Category Archives: Music

INTERVIEW: Suzy Bogguss: ‘I’m still out there playing’

Suzy Bogguss

Suzy Bogguss

Country singer brings her eclectic sound to Daryl’s House on Saturday

If you even half paid attention to country music in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the name Suzy Bogguss will surely ring a bell.

She was on fire, releasing one platinum and three gold albums, along with six top 10 country singles. She was named top new female vocalist of 1988 by the Academy of Country Music, and won the Country Music Association‘s Horizon Award in 1992.

After taking a few years off after the birth of her son, Ben, in 1995, Bogguss returned with a decidedly folkier, indie approach to her craft. It’s kept her flying a little farther under the radar of mainstream country music, but hasn’t prevented her from having a decent career of touring and recording.

After Ben’s birth, “I was only doing about 40 to 45 shows a year when he was in his younger years,” Bogguss tells Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?  “Now I’m really having to rebuild a lot and just let people know I’m still out there playing… I never really went away.”

On Saturday (March 28), her tour brings her to the Hudson Valley, where she’ll play at Daryl’s House, rocker Daryl Hall’s club in Pawling, New York.

It’s a good thing she didn’t disappear. Her latest album, “Lucky,” is a collection of 11 well-chosen and beautifully performed versions of songs by honky-tonk legend Merle Haggard, one of the originators of the swinging Bakersfield Sound.

Casual listeners may know Haggard best for the 1969 hit “Okie From Muskogee.” Bogguss’ collection omits that tune, and yet it’s still crammed with familiar numbers, including “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “If We Make It Through December,” and “The Bottle Let Me Down.”

‘I like where I’m at in my life’

At age 58, Bogguss sounds like an artist who’s enjoying her career more than ever, even side of being an independent artist who has to lug her equipment around without a road crew

“In my head, I still look like I’m 21 doin’ that,” she says. “But then I think about how ridiculous it must look to see a 58-year-old woman schlepping her gear around like a teenager. I think that’s probably pretty funny to some people, but for me, it just feels like, ‘Hey, that’s what I do.’

“I’m a working musician. We schlep our stuff through the airport. Sometimes I actually find myself with a giddy, stupid smile on my face walking through the airport with my guitar on my back going, ‘Yeah, I got a good job,'” she adds with a laugh.

“I like my freedom. I like where I’m at in my life. I like playing these smaller places,” she explains.

“I know what I’m doing, I choose my own gigs, I make my own choices, and I really like that a lot.”

‘Glad I’m not doin’ that anymore’

She says she’s reminded that she doesn’t miss her days of mainstream country stardom when she watches the ABC prime time soap opera “Nashville.”

“It doesn’t compare to the life that I have now, but it does compare to the life that I had in the ’90s. A lot of that stuff is true, especially when you get to the drama of record labels, and publishers, and just the everyday ‘I need to think of something that will make me be in the public’s eye.’ Like, ‘Here’s a new recipe for dip,’ you know. ‘What can I do to get people to look at me right now,”’ she says.

“That gets old, that really gets old — especially people coming to your house and showing you racks of clothes and sticking makeup brushes in your face every second. I feel for them when I see that stuff on the show. I go, ‘Oh, I’m glad I’m not doin’ that anymore.'”

Always eclectic

While she’s always been what she calls an “eclectic” country artist, making an all-Merle album was a bit of a risk, but one that was probably inevitable. It certainly got fan financial support, with 964 backers kicking in at total of $75,211 on the album’s Kickstarter campaign, which had a goal of $50,000.

But she admits that some fans have been a little leery of the idea of her doing Haggard songs.

“Some of my fans are going, ‘Honky-tonk music, that’s not what we’re used to from you.’ But then when they hear it, they’re like, Oh, that’s a Suzy Bogguss record, not a Merle Haggard record. Sometimes you have to get over those little perception hurdles. But, all in all, once they hear it, they’re delighted,” she explains.

deeper connection to Haggard

Her own connection to Haggard deepened as a result of making the album.

“My first song that actually got on the charts was a Merle Haggard song. It’s called “Somewhere Between,” and that was my first album title on Capitol. So I already had an affinity for him from my youth,” she says, adding that the process of making the album gave her a deeper appreciation for Haggard’s music.

“Listen to what an amazing craftsman this guy is,” she says. “I think I came out just thinking, wow, before, I always thought Merle Haggard has a gift, he can just sit down and write these songs that sound like this happened to him last night and it’s real easy for him.

“But as I got into arranging the songs, and these melodies and stuff, I was like, this is not easy stuff. He has worked his ass off to hone these things down to where there’s not one extra word in there.

“Half the time he didn’t even sing the chorus twice. He would just go, ‘OK, here’s a 2-minute song that’s gonna break your heart. Listen to this.'”

Album of originals up next

The experience also challenged her to do more songwriting herself, with husband Doug Crider.

“We took all of January off and we’ve been writing like crazy,” she says.  “I really got inspired by doing these Merle arrangements to go back and really hone my songwriting chops again. I will probably go back in at the end of the year and cut an album of all originals.”

IF YOU GO
  • What: Suzy Bogguss, with Craig Smith on guitar and Charlie Chadwick on bass
  • When: 9 p.m., Saturday, March 28 (doors at 7:30)
  • Where: Daryl’s House, 130 Route 22, Pawling, NY 12564
  • Tickets and info: $25 standing, $45 seated, available online by tapping or clicking here or calling 845-289-0185

 

 

 

 

 

Speed the Plough takes over Union Hall next Friday

Speed the Plough at The Fifth Estate in Brooklyn. (© 2014, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Speed the Plough at The Fifth Estate in Brooklyn. (© 2014, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

It’s been almost a year since I’ve seen Speed the Plough play live. It’s not that the band hasn’t been playing — while STP doesn’t mount major tours, there have been several gigs in the area since that appearance in May at The Fifth Estate in Brooklyn. Scheduling just hasn’t worked out for me.

So I’m looking forward to seeing them at Brooklyn’s Union Hall on Friday, March 20 — and making sure the scheduling works out this time.

The New Jersey chamber pop family band will be joined by two other notable outfits: the indie super group Heroes of Toolik and Jersey-rooted Deena & the Laughing Boys.

STP and its rhythmic, classically informed pop has been part of my musical life for a long time. I can’t explain that much better than in did in a blurb I was honored to have included in the band’s 2014 retrospective album “The Plough & the Stars”:

In this crazy, uncertain world, there are precious few constants. Speed the Plough is one of them. I feel like I’ve known this band forever, even if I didn’t really discover it until 1996 … It may never displace death or taxes as one of life’s certainties, but the world is a better place with Speed the Plough giving those two a run for the money.

The lineup has changed considerably over the years, but Toni and John Baumgartner have been there all along. And there’s usually been a Demeski (first Feelies drummer Stan Demeski, whose wife Janet is John Baumgartner’s sister, and now their son John) and, for a time, another member of the Feelies, Brenda Sauter, and her husband, Rich Barnes.

Heroes of Toolik is a band that hasn’t been on my radar before, and I can’t imagine why, given its heritage. But it’s there now, for keeps, and should be on your radar, too. It has quite a heritage, drawing its notable members from a bunch of important indie bands: Arad Evans, on guitar and voice, has performed with avant garde icons Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca; Peter Zummo, on trombone, with the Lounge Lizards; Ernie Brooks, on bass, was in the Modern Lovers; drummer Billy Ficca fropm Television and the Washington Squares; and fiddler Jennifer Coates from Jenny Get Around. The band’s sound has a lot in common with STP, as this clip demonstrates.

Deena Shoshkes is somebody I’ve been planning to write about for awhile. She may be best known as a founder of Eighties indie band the Cucumbers, which was a mainstay of the Hoboken scene centered on Maxwell’s. Her second solo album, “Rock River,” was released just last yea. It’s a delightful collection of 12 tunes  that continues the joyful, almost childlike sound that the Cucumbers created. For a sample of her latest album, tap or click here.

Doors open at 8 p.m., with the show starting at 8:30, on Friday, March 20, at Union Hall, 702 Union Street, Brooklyn. Admission is $10, with tickets available online by tapping or clicking here. Call 718-638-4400 or email info@unionhallny.com for more information.

Stew’s stoked about James Baldwin

Stew in the Harlem Stage theater, where his "Notes of a Native Song" premieres in June. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew in the Harlem Stage theater on March 11. His new show “Notes of a Native Song” premieres there in June. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

‘Passing Strange’ creator to challenge and honor author in Harlem Stage commission

Stew rarely takes the predictable route — at least in public.

So when the pop-song writer and founder of The Negro Problem ook the floor at Harlem Stage on Wednesday night for “Behind the Curtain: Stew,” a talk about his upcoming show in the beautiful Gatehouse theater, I had few expectations.

Would he talk? Would he offer a cynical take on “Notes of a Native Song,” the piece he’s creating as part of the Year of James Baldwin, which celebrates the 90th anniversary of his birth? Would he read from the show in progress? Would he perform some of the songs?

He did a little of most of those thing — with remarkable engagement and not a touch of cynicism.

The Gatehouse, a Romanesque Revival former water pumping station that's home to Harlem Stage. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

The Gatehouse, a Romanesque Revival former water pumping station that’s home to Harlem Stage. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Maybe the venue — in Harlem, in front of a crowd that seemed earnest and engaged, exhibiting little of the hipster affect often on display at the downtown and Brooklyn venues where Stew more often appears — had something to do with it.

But it was more than that.

“When artists talk, they, for the most part, lie,” Stew said at the outset of the evening.

I’m in no position to judge his truthfulness, but his presentation came across as warm, personable, and, honest, without a trace of pose or ennui. Stew appeared deeply engaged with his subject — his reaction to Baldwin, and Baldwin’s  relationship with mentor and impediment Richard Wright.

If the artist was lying, it was a beautiful lie.

Stew held forth with only his guitar to accompany him as he opened the program with his laugh-inducing song “Black Men Ski.” While it wasn’t clear that he intends to include that song in the June show, it set the tone for the fun to follow.

He performed four other songs and fragments that apparently are part of the show, at least as it stands at this point in its development. Based on lyrical fragments, I’ll dub the three fleshed-out numbers “Brave, Suffering, Beautiful,” “Me, and You, and Jimmy,” and “Don’t Pray for the Boy Preacher” (with music, he said, by his longtime collaborator Heidi Rodewald). The fourth, of which he sang just a fragment — with some help from the audience with a spaghetti Western backing vocalization — cast Baldwin and Wright as gunslingers at High Noon in “Paris town.”

Given Stew’s position as a Tony-winning writer of rock musicals and other musical plays, such as “Passing Strange,”  you might expect “Notes of a Native Song” will be another of those, given that it will have its premiere in a respected theater.

But, based on Stew’s description, that’s not the case. He said it’ll feature “some musicians” performing the songs with scripted rants between them, because he’s comfortable with the structure of a concert.

And don’t expect the “Ken Burns, PBS James Baldwin” in this show, either. Stew promises the unexpurgated Baldwin — a detail he underscored with his unrestrained language throughout the evening — including a declaration of love for speaking all of the names that used to label African Americans over the years.

Stew seems as engaged and exited by this project as anything I’ve seen him do in years. So by that measure, it’s a safe bet that “Notes of a Native Song” will be a gem.

Get your tickets now, because it’s a short run in a small theater (just 200 seats) and it will sell out quickly.

“Notes of a Native Song” will receive six performances (fours shows at 7:30 p.m., plus two 2 p.m. matinees) from Jun 3-7, at Harlem Stage, 150 Convent Avenue, Manhattan. Tickets for the show, featuring cabaret-style seating, are $55 and available by tapping or clicking here. Call 212-281-9240 or tap or click here for more information Harlem Stage and its offerings.

Dinosaur Eyelids: Good band, kinda dumb name

Dinosaur Eyelids at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Facebook)

Dinosaur Eyelids at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Facebook)

The only reason I heard of the band Dinosaur Eyelids is because somebody from the band took the time to write and ask me to give a listen to the band’s new album.

I politely said I’d see what I could do. Eventually the album, “Bypass to Nowhere,” showed up in CD form in my mailbox. That was the first clue that this band was an anomaly of sorts: Savvy enough to mine the Internet for place to seek a friendly ear and a kind word, but still sending out CDs. (The band has rectified this a bit, as the album is now online and available for purchase on Bandcamp. Tap or click here to get it.)

I loaded the album on my phone and intended to listen to it, but I kept skipping it. Weeks later, I finally decided to give it a listen.

I’m surprised, pleased, and maybe a little puzzled by what I heard. You should check them out.

Dinosaur Eyelids (an odd band name IMHO — although that’s not a bar to quality, given the example of For Squirrels, which is still one of my personal tragic favorites) is a New Brunswick, New Jersey, band that sounds like it’s from another time. they’ve been at it since 2009. Apparently they’ve been taking it seriously, and they’re good at what they do.

Here’s how the band describes its influences on its Facebook page: “Ween, The Stooges, Wilco, Nirvana, The Replacements, Soundgarden, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, The Who, Kyuss, Neil Young.” While most of those influences are evident, none dominates. Instead, Dinosaur Eyelids has managed to process those influences into a sound that’s at once familiar and original.

The album is filled with memorable tunes, crisp guitar work, marginally bad singing (but to good and intriguing effect) on a set of songs that draw from decades of rock without ever mimicking any one era.

Dinosaur Eyelids doesn’t have a lot of shows booked at the moment. Aside from a gig in Philadelphia on March 20, its first New York show for the year is scheduled for Saturday, April 18, at The Fifth Estate, 506 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn. The ‘Lids are capping off a four-band evening that also features Territorial Breed A Tribute to Nirvana, Caramel Mask, and Long Gone West.  The show starts at 8 p.m, with the ‘Lids up at 11. Admission is $10. For more information, call the club at 718-840-0089 or check out the website by tapping or clicking here.

 

Stew pulls back the (figurative) curtain on James Baldwin

Stew at Joe's Pub (© 2012 Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew at Joe’s Pub (© 2012 Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew says he’s not using a curtain, so the title of  “Behind the Curtain: Stew” at Harlem Stage on Wednesday, March 11, may be a bit of a misnomer.

But I won’t quibble, since the program will give the audience a peek at the influences and creative process of the pop-song master who founded The Negro Problem and won a Tony for the musical “Passing Strange”

The program is a prelude to Harlem Stage’s world premiere presentation of Stew’s “Notes of a Native Song,” described as ” a collage of songs, text and video inspired by [James] Baldwin’s brave and visionary proclivity for airing uncomfortable truths as celebratory events of poetry and beauty.”

Stew, a Los Angeles native, has long been inspired by Baldwin, and name checks him prominently in “Passing Strange” as “Little Jimmy Baldwin.”

You might expect that Stew is going to offer a preview of the piece. But anything can happen,.

Here’s a Facebook post in which Stew describes Wednesday’s gig:

It’ll be more than a discussion – I’m going to preview some tunes from the Baldwin show – talk about JB’s influence on me and Passing Strange and start making people mad with my views on so-called “socially-engaged art.” It will be fun and then we’ll eat.

It will without a doubt be entertaining and insightful. But best to arrive without too many preconceptions. Anything could happen.

Harlem Stage commissioned “Notes” as part of The Year of James Baldwin celebration that began last Aug.2, the 90th anniversary of Baldwin’s birth.

“Behind the Curtain: Stew” is at 7:30 p.m. at Harlem Stage, 150 Convent Ave. in Manhattan. Tickets are $10 and available by tapping or clicking here. Call 212-281-9240 for more information.

Attending the preview event gets you a 20 percent discount on the show, which runs June 3-7. Just use code DDOHS to get the reduced price on as many as four tickets.

John Cohen: ‘I’m drowning in my past’

John Cohen  (Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News)

John Cohen (Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News)

I got the chance recently to spend an hour or so talking to John Cohen, one of the legendary figures of the musical and artistic scene of Greenwich Village in the 1960s, for The Journal News/lohud.com.

Cohen, the founder of the New Lost City Ramblers is still making music — now with a trio of much younger musical traditionalists in the Down Hill Strugglers — promoting his documentary films, working creating a cultural center in his hometown of Putnam Valley, New York, and preparing to start painting again.

The 82-year-old says he has explored so many ways of expressing his creativity over the years that “I’m drowning in my past.”

Check out the full interview online at lohud.com by tapping or clicking here. Or pick up a copy of the Tuesday, March 10, edition of The Journal News.

Looking for a hot time on a cold night? Check out Amy Lynn & The Gunshow on Wednesday (Video)

Amy Lynn & The Gunshow blasts into 54 Below at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Amy Lynn & The Gunshow blasts into 54 Below at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Amy Lynn & The Gunshow is a band I’ve been trying to catch life for ages, but every time they have a gig, it seems I’m already booked somewhere else.

Hot dam, that’s finally changing — on Wednesday night, Feb. 25, when Amy Lynn Hamlin and her six cohorts (including her husband — sorry, she’s taken! — Alex Hamlin on sax) hit the stage at Manhattan’s 54 Below for a late show.

The band’s tagline is “Horns, Soul & Sass.” And, judging from the excellent debut album, “Don’t Trip on the Glitter,” available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, and most other online music sellers, that sums it up perfectly.

Amy Lynn may not be able to change the weather, but her powerful, sultry singing will definitely raise your temperature during the show.

Don’t take my word for it. Sample her sound with a free download of “Chandelier,” a killer cover of Sia’s song. It’s just Amy Lynn and Alex on this track,  and it’s excellent. Tap or click here for more info on that.

It sounds like Amy Lynn has some surprises in store for the 54 Below crowd, so be ready for anything. She’s been looking for some special tunes to cover and says James Jackson Jr. and LaDonna Burns (aka The Black-Ups) are appearing on the bill, too.

The show isn’t sold out yet, but seats are going fast. Prices start at $35 (the $25 seats are gone). But you can save $5 on the cover by using code GUN5. Tap or click here to buy ticket now. You won’t regret it.

54 Below, a supper club with a $25 per person minimum in addition to the cover charge, is in the cellar below Studio 54 at 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan. Call 646-476-3551 for information.