Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Night Jam

Always a pleasure to present a new song. This one is another from Musicians Collaboration, where I co-wrote and put together El Dorado.

It's more of a musician site than a songwriter site -- it's for people to have a garage band when they're hundreds of miles away. The musicianship and technical expertise in mixing and mastering is enviable.

I was handed a base track with this retro rocking tune, which sounds like every cover band you've ever heard (though this is an original). Very fun stuff. The chorus was written ("Yeah you got what you need (x3)/And you don't need me") and Nick wanted me to write a lyric -- to this music -- about a guy hitting on a girl way out of her league.

I had fun writing this one. Hope you have fun listening to "What You Need."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Radio Free Nashville

There were a lot of components to my trip to Nashville last week. I wanted to try to meet some strong country co-writers and hopefully pitch a professional demo of “Crossing the Threshold.” I would up doing some good writing with people I already knew from Just Plain Folks and the Muses’ Muse, as well as my friend Jen Foster. And I had a good mentoring session at NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association).

I criss-crossed paths with Coles Whalen, getting to see her perform twice (but not getting much of a chance to talk), and go to a couple of the better “see new writers” spots, like the Commodore Grill and the Blue Bar. (Coles continues to impress, and got to open for Pat Benatar this summer; her new CD, “The Whistle Stop Road Record” is out, as is Jen Foster’s “Thirty-Nine”)

I did meet up with Wendy Vickers, one of the songwriting community’s most active boosters. A Minneapolis transplant, she moved to Nashville and is almost always seen at writers nights at the Commodore and other places. I had a chance to have coffee with her during my visit, and she gave me background on Radio Free Nashville.

RFN is just about to move to 107.1 on the dial, so as I post this, it’s actually off the air for the transition. It’s a more left-leaning voice in the right-leaning Nashville community – an alternative voice for political discussion, and a celebration of the wide-ranging songwriters’ community. Wendy hosts a weekly show on Sunday morning called “Never Too Old” which features the music of the Baby Boomer generation.

Wendy’s MySpace spotlights a songwriter each week, and I was honored to be last week’s designee – Thanks, Wendy!

The trip ended with writing a song, literally on my way to the airport. I had brunch at the justly famous Noshville (a New York deli in the center of barbecue country – very good but they had no idea what a “corned beef special” was). I left Jen with a handful of lyrics I thought she would do well on, and she buzzed me as I approached the airport, with melodic ideas and suggestions for lyric cuts and changes. My trip conclued with me on my laptop and cell phone at the airport, writing a song with Jen. A fitting farewell (for now) to Music City.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Man With No Blog

It's simply an outrage that my blog has lain untended for over two months. But I got involved with a performance project (just acting, no musical involvement) and it took over for a while. I will post more details at a later time, as I think it's a timely topic for musicians as well (travel, perform, travel, exhaustion, no energy or time to write).

But my performance duties culminated last Friday night at a cabaret, a fundraiser to benefit the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation (PKD). This disease affects members of my family and we do several events every year, including this cabaret.

Last year, I performed the Rumplestiltzkin song, but this year I managed to get a few songs that were cabaret-worthy, and get some extremely talented people to sing them. There were four in total but I have audio right now for two of them. We had video camera malfunctions and I resorted to my trusty digital voice recorder to capture these two. So the quality is just middling, but the performances were worth capturing.

Carlo Pocklington, who wrote "Yearbook," came up with a wonderful setting for "Man With No Name," a rat pack sort of bar song, and the extremely talented Joe Southard picked up a martini glass and sang it. You can read the (revised) lyrics while you listen.

I was also delighted to have recording artist Liz Seymour on hand, to sing a new song by Eduard Glumov and myself. This fun lyric, "Just a Cup of Coffee," has been sitting in my folders for a while with a very cool pop/jazz setting in an unfinished demo by Eduard. But I knew the song would work not only as a studio recording, but in a simplified jazz/cabaret setting as well.

Both songs feature arrangements and piano by John Waldie, with bass by Paul Graefe.

I'm grateful to both composers for making these songs happen, and to the performers and musicians for letting me hear them live.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Catalog Expansion

It's been way too long since I posted any new songs. Part of that is I'm doing a lot of work on spec and behind the scenes. I'm doing less writing "just because" and more writing with artists, both local and travelling, as well as a little overseas. Much of this work is on spec -- it may or may not ultimately be used, and even the work that is being used either isn't recorded yet, or isn't releasable yet. So there's a lot of material you won't hear/see for a while, and some you'll just never see.

So it's really nice to be able to put up three new songs today. Ian Ferrin every so often gives me something he'd like to work on. In one case I had a toss-off lyric that he liked and wanted to move forward on, in another he had an orphan melody (a melody written for another lyric that wasn't going to be used) and asked me to retrofit some words. Both recordings are in the pretty-close-to-done phase, so they're ready for posting.

Both of Ian's songs are contempoary pop love ballads. We've started to build up a catalog of this sort of material, so if we ever get some attention for one of these songs, whoever sings it will probably have some interest in other songs we've written. Today's new "old-fashioned" ballads are:

"Learning As I Go" (Ian Ferrin/Z. Mulls)

"Same Old Long Song" (Ian Ferrin/Z. Mulls)

Also, I have a new collaborator, Carlo Pocklington. Carlo lives in Paraguay and found my website, and in particular was looking at one particular lyric, "Yearbook," about a woman going through her high school yearbook and reminiscing about boys with whom she interacted. This has been a personal favorite and it took some time for Carlo to convince me to give him a chance with it. I'm glad I did, as it is a song suitable for cabaret singing, and it gave me an opportunity to fix several clumsy lyrics. And it's done with an appropriate female vocal. Please enjoy:

"Yearbook" (Carlo Pocklington/Z. Mulls)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Twice in One Week

I don’t get out as much as I’d like. The vagaries of life, responsibilities and the growing exigencies of sloth all keep me from seeing the acts I’d like and going to the gigs I’d like whenever I’d like.

So it was a rare delight to see the same performer twice in one week. On July 17, I was up on the Lower East Side to see Seth Glier, both to enjoy his performance and to hang out. He was playing at Rockwood Music Hall, also a favorite destination.

It’s easy to see where Rockwood gets its name. The walls are roughhewn stone, mainly brick and concrete, leftover from what looks like earlier construction. There are interior brick windows in which massive amounts of candle wax have melted. The ceiling is made up of what looks like original beams, great long pieces of wood with a great deal of character. Walls and ceiling. Rock. Wood.

(That would be a great explanation, but actually the venue is run by Ken Rockwood, a performer in his own right as half of Professor and Maryann. The rock and the wood are coincidental Probably.)

But later on the bill was a young lady named ambeR rubarth (not a misprint). I listened to some of her songs and was quite taken, so I came back after Seth’s set, and we watched her together.

The small nuggets of bio you can glean from any cursory reading about her tell you that she was working with a sculptress when she realized she really wanted to be a musician. And she learned the guitar and applied herself with a single-minded purpose. She has been traveling and playing and learning all about finding her way in the music business.

And she lights up the stage. She is enormously appealing, with the kind of smile you find you are always looking for. A good voice, charming songs, both whimsical and quirky, and a good sense of herself on stage. One song in particular, “You Will Love This Song” is a lovely piece of circular self-referentialism about a break-up and songwriting about a break-up, and songwriting as well.

We spoke briefly afterwards and she told me she was playing in Philly the next Friday (which was, conincidentally, my birthday) as half of a duo called The Paper Raincoat (with Alex Wong, of Vienna Teng). This cycle of songs is based on a plot that they aren’t telling you, something about life in Brooklyn. You can enjoy them as songs but there is a stylistic and emotional through-line to them,. The melodies are much more driven, focused, and pop-laden. Alex is the centrifugal force, and ambeR is the lilting engine. Along with their jobbed in drummer, they kept their set engaged and engaging.

Both ambeR and The Paper Raincoat are about to release new CDs. Mark your calendars.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Guitar Whisperer

I am very late in reporting in on a wonderful music showcase I saw a few weeks ago at the Tin Angel. I’d like to give a full rundown of each act, but I’m afraid I have to give short shrift to most of them.

I can only mention in passing Karen and Amy Jones, a sister-folksinger act with opera-trained voices, whom I’ve seen a few times (and rumor has it, are gradually percolating a song with me). And I have to leave you with scant impressions of the local Americana artist Lee Morgan, with whom I spent a few hours on my birthday last year as he performed at Lickety Split. Lee’s harmonica work and soulful vocals are worth experiencing, even for those who don’t usually take to the “Americana” sound.

I’ll briefly mention Kursten Bouton, a soulful singer songwriter who straddles that difficult chasm between bright and moody, and has a new CD you should preview at her MySpace.

And I’d like to spend more time looking into David W, a music promoter who put the evening of ‘emerging artists” together. David has been on the Philly music scene for many years; he’s visually impaired but his ears are preternaturally alert. I had noticed all the acts above before, and had mentally noted that they had something special going on, but David is the one who not only noticed, but found a way to bring them all together and cross-pollinate their audience.

No, the person who not only delighted but floored me was Christie Lenée, who was the only act I hadn’t seen before.

She was a Guitar Whisperer. She knew things about the instrument deep in her bones, deep in her soul. She made it sing, she made it dance and she made it sit up and beg. Most guitarists have a few favorite positions to hold it – adjusting it slightly when there’s a difficult reach. But Christie played it in several ways, crouching, sitting, holding it on her lap.

Philly is a great, great music town. It doesn’t take much to realize that, from the long list of music venues, from NJ to the western suburbs, to just stopping in and hearing what’s going on. You see a lot of talent --- the baseline is pretty high. And you learn to expect and demand a level of excellence

But during one of Christie’s guitar solos (one of two extended ones in her set) incredulity began to set in. jaw slowly, so slowly dropping, until I frantically had to text a friend (the first time I have ever texted mid-act, to say Holy #%^ could this girl play.

Christie, while performing on her own, has just taken up the lead guitar position in my friend AlyCat’s band, and watching them together – Aly on the bass, Christie on the guitar, with their blended voices – is a treat. Search them out when they’re playing (and listen for the song “Officially” which I co-wrote with Aly).

Truly. She loves that guitar, and it loves her back.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seth's Sojourn

There’s a short anecdote I won’t tell about Seth Glier (rhymes with HERE, not HIGHER), but suffice to say we did get in to take a look around The Living Room space while others were across Ludlow street waiting for their crepes.

Seth is younger than he’d like to be at the moment, but time will take care of that soon enough, as it does for all of us. And time will only let this talented singer/songwriter develop his considerable skills and allow him to outpace his current self. There are impressive and amazing things to come – but you’d be forgiven for thinking that he’s been playing the piano in coffeehouses and bars for over 20 years straight, to get to the level of sophistication he’s at.

Seth Glier is mainly a piano man, and you will hear hints of Billy Joel in some of his more muscularly-arranged songs. You’ll also hear traces of Diana Krall, when he lays down a few quiet jazz chords as some songs get underway. Live, you’ll see him reach for the keys with a passion and a fervor one usually reserves for lovers. And there's that lovely tenor voice, high and pure enough to not sound false when he moves into falsetto.

He will pull out a guitar from time to time, as in “Someone Else To Crown” on the new CD, The Trouble With People (“The trouble with people is they drive me nuts/Feet on the gas and hands on the clutch/But nobody knows how to take the wheel/The mind has forgotten what the heart can feel”). This is his third full CD (plus an EP called “Sojourn”).

The newer songs have more production going on – like on “Naia” which is engineered to sound like vinyl (the singer singing how he is standing by the stereo to make sure the right song is playing when “you arrive”).

Some nice turns of phrase as well --- “She’s a warm sensation/Like a Mexico vacation”

Seth is often joined by guitarist Ryan Hommel, his friend and side man. Ryan “sides” with other people, and has some sweetly laid-back solo tracks on his MySpace. He has a couple of Seth's songs as well, as Ryan acted as producer and arranger in addition to playing guitar, bass and other instruments (so while it's Seth singing and playing in the foreground, you can hear Ryan's work all over the place).

You may have read about Seth recently – his home-state paper, the Boston Globe (he’s from Western MA) had an article about how he financed much of his tour through fan donations. This is in keeping with artists having to do much more fan interaction in this MySpace age of ten thousand artists.

You may have missed him this time around. He’s come to the end of a US tour, and is now going to do mostly New England dates for the Spring, and he’s off to the UK in the Summer. I’d keep an eye out for the fall when he starts to get to the rest of the US again.

For now, you can hit his website and his MySpace (as well as Ryan’s) and make yourself acquainted. Next year, you might even be able to buy him a drink.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Entourage is one of those words that requires a closer look every now and then. For one thing, I keep forgetting it’s French, like sabotage. And while it translates tightly to “that which surrounds” it has waves of nuance. The way carrying a bag is not the same as having baggage. “Entourage” refers not only literally to the stuff you carry with you, but also the people who come with you; and not only the stuff, but the karma.

So the entourage traveling with Rachael Sage had very good karma. A wonderful group of people, and after Rachael’s Friday night show at Rockwood, I spent a little time with her group, including her gregarious booking mananger, her quite sane tour manager (who attended the same university I did) and her partner, and her luminous PR manager.

(Seth Glier also appeared, but he deserves his own post, and I’ll save him for a few days)

For anyone hitting the venues on the Lower East Side, there is a nice little creperie down the block (on Ludlow) from The Living Room. You can get sweet or savory (I had an artichoke tapenade crepe the following night) and their best seller seems to be the inexpensive nutella crepe. The crepestress entered carrying what appeared to be a month’s worth of the stuff.

Everything you’ve read about Rachael Sage is probably true. You could draw a straight line between a indie-tinged songstress in a coffeehouse to Sarah McLachlan, and Rachael would be someone in the middle, weaving back and forth in unusual melodies. The lyrics come from unexpected places sometimes, glancing off you at surprising angles. She just won the Grand Prize in the Great American Song Contest (yes, those are two pictures down the page a bit) for “Hunger in John” which begins with the line “He was so poor/that he did his own laundry with his own tears”…

What’s curious is how different she presents on stage than her recorded self suggests. On the recording she is a serious chanteuse, singing with Intent, mournful, wistful, and never more than puckish. In person she wears he hair in a shade that makes you look twice and wears something looking like fishnets on her arms, and is prone to joshing and quickwittedness between songs, lapsing at times into borscht belt cadences.

One member of the audience was an over-effusive fan, a large and loud fellow, who was intent on making sure everyone know just how much he was enjoying the show. Rachael handled him like a pro, joshing back, directing everyone’s attention back to the music, giving him a little radiant attention from time to time and even improvising a ditty about him.

This is the point where I’m compelled to say that Rachael has just released her eighth (?) CD, Chandelier, containing her winning song and 12 other pieces (including an instrumental cut). Available wherever you’re getting your music these days. And while you will want to download it, you may want to spring for the CD to have the lyrics, photos and artwork.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dear Lower East Side....

I will be in NYC this weekend, and will certainly be around the Lower East Side Friday and Saturday nights.

I will definitely be seeing Seth Glier and Rachael Sage at Rockwood Music Hall on Friday (7-9pm). Rachael is this year's Grand Prize winner in the Great American Song Contest, so should be worth seeing.

On Saturday, I will be going for the late-night madness of The Reynaldo The Ensemble at The Living Room (11pm).

Other than that, I'm open to suggestions....

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Long Slow Death of the Album

I’ve been getting into discussions on various songwriting sites on the future of the CD, or the album of songs in general. And I’ve been thinking about how our physical relationship to music has changed over the years.

Remember a music purchase used to be a significant event. Sure there were the single 45s, but historically operas and musicals were full-length sellers. In the 1960s, after the advent of rock n' roll in the 1950s, rock bands started to "get serious" about their music, and you started to see "concept albums" happen. I don't know whether Sgt. Pepper was really the first concept album or not, but it was a big deal. An album -- think of that word, "album," like a book of different photographs -- was a *collection* of songs. And there was rhyme and reason in how the songs were arranged -- what went on Side A, on Side B. What song did you start each side with. What was the last song, the one you left them with when the turntable continued to spin silently and the needle arm lifted and returned to its place? Bands could put a few clunkers in among the "good stuff" -- a few throwaways to fill the album.

But many of us remember the experience of going to the store and buying that new album. The glossy cover art, the liner notes, the inside jacket. The excited moment when we first put the disc on the spindle and heard it drop, watched the needle move over and heard that crackle before the opening chords. We'd invite friends over ("Hey, I got the new Elton John *album*") and we'd listen together, experiencing it together.

This was the music buying and listening experience that made an album make sense.

The CD at first stitched together Side A and Side B. When the vinyl LP finally died, the CD was one long side, but the concept of a collection of songs *in a particular order* held. And a new CD release was still an event, complete with little booklet and artwork. CD players introduced the "random" or "skip" feature, but purists who had turntables didn't take to it at first. It seemed wrong -- to listen to the songs in a different order than the band/artist wanted you to.

But with MP3s -- music is one song at a time. And you shuffle songs constantly. The idea of a set of 12 songs to be heard in *this* order is inoperative. And we talk on this board and on other sites like Just Plain Folks of how the relationship between bands and artists is changing. To stay valid, you have to market constantly, giving some music away, maintaining your website and MySpace, answering fan mail, giving extras --- fans want to feel like they have a personal relationship -- of some type -- with you. And content needs to keep changing or it gets stale. That's the new world.

That's why I think EPs are going to be the right choice. Consumers are going to be more likely to buy a short burst of 5-6 songs than a full pallette of 10-12 songs. They can listen in any order they want, remember. And cost will be an issue -- a full CD, and consumers might choose a handful of songs they like; but an EP will be cheap enough that they are more likely to just grab 'em all.

You can shift stylistically more often, where you might do an album a year, and move in a musical direction, you can afford to experiment more. Do a 4-song EP burst with a new sound, or something you're trying. Your fans will try it. Give one song away two weeks before the EP is released, build some excitement. Your fans will tell you if they like it or not. If they go wild, give them more with a 6-song EP later that year; if they tell you "dude, nice try, I love your stuff, but that sound isn't working for me" -- you go back and give them what they love.

I'm thinking out loud, but the 12-song CD, concepted out with artwork, etc., is something we 40+-year-olds cling to. I don't think that is where the listening habits of youngers audiences are going to take us.

My song "Vinyl" (written with Ron Tintner) is about our emotional memories of listening to music.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Cat Lady You've Been Missing

Her self-publishing record label is called “Cat Lady Records.” Her first CD is “Reluctant Cat Lady” which includes a whimsical cat-family-tree on the back, and a picture of a cat on the front, as well as a song about her first cat.

I’m talking about Princeton-based singer/songwriter Sarah Donner, who’s not afraid to label herself or discuss her feline based obsessions.

I finally caught up with her live at The Dive (947 E. Passyunk) in South Philly (not *a* dive, “*The* Dive,” two blocks east of the Italian Market. (I’ve lived in the Philly area all my life and never quite got it through my head that Passyunk dead-ended in South Street. How did I miss that?)

The Dive is one of those lovely cramped smoky places, crammed into what was once a cramped rowhome. A long skinny downstairs with flowing taps and PBR specials, a very long flight of stairs up to a “game room” (pool table and a couple video games), with a small bar/performance space halfway up the stairs.

Performance started a little after 9pm, but the opening act was a mournful guitarist who sang very slow-strummed songs that went on for some time. He had a strong voice and an earnest manner, but after 20 minutes I was eager to see Ms. Donner, and yet he went on for another 20.

The energy totally changed when Sarah started playing. She practically attacked her guitar, and her left hand clocked a lot of mileage on the fret board. Her songs are restless, almost unable or unwilling to slow down and let you catch up. A supple and spirited vocal, and an engaging presence. And the songs are interesting and quirky.

Sarah apparently runs a monthly Indie Music night in Princeton Junction, which I will have to check out one of these months.

It's worth it to head to her MySpace page and listen to "Dodgeball" (which was a 2008 favorite song at the Acoustic Diner podcast, in the running for song of the year. That will give you a good introduction to her style.

Her new CD does not have a cat. It has a Sheep, to represent “The Sleep You’ve Been Missing.” Both CDs available at CDBaby (and no, I don’t get a commission).

Her website seems to be down at the moment, but you can find her at MySpace for now, and check back with her home base later on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What You're Looking For

It’s always interesting to see how people get to the website. Most people are looking for me specifically, or lyricists at large. Or uncomposed lyrics. Or they’re looking for another song and find I’ve got one with a similar title (“A Dog Named Blue,” “Looking for Love”)

Yesterday, someone was looking for “Songwriters beginning with the letter ‘Z’” – I thought maybe they were looking for me, but maybe not…?

And there’s someone in the Buffalo, NY, area who keeps looking at one of my lesser lyrics, a sketch of a country song called “Sad Story” – one I should go back and finish rewriting someday. Whoever it is, could you raise your hand?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kudos roll in

The folks at the Great American Song Contest presented their 2008 results, and there was some nice news for me and a collaborator.

Ron Tintner and I received Outstanding Achivement (that's the top five in a category) for Rock/Alt, for our nostalgic, upbeat rumination "Vinyl" This is the first time we have gotten recognition for this song. (Eduard Glumov and I won this category last year).

And I also got Outstanding Achivement for the Lyrics Only category, for "Four Widows"

Also in the top five for Rock/Alt is artist Jen Foster. Jen has come out swinging in 2009 with a hot new single called "I Didn't Just Kiss Her" (you know Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl?" -- this is Jen's response). Jen and I have teamed up on a version of my lyric "Parentheses" but you can't hear it yet. We'll be releasing that later this year, we hope.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Different Strokes

There are ample opportunities to enter songs in competitions and/or get evaluations of them. But everyone is looking for different things. While songwriting competitions want to focus on a "great song," there is some discrepancy in what that means from judge to judge. There is almost always an unspoken and unacknowledged bias towards what the judge would find commercial. Everyone tries to avoid this, but evaluations almost always come with some judgement on whether someone would buy the song or not.

And that's probably fair Most of the people who enter competitions are in some measure looking for "success." Many are hobbyists, amateurs, but they are hobbyists with a dream.

But it's still interesting to see what comments come back, from those competitions that offer evaluations. There are two sets of comments, from two different contests, on the same unusual song.

"Vancouver" is not a commercial song, at least it wasn't meant to be. It was an interesting, circuitous series of thoughts and images, an exercise in collage writing, creating an emotional world without spelling out or definitively stating What It Was About. I enjoyed writing the lyric, and "Wolf" gave it an indie setting.

One judge wrote the following:

I like that you tried to use major and minor chords in mix during your verse -- but the changes don't really reflect your lyric.
Some parts really likeable, other parts contain changes of melody and support chords that could be stronger. Some of the changes stop the flow of the song and interfere with our getting in a consistent "groove." Again, as with the melody, you start us in one direction, but expect us to jump to too many things, thereby losing the flow of the story and emotion. Some of your lyrics are wonderful pictures and feelings; some are more forced and need work. The last line of V-1 is an example of this (the secrets really don't have to do with any of the preceeding verses). There are too many mixes of pronouns and images with no base for them locked. You sometimes use "you" for a visitor to Vancouver, then other times, it seems you are using "you" to mean Vancouver. More clarity is needed here.

In another contest, this is what we got:

Extremely cool changes … don’t know why, but we heard this in a 20-
something soundtrack. Very REM-like, but updated and less obtuse, if you know what we
mean. EXCELLENT bridge. Commercial as heck, hope you’re pitching it. Good job!!

(Along with many "8" (out of 10) scores for various questions)

See what you think

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Everything goes in roundabout ways. Several months ago I blogged about Dave Frishberg, a songwriting idol of mine. I got an e-mail out of the blue from Nancy Frishberg (his niece) who was guest editing a publication devoted to "Usability" for Usability Professionals.

It looks very interesting, but the online version is only for members. This particular issue is dedicated to aging, and Nancy wanted to reprint my lyrics to "Rumplestiltzkin: Dead at 95" -- this is appropriate as the theme of the song is getting older, and looking back.

Nancy let me know that they had lost some advertising pages, and had to cut some content, and my lyric was removed. However, they had accidentally left in a mention about the lyric in the editor's page, and so had to print a correction. So, in a roundabout way, the site now points to the lyric.

Welcome Usability professionals!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Somebody's Son

Not everything can be autobiographical. It's always a balance between fiction and feeling. I always say that writing is the process of telling the truth by lying about it. Every so often though there is a good solid personal experience that makes a compelling story.

My elder son had been hospitalized with pancreatitis. Not sure how he got it, but it was painful and disconcerting, and he had to be in the hospital for four days. At first he was fed with an IV drip and couldn't eat food. After a couple of days his spirit came back, and there was never any real danger -- just that feeling of not being able to control what was happening.

A few months later, my two sons and I were in the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and they were too young to really appreciate of the smaller or unflashy elements of the exhibits. While going through we found the mummified body of a boy who had been killed in a volcanic eruption, his body preserved. I had that flash of inspiration, on the one hand I was so worried about my boys getting hurt, and here was an example of what we will all be in a few thousand years time -- if we're lucky. This boy we were staring at, he was somebody's son when he was alive, with parents who worried about him as well.

From the above came a lyric, and since I was listening to Paul Simon's "Surprise" at the time, it was written in that style. Recently a musician named Billy Playle found it on Musicians Collaboration and wanted to work on it. He got the "Paul Simon" feel right away, but it took several tries to get the verses right, and more work to get the bridge feeling "different" --- the bridge being the flashback to the hospital.

It's a very personal lyric and one that I've wanted to hear for some time, and I'm grateful to Billy for making it happen. I hope you enjoy listening to "Somebody's Son"

Sunday, February 8, 2009


It's been a while since I could post a new song, and I'm as excited about this one as I can be.

Hopefully you've heard "Atlantic City" by Jordan Peterson (with my lyrics). Of all the songs on my website, I think it's one of the strongest. Jordan wrote while he was still in high school. After putting out a CD, he became a senior, graduated, went to college.....but stopped composing for a long time. We never quite got that second song done.

I had to get a quick piano demo recorded recently and asked Jordan to help out, and he enjoyed doing it. Got his juices flowing, and he found the lyric "Hummingbird" I had tried to get him to compose a few years ago. And he nailed it.

This song was based on a friend of mine who was at a point in her life where she couldn't quite settle down -- and I think there was a dissatisfaction with who she was and what she was about. An anxiety the manifested itself in activity. I might have been dead wrong, of course, but the song is about my impressions, of course (and it's written in the second person).

Jordan plays fluttery high notes to represent the girl in the song, and the upper notes don't stop moving. You absolutely have to listen to the very end of the song, just to hear Jordan on the keys.

Oh, and the person in the song? She's married with kids and extremely happy now. But the song plays on.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Sound of a City

I just did a 2.5-day touchdown in LA, my first visit to what Bertolucci called "The Big Nipple." I'm an East Coaster from way back and I don't know that I could ever quite settle in to the lifestyle there. It's several cities in one, and each mini-city has its own secrets; I can't imagine ever really feeling that I was home enough there to learn what the city is *really* about.

What struck me most is that there are hidden worlds in LA, things aren't marked by signs. The best parties are behind unmarked doors, the hottest clubs are discreetly located, the best houses are in the enclaves on the hills. You can't go looking for things, you need to know someone who knows where to look. There's as much, if not more, going on in LA as there is in a city like New York, but you can't see it driving up and down the miles-long avenues. LA, in it's street-to-street driving experience, does not offer terribly interesting scenery, it's a lot of shopping strips and storefronts. Yes, you can see the La Brea tar pits, the exceptional Disney performance hall and some vestiges of old Hollywood, or stumble into the manicured streets of Beverly Hills.

But you will spend most of your time in a car. It's like being in a province of Spain, not a walking city.

When I am in a city for a couple of days I find a station on the radio and leave it there. In Nashville, I hit a country station and let it play, getting the sound of the town. In LA, I surprised myself by hitting a "soft rap" station, and enjoying it. Not my style and not music I'd be listening to otherwise, but it felt like the right place to be, on my long, long drives.

The sound was friendly, a perpetual party. Songs about drinking, flirting, bars, getting busy and getting funky. It didn't have a 'hard' sound, as I might expect, but an inviting sound with a good beat. At one point, I heard "Da Butt" --- which is a song I was surprised to recognize. It's from Spike Lee's early film SCHOOL DAZE, and I had a cassette tape of the music. This was over 20 years ago (it might very well have been a cover).

It will probably wind up as my default station if and when I need to go back in future years. Part of "My LA".....

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The SongDoor is Closed

Another contest heard from.
has posted Finalists and while I didn’t make the top five in any category, I did rate three Honorable Mentions.

In Pop, Jordan Peterson and I were recognized for “Atlantic City”

In Alt, Jim Chapman and I got noted for “Alice’s Locket” (which really pleases me as it was the first song I collaborated on at the Muses’ Muse)

And in Singer/Songwriter, Ian Ferrin and I were tapped for “Vespers”

I was told that “Vespers” came within a whisker of making the finals, but the judging was blind and we just missed.

Congratulations are due, I think, to Anthony Snape, who has a number of songs in the Finals and more as Honorable Mentions. I sent him a note on MySpace and good luck to him when they announce the winners later this month.