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OnTapBlog on Tour:: The Mulligan Brothers Come Full Circle with ‘Via Portland’


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



Gram Rea

Gram Rea

Ross Newell

Ross Newell

Greg DeLuca

Greg DeLuca

Ben Leininger

Ben Leininger


The road to the Mulligan Brothers December 10th pre-release CD show at the Joe Jefferson Playhouse in Mobile, Alabama, began  this past Fall when the tour bus, loaded with instruments and a portfolio full of new songs, took The Mulligan Brothers west from Mobile, Alabama to Portland, Oregon. Here, the work would begin on their sophomore album, ‘Via Portland’, with producer Steve Berlin. Returning to Mobile from Portland once recording was completed, the band made several tour stops and were met with familiar places and faces. But, it was their time in Portland that brought the band to the realization that the journey out west to make new music was not complete until they returned home to Mobile where their hometown friends and family could become part of moving that musical wheel a full 360º.


The Joe Jefferson Playhouse, located in residential Mobile, has stadium seating and every seat has the advantage of great acoustics and light. The capacity crowd was treated to a listening party that was the culmination of months of writing, rehearsing, traveling, and then, finally, recording. The finished product, ‘Via Portland’, is, in the words of songwriter Ross Newell, “a compilation of songs from life, a little sad and sometimes bitter but you have to hear the songs and then you’ll know what I’m talking about.” Ross introduced and described each song and after three or four song introductions,  the audience started to sense a theme. The songs are sad, but not really. Some are bitter, but they are happy, too. One member of the audience who had enough loudly suggested to Ross, ‘just sing it, we just want to hear the song!”

Greg DeLuca ©LU

Greg DeLuca

Ross Newell ©LU

Ross Newell

Gram Rea

Gram Rea

Every song was fully realized with the twists and turns in the lyrics the audience has come to expect from Newell’s writing. Sitting near Ross’s mother, she proudly revealed that he has been writing songs since he was two years old when he wrote a song about skinning his knee. The band’s incredible harmonies makes the listener’s ear focus intently to catch every phrase and nuanced word. The instrumentation on the recorded tracks is superb; at a live concert, the listener just wants to hear more of the blend of Gram’s fiddle, Ross’s voice, Greg’s light beat and Ben’s low bass tones. Ross’s mother was right: hearing her son and the band perform their recordings live is so different she sometimes cannot believe it is her son and his friends singing.

After the performance of the entirety of  ‘Via Portland’, the audience asked for more with their standing ovation. The band returned to the stage and met to discuss the encore setlist. The songs decided upon were from their freshman effort, ‘The Mulligan Brothers’. In this part of the show, every word came back to the band from the audience who enthusiastically sang along to Lay Here, Oh Susanna and Kaleidoscope. Foot stomping, clapping and whistling ensued. The best part of the show was seeing the joyous smiles on the band members faces throughout the night.  Their biggest smiles beamed across the stage from musician to musician, out to the audience and back to the band as they sang old favorites to round out the night.




‘Via Portland’ took many miles and life experiences to come to fruition. Many in the capacity audience had traveled from places all over the country to hear the new music. After the show, the band met with friends, family and the local community. The overall consensus is that once again, The Mulligan Brothers have produced a pure, honest and poetic body of work and the audience felt that as they traveled together on that musical wheel from Mobile to Portland and back to Mobile again, all by way of  ‘Via Portland’.

Gram Rea ©LU

Gram Rea

Ross Newell

Ross Newell


‘Via Portland’ will be released nationally January 20, 2015 and can be pre-ordered here.

To listen to I Don’t Want To Know from ‘Via Portland, please click here.

To listen to ‘The Mulligan Brothers’ first CD in its entirety, please click HERE

©2014 Ontapblog All Rights Reserved

The Mulligan Brothers Plan December Release for Sophomore Album

Gram Rea

Gram Rea

by Holley Dey ©2014 OnTapBlog all rights reserved

Gram was standing outside as we talked, cell phone pressed to his ear. “Hold on a minute,” he said abruptly.  An air horn announced the imminent arrival of a train that would rumble loudly through Guthrie, Oklahoma, then fade quickly and quietly into the distance.  Like the train, The Mulligan Brothers made a powerful statement in Guthrie, but would soon be on their way, headed down the highway, intent on their southern home and the end of a five week stint on the road.

On their first trip to Oklahoma the band had drawn a small crowd of about twenty-five to their eclectic mix of folk/Americana/acoustic rock music. Fans packed the venue on The Brothers’ return, and now a larger venue and second show were added to September’s busy tour schedule. Good news, but a road-weary rasp in Gram’s voice prompted concern. Would the dual stresses of touring and talking compromise that evening’s performance? “Nah, that’s alright” he laughed, “I’m always hoarse.”

His patience and work ethic seem typical of the band as a whole. When The Mulligan Brothers put together their “second chance” band in early 2013, it was with the mutual understanding that the music came first. All four agreed that “we wanted to play our original music and make a career out of it without selling (our) souls.” The band was willing to take a risk by playing their original music and slowly, methodically building a fan base, knowing that money would be tight and fame an unlikely bedfellow.

There must have been an incredible sense of awe, a deep sigh of relief, a deep-throated chuckle at the irony of their early results. The Mulligan Brothers’ eponymous debut was named “Alabama Album of 2013″ by the Mod Mobilian. The band was invited to play an hour long set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest where that very same album was one of the event’s top ten sellers. The Brothers have since visited the Middle East and Africa to entertain U.S. troops, performed at Fenway Park, and attracted the interest of well known producer Steve Berlin (Los Lobos)  for their sophomore record.

To what does the band attribute their near immediate success?  Fiddler Gram Rea explains, “I really think it’s hard work and communication.  We constantly regroup and ask how can we make it better.”  Everyone contributes; lead singer and guitarist Ross Newell is a prolific songwriter and works continuously on new songs.  Drummer Greg DeLuca can also play guitar; he sings harmony and handles all of the band’s social media.  Gram adds mandolin, harmonica and viola, as well as his voice to the mix.  His fiddle keeps feet moving.  His business skills keep the finances in line.  Bass player and harmony vocalist Ben Leininger also drives the tour bus.  Once a public transport shuttle, that bus has been stripped and refitted with bunk beds, flat screen TV, stocked refrigerator and four southern gentlemen, four brothers by choice.

Ben and Greg grew up together in Mobile, Alabama.  The pair were friends at school and have played music together since childhood.  Before The Brothers became a band, Ben and Greg were “The Free Agents”, an independent rhythm section available for hire.  Occasionally the Agents played as a trio with guitarist/vocalist Ross Newell.  On other nights, Ross played acoustic sets with Gram Rea who had recently moved to nearby Mississippi and often gigged in local clubs.  When The Free Agents joined the duo for a set of music it “was magical from the moment it started,” says Gram.

“We all had the same musical goal,” explains Rea. “We all loved Levon Helms, The Band, acoustic music from Bob Dylan.” There was an immediate chemistry on and off the stage leading the four to commit to a new project, one that would leverage their combined experience to build on the successes and avoid the failures of their previous bands. “Like a mulligan in golf,” says Gram, “a do-over, this was our second chance band.”

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Photos: @2014 The Mulligan Brothers

The band rehearses every Tuesday afternoon when The Mulligan Brothers rent a studio in Mobile for four hours. Every week they work on the songs – the melodies, the lyrics, the harmonies, a rare cover. “Lots of bands don’t do that,” says Gram, “they get lazy. I’ve been guilty of that – one of the lessons learned.” Many bands “get complacent”, content to book and rebook shows at the same venues. The Brothers are willing to gamble that their music will recruit fans in new markets. They are willing to lose money the first time through town to pack the house on their return. There has been more than one Guthrie, Oklahoma.

“We’re very blessed,” confirms Gram, that the band’s following continues to grow. Los Lobos member and respected producer Steve Berlin is among the fans who were impressed by the debut album. After hearing the music, Berlin made a quick call to the band’s manager to say “I want to produce their next album.” And he has.

The Mulligan Brothers’ sophomore album is planned for an early December 2014 release. The music was recently tracked in Portland, Oregon in the same studio used by indie rock band Modest Mouse. Berlin played an active role in studio through his clear vision for each song and his keen attention to detail. Not the right snare drum, try another; might need a nylon pick rather than plastic – the producer insisted on the best, the right sounds for every track. The music is now ready to be mixed; the artwork is in progress.

There are currently eleven tracks slated for the new, yet untitled acoustic album. Eleven original songs were written primarily by Ross Newell, but feature co-writes by other band members including Rea. A few of the songs may already be familiar to fans. Let Them Ring, a song about life on the road, and Bad Idea have been played at recent live shows. All four band members contribute vocals to the mix; on Bad Idea those harmonies build line by line to the end. The band’s instrumental skills shine; Gram alone plays fiddle, harmonica, mandolin and viola on the album. Producer Steve Berlin adds a few tasteful piano pieces.

“We’re doing honest music,” says Gram, “These are true and honest stories about real life experiences…honest music from the heart.” As with their first effort, the band has tried to stay way from “formulas set forth on the radio.” Confirms Rea, “We want to play our music even if it doesn’t mean a major deal. We just want a solid career that we can sustain for many, many years and a following that appreciates the music. It’s really about the music at the end of the day.” He admits that it’s a little scary to release a second album when the first was so well received, but “We’re very excited. There are some really great songs – you’re just going to have to wait and see!”

Taylor Hicks to Headline Asheville’s October 12th Country Music Super Fest

By Louise Uznanski for OnTapBlog


Where else could country music fans find four outstanding examples of this genre and more on one stage in one night of performances? On October 12th, Asheville’s US Cellular Center provides the answer when the center presents American Idol winner and Broadway and Vegas veteran, Taylor Hicks, who will headline the Country Music Super Fest. Opening for Hicks will be three acts who are familiar to the local music scene. Austin Baze, a duo from Western North Carolina, Underhill Rose, a local, all-female Americana trio and Asheville songwriters Laura Michaels and Scott Raines will combine their talents before Taylor Hicks takes the stage.

Thomas Wolfe Auditorium Outside

The October 12th Country Music Super Fest at Asheville’s US Cellular Center brings nationally and locally known talent to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium stage, one of four performance venues at the center. While most of the outdoor festivals held during the summer are winding down, the Country Music Super Fest maintains the flavor of the summer festivals at Asheville’s premiere community entertainment center. Holding over twenty-four hundred patrons, the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium is known for its premiere lighting and sound which will accentuate the voices and instrumentation heard onstage on October 12th.



Taylor Hicks will bring his soulful southern country style to the stage to end the night. One of the most beloved American Idol winners in the show’s history, Taylor went on to release two acclaimed albums, headlined solo tours in the US and Asia, starred on Broadway as Teen Angel in Grease and headlined his own show at Bally’s and the Paris casinos in Las Vegas. Preparing to soon release his new, highly anticipated country and blues album, Hicks has said of his new music that it will remind people of a mix of Zac Brown Band meets Jackson Browne. Working with Nashville songwriters and Nashville mega -producer Mickey Jack Cones on several tracks, the new album is slated to be a return to the Alabama native’s country roots.

Source: Taylor Hicks

Source: Taylor Hicks

Austin Baze is a long-time duo from the northwestern North Carolina region. Both Brian Buckner and Nick Gunter grew up with the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains influencing their music. Together since their days of singing in church as children, the duo is presently creating new music with producer Dave Fowler and cannot wait to share their new project with their fans.


Underhill Rose’s music personifies smooth harmonies, soul-touching lyrics and eye-catching stage presence and it has become synonymous with beautiful music, and, recently, increased momentum. The trio consists of Eleanor Underhill, Molly Rose, and Salley Williamson. After successfully raising funds through a crowd-funding campaign in 2013, the trio recorded their second album, the Cruz Cantreras (The Black Lillies), at Echo Mountain Recording Studios, which produced the single “Something Real”. Their music has been described as a heartfelt and fresh sound that blends their Americana, old country and rhythm and blues roots.


Laura Michaels and Scott Raines round out the opening acts at Country Music Super Fest. A songwriting team who perform separately and together in the lively Asheville music scene, Laura and Michael will entertain the Super Fest audience as a duo for this special event.


The Super Fest audience will be entertained by country musicians whose music runs the gamut from Americana to blues to old country and beyond. Plan to leave the show as a new fan of one, two, or more of the artists scheduled to perform. It’s all about country music and it’s ON at Asheville’s Country Music Super Fest on October 12th!



More information on all of the artists and where to buy tickets is at the links below:


Taylor Hicks

Austin Baze

Underhill Rose

Laura Michaels

Scott Raines

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

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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.



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