On Stage: Olivia Chaney, Michael Franti in solo spotlight

Start of June means multitude of live music choices

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times


Olivia Chaney headlines at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia Friday night, kicking off a very busy busy music weekend in the area.

If your music listening tendencies lean in the direction of solo artists — guitarists, singers, keyboard players, songwriters — then you have a lot of potential destinations in the area where you can enjoy live performances this weekend.

On June 5, the Tin Angel (20 South Second Street, Philadelphia, 215-928-0770, http://www.tinangel.com) will host Olivia Chaney while Michael Franti will headline a show the same night at the Electric Factory (421 North Seventh Street, Philadelphia, 215-627-1332, www.electricfactory.info),

Chaney, who has been gaining popularity over the last few years in her native England, released her debut album “The Longest River” last month on Nonesuch Records. This week, the talented singer arrived in the states for a month-long North American tour in support of her new disc.

“I wanted to simplify things when I was making the album,” said Chaney, during a phone interview Thursday afternoon from her hotel room in Newark, New Jersey “I want it to feel simple — but it’s not really that simple. It’s nuanced and metaphoric. Communication is the most important thing for me.”

Chaney’s start as a musician was a grand event.

“When I was young, my parents inherited an ancient German piano,” said Chaney, who was born in Florence, Italy. “I was an ornate upright grand piano with politically-incorrect ivory keys. It was a beast. I began playing it and my parents realized that I might be musical. Having a piano around is great for kids.

“Plus, my dad used to play lovely songs to my sister and me. He’s a painter and a professor not a musician. He would do renditions of peaceful music such as Joan Baez, Fairport Convention, Burt Jansch, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan — a mixture of English and American folk music. We also listened to classic opera. I also was listening to a lot of 80s and 90s pop along with musicians like Tracy Chapman and Prince.

“My dad is half-Dutch and half-English and my mom is Australian. We definitely are a multi-cultural family. Experimenting and improvising has always been a part of our family. All of that influenced my tastes a lot. I hope it comes across.”

Chaney, who has been referred to as “one of the greatest voices in English folk music,” won a scholarship as a piano and voice student at Manchester’s prestigious Chetham’s School of Music.  Then, she attended the Royal Academy of Music in London.

After leaving college, Chaney taught herself guitar and harmonium. She also participated in many multi-media, cross- genre collaborations and began attracting a following at her one-woman shows in London.

The directors of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre spotted her and invited her to join two seasons as both actress and musician in “Timon of Athens” and “Troilus and Cressida.” Chaney was then approached by dance-music duo Zero Seven to front their touring band, which she did for awhile before returning to solo performances.

“My crazy musical journey is so broad,” said Chaney. “It seems like I’ve come full circle — getting older, gigging a lot, struggling to make a living in London. I had to figure out if I really wanted to do it and figure out what I wanted to say.

“My music is quite introverted — but I’m not an introvert. With my music, I want to move people and touch them. But, I don’t want be viewed just as someone playing just one style of music. I hope I’m doing something new — not just playing in a certain tradition.”

Video link for Olivia Chaney — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VipgQCfu824.

Tickets for the show, which will start at 8 p.m. with the opening act Hezekiah Jones, are $12.

michael franti

Michael Franti

Franti’s “Acoustic One Heart, One Soul Tour” was scheduled to stop at the Queen on February 17 but the show had to be cancelled.

Both Franti’s and his legion of fans were looking forward to the shows along the Atlantic Seaboard but fate had different plans.

In a press release, Franti said, “Michael here!  While performing last weekend on Rock Boat, I tore my meniscus and require a surgery in February. I’m sad to report that I need to reschedule my plans for my tour Feb 9-20.  I’m so grateful to all of you who bought tickets.  I apologize to everyone who was looking forward to the shows as much as I was, but we will see you later in the year.”

Now, Franti has recovered and is back on the road with a new tour called “Once A Day.”

“I was onstage and dancing gently,” said Franti, during a phone interview last week. “I was leaning back and forth and heard a pop. After that, I couldn’t move my knee anymore. I tore up my left knee, had surgery and was on crutches for six weeks.

“I did a week of shows sitting on a stool. It was brutal having to sit because I’m used to jumping around on stage and running into the audience. Sitting still was a big challenge. But, I learned a few things like how to do more storytelling.”

“After six weeks, I was done with the crutches. I did a three-and-a-half week tour of Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. I was in the hotel gym every day. Now, I’m more fit than I’ve ever been for a long time. I’d say I’m about 85 per cent back.

“Once A Day” is more than a tour, it’s a movement and title of his forthcoming single about the chaos and uncertainty of life.  According to Franti’s recent press release — “It is my belief that we should all take the time to hug, kiss and remember and love somebody AT LEAST once a day (and preferably a lot more often!).”

“We just finished the single and we’re doing the video mostly in San Francisco and a little in L.A.,” said Franti, who also owns a yoga retreat center in Bali, Indonesia.

“It’s a really upbeat summer song touching deep on reggae roots. The song is about the inescapable challenges in life and how we deal with them.

“I did most of it at my home studio in San Francisco and then went to Miami to work with a Jamaican producer called Supa Dups at the Inner Circle Studio. It’s inspiring to be around these artistic people. It reminds me of Ruffhouse Records in Philadelphia when we did our first record ‘Home’ in 1994 with Joe Nicolo. They had all these great acts like the Roots, the Fugees and House of Pain.”

Franti approaches all his projects with enthusiasm and sincerity — especially his concerts.

“When I’m putting together a set list for a show, I want to get together a collection of songs that represent who I am,” said Franti, who has released eight studio albums over two decades.

“I’m very passionate about the world and everything I do. I don’t care about the money, the amount of tickets purchased or the amount of records sold. I think about the goal as a feeling — how I want to walk out after the experience. I want the audience to walk out feeling inspired.”

Video link for Michael Franti — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01FE9cPXE3M&feature=player_detailpage

The show at the Electric Factory on June 5 will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40 at the door.

john gorka

John Gorka

On June 6, John Gorka, one of America’s most respected folk musicians, will be the headliner at this weekend’s edition of the Bryn Mawr Twilight Concerts (Downtown Gazebo, 9 South Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr, 610-864-4303, http://www.brynmawrtwilightconcerts.com).

Gorka, a New Jersey native who got his start musically at venues in the Lehigh Valley, released his first album “I Know” in 1987 on Red House Records. His next five LPs were on Windham Hill/High Street Records.  He returned to Red House in 1998 and put out six more albums. The most recent is “Bright Side Down,” which came out last year.

“Right now, I’m finishing up work on an old recording,” said Gorka, during a phone interview last week from his home in Minnesota. “I recorded an album in five days in Nashville in November 1998 and then ended up not putting it out. It was my first record and it wasn’t what I wanted at the time. I wasn’t sure who I was back then. It was a lot different than ‘I Know.’ I recorded it on a 24-track with producer Jim Rooney.”

The album never saw the light of day for almost two decades. That is about to change.

“Back then, I had the tapes shipped from Nashville to my home in Bethlehem,” said Gorka. “Then, they went to my manager’s house in Michigan. A few years ago, he brought them to me here in Minnesota and they sat in my garage for a couple years.

“Being in a garage for three years through Minnesota winters could have ruined them. Fortunately, they were in O.K. enough shape that we could bake them. But, they were also in such a condition that had I not baked them, they would have flaked.”

After being baked for hours at a low heat, the tapes were ready to be revisited.

“When I went back and listened to them, I realized they were pretty good,” said Gorka. “Now, I have to get the art work together and do the final mixing. The working title of the album is ‘Before Beginning,’

“I won’t be playing the album in my live shows because I don’t sound like that now. I think I sing a lot differently now.”

Gorka will be performing quite a few songs from “Bright Side Down,” his most recent album release.

“I started recording the new album in fall 2012 and finished it a year later,:” said Gorka. “It was my first time to do it this way — working a little bit at a time — seeing how the songs stand up to time. I think I recorded 17 and 12 made it to the record. The others will come out in some form. I just have to find the right setting.”

Many singer-songwriters get wrapped up in the stories behind the song which at times can stretch the length of the song. This was something Gorka wanted to avoid when making “Bright Side Down.”

“I wanted this album to be an album that people could listen to in one sitting,” said Gorka, whose songs have been recorded by internationally-acclaimed artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nanci Griffith, Mary Black and Maura O’Connell.”

The new album features guest vocal appearances by Red House labelmates Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson, Claudia Schmidt and Michael Johnson. But, the focus is clearly on Gorka’s vocals and guitar work.

“Since people see me playing solo live, I wanted to have that on record — build around vocal and guitar performance,” said Gorka. “I had a similar approach on this one and my last one (”So Dark You See”) — focus on guitar and vocals.

“With my live shows, I’m open to suggestions. I don’t have a set list. Instead, I have a rough idea of what I’ll play and I also get requests. I’m open to suggestions. I’ll even revive a song that I haven’t done in awhile.”

Video link for John Gorka — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WVgysmtC1cc.

laura promiscuo

Laura Promiscuo

The show in Bryn Mawr will get underway at 7 p.m. Laura Promiscuo, a promising new singer from West Chester will open the show. Tickets are $12. Promiscuo will also be performing on June 10 at the World Café Live in Philadelphia and June 11 at Spence Café in West Chester.

On June 7, the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, philly.worldcafelive.com) will present a very attractive twin-bill featuring two excellent singer-songwriters. Jenn Grant, a promising newcomer from Canada, will open for Catie Curtis, a seasoned veteran.

Curtis just released her 13th album “Flying Dream” and just turned 50. Fortunately, she has exhibited no signs of triskadekaophobia (fear of the number 13) or gerascophobia (fear of getting old).

“I had my 50th birthday at a show last week,” said Curtis, during a phone interview Monday from her home in Boston. “I don’t have any problems with being that age. I like to say it like they do in Spanish — ‘Tengo 50 años’ — which means ‘I have 50 years.’

“The way I tour is my own unique set-up that works. I fly out, do two or three shows and come back home. I have kids at home. I don’t wasn’t to put my life on hold while I go out on a long tour.

“It also keeps my shows fresh this way. I absolutely love to perform. And, I’m happy I can make a living playing my music. I plan to do this the rest of my life. For me, performing is a primal need.”

catie curtis

Catie Curtis

Curtis also breaks from the norm in the way she treats album releases and touring.

“I don’t tour in support of an album,” said Curtis. “I don’t promote a new album. In my shows right now, I’m not really focusing on ‘Flying Dream.’

“When I’m thinking about what to play in a show, usually in my mind there is the theme for the day — something personal that focuses the show. In Philadelphia, I might put together a set list based on things that happened that day. I can decide on the moment. It keeps the live shows very spontaneous and fresh.

“I take liberties like this because I can. I’m a songwriter. I identify with that first. I prefer songs that connect with lives — my life and hopefully other people’s lives. I’m always looking at my newest songs. I already have 10 songs that I like that are ready for my next album and I want a handful more. I’ve actually started recording already. I can taste it.”

Video link for Catie Curtis —  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=tC77LvT5bxw.

Grant, a singer-songwriter who had lived in Canada’s Maritime Provinces all her life, has already carved out a solid niche north of the border. She has had numerous Juno Award (Canada’s version if the Grammys) nominations and CBC Radio recently called her “one of the best singers in the world right now.”


Jenn Grant

Her most recent album “Compostella” was just released in the states last month. The album, which had its Canadian release last year,  made Grant a two-time 2015 Juno Award nominee in the categories of Adult Alternative Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. It was included in the CBC’s “30 Best Canadian albums of 2014” and the lead single, “No One’s Gonna Love You (Quite Like I Do),” spent six weeks on the CBC 2 Top 20 chart.

For the album, Grant wrote every day for a month in a camper trailer near Lake Echo, Nova Scotia. Inspired by some of her mother’s last words—“I will meet you in Spain”—Grant titled the album “Compostela,” which translates to “field of stars” and comes from the legend that the dust of the pilgrims who walk the El Camino make up the stars that form the Milky Way.

“I wanted to call it something that reminds me of being in Spain — and reminds me of my mother,” said Grant, during a phone interview Tuesday morning. “I started writing the songs for it in the spring and summer of 2013. Then, I recorded it in the fall. Every season was part of it.

“My husband Daniel Ledwell is a producer and he has his studio on our property on Echo Lake in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He’d be working with other artists so I wasn’t able to go in the studio whenever I felt like it. It forced me to slow down.

“I wanted to focus on storytelling — some personal and some made up. I also knew I wanted to make a warm, sunny record like Father John Misty or Rodriguez.

‘I lost my mother to cancer the year before that, I went to Spain to reflect on grieving and the healing process after losing a parent. There definitely is a Spanish influence on the album — things like the warm tones and people playing classical guitar outside churches. That inspired me.”

Grant has been keying on the verbal aspect of songwriting.

“With this album, I tried to write better lyrics,” said Grant, who was born on Prince Edward Island and moved with her family to Nova Scotia when she was 10. “I push myself and like to take musical risks.

“I locked myself in a trailer for one month and wrote buckets of songs — mostly on guitar. I really focused on my lyrics. I think this is a healing record and I took a longer time to write and record it.”

Video link for Jenn Grant — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=dCLDIxBxxVk.

Tickets for the show, which is slated to start at 8 p.m., are $20.



This weekend, Union Transfer 1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com) will present a pair of high-energy shows featuring two veteran — and very different acts. On June 5, the British band Wire will perform and the show on June 6 will showcase Calexico, a band from America’s southwest.

Wire was formed in London, England in 1976 and has been going strong ever since except for a few years off in the early 1980s and a hiatus in the 1990s. Showing no signs of triskadekaophobia, the band — Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey and Matthew Simms — released its 1th studio album “Wire” in April.

The album was not only self-titled but also self-released. “Wire” came out on pinkflag, the band’s own label which was named after the group’s debut album “Pink Flag.”

“The decision to make a new album was mine,” said Newman, during a recent phone interview from his home in Brighton, England. “I’m the record company and I tend to think about what kind of cycles we’re operating on — when and how to release records. This is our 40th anniversary.

“There had been a four-year gap between each of our last four albums. It was either was wait for four years or release a new one out of the cycle. We can tour the U.S. and U.K. whenever we want so there was no need to take four years off. So, we knew the release date before we even started working on the record.

“After our last album ‘Change Becomes Us,’ I knew we couldn’t wait another four years. I own the record label. There was no external source of finances so we had to make it work for us. People want to see a tour with an album. The cycle works for us. I think people would be envious of how well it works.”

Newman and his band mates have it down to a science.

“We started recording the album in May 2014 at Rockfield Studios in Wales,” said Newman. “We spent three months finishing and releasing it. In the period between finishing an album and releasing it, time gets very compressed. You have to plan it all beforehand. The touring period has to be planned well ahead. We talked about it a year ago.

“We had two types of material — songs that we had already put together and had been playing and songs that we wrote right before the album. Some were even written during the recording sessions. I don’t touch the guitar when I’m not using it. I don’t sit around writing songs. When it’s time to make a record, we know it.”

For a band that first saw the light of day 49 years ago, Wire still makes music that is vital, refreshing, modern and relevant.

“We do see ourselves as a contemporary band,” said Newman. ;’It’s very important to us. This is what we are.”

Video link for Wire — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytXTtXSgpPc&feature=player_detailpage&list=RDytXTtXSgpPc

The Wire show on June 5 will begin at 8 p.m. with opener Julian Lynch. Tickets are $23.



Calexico, the band, is named after the U.S. city of the same name that sits on the northern side of the U.S.-Mexican border in Califiornia. On the other side of the border is Mexicali, a city that hosted two world title boxing matches featuring Coatesville’s former world champion Calvin Grove and Mexicali’s Jorge Paez.Not surprisingly, Calexico plays Tex-Mex music — but only as part of its expansive repertoire. The band, which will be in the area on June 6 for a show at Union Transfer (, also plays songs in other genres, including indie rock and Americana.

Calexico’s founders and two main members are Joey Burns and John Convertino.

The band’s latest album “Edge of the Sun,” which was released in April in Anti Records, was recorded in Mexico City. The Mexican influence can be heard on several tracks, including “Cumbia de Donde,” “Beneath the City of Dreams “and “Coyoacan.”

“Our keyboard player lives in Coyoacan just south of Mexico City,” said Convertino, during a recent phone interview from his home in El Paso, Texas. “He has a house with a small studio. It was a perfect spot for us to live and work on new songs.

“Joey and I realized that we needed to have blocks of time without family around. So, we went there April last year. We did most of the recording there and then finished it in Tucson, where most of the band still live.”

The time spent in the outlying area of Mexico’s capital was very productive.

“We actually ended up using some of the demos right from the early sessions in Mexico,” said Covertino. “One of them was the album’s opening track ‘Falling from the Sky.’ We just couldn’t get the right vibe for the song in Tucson.

“We had a lot of material to choose from for the new record. That’s why the original releases had eight bonus songs. We put the main record together and then the bonus record. In Europe, we released special editions on blue vinyl and green vinyl — just something special for our fans.

“All the recoding in Mexico was dome digitally. Then, everything we did in Tucson was analog. We used Craig Schumaker for the final mixing. He’d usually mix one song a day. He mixed it differently. Instead of going his usual way, he would consult us and ask what we wanted.

“I’m not surprised at the Latin influence. ‘Cumbia de Donde’ and ‘Coyoacan’ — those two songs were nice. They had a different flow. Every record we try to do something different — if only for ourselves.”

Video link for Calexico — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=e6Ag1kD1zLA.

The show at Union Transfer on June 6 will start at 8 p.m. with Gaby Moreno as the opening act. Tickets are $22.

sd_MuscleShoalsThe Steeldrivers, who will visit the area for a show on June 4 at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com), are a bluegrass with a difference. The group’s bluegrass roots combine with country and soul influences to create a refreshing, decidedly contemporary sound.

The Nashville-based quintet — Richard Bailey, Mike Fleming, Gary Nichols, Tammy Rogers and Brent Truitt — just recorded its fourth studio album “The Muscle Shoals Recordings.”

The album, which will be released on June 16, is like bluegrass on steroids. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama — a city whose recording studios have hosted most of the top “Southern Rock” bands, R&B artists such as Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin and a long list of rock musicians including the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.

“We decided to do something really different this time,” said Rogers, during a phone interview last week. “We did our first three albums in Nashville. For me, it’s really important to have a musical journey — to have a different plan. It was natural to go to Muscle Shoals — a perfect next step. We went down three days in October and four days in December and recorded at the NuttHouse Recording Studio in Sheffield.”

The difference was obvious.

“It’s all acoustic music using traditional instruments,” said Rogers. “But, it’s not necessarily traditional bluegrass music. We kept the Steeldrivers approach but went more rootsy and groove-oriented. We picked it up. It was great to bring some outside players in, Jason Isbell came down and produced two tracks and played on two tracks.”

The Steeldrivers still relied on original material.

“The songwriting is done mostly by Gary and me,” said Rogers. “On this album, I had four songs and he had five. Three of my songs were written fairly close to when we recorded them and the other was from 2005.

“We knew we were going to Muscle Shoals. Definitely, I had something on my mind groove-wise that I thought we’d get to. With this music, we don’t have to worry about having a hit. The fans are in it for the long haul.”

Tickets are $27 for the show which starts at 8 p.m. with Rootology as the opening act. Other upcoming shows at the Ardmore Music Hall are Indigenous and Selwyn Birchwood on June 5 and Planet of the ABTS and Cornmeal on June 10.

The Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will host Pure Jerry on June 5 and the Harry Walther Band on June 6.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will have the Holts and Tom Guest & Mark Furman on June 5 and Death of Saul, Sanger Luna and Farmer on June 6.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will present Trent Vernon, Varani, Hostile Rodger and Beezy on June 5.


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