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Photo Focus: Taylor Hicks at WorkPlay:: Five Years Later

Words/Photos/Video by Louise Uznanski for OnTapBlog

© 2014 Ontapblog All Rights Reserved


The lights, the smoke, the incredibly talented band. The long lines of fans patiently waiting to secure a spot at the stage. And, the excitement of being at the hometown release party of Taylor’s new CD, ‘The Distance’. This was the scene in Birmingham five years ago today as Taylor Hicks took the WorkPlay Theatre stage on September 25th and 26th to capacity crowds. The fans and friends gathered in Birmingham found Taylor to be inexhaustible as he performed a full week as Teen Angel in the Broadway touring company of GREASE before stepping onto the WorkPlay stage.

The band was bound together by the piano play and musical direction of Brian Less and the smooth, blues-filled strings of guitarist Josh Smith. Keeping the beat was Leif Bondarenko on drums, Jay Smith on bongos and Jason Parker on bass. Jeff Lopez filled the air with his spiritual and soulful sax. Clay Connor directed the backstage details that made the shows run according to plan.

WorkPlay was a celebration of family, friends and fans. Family in the audience and high school and college friends in attendance made the atmosphere like a reunion. The fans traveled from all over the country. Charles Barkley from the NBA and Auburn was spotted in the crowd as were old friends of the band Bill Will and Zippy Dietrich. Making the night feel even more like a reunion was special guest and college mentor Billy Earl McClelland, trading riffs on the classic tune Dust My Broom; Ona Watson and his smooth duet on Woman’s Gotta Have It; the UAB Gospel Choir striding onto the stage singing behind a rousing New Found Freedom; and Wet Willie’s Donna Hall Foster finishing an encore with Taylor in his ‘Magic City’ commemorative t-shirt.

Maybe You Should was sung stripped down and spare while Once Upon A Lover and The Runaround and Seven Mile Breakdown were successful in getting the joint jumping. The Distance, the title song from the new CD, was performed as tight and solid as a title song could be. What’s Right Is Right was performed with the polish and intensity of the video version Taylor released with the new CD six months earlier.

After the shows were over, word spread fast about the set lists, the guests and the performances of extraordinary music and showmanship in Birmingham’s legendary music hall. The shows created a musical atmosphere of friends, family and fans so much so that when the word WorkPlay is mentioned, it still evokes such strong memories of the music and the performances that were seen and heard five years ago on those two nights in Birmingham.


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Taylor Hicks sings New Found Freedom with UAB Gospel Choir. Video credit: lh1100

Taylor Hicks & Billy Earl McClelland WorkPlay Dust My Broom (partial video).

Taylor Hicks and guitarist Josh Smith duel it out with that chicken pickin’.

Maybe You Should

Nashville Shines Bright in New York City Lights

Words/video:  Holley Dey        Photography: Louise Uznanski and Richard Uznanski     ©2014 On Tap Blog all rights reserved


By the numbers alone it was a special evening.  One stage, two hosts, two invited guests, three Hall of Fame songwriters with dozens of hit songs, yet only four good knees among them.  Professional football takes the blame for the wear and tear on Mike’s bones; professional songwriting may be responsible for Gary’s.  Sometimes an earnest plea from a bended knee can get those soon-to-be hits recorded, don’t you know….

For the third installment of the Nashville to New York  series, co-hosts Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman welcomed award winning songwriters Mike Reid and Matraca Berg to The Cutting Room in New York City.  The hosts had promised the “best and brightest” for the September event, and they more than delivered on Tuesday evening when six voices, yes six, entertained from four sturdy chairs placed stage front.

No special effects were involved.  Ms. Berg has friends in all the right places, including The Cutting Room audience where husband Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and country singer-songwriter Allison Moorer were seated.  Called to perform, Hanna temporarily took the stage, and a chair, to perform his chart-topping “Bless the Broken Road”, and to harmonize with his wife on a soulful rendition of her own “Oh Cumberland”.  Ms. Moorer joined co-writer Matraca Berg to perform a new original song that the two had recently completed and that “hasn’t really been public yet.”  Oh, it’s public now. Once the duo began the chorus in earnest, “Jesus and Elvis, painted on velvet, hanging out at the bar here every night…” the audience clapped confidently to the beat of a traditional country story of whiskey, loss and redemption.

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Those are two of the many reasons that this singer-songwriter series offers a premium entertainment value. The shows draw not only from the talent on stage, but from unbilled talent seated in the cheap seats. A founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on this occasion, and in June, Emmy winning songwriter Victoria Shaw was pulled from the audience to perform, adding her voice and vibrant personality to the mix. Then there is the potential to hear music “in the rough”, unfinished, unpolished, imperfect and real, well before it reaches the ears of the general public. A sneak peek into the creative process, it’s the adult version of Charlie’s wonder at the Chocolate Factory, without the chocolate mess.

And then there are the voices, the songs, the stories and the humor of the Nashville songwriters, the heart and soul of these shows.  There is something unique and special about hearing the music and its background directly from the writers.  Mike Reid introduced “Everywhere” as the song he wrote for Celine Dion, then raised a quick hand to stop the “oohs” and “ahhs” that followed, explaining, “No, she refused to record it”!  Happily, Tim McGraw layered his voice on this story of enduring love and wistful regret that span time and distance.

When Reid then performed the song, it was done with timing and expression – a conversation supported by fluid, flowing piano accompaniment.  The lyrics were given quiet emphasis.  The same was true when Georgia performed “Little Victories”, when Gary offered “Man of My Word” and the remarkable “A Thousand Wild Horses”.  As in June, hearing these songs directly from the songwriter brought a new understanding and appreciation of the music, and a deepening appreciation for the talent behind the songs.

Nashville to New York returns to The Cutting Room on January 6, 2015.  Co-hosts Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman will be joined by special guests and award winning songwriters Victoria Shaw and Mark Hudson.



Nashville Songwriters Score a Hit with “Nashville to New York”

by Holley Dey, photography by Louise Uznanski      ©2014 On Tap Blog all rights reserved

Gary Burr & Georgia Middleman at the Cutting Room, NYC

Gary Burr & Georgia Middleman at the Cutting Room, NYC

Let’s cut right to the chase.  Kurt Vonnegut once said that a good story should start as close to the end as possible.  So here it is – The End, the take home message, the down and dirty truth, the not-so-secret skinny.  The next “Nashville to New York” show will be held on September 9, and you should be there.

You’ll earn a rare glimpse into the mechanics of songwriting and a short course in the business of music.  You’ll hear songs that were hits, and others that just missed, directly from the songwriters.  You’ll laugh, you’ll sing and you may wonder – wonder why the remarkable, clear-voiced talents seated on the stage do not own the voices that play on the radio and replay in your memory.

“Nashville to New York” is patterned after the writer-in-the-round sessions held at The Bluebird Cafe, the same venue celebrated by the ABC television series Nashville.   Singer-songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman are the hosts of the quarterly event, held at The Cutting Room in New York City.  At each show two invited guests join the hosts on stage; all four trade stories and share their original songs in intimate acoustic performances, supported by instrumentals and harmony vocals from the others.  At the most recent show on June 10, the hosts were joined by award winning songwriters Gretchen Peters and Dave Berg to play for a jam-packed room.

First up was Georgia who prefaced her performance of “I’m In” with a delightful story of patience and providence.  Co-written with Radney Foster fifteen years ago, the song found a limited audience on release.  A subsequent cover by The Kinleys was a minor hit, reaching #32 on the country charts, and that was enough for Middleman to replace her broken-down car with a used Honda CRV.  “I was so grateful,” said Georgia.  Fast forward ten years and the plate on an aging CRV would soon read RIP.  The songwriter raised an earnest prayer to the heavens, and Keith Urban recorded “I’m In”.  Can you say Toyota Prius?  Quipped Gary Burr, “I do think that the country charts shouldn’t be numbers; they should be automobiles!”

A vibrant performance followed the introduction.   Know this:  if Snow White had a brain and a song, she’d be Georgia Middleman.  Petite with dark curls, fair skin and a generous smile, Georgia’s size belies the strength of her voice and the depth of her talent.    Joined by husband Gary on backing guitar and vocals, the pair offered a spirited rendition of “I’m In”, proof positive that in this family the vocal and marital blends are equally melodic.

They share a  lived-in, homegrown repartee on stage.  “You might want to move your chair,” suggested Georgia.  “Hey, you might want to stop smothering me,” came the perfectly cheery response.  The hosts were the focus of attention, charming the audience with their good humor and storytelling.  Gary alternately played rhythm or lead guitar for his wife; each sang harmony for the other.

Gary was important to the pace and complexion of the show; he kept the jokes coming, his songs upbeat.  When Emmy winning songwriter and producer Victoria Shaw was recruited from the audience to perform, Burr was typically helpful.  As Victoria introduced her original co-write “The River”, Gary quickly stooped to pick up the name she’d dropped (Garth Brooks).

Gary’s own song selections included “To Be Loved by You”, co-written with Mike Reid and a #1 hit for singer Wynonna Judd.  It’s one of a few positive love songs that Burr has written, he says, dwarfed by the number of psycho killer love songs he’s penned.  “He loved her, he lost her, he hunted her down…”  And when the laughter died down, the song was delivered with an unanticipated tenderness and a vocal tone that left no doubt why the former electrician is also the former lead singer for Pure Prairie League, former vocalist/guitarist for Ringo Starr.

Seated to Burr’s left was singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters who owns a storyteller’s voice, beautifully expressive across a full dynamic range, delivering poetic lyrics of layered complexity.  Gretchen surprised with her introduction to “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” wondering aloud why the audience would want to hear hit songs.  “Don’t you hear those enough?!”  Ironically, the show had been billed as an evening of hit songs, but then Ms. Peters offered two highlights – a poignant performance of “The Matador” from 2012 album Hello Cruel World, and a newly recorded, yet unreleased song with a chorus that rocked lightly, “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” that might very well be another hit.

Between the two ladies sat singer-songwriter Dave Berg.  Introduced as a rocker, Dave began his set with the low key “One Can Be a Lot,” a song that Dave says “never really stuck,” but that stuck like glue with the audience in New York.  “Just one sun lights the sky. Just one moon turns the tide. And man can change the world with just one thought. One promise made can last forever….. Yeah, sometimes one can be a lot.”  A laid-back delivery and a light rocker’s edge to his voice, Dave followed with two of his best known originals: “Stupid Boy” (Keith Urban) and “If You’re Going through Hell” (Rodney Atkins).  He also performed a tune he’d written with Mumford & Sons; Dave wasn’t quite sure if his c0-writer was Mumford or Sons…

Nearly two and a half hours of song and story, insight into songwriting and the music industry, and the opportunity to hear new music from Nashville’s most successful writers – all of this came for an advance ticket price of $15.  Guests for September’s “Nashville to New York” were not announced, but Gary and Georgia have promised “the best and brightest songwriters” at every New York show.   Two quick suggestions for the next in the series…. The titles of several songs performed and enjoyed at the June show were never shared with the audience.  Giving the product a name makes it easier for customers to later purchase that product from home. While the arrangement of chairs was likely intended to showcase their guests, seating the hosts together center stage would visually enhance the harmonies and banter.

At the audience’s insistence, “Nashville to New York” sang well beyond its scheduled finish.  If you’d like to know why, begin here and read up.  Read until you come to “The End” ; then stop.


Gary Burr, Victoria Shaw, Gretchen Peters, Dave Berg, Georgia Middleman

Gary Burr, Victoria Shaw, Gretchen Peters, Dave Berg, Georgia Middleman

Georgia Middleman

Georgia Middleman

Gary Burr, Gretchen Peters, Dave Berg, Georgia Middleman

Gary Burr, Gretchen Peters, Dave Berg, Georgia Middleman

The Mulligan Brothers:: Make That Fiddle Sing, Make It Dance!

By Louise Uznanski. Photos by Richard Uznanski and Louise Uznanski ©2014 Ontapblog All Rights Reserved.

Gram Rea

Gram Rea

As they finished unpacking and setting up their gear on the stage of The Watering Hole in Mays Landing, New Jersey, The Mulligan Brothers mingled with the crowd and made new friends. On their first  trip to New Jersey, the Mobile, Alabama-based band’s fiddle player Gram Rea asked if there was anything we wanted them to do. Answering in our best South Jersey accents, we said, ‘let that fiddle sing’, to which Rea replied, ‘if I can’t make it  sing, I sure as hell will make it dance’. And so he did.

Snippets of their music began showing up recently on my Facebook timeline. It was intriguing and worth a listen. Little by little, with each listen, it became clear that  The Mulligan Brothers’ music was likable and sincere.  A video clip sent by a friend in Mississippi of the band’s cover of The Weight prompted a look at Youtube for videoes of their music. There, the professional video of their song Cecilia topped the search list.


Gram Rea

Gram Rea

Underlying the words about lost love and freedom was the fiddle playing of Gram Rea. The smooth and sensual playing captured  the words sung by Ross Newell and made the notes float like the night air in the deep South. The search to hear the band live resulted in finding a tour stop in New Jersey on their way South from a show at Boston’s Fenway Park.


Ross Newell

Ross Newell

The band’s name comes from the sport of golf. Having played for years and years with other bands in other configurations, the four band members Gram Rea (Violin, Viola, Mandolin, Harp,Vocal), Greg DeLuca (Percussion, Drums, Vocal), Ben Leininger (Upright Bass, Suitcase bass, Vocal), Ross Newell (Guitar, Lead Vocal) came together and immediately melded on all fronts. In golf to shoot a mulligan is to take a ‘do over’.  This was it, their chance to start over. The band members are brothers in music where they get to do a musical ‘do over’ together now that four have become one.

The twenty minute trip to the Watering Hole Cafe led us to the forested area on the way to the Jersey shore and in the four hours we spent listening to The Mulligan Brothers, we were transported to a Bayou dance hall with congenial hosts named Gram, Greg, Ben and Ross. The forest behind the venue provided the background crickets, frogs and other sources of nighttime chirping. It sounded like home. Their genuine nature shows in their music. Life’s training from years on the road is reflected in their songwriting. They deliver a performance that is a smooth mixture of vocal tones, musical lyricism and storytelling tunes, most of which can be found on their debut album The Mulligan Brothers.   Their covers span songs from The Band to The Beatles delivered throughout their three sets.

Ross Newell

Ross Newell

Greg DeLuca

Greg DeLuca

We found their music to be like a story with each song a chapter in their journey. The original music is mesmerizing. Ross Newell’s voice sings under the radar of the lyrics but is still present in the forefront of your ear.  Blending with the additional voices of Rea, DeLuca and Leininger, the sound is like a Mississippi masala.  They say that they write music they can sing live and it is evident that the music comes from real life. Some of their cover songs included Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down performed with the feeling written into the original recordings. After hearing Ross Newell’s lead vocals on Cripple Creek, the latter song began without Ross singing into the mic. We searched the stage for the singer. When we got to Greg DeLuca we found he was singing in a clear, strong voice while playing drums. This unexpected turn drove home the point that all of the band members voices can be used singularly and together their voices blend to pleasing results.

Suitcase Bass

Ben Leininger’s bass is unique and catches the eye. Made from two suitcases found in a thrift store,  the sound that comes from this handcrafted instrument is unlikely.  Composed of suitcases and electronic gear, the bass creates a deep and penetrating sound that complements Ben’s vocals. The get-up is amusing at first glance but the sound is serious and full of purpose. It is also rumored that Ben packs his clothes in the suitcases when they are on the road but that could not be verified Wednesday night.


Ben Leininger

Ben Leininger


Ben Leininger

Ben Leininger

The Mulligan Brothers’ three sets included most of the original songs from their album which was named “2013 Alabama Album of The Year’. Each song is like eavesdropping on little episodes in someone’s life.  Would the live performance take a back seat to the recordings? I was looking forward to the answer. To be honest, hearing all of the songs from the CD, especially my favorites Cecilia, One Trick Pony, Lay Here, Too Soon To Say, exceeded every expectation. What is heard on the CD translates to the live version and then some. The vocals, the fiddle, the drums and the ‘suitcase’ bass all come to the forefront in the live show just as they do in the recordings and  it is the emotion and the meaning of the songs that rides on the musical stream of the fiddle, the beat, the voices and the bass that has made me a big fan of The Mulligan Brothers.


Gram Rea


Greg DeLuca

Greg DeLuca

Mulligan Brothers Website

Order The Mulligan Brothers CD







James House Delivers on “Broken Glass Twisted Steel”

by Holley Dey @2014 On Tap Blog all rights reserved

james house

  • The beer’s on tap for two men hunkered down at the bar, ball caps pulled low.  One turns to the other and mutters, “So what’s goin’ on with the girlfriend?”  Comes the pointed reply, “Hey, I ain’t that lonely yet!”

Laughs songwriter James House, “That’s just me being a smartass….and that’s one time it paid off.”  His original “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” peaked at #2 on the country charts and returned a 1994 performance Grammy for recording artist Dwight Yoakam.  Twenty years later, James covers his own song on newly released album Broken Glass Twisted Steel  (2014 Victor House Records).  His is a much different version, turning on the experience of the vocalist and the emotion of the lyric.  While the 1994 recording features a smooth vocal and a more stylized delivery, James uses short, clipped phrases and the grit in his voice to convey a sense of loss and regret, those feelings reinforced by lone fiddle and acoustic guitar.  It’s a compelling  performance and one of several highlights on an album that features eleven original songs, all written or co-written by James House.

It’s music that is long overdue, coming nearly two decades after the release of Days Gone By, an album recently rediscovered across the pond where songs including “This Is Me Missing You” have found success on the the UK dance charts.  The irony brings a smile to James’ voice as he recalls the 1995 reaction to the rock influenced release.  “James, you’re ahead of your time,” said the label executives.  House is philosophical.  “I kept trying to dial it back,” he says, and now that music “seems tame compared to what’s going on these days” in country music.   “Now it’s like you’ve got 70’s rock going on…..with rap,”  he muses.  Sometimes you’re behind the times, sometimes ahead….and sometimes that train pulls into the station right on schedule.

New album Broken Glass Twisted Steel has arrived just in time to leverage demand for music on the soulful side of country, music with a story to tell rather than a party to remember.  Opening track “Train Wreck” is a relationship song, the story of a bond that survives the ups and downs, that thrives on volatility.  “Broken glass, twisted steel; I just like the way it feels.”  The song was co-written with Australian artist Adam Eckersley, featuring a beat that grooves and an instrumental break that is pure delight when guitar, fiddle and steel guitar are called upon to solo.

In a sense, the story could be a metaphor for a lengthy career in the music industry.  Ups and downs, twists and turns, but too much fun, too much drive and satisfaction to let go.  Asked why he elected to produce the new album on his own independent record label, House teases, “Pretty much because I think I’ve run out of labels – Epic, Atlantic, Warner, MCA…  I’ve been on them all!”

The truth is that the indie label allowed singer-songwriter-musician and co-producer James House complete control over the new album.  That control has allowed elements of his artistic past to be incorporated into music that is both fresh and dynamic.  The rock influence from Days Gone By is subtly recaptured through the musicians who were recruited to play on the new release.  Brent Mason returns on electric guitar; Brad Pemberton on percussion and Andrew Higley are both “rock guys” playing on their first country album.

When vocalist Kim Fleming arrived in studio, she reminded James that she sang background on the first recording of his original song “A Broken Wing.”  After years of performing the song live, House now includes his own rendition of the #1 hit on Broken Glass Twisted Steel.  While Martina McBride may own the high notes, the songwriter is an equally effective storyteller when his vocal is highlighted against limited instrumental support as the verse begins.

Fleming and Kim Mont (affectionately known in studio as “Kimfolk”) are also the source of the heavenly voices heard on “Every Time It Rains”, the lead single from the new album.  Written with co-producer Michael Bradford, the song was tucked away and nearly forgotten in James’ computer catalog.  He’d written a number of rain songs, trying to get the music and lyrics just right .  “Rain songs – it’s almost a genre” says James.  “If you played them all back to back, you could fill days of radio, I think!”

Happily, “Every Time It Rains” was rediscovered, pulled from archive and arranged with a nod to country soul pioneer Ray Charles.  The romantic verse and melody feature James’ lead vocal answered sweetly by the two Kims in a throwback style that pays tribute to the Raelettes.  Even the songwriter is satisfied with the result.  “I think I finally got it right on that one.”

Perfected the rain song, and “got it right” throughout Broken Glass Twisted Steel.  The music is melodic, the lyrics well matched and the vocals delivered by a master storyteller.  Highly recommended.




Gary Burr & Georgia Middleman Bring Nashville to New York for June 10 Show

Georgia Middleman and Gary Burr photo byValerie Fremin Georgia Middleman remembers the first time she met her future husband.  She and a date were seated front row at The Bluebird Cafe in her newly adopted Nashville hometown.  Singer-songwriter Gary Burr had just taken the stage, guitar in hand.  The room was quiet in anticipation of his performance, and Georgia respectfully waited until the song began to take a careful bite of the celery on her plate.  Took that bite; the music was abruptly halted and Gary asked, “You enjoying that?”

Now many years later, Hall of Fame songwriter Gary Burr and hit songwriter Georgia Middleman will bring Nashville to New York on Tuesday, June 10 at  The Cutting Room.  The husband and wife team will host a singer-songwriter show patterned after the “In the Round” writer nights at The Bluebird Cafe, the same venue featured in the popular ABC television show Nashville.

Gary and Georgia will be joined on stage by their guests, singer-songwriters Gretchen Peters and Dave Berg.  Each songwriter will perform acoustic versions of his/her biggest hits, supported by instrumentals and harmony vocals from the others.  Each will introduce their songs with the little known behind-the-scenes stories that few have ever heard.  It promises to be a special evening of music, stories and laughter, and a unique opportunity to hear some of the industry’s best known songs performed and interpreted by the songwriters themselves.

The four songwriters represent a wealth of experience and share an impressive record of success in the music industry – both as writers and performers.

Gary Burr has been honored with Songwriter of the Year awards by Billboard, ASCAP and the Nashville Songwriters Association; he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.  His hit songs include “Nobody Wants to Be Lonely” (Ricky Martin & Christina Aguilera), “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me” (Juice Newton), “In a Week or Two” (Diamond Rio), “Before Your Love” (Kelly Clarkson), among many others.  Gary was lead vocalist for country-rock group Pure Prairie League and guitarist/vocalist for Ringo Starr in The Roundheads; he is now a member of the group Blue Sky Riders with Georgia Middleman and Kenny Loggins.

Georgia Middleman is an accomplished vocalist and recording artist, as well as a talented songwriter. She co-wrote the 2010 hit “I’m In”, recorded by Keith Urban, and the recent Kenny Chesney song, “While He Still Knows Who I Am.” Her songs have been recorded by Reba McEntire, Joe Nichols, Martina McBride and many others.  Her song “When the Right One Comes Along” was recently featured on ABC’s Nashville. Georgia is one-third of the acclaimed new trio, Blue Sky Riders, with Kenny Loggins and Gary Burr.

Dave Berg’s songs have reached the top of the country charts five times, including the 2008 most played country song of the year, “If You’re Going Through Hell” (Rodney Atkins).  Dave also wrote “Somebody” (Reba McEntire) and “Stupid Boy” (Keith Urban).  He has been honored as Billboard’s Country Songwriter of the Year, as well as ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year. Dave has released three independent singer-songwriter records of his own.

Gretchen Peters is the twice Grammy-nominated, CMA Song of the Year winner for the groundbreaking “Independence Day” (Martina McBride). Gretchen also wrote “The Secret Life” (Faith Hill) and “On a Bus to St Cloud” (Trisha Yearwood), among other hits.  Peters has released nine critically acclaimed albums of her own.

Nashville to New York  brings four uniquely talented artists together for an unscripted celebration of song and story.  To join the June 10 party at The Cutting Room in New York City, purchase tickets here.  Pull up a chair, relax, enjoy the music and camaraderie.  Stay away from the celery.

N2NY songwriters                                                               Clockwise from top left: Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman, Dave Berg, Gretchen Peters

Americana Artist Amy Black Celebrates Her Roots with New Music

by Holley Dey          ©2014 On Tap Blog  All rights reserved

At her February release show for sophomore album This Is Home, Amy Black fronted a band that included Spooner Oldham and David Hood.

This is the same Spooner Oldham who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, the same musician who supported Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, and Percy Sledge on piano and organ.  This is the same Spooner Oldham who recorded instrumentals on “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and who wrote Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman.”  Bass player David Hood was a member of the famed rhythm section that recorded first at FAME, and then at his own Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in the late 1960s.  He played bass or trombone on several early hits, including Percy Sledge’s “Warm and Tender Love,” Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man,” and Etta James’ “Tell Mama.”  Both Hood and Oldham are members of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Amy Black’s Alabama roots also run deep.  Now Boston based, she grew up in Missouri and Alabama, attending high school in Birmingham.  Both sets of grandparents hail from The Shoals.  In addition to her new full-length CD, Amy recalls her Muscle Shoals roots with recent four song EP The Muscle Shoals Session, recorded last summer with Spooner Oldham at FAME studio.  “I’d driven past FAME my whole life, but had no idea that Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and many others had recorded within those walls,” says Amy.  Included on the EP are covers of songs previously recorded in Muscle Shoals by Wilson Pickett, Arthur Alexander, Tim and Mel and The Black Keys.  Track “You Left the Water Running” is a standout, featuring Amy’s warm vibrato and keen sense of rhythm.

Her southern heritage is clear on new album This Is Home as well.  Track “Alabama” was written with memories of her grandfather who called Waterloo, Alabama home, and never strayed far from The Shoals.  “I’m Home” describes the warm feeling associated with returning to the place and people we each call home, the same feeling that moves Amy in Muscle Shoals.  The official music video for “I’m Home” confirms Amy’s rock solid bond with home and family; her husband, parents and sister are featured.  The only actor is the dog!

While her sophomore album was recorded in Nashville, Amy went home to celebrate the release of the disc.  It was standing room only at The Mayfair in Tuscumbia, Alabama for the February show.  In addition to Oldham on keys and David Hood on bass, she was backed by Kelvin Holly on guitar and Mike Dillon on percussion.  Originally from Alabama, Holly is the longtime guitarist for artists including Little Richard, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, The Decoys and Pegi Young and The Survivors.  Mike Dillon has a long list of credits as well, having played with Les Claypool, Ani DiFranco, Galactic, Marco Benevento, among many others.

Amy’s joy at sharing her new music with an appreciative hometown crowd is clear in the following recently released videos from the event.  The first two songs. “I’m Home” and “Cat’s in the Kitchen” are Amy Black originals from This Is Home.  The third. “Bring It on Home to Me”, is a Sam Cooke cover that features a deliciously simple introduction that serves to showcase Amy’s soulful voice nicely.

For more on Amy Black, visit her official website.  Song samples and purchase links for both The Muscle Shoals Session and This Is Home are available here.


Jeff Grady Presents “Pixel Perfect”: Original, iPod Inspired Art

jeff grady pixel artThis won’t be some stuffy, highbrow art event.  No siree!  Jeff Grady’s first exhibit will be a true reflection of the man himself – smart, creative, just a little bit quirky, and above all,  fun.

Pixel Perfect is a one night exhibition of original art to be held at San Francisco’s 111 Minna Gallery on Friday, April 25.  The show draws upon Grady’s entrepreneurial business background as well as his passion for music and video games to present a collection that is a little bit history, and a lot more rock n’ roll.

The fifteen or sixteen pieces that comprise the collection have all been painstakingly crafted from discarded, non-functional iPods that are mounted on glass, many in iconic mosaic patterns.  Thousands of iPods were collected over a period of several years.  The Pixel Perfect exhibit was a full year in the making, inspired by Grady’s admiration for the often eccentric works and collections of artist Dale Chihuly.  Some of Jeff’s designs use hundreds of iPods to fashion representations of  digital icons, or of characters from vintage video arcade games, including the classic Mario Bros. and the iconic ghost from Pac-Man.  Do you remember that ghost, the one that stalked your game and gobbled your player?

Exhibit curator Kelly Coty remembers.  She remembers spending hours in the old neighborhood store where a ten dollar bill was traded for a roll of quarters, and play wouldn’t end until that roll was gone.  There’d be a queue waiting behind her; the next player would simply put his quarters on the game console and say, “I’m next.”

Really, explains Kelly, this exhibit is a small piece of our generational history.  Just as each square of a handmade quilt carries a memory, so do the tiled iPods in Grady’s artwork.  Many of those audio players were engraved at purchase.  Some are etched with “Happy Birthday” or “I love you.”  Some rode in the car every day to work and back, playing the popular music of the day.  Others spent hours at the treadmill or pounding the pavement, making those workouts easier to complete.  Most were loaded with music that had meaning and importance to the owner.  Memories, there are memories embedded in each of Grady’s designs.

For the artist, the iPod carries both his past and present.  Grady was one of the first to purchase the original iPod following its 2001 commercial release.  The audio player came without a case, and so Jeff made his own.  He soon discovered that others wanted a carrying case and much more, accessories that the entrepreneur was more than happy to supply through his new company, Digital Lifestyle Outfitters.  Sales of cases, docking stations, boom boxes and other peripherals escalated at a rapid rate; in 2006 DLO realized sales of approximately $100 million.  When the company was acquired by Philips Electronics in 2007, Grady earned the financial freedom that would allow him to focus on other interests, including his passion for the music stored on his iPod.

At about that same time, soul singer Taylor Hicks found that his circumstances had also changed for the better.  The recent American Idol winner and DLO founder were introduced by mutual friends in New York; the two found common ground as each man slowly adjusted to the challenges and rewards of unexpected fame and good fortune.  For his part, Grady decided to leave some of that fortune in the City.  His newly purchased New York penthouse was decorated and furnished in a stunning rock and roll motif by Nashville interior designer Kelly Coty.

At home in Nashville, Coty occasionally worked with local area realtors to furnish houses that would then be offered for rent or sale.  One of the homes was leased to musician Taylor Hicks, temporarily in town to work with Music City songwriters.  Anxious to have his new home ready for a weekend visit from friends, Taylor enlisted Kelly’s help.  No problem, said the designer, and she arranged for his records and extensive memorabilia to be hung on the walls, even delivering a missing shower curtain to his front door.  “Thank you,” said the Idol winner as he shared with the surprised designer, “My friends the Gradys will be here this weekend!”

Taylor Hicks will rock some soul at the April 25 Pixel Perfect art exhibit, accepting an invitation extended by new friend and curator Coty, and promptly seconded by Grady.  Local area musician Peter Chung will also perform; Chung’s band includes techies who compute by day and rock by night.  Once each year the band rocks hard in support of Music in Schools Today (MUST), a non-profit organization that funds music/arts programs in San Francisco area schools.

jeff grady heart pixel art

Jeff Grady is also firmly committed to music education in the schools.  Says Jeff, “When I was young, I was fortunate to have attended public schools that had very strong music curriculums.  Music transcends the physical world and enables children to collaborate in ways that are blind to their differences and unifies them on a higher plane.  Music in Schools Today plays an invaluable role in facilitating, supporting and establishing music programs in schools, and this is something that can change lives.”  At Pixel Perfect, one of Grady’s artworks will be auctioned with the proceeds to support MUST.  That piece is a beautiful pink heart with a single red iPod at its center.

Admission to the Pixel Perfect exhibit is free of charge, and limited to adults ages 21 and over.  Register for the April 25 event at the link.  It promises to be a very special night:  iPods on glass, musical memories to be shared and made.  If you are passionate about music, design, 8-bit technology or video games, you’ve surely come to the right place, baby.








Cecile McLorin Salvant: Jazz Reimagined in West Hartford

by Holley Dey cecile rev-016

She began with the Porgy and Bess classic “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and ended with “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story.  In between she covered Shirley Horn and Billie Holiday, lent a sympathetic voice to the “Stepsisters’ Lament” from Cinderella and gave precise phrasing to Abbey Lincoln’s “Laugh, Clown, Laugh”.  She also growled.

Yes, growled…..simply because she could, in tune and in rhythm.  At twenty-four Cecile McLorin Salvant has a confidence that is both certain and unassuming, a talent that is full-voiced yet fully in control.  She has a wide tonal range, but even more impressive are the dynamics of her performance, the light and tender touch applied to the highest notes, the deliciously warm vibrato that defines her powerful lower register.

Whatever she sings, Salvant finds the syncopation and rhythm that drive the melody, revealing the backbone of songs both new and old.  She brings a fresh style and theatrical flair to the performance of jazz standards, and on Saturday evening at West Hartford’s Town Hall those songs came alive in a way that was suddenly relevant and relatable.

Cecile performed to a full room.  Many in the audience had delayed their arrival, then anxiously checked cellphones as the UConn Huskies competed in the NCAA final four.  Happily, the hometown team prevailed during the dinner hour so that when the 2014 Grammy nominee took the stage she found a receptive audience, warmed up and ready with their own husky growl.

Blanche Calloway originally performed “Growlin’ Dan,”  a story that includes Minnie the Moocher and the “ho de ho de ho” that was later offered as a call and response in live performances.  Cab’s sister was an exceptional singer whose dramatic style was popular in the 1920s/1930s.  She was the first woman to lead an all male jazz orchestra.  Salvant herself fronted a three piece all male band on Saturday including talents on piano, bass and drums.  Her growlin’ and her story tellin’ would have made Blanche proud.

Listen below to a live recording of “Body and Soul”; the elegant phrasing and expression are representative of Cecile’s body of work.  That work includes not only classic jazz, but reinterpretation of newer blues/jazz tunes as well as her own original songs.  To learn more about Cecile McLorin Salvant, visit her website here.   To sample 2014 Grammy nominated album WomanChild, click here.


Cecile McLorin Salvant in West Hartford, Saturday, April 5

Photo Focus: Anders Osborne:: ‘Peace’ and New Glasses

By Louise Uznanski for OnTapBlog

©2014 OnTapBlog All Rights Reserved

Anders Osborne at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA.

Anders Osborne at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA.

At the start of his solo acoustic set at World Cafe Live, New Orleans blues singer/songwriter Anders Osborne announced he would run through the entire new album Peace, and then go from there.  Also announced was his return to touring after a three week hiatus.  AND, he bought new glasses.  They’re really sharp and go well with Anders’ newly cropped hair.  He didn’t mention the haircut.  I’m sure it was an oversight. Read more


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