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.