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Taylor Hicks: Story Teller Tour Pt.2

Photos and audio recordings by Louise Uznanski for OnTapBlog

©2016 OnTapBlog All Rights Reserved



Please enjoy a look back at Taylor Hicks’ and Brian Less’ four night acoustic tour of the East that began on April 21st in Connecticut and ended April 24th in Pennsylvania.

From the Fairfield Theatre where Jamie McLean opened and then joined Taylor on guitar for the headlining show, to the vintage, renovated Queen Theatre at World Cafe Live in Wilmington, Delaware, to the sold out Avalon Theatre in Easton, Maryland and then finally to the New Hope City Winery in Pennsylvania, Taylor and Brian managed to make more music from their two man band than many could with a full band.

Following are a few photo and audio highlights of Taylor’s acoustic Eastern tour.

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Audio: What’s Right Is Right/Tupelo Honey-Avalon Theatre, 4/23/16

Smooth, cool vocals, a little harp and Van’s Tupelo Honey tag.

Audio: Six Strings Are Hard On Diamond Rings-Avalon Theatre, 4/23/16

The best ballad for Taylor to date. Perfect anthem for a traveling soul man.

Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman Charm Infinity Hall Crowd

by Holley Dey with photography by Louise Uznanski and Richard Uznanski ©2015 On Tap Blog All rights reserved.

g&g from Richard 1From the back of the merchandise line it was clear that nearly all of the audience had decided to join the queue.  As I watched the line slowly advance and then reverse direction, I realized that the Infinity Hall crowd now had their hands full…..full of music.  When the time came to reach for my own wallet, copies of Gary’s newest CD were long gone, long gone.  Instead, I purchased an older live recording that features several of the Hall of Fame songwriter’s #1 songs as well as a 2008 album that includes many of Georgia’s early hits. It was an incidental but very satisfying purchase when I later compared the recorded vocals to that evening’s live performance.

Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman came from Nashville to New York and then to Norfolk last month to perform for an audience that laughed easily, smiled broadly and enjoyed greatly. The music was drawn from the couple’s catalog of songwriting hits, from their own recorded music and from yet unreleased songs to be included on an upcoming duo album, the husband and wife’s first together. The show was patterned after the famed singer-songwriter sessions at the Bluebird Cafe where each songwriter in turn performs one of his/her hits, supported by instrumental and vocal back-up from the other.

Each song was introduced with a tale of inspiration, with behind-the-scene details from the Nashville music scene or….with a story of what could only be divine providence (or sheer dumb luck).  Take Gary’s history with Garth Brooks, for example.  Original song “What Mattered Most” was written for the country superstar.  “He hated it,” explained Gary curtly, “didn’t record it.”  (Ty Herndon later took the poignant love song to #1 on the country music charts.)  Happily, fate intervened.  In studio to record a Bob Seger song, Garth was forced to switch gears when the details of that song failed to arrive via FAX. “Might as well record that song I’ve been hearing around the studio this week.”  Done. That’s Gary Burr for you; he’s lucky (and talented) like that.

Georgia’s eyes misted as she described her late father’s favorite song, “While He Still Knows Who I Am.”  A tender story of memory loss and reconnection, the Dave Berg-Tom Douglas-Georgia Middleman co-write went unrecorded for eight years until Kenny Chesney made an emotional connection to the lyrics.  It was the last song Georgia’s father requested, and the first song recorded for Chesney’s 2012 album release.

The Infinity Hall audience had no trouble connecting to the songwriters’ performance.  There was an enthusiastic back-and-forth between those on stage and the many more in the audience.  Laughter and good-natured teasing were exchanged; several song requests were accepted and performed.  It was like an evening with your closest friends, if only your friends had both talent and your rapt attention!

Among the joys of this acoustic-based singer-songwriter performance was the opportunity to hear that talent unfiltered.  Compared to recordings that are now several years old, the tone and clarity of the vocals have not changed.  Gary’s voice has a richer quality; maybe it’s maturity.  Well then again, maybe not.  That cheeky humor hasn’t changed either!

Nor has the quality of the duo’s songwriting wavered.  At Infinity Hall the audience was treated to a preview of new songs intended for the couple’s debut album.  “You Roll By” and “This Song” share the same well crafted melodies and lyrics as previous works, but marry Gary and Georgia’s voices in a warm and welcome harmony.

Here’s hoping the songwriters will return those harmonies from Nashville to New York, to Norfolk and beyond when the new album is released.  Might consider taking the show to Naperville, Newton, Norman or New Orleans….or go crazy!  That’s right.  Pick another letter.



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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!”

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

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

On Leyla McCalla, Musical Art and the Venn Diagram

by Holley Dey               ©2014 On Tap Blog  all rights reserved

Have been thinking about the relationship between art and mathematics recently; on Saturday night it all came together.  I think that there are likely as many definitions of “art” as there are artists, as many definitions of “artist” as there are critics.  Most will agree that artistic expression is powerful and powered – powered by creativity and originality.  Not all artists are musicians; not all musicians are artists.  Most musicians and many artists are accomplished entertainers, but not all.  It’s when music is given artistic expression by a talented live performer that the audience finds the sweet spot.  I lived happily in that spot on Saturday evening when Leyla McCalla took the stage at New Haven’s Cafe Nine, featuring several selections from her debut solo album Vari-Colored Songs. Read more