On Stage: Batten makes rare area appearance

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Jennifer Batten

To land the gig as lead guitarist for Michael Jackson’s world tours during the height of his world-wide popularity, you had to be an amazing musician – a musician who could handle the complexities of the pop legend’s arrangements.

To be able to tour and record with Jeff Beck, one of rock’s all-time great guitarists, you had to be a guitarist extraordinaire – a player who could stand up and hold his/her own performing with an imitable axeman.

To be a guitarist able to fill both roles, you had to be Jennifer Batten.

From 1987-1997, Batten played in all three of Michael Jackson’s world tours. From 1999-2001, she toured and recorded with Jeff Beck.

On September 8, Batten will make a rare area appearance when she brings her one-woman show to Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org)

“I just flew in from Portland (Oregon),” said Batten during a phone interview from her Philadelphia hotel room Tuesday evening.

“I’ve been living in Portland for 15 years. I lived in L.A. for 20 years. I final escaped and never looked back.”

Batten, who is from New York City originally, released her debut solo album “Above Below and Beyond” in 1992. The album was produced by former Stevie Wonder guitarist Michael Sembello.

Her sophomore album “Jennifer Batten’s Tribal Rage: Momentum” came out in 1997. Batten’s third and most-recent LP “Whatever” was released in 2007.

“It has been a really long time since my last album,” said Batten. “I just gave up on the idea of making an album – especially since people can steal your music on the internet.”

Batten has never needed an album to survive and succeed in the music world. She has done session work with an amazing variety of top musicians including Sara Hickman, Carmine Appice, Michael Sembello, Bulldozer and The Immigrants.

“I do a lot of sessions and some live gigs with different musicians,” said Batten. “I also play frequently with this band from Poland.

“As it happens, I got called in to play guitar on an album by Marc Scherer. I recorded four songs and wrote one. Marc was working with Jim Peterik.

“The recording was done at Jim’s studio in Chicago. It’s an amazing studio. It’s like a museum. Jim must have at least 100 vintage guitars – and they’re all on display.”

Peterik has a special link with Philadelphia. He co-wrote “Eye of the Tiger,” the theme from the motion picture “Rocky III.” Every day, hundreds of visitors to the city run up steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art listening to the song as they emulate Rocky’s training regimen.

“After that first session, I got called back to work on the album more. It evolved in a Scherer/Batten album coming out in September called ‘Battle Zone.’

“It’s classic rock – 80s stuff like Foreigner. It’s really different than anything I’ve been involved in – a big sound with a lot of hooks. I’m doing solos. I got into at the 11th hour so the basic tracks were already done.

“I change my live set all the time and usually it’s 70 per cent originals. I’ve been doing solo shows for 10 years and it started with originals. I will do a Michael Jackson medley.

“Working with Michael and with Jeff were very different experiences. Michael’s shows were like huge theatrical productions with complex arrangements that were set.

“When you play with Jeff, he wants you to improvise. He wants you to do something different every night to fire him up. He’s always trying new stuff. There’s nobody like him. He just keeps getting better.”

Video link for Jennifer Batten – https://youtu.be/Wtgep4rChFc.

Video link for Scherer/Batten — https://youtu.be/FtOOzBFRJOk.

The show at Kennett Flash, which has Young Guitar All Stars opening, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

D Corridori Band

Other upcoming shows at Kennett Flash are D Corridori Band CD Release Party on September 8 and “Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective” –a free film screening on September 13.

On September 7, the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present a show featuring New Orleans-based future-funk outfit Naughty Professor.

Naughty Professor

Naughty Professor, which was formed in New Orleans in 2011, features Bill Daniel (guitar), Noah Young (bass), Sam Shahin (drums), Nick Ellman (alto and baritone saxophone), Ian Bowman (tenor saxophone) and John Culbreth (trumpet).

“When we played the Ardmore Music Hall last year, we had Chali 2na performing vocals with us,” said Naughty Professor’s Sam Shanin, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from his home in the Crescent City.

“He had a chance to watch us play and we got a chance to see what he could do with a live band. We were thinking of making an album with guest. We wanted to show the breadth of what we could do.

“We decided to send him some demos. Then, he came down and did some songs with us in the studio. We did some of his songs and we did some collaborations.”

Since that time, Naughty Professor has released a new album and gone on several tours with just its core unit. The album is titled “Identity.”

Mixed by Grammy-Award winning producer Qmillion, Naughty Professor raised the stakes on “Identity.” Previous releases showcased the group’s knack for self-contained instrumentals. The new disc has more collaborations.

“Charli 2na was just one of many guest artists we had on ‘Identity,’” said Shahin. “We had a lot of great players including David Shaw of the Revivalists, Ivan Neville, Benny Bloom, Mike Dillon and Cole DeGenova. We’ll have Cole playing with us on this tour.”

Naughty Professor was nominated for “Best Funk Band” and “Best Funk Album” by Offbeat Magazine in 2016, and nominated
“Best Funk Band” by Gambit Magazine’s Big Easy Award in 2015. Over the last few years, Naughty Professor has become one of NOLA’s top new bands.

“The band members met in a practice room at Loyola University in 2010,” said Shahin. “I replaced the original drummer in 2012 and we’ve had the current line-up for the last four years.

“We have a party-driven, meat-and-potatoes funk sound – from a denser jazzy side to the toe-tapping pop side of things….and maybe some avant-garde. We’re trying to bridge the gap.

“I would never say we’re a New Orleans-style band or that we have a neo-classic New Orleans sound. New Orleans is not a sound we’re specifically trying to re-create. But, all those things go into a larger source that we pull from for inspiration.”

Naughty Professor has found its path and is happily following it.

“It’s been a pleasure having a variety of shows with different guests,” said Shaun. “It’s been a fun experiment. But, we still keep the core of who we are. Even when we have a guest at a show, we play a lot of songs with just the six of us.”

Video link for Naughty Professor –https://youtu.be/RByfhpxnU0s

The show at Ardmore, which also features Kung Fu, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18.

Other upcoming shows at the Ardmore Music Hall are Jeff Mattson & Friends Ft. Rob Barraco (DSO), Skip Vangelas (DSO), Lisa Mackey (DSO) & Tom Barraco on September 8; Conspirator with special guests the Turkuaz Horns: Chris Brouwers & Josh Schwartz, The Indobox, Agent Zero, Tweener Sets by Ben Silver on September 9; and The Mike Stern Band featuring Mike Stern, Dennis Chambers, Randy Brecker, and Tom Kennedy on September 11.

Erin McKeown

Erin McKeown has had a strong following in the Philadelphia area for years. The singer/songwriter/activist returns to the area on September 8 to open the fall season at Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com).

McKeown has seen her recording career come full circle – and then some.

She released her debut album “Monday Morning Cold” in 1999 on her own label — TVP Records. After releasing another album on TVP in 2000, McKeown recorded albums for Nettwerk Records, Righteous Babe, and Signature Sounds.

In 2011, she returned to TVP for an “anti-holiday” album. Since then, she has added four more releases to her TVP catalog – “Manifestra” (2013), “Small Deviant Things, vol. 2 + 3” (2013), “According to Us” (2016) and the “Mirrors Break Back” EP, which was released on March 31, 2017.

“I made the EP really quickly,” said McKeown, during a phone interview Wednesday morning as she and her band travelled from Pittsburgh to a tour stop in Washington, D.C.

“I wrote it and recorded it in three months. I’m in a songwriters group. Once a week, we get a writing project and have a week to send a song back. We use words in order that are submitted to us. I wrote the last EP with them. I wrote nine and chose the six best for the EP. The song ‘Pretty Little Cemetery’ was written with words from this project. I like limitations. I function better with limitations. They help me creatively.”

The darker themes and sharper-edged R&B sound of “Mirrors Break Back” are no accident. These six songs were conceived as a meditation on self-hate and a direct response to McKeown’s 2016 ode to self-confidence and identity, “According to Us.”

Synths, programmed beats, and multi-tracked doo-wop background vocals add new shades of expression for McKeown as she wrestles with her worst impulses and negative thoughts.

“‘According to Us’ was a really positive record about finding out who you are,” said McKeown. “When Trump got elected, I felt all these dark impulses. I needed to explore all my dark influences and deal with them. I think we all know things we hate about ourselves – and it’s good to open that door.”

According to McKeown, “I struggle with insecurities like anyone else. With the darker turn of politics, I decided to explore the less positive voices that exist in my head.

“I think we have to first acknowledge and understand how we diminish ourselves with our own thoughts before we can more effectively fight the powers that are actively trying to break us from the outside.

“Sometimes I am my own worst enemy, and I’ve got to work through that so I have the foundation to help others. Even though these songs each begin in shadow, they pull towards light. It’s true that mirrors break back, but not for long.”

McKeown is a musician, writer, and producer known internationally for her prolific disregard of stylistic boundaries. Her brash and clever electric guitar playing is something to see. Her singing voice is truly unique – clear, cool, and collected. Over the course of more than a dozen studio albums and thousands of live performances, she has developed and refined a distinct and challenging mix of American musical styles.

An active voice on social justice issues and culture, McKeown was a 2011-12 Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Recently, she’s also added radio to her resume- blogging and hosting for WNYC New York Public Radio. A former board member of the Future of Music Coalition, McKeown also works closely with Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) on immigration issues.

“I’ve spent a lot of time writing an original musical,” said McKeown. “Writing a musical takes over your whole life. I’ve probably already written over three albums worth of music. It was staged in fall 2016 at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego.

“It’s about a mother and daughter who take a road trip across the country and it’s set in the Obama years. I’m doing the music and the lyrics and Quiara Alegria Hudes is doing book and lyrics.

“We learned a lot from the run in California. Now, it’s being brought to New York. It’s always been our goal to get it to New York.”

Immigration is a focus of the play — a daughter who is allowed to stay, a mother who may be forced to leave, and the unexpected cadre of American originals they meet on the way to the mother’s citizenship hearing.

“It’s clear that our immigration system isn’t working,” said McKeown. “It’s in the news now because of the Dreamers but it’s something that is going to remain newsworthy. We need to continue honest, humane and real conversations about the people who are affected by this.”

In her show at Burlap and Beam, McKeown will be backed by the Cabin Project, an indie rock band from Portland, Oregon. The Cabin Project will also be the opening act.

Video link for Erin McKeown – https://youtu.be/jx5qSJOWdyg.

The show at Burlap and Bean, which has The Cabin Project as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

The Dig

On September 9, The Dig will return to Philly for a show at The Foundry at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com).

The Dig is a New York City-based rock band featuring Emile Mosseri (bass/vocals), David Baldwin (guitar/vocals), Erick Eiser (keyboards/guitar), and Mark Demiglio (drums).

The band released its debut album “Electric Toys” in 2010, followed by “Midnight Flowers” in 2012, and two EPs – ‘Tired Hearts” and “You & I” in 2013.

The Dig’s new album “Bloodshot Tokyo” was released on February 3 on Roll Call Records and the foursome has been on tour to support the disc for most of this year.

“We’re based in New York City and we all live in Brooklyn – in Bushwick and East Williamsburg,” said Baldwin, during a phone interview last week from his New York home.

“Emile and I started playing in cover bands together when we were 10. Erick joined our band when we were 15. But, we started the band for real in 2008 in the city and it evolved from there. ‘Electric Toys’ was our first album.

“It was an evolutionary start but we don’t play any of those songs in our live shows any more. We still play four or five songs from ‘Midnight Flowers.’ In our shows on this tour, we’re playing all the songs from ‘Bloodshot Tokyo’ except the opening intro.”

From the beginning, The Dig have been a classic band’s band, and a true collaboration — three longtime friends, three songwriters, two singers in a true dual front man setup.

“Songwriting – for us, it’s the most important thing,” said Baldwin. “Our biggest mindset is how we can get better at songwriting. We started the writing process for ‘Bloodshot Tokyo’ in 2014.

“We had been balancing a lot of our time between self-managing, booking tours and writing. We put touring on hold in 2014 and 2015 and wrote as many songs as we could – songs that had a cohesive vibe and a more fun element – songs that were more danceable.

“We recorded it in pieces and finished it last spring. We did drums at a studio in Connecticut and the overdubs at Outlier Inn in upstate New York. We did the bulk of the recording at Proper Pop in Brooklyn.

“We had about 150 or so songs and ended up recording 20 of them. Whittling it down from 20 to the 11 that we used on the album was hard – especially because it’s a very democratic process.

“Songwriting for us is very collaborative – any combination of two, three or four people working on a song. We’ve gotten more and more used to each other as time goes on. When you’re writing something by yourself, you still have the other guys in your brain.”

“Bloodshot Tokyo” is by far the liveliest album the band has made.

“We took our time and made sure everything was done right,” said Baldwin. “I don’t think we’ll ever take that long again. But, it worked well.

“There is more of an element of fun to it – a little more danceability. It’s more sonically adventurous – more samples and more experimentation. It feels a little bit more unique to us as a band. There’s not as much moodiness.

“The songs are tighter compositionally. The changes we see in our audience reaction at these shows reflects the change in the music. There is more dancing going on – more dancing and less shoegazing.”

Video link for The Dig – https://youtu.be/Zvl4CEANbQk.

The show at The Foundry, which also features Dan Croll, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at The Foundry are Casey Donahew on September 10, Public Service Broadcasting on September 12 and Brockhampton on September 13.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host

Tall Trees 2017 Music Fest “Preview” night on September 8, and The Death of Saul, Bent Benjamins and Wake Up John on September 9.

The Colonial Theatre (Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610- 917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com) will host a “Theatre Organ Concert” with Lew Williams on September 10.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will have Gamma Wolf on September 8, and Dave Karaban & Ralph Pagano on September 9.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have Iain Matthews (of Fairport Convention & Southern Comfort) and Michael Braunfeld on September 7; The Black Lillies and Jason McGovern on September 8; Janet Gardner (of Vixen) and Mantis on  September 9; and Albert Castiglia & Joanna Connor on September 13.

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