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