On Stage: ‘New’ is the key word for Danielle Nicole on return to Philly

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Danielle Nicole

Danielle Nicole is coming back to Philly with a new band and a new album – coming back to Philly for a show on February 22 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

The show at WCL will be a record release show for her second solo album “Cry No More,” which will officially drop on February 23 via Concord Records.

Nicole’s new album features 14 powerful, blues-influenced songs, including the Bill Withers-penned “Hot Spell,” and appearances by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Luther Dickinson, Walter Trout and Sonny Landreth.

“Coming back to Philly is always special for me,” said Nicole, During a recent phone interview from her home in Kansas City. “I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia when I was a young musician.”

Born Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, Nicole comes from a long line of singers and musicians and showed an affinity for singing almost from birth.

Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, she performed in public for the first time at the age of 12, singing Koko Taylor’s “Never Trust a Man” as part of a Blues for Schools program at her elementary school. 

In her early teens, she began singing in local coffeehouses and at open mic events, often jamming with her parents at clubs that would allow minors. At 16, she became lead singer in her father’s band, Little Eva and the Works.  In 1999, she started her own band, Fresh Brew, with some older local musicians. Fresh Brew performed for four years and represented Kansas City in the prestigious International Blues Challenge. 

It was during this time that Nicole and her brothers formed a family band — Trampled Under Foot — and relocated to Philadelphia in the process. To maintain the family concept, Nicole learned to play bass. Trampled Under Foot traveled the world, recorded several self-released albums, and built a sizable national fan base through years of nonstop roadwork.

The band, which specialized in a blend of blues, soul and rock, started as a trio featuring three siblings — Danielle Nicole Schnebelen (lead vocals and bass), Nick Schnebelen (guitars and vocals) and Kris Schnebelen (drums and vocals).

The final incarnation also included Jan Faircloth (drums) and Mike “Shinetop” Sedovic (keyboards). The line-up of the Danielle Nicole Band features Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, Sedovic, Faircloth and guitarist Brandon Miller.

“Trampled Under Foot was my brothers and I,” said Nicole. “We had been touring for 12 years and it was time to move on.

“Kris left in 2014. Then, we added musicians, so we could go out on a high note. We’re all still playing music. Nick has a power trio and Kris is playing with Albert Castilla, who is a really good blues guitarist.

“When my brothers and I were in Philadelphia, we wanted to pursue the blues. But, there isn’t a thriving blues scene in Philly. Everyone in Philly was really supportive of us but moving back to Kansas City was a smart move – especially because it’s so centrally located.

For its 2013 album “Badlands,” produced by Braunagel, Trampled Under Foot moved to the Telarc label, a division of Concord Music Group.  Badlands debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Blues Chart. 

As Trampled Under Foot wound down after an eventful 13-year run, Nicole formed her own band and signed with Concord Records, released a self-titled EP and then followed with the Anders Osborne-produced album “Wolf Den” in 2015.  Those releases established Nicole as a formidable solo artist and bandleader. 

When it was time to record a new album, Nicole teamed up with Tony Braunagel, who also produced the last two albums by Trampled Under Foot. The pair’s longstanding creative rapport is apparent throughout “Cry No More,” on which Braunagel co-wrote five songs with Nicole.

“I recorded the new album in L.A.,” said Nicole. “Tony and I cut it last March at Ultratone Studio in Studio City. We did two sessions. I didn’t have my own band so we used a lot of guest artists. Tony ids an amazing drummer. Our engineer Johnny Lee Schell played a lot of the guitar parts. I always loved the idea of playing with guest musicians.”

Nicole wrote or co-wrote nine of the 14 songs on “Cry No More” but the seductive “Hot Spell” was given to her by its author — long-retired R&B legend Bill Withers.  Withers was a surprise visitor to the album’s recording sessions at L.A.’s Ultratone Studios and was so impressed with Nicole’s singing that he dug into his archives and offered her the song, which he wrote back in the 70s but had never recorded and released. 

“Tony and Johnny have a lot of friends in L.A.,” said Nicole. “One is a doctor who likes to drop in on sessions. He wanted to come by with Bill Withers and I was thrilled. Bill Withers is the essence of cool – and one of my all-time musical heroes. We played him a track and then the doctor said – do we have any songs for Danielle?

“Bill invited me to come out to his car. We were hanging out in his SUV, and he’s shuffling through his glovebox. Then, he pulls out this disc and says – I’ve got this song. It’s a bit risqué, but if you don’t mind, I’ll play it for you. It was this demo that he’d done with his daughter doing the vocals.  It was real moody – and it had a really cool groove. He said — you can record this one if you want. It’s a great track that was written in the 70s and never released.”

Now, the classic Withers tune has seen the light of day. The tune, along with many more from “Cry No More,” will be presented live in Philly for the first time when Nicole pats the World Café Live this week.

“The World Café Live is really cool,” said Nicole. I love the Upstairs Stage and the Doiwnstairs Room. The Upstairs room is very intimate.”

Video link for Danielle Nicole – https://youtu.be/fk1oUaNKyfk.

The show at World Café Live’s Upstairs Stage on February 22 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16

Other upcoming shows at the World Café Live are Rhett Miller on February 22, Vieux Farka Toure on February 23, Travis Greene on February 23, Live at the Fillmore on February 24, Tyler Childers on February 27 and Matt Cappy on February 28.

Neal Morse

The difference between Neal Morse’s show back in August at the Keswick Theater and his show scheduled for February 22 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) is like night and day – and then some.

When Morse played the Keswick last summer, it was with the Neal Morse Band – one of the most dynamic prog rock bands around. The show at Sellersville will feature a solo performance by Morse.

“This is me in a small venue interacting with the audience,” said Morse, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “It’s very different. It’s a lot of fun.”

Morse is on the road – touring in support of his new album “Life and Times,” which was released February 16 on Radiant Records via Metal Blade Records/SONY

Morse’s most recent album prior to “Life & Times” was “The Similitude of a Dream.” The album, which has a running time of more than 100 minutes, is loosely based on the book “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

It’s officially titled “The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come,” — a 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan that is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature.

“I did the first writing session in January 2016. We did most of the recording in the spring, mixed it in the summer and it was released on November 16 (2016)

“I was the only one really reading the book and going from it. I ended up writing all the words for the album. Musically, I’d tell the band – this is what’s going on in the story and this is the music it needs. Everyone worked on the mood of the piece.”

The album was a prog-rock tour de force – challenging, powerful and demanding. “Life & Times” is as laid back as “The Similitude of a Dream” is intense.

“My new album is very different,” said Morse. “The last one was a band album – a double progressive rock band album with a lot of big bombastic themes – like an epic movie.

“With the new album, I wanted to get back to something simpler. I’ve always written simple songs throughout my life. The songs on ‘Life & Times’ are personal. I was writing about what I am feeling right now – about what I am seeing.

‘Some of the songs were written during the last tour. Also, I looked back at the notes I put on my phone – ideas that I’ve had over the years. ‘Livin’ Lightly’ was one of those songs. ‘Life & Times’ is the best singer-songwriter album I’ve done.”

The song “Manchester” is a musical portrait of that notorious rarity — a sunny day in Manchester, England — when Morse was sitting in a coffee shop watching the world go by. “Selfie in The Square” captures what he saw walking around Luxembourg City — hearing the cathedral bells and seeing children playing. “He Died At Home” is about a mother’s grief over the loss of her soldier son.

Morse has been a major player in the prog rock scene for the last two decades.

In the mid ’90s he formed the quirky Spock’s Beard, whose debut recording, “The Light,” was an unexpected success. Over the next seven years, Spock’s Beard released six critically-acclaimed studio recordings and multiple live recordings while establishing a passionate fan base in the prog rock community.

In 2000, he formed the prog supergroup Transatlantic with drumming legend Mike Portnoy (formerly with Dream Theater), Marillion’s Pete Trewavas and The Flower Kings’ Roine Stolt.

In 2001, Morse became a born-again Christian, left Spock’s Beard and began a Christian rock solo career, releasing many progressive rock concept albums about his new religious faith. In the meantime, he continued to play with Transatlantic and formed three new bands, Yellow Matter Custard, Flying Colors and The Neal Morse Band.

“I started going to church with my wife in the church she grew up in,” said Morse. “After a while, I experienced something I had never experienced before. I experienced the Holy Spirit.

“I quit Transatlantic and initially lost about half my fans because of the switch. Ultimately, I gained some. I gave my life to God and I’m happy with what we have.”

Fans of Morse face the challenge of enjoying the complex, prog-rock side of his music along with the simple, unplugged style currently being offered.

“With our fans, it seems like we’re bridging the gap pretty well,” said Morse. “If people have a problem with what I’m doing, they’ve been keeping it silent.’

Video link for Neal Morse Band — https://youtu.be/RNeQq1QbfWo.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on February 23 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 and $40.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are The Gibson Brothers on February 23, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band on February 24, Simo on February 25, Howard Jones and Rachael Sage on February 26 and Cherish the Ladies on February 27.

Harm’s Way is another music act that offers challenges to its fans to accept changes in its music.

On February 9,

Harm’s Way

released its fourth full-length album, “Posthuman,” via Metal Blade Records. The band also launched a video for the new single, “Become A Machine,” which was directed by Max Moore. The previous singles from the album were “Human Carrying Capacity” and “Call My Name.”

The band will bring its always-aggressive sound to Philly on February 22 for a show at Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, http://undergroundarts.org).

Harm’s Way — Chris Mills – drums; Bo Lueders – guitar; James Pligge – vocals; Casey Soyk – bass; Nick Gauthier – guitar – started off as a hardcore/punk band in Chicago a little more than a decade ago. It didn’t take long for the band to morph into a death metal band.

“Our music definitely got more metallic over the years,” said Mills, during a phone interview Monday. “But, it also got more progressive and more experimental. There were more industrial elements – noise elements.

“We grew up in Chicago which was a big home for industrial bands like Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Pigface. We grew up with industrial music so there’s always been that underpinning.”

Harm’s Way released its debut album “Reality Approaches” in 2009 and followed with “Isolation” in 2011, “Rust” in 2015 and now “Posthuman” in 2018.

“We started more as power violent – super fats and abrasive,” said Mill. “Death metal showed more after our first indie release. Our first album definitely had death metal influences. ‘Isolation’ was more death metal. Then, we wanted to expand as a band on a philosophical level – and a musical level.”

Harm’s Way obviously prefers change over stagnation.

According to Mills, “We’ve always stayed true to who we are and allowed the songwriting process to take shape organically from record to record, and as the band has progressed, our sound has become more refined with metal and industrial influences.”

Lueders offered this explanation, “To a Harm’s Way fan, I would describe ‘Posthuman’ as a blend of ‘Isolation’ and ‘Rust,’ but it’s sonically way more insane. To anyone else, I would simply say it’s full on heavy and full on aggression.”

Mills said, “It’s definitely been a natural evolution. We go into writing for a record with no predispositions. We just write. After a few songs, elements start to come through. There has been an evolution but nothing we’re trying to do consciously.”

The success of the new album shows that the band is headed in the right direction.

“Posthuman” entered the Billboard charts with a bang — #10 Current Hard Music Albums; #10 Top New Artist Albums; #31 Top New Artist Albums Consumption; #38 Current Rock Albums; #89 Current Digital Albums; #120 Digital Albums; #123 Top Current Albums.

“When we first started, our fans were coming from the metal scene,” said Mills. “With ‘Rust’ and ‘Posthuman,’ we started to build a fan base more our own – a more eclectic fan base.”

Video link for Harm’s Way — https://youtu.be/8QW8Ag5iwj8.

The show at Underground Arts, which has Ringworm and Vein as opening acts, will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at Underground Arts are Stereotytans on February 23; Boysetsfire, Damnation A.D., Worlds Collide, Walleye, Railhed, All Else Failed, and I Hate You on February 24 and Frightened Rabbit on February 26.

Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata is a talented singer/songwriter but not the most prolific artist when it comes to releasing albums of her music

Yamagata, who hails from Fairfax, Virginia, released her first album “Happenstance” in 2004. She followed with “Elephants…Teeth Sinking into Heart” in 2008 and “Chesapeake” in 2011.

When Yamagata performed on September 23, 2016 at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, it was the official release date of her most recent album “Tightrope Walker” – and her birthday.

Yamagata is still touring – almost continuously — in support of “Tightrope Walker” for the last year-and-a-half. On February 23, she will bring her current tour – “Songs. Stories. Solo.” – to the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com).

“I have been on the road non-stop,” said Yamagata, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Asheville, North Carolina.

“This is my 22nd tour of some sort in the last three years. I did a couple runs of ‘Tightrope Walker’ in the U.S. I also did tours in Asia – China, Korea and Hawaii. I’ve also played Europe a couple times. It really has been non-stop.”

Fortunately for Yamagata, she can see light at the end of the tunnel.

“This your ends on March 15,” said Yamagata. “I put on my schedule two weeks to pick up sticks in the yards and not even think of anything. It will be my first break in three years. After I take a break, I think I’ll go to Asia in the summertime.”

Asia is a natural destination for Yamagata, whose father is Japanese-American father. She also shares her name with a location in Japan.

Yamagata, a prefecture on Japan’s Honshu Island, is known for mountains, hot springs and temples. Snow-covered conifers famously resembling “snow monsters” mark its Mt. Zao ski resort area, which is also the site of hot springs and hiking trails around color-shifting Okama Crater Lake. The capital, also called Yamagata, is home to the hillside Yamadera Buddhist complex, centered on ninth-century Risshaku-ji Temple.

“I don’t write much on the road,” said Yamagata. “But, I still came home from a tour last summer with a few things – mostly just snippets and journal entries. I plan to write a lot this summer. My writing is 50/50 with guitar and piano. Sometimes, I’ll sit on my porch with my guitar and write. The piano is for the darker side.”

Yamagata used a PledgeMusic campaign for her last album and plans to do it again for the new one.

“I’m dong all the funding essentially by myself,” said Yamagata. “I’m self-managed. I’m the financial C.F.O. and artist. It’s a lot of work to get a record out.”

“Tightrope Walker” was a long time in the making.

“I released it my own,” said Yamagata. “It was mostly recorded at my home in Woodstock, New York and we did some at Village Recorders. A lot of it was done in an organic set-up in my living room or outside. I live on 12 acres with a lot of nature that is conducive to being creative.

“I worked in a really comfortable environment. I recorded a lot at home — whenever I felt the inspiration. There were a lot of advantages in doing it at home. Unlike in a recording studio, you don’t have to look up at a clock. I wanted complete freedom without pressure from a studio.

“I have a complete studio set up in my home and my boyfriend is a recording engineer. This is the first record where I took on more of a producer role. I did a lot of trial-and-error with the arrangements and musicians. Producing it myself, I was able to work on instincts.

“Some of the production ideas I used are ones I wouldn’t have arrived at with another person adding input. I didn’t have to record songs in parts. I worked hard on 15 songs doing a lot of revisions, re-recording and re-tracking — revising them until they felt really interesting to me. I used banjos, mandolins, sax and drums. I even sampled patterns of rain on a stool.”

“Tightrope Walker” is organic — and diverse.

“The songs are all very different,” said Yamagata. “It’s like a new sound for me. They are very big and there are edgy, angular arrangements. It’s not as traditional as some of my earlier albums –it’s riskier. It’s more of a positive record.”

Gripped by the indecisive nature of true Librans, Yamagata weighs all decisions heavily — especially when it comes to making her music.

“It took awhile to get the final version of the songs on the new album,” said Yamagata. “It was so close. It’s like — get it finished already. Even with the tracking, I was making changes right up to the end. At one point, I had to let go. It can be painful.

“The theme of ‘Tightrope Walker’ — I loved the idea of perseverance and of taking risks…of pursuing what you love no matter what. It’s about the relentless pursuit of your passion and not giving up. It’s more empowering than anything I’ve done before. Metaphorically, it aligned with my career.

“I spend a lot of time making records. I love production. Unfortunately, there are little or no financial returns from making a record. Everyone is trying to figure out a new strategy. That’s why touring is so important.

“The live shows on this tour are all solo. I’m playing guitar and keyboards and doing tracks from all four albums. It’s a smorgasbord. There will be one new song and some deep tracks – songs I’ve recorded but haven’t played live before.”

Video link forRachael  Yamagata – https://youtu.be/_S0aCzxPs8w.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $

Other upcoming shows at the Ardmore venue are DJ Logic & Friends on February 24 and Maceo Parker with special guests Scott Sharrard & the Brickyard Band on February 25.

The list of bands that can use the phrase “Live at the Fillmore” in their biographies probably has more than 100,000 entries. Between the original Fillmore Auditorium that opened in San Francisco in 1965 and the many Fillmore venues that have sprung up since, the number keeps growing exponentially.

But, there is just one band that has the name Live at the Fillmore.

Live at the Fillmore is the name of a band dedicated to keeping alive the music of the Allman Brothers. Actually, the official title of the band is “Live at the Fillmore — The Definitive Original Allman Brothers Band Tribute.”

The band will perform two shows in the area this weekend. On February 23, the band will bring its southern rock sound to Chester County – to the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, 610-356-2787, www.uptownwestchester.org). On February 24, the seven-piece group will headline a show at the World Café Live in Philadelphia.

Live at the Fillmore — Rick Baldassari (guitar, vocals), Dennis Barth (drums, percussion), Jeff Quattro (Hammond B3, piano, vocals), Barron Chandler (acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocals), Mike Mahomet (bass), Lou Maresca (guitar, vocals), Don McCormick (drums, percussion) — offers an exact reproduction of the live concert performances of the original Allman Brothers Band featuring Duane Allman, Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley.

Musically and sonically, LATF creates the experience of hearing one of the greatest live bands of all time as they sounded in 1969-1971. Particularly featured are their monumental shows at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East Auditorium in New York City in March and June of 1971

Live at The Fillmore has become the most popular and best-known tribute to the original Allman Brothers Band. Great attention is paid to recreating the music with an unparalleled degree of authenticity. The band has been chosen as featured performer on the Time Life Southern Rock Cruise. It received rave reviews for their Spring 2017 performance on national TV as part of Axs TV’s “World’s Greatest Tribute Bands.”

“We just came back from the Southern Rock Cruise,” said Maresca, during a phone interview last week from his home in Wynnewood.

“Live at the Fillmore is approaching the end of its first decade. We started back in 2009 because we knew how many Allman Brothers fans there were.

“I saw the Allman Brothers in their original state many, many times including the Fillmore in March 1971 and the very last show they did at the Fillmore on Saturday night June 26, 1971. That was the one the Allman Brothers called ‘The Show.’

I put a band together in 1971 called Skydog. I was in high school at the time. Skydog was the very first Allman Brothers tribute band. I went to Penn State and played all through college.”

Years went by and Maresca relocated to Philadelphia where he established a career in audio production and custom messaging.

“I’ve been in Philly since I graduated from Penn State,” said Maresca, who originally is from Nutley, New Jersey.

“I wanted to put together another Allman Brother attribute band. I was looking for the best guys I cold find who could play the music. The seven guys in the band are all from the New York/Pennsylvania/New Jersey region. Over the years, we’ve had a number of personnel changes for a variety of reasons.”

With Live at the Fillmore, fans get Allman Brothers music and nothing else.

“It’s a tribute band,” said Maresca. “The hallmark of this band is its authenticity. We’re here to imitate not to innovate. Our physical appearance has never been important. It’s all about the music. When we play, we sound like the original Allman Brothers.”

Video link for Live at the Fillmore — https://youtu.be/ZFscZjdCc18.

The show at Uptown! on February 23 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $28.

Another show at the venue this weekend will be “Mid-Winter Pops! With the Chester County Youth Orchestra” on February 25.

The show at the World Café Live on February 24 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Ellis Paul on February 24 and Aubrey Logan on February 28.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host “An Evening with Bovine Social Club” on February 24.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Far Pines with Homestead Collective on February 23, and The Sea The Sea on February 24.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) will present Andrew Bird on February 23 and the Delaware Dance Festival on February 25.

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