcimers — and also a musician, guitar teacher and performer — he found that people are intimidated by instruments.
But with Strumstick, he says, you can finger one string, anywhere on the string, and get a note from a major scale. "There's no wrong notes." Mix that with the two other strings, and you create simple rhythms and patterns which can easily become simple but more complex compositions. "I wanted to make an instrument that you can pick up and see that result right from the beginning," he says, "an instrument that's inexpensive, looks good, sounds good and even be kind of charming to help people overcome the notion that they can't play."

Even some of those who "can play" have discovered the special shape, simplicity and sound of the Strumstick and embraced it wholeheartedly. Jon Anderson, the legendary Yes guitarist and vocalist, saw McNally playing one at a trade show. He tried it, loved it, played together with McNally for a while, and has since created and performed several of his own compositions with it.

Singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman has done the same. And there's also a story going around that Sting saw a Strumstick at Bruce Springsteen's house, played it, loved it and went out and bought one for himself.

Made by hand in McNally's New Jersey workshop from sustainable hardwoods, Strumstick is incredibly lightweight; the standard key-of-G model is just 11 ounces. Other models are available too, including the Strumstick-shaped ukulele and the sleek electric Strumstick. Each comes with instructions and a CD. So if you believe you'll never have what it takes to play an instrument, surprise yourself. Give a Strumstick a try.

For more about Bob McNally and Strumstick, go to strumstick.com.

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