On Stage: Selwyn Birchwood, a blues star in the making

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Selwyn Birchwood

It may be a mid-week evening, but August 21 has several shows on its calendar that will get audiences out of their seats and dancing in the aisles – Selwyn Birchwood in Sellersville and Water Street in Philadelphia.

Birchwood will bring his scorching blues sound to the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) Tuesday night.

The album is a testament to Birchwood’s overflowing talents as a blues master – despite his young age of 33.

“The ‘Pick Your Poison’ album was nominated for two Blues Music Awards and we’re still touring it strong,” said Birchwood, during a phone interview last week from his home in Tampa, Florida.

“I just got back from touring. I’ll be home for three days and then we’re going out on the road again. I just got back from touring. I’ll be home for three days and then we’re going out on the road again Wednesday. I’ve been touring a lot.

“We started making ‘Pick Your Poison’ in May of 2106. “It was a real challenge for us to get in the studio because our tour schedule was so crazy. I had to do it two or three days at a time. I didn’t finish it until December. We did it at Phat Planet Studio in Orlando. It’s a great studio with a lot of great gear.

“We had already been performing half the record on the road. We finished out the rest of the tracks while working on them over a nine-month period.”

Birchwood is one of the brightest new stars to emerge in the world of blues music in recent years. In 2013, he won the world-renowned International Blues Challenge — beating out 125 other musicians from the U.S. and abroad.

He also took home the Albert King Guitarist of the Year Award. After that, it didn’t take long for Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer to offer Birchwood a contract.

“Bruce heard me play at IBC (International Blues Challenge) in Memphis,” said Birchwood.

“I gave him some of my tracks to listen to. I was just hoping to get his opinion on them. Instead, he asked me to make an album for his record label.”

His album, “Don’t Call No Ambulance,” which was his third overall and first for Alligator Records, received the Living Blues Critics’ Award for Best Debut Album Of 2014.

Birchwood was born in 1985 in Orlando, Florida. He first grabbed a guitar at age 13 and soon became proficient at mimicking what he heard on the radio. But the popular grunge rock, hip-hop and metal of the 1990s didn’t move him, and he quickly grew bored.

Then he heard Jimi Hendrix. By the time he was 17, Birchwood was deep into the blues — listening to Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and especially Buddy Guy.

“When I was young, I decided I wanted to play an instrument and landed on guitar,” said Birchwood. “I was bored with just hearing the stuff on the radio in the late 90s.

“When I heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time, I was blown away. It was like a spaceship landed. Then, I started listening to Hendrix’ roots — Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy.

“Buddy Guy was one of my favorites. He was coming on tour to the House of Blues in Orlando when I was 17 and living there. I went to his show and was completely floored. I said — what I’m feeling coming off this stage is what I want to do.”

Birchwood not only is a strong player, he is a very good writer.

“I’m writing all the time,” said Birchwood. “I write by myself and bring it to the band. My way to write songs is always different. It’s kind of sporadic.

“I have a lot of time on the road with these tours so I think about songs and start working on them. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters and B.B. King. So, when I’m writing, it feels like blues to me no matter what the form.

“The new album is another step in that direction. It’s blues but we’re developing a sound we can call our own. I take old blues songs that I love so much and bring our style. This is our fourth album of all original music.

“We normally like to road-test songs because they seem to develop out of improvisation. I really dig all kinds of blues – Delta, Piedmont, Chicago and Hill Country blues. Now, I’m trying to make some Florida blues.”

Originality is one of Birchwood’s prime assets.

“It’s great to have people listen to original blues music,” said Birchwood. “This is our fourth album of all original music.

“I just never understood playing old blues all the time. In the United States, if you played in a rock band and did covers, you got mocked. It’s much better to tell your one stories – and maybe throw an occasional cover into your live show.”

Video link for Selwyn Birchwood — https://youtu.be/cTtQ8H3p81U.

The show at the Sellersville Theater, which has Nikki Hill as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $21.50 and $30.

Other upcoming shows this week at the Sellersville Theater are Guitar Shorty and Bushmaster on August 22, Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. on August 23, Sweet Tea Trio on August 24, Joanne Shaw Taylor on August 25, and King’s X on August 26.

Water Seed

Water Seed not only is a band from New Orleans, it is a band with the NOLA vibe embedded in its DNA.

On August 27, Water Seed – Lou Hill, J Sharp, Cinese Love, Shaleyah and Berkley — is bringing its “Say Yeah Tour” to Philly for a show at The Fire (412 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, 267-671-9298, thefirephilly.com).

Water Seed’s new album “Say Yeah,” which was released June 22 via Water Seed Music, debuted at  #16  on  the  Billboard  R&B  Chart  and  hit  #25  on  Billboard’s  Heatseekers  and  #44  on  Billboard’s  R&B/Hip  Hop  Album  Sales  Chart.  It was recorded live at the legendary Blue Nile club in the heart of New Orleans.

“We recorded the album during a tour break last August,” said Hill, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Cleveland, Ohio.

“It was August 18 – recorded live at our show at the Blue Nile. It was just one show. We just went out and did our thing.”

Water Seed first gained national attention with its 2016 album “We Are Stars.”

“With the success of ‘We Are Stars’ last summer, we wanted to give something back to our fans. This live album is a treat for the fans.

“We recorded most of ‘We Are Stars’ live in the studio, so recording our music live was kind of second nature. When we recorded ‘Say Yeah,’ the show was also videotaped lived. We’re going to do a deluxe release where you can go to I-Tunes and download the video.”

Water Street has been together less than four years and already has two albums and a video project completed.

“We’re doing pre-production for a new album now,” said Hill. “We already have 30 songs sketched out. People will hear our progress.

“We’ve been together for three-and-a-half years. It originally started as a writing team when I was a music major at Xavier University here in New Orleans. It was with two college friends who are no longer in the group.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hills temporarily relocated to Atlanta.

“In Atlanta, I met J Sharp, who was also a New Orleans musician,” said Hill. “Berkley is another New Orleans native and we were looking for another vocalist. Our bass, trumpet and guitar players were all cats playing around New Orleans.

“Wren we put this bvand together, it was definitely about New Orleans music — us learning and thinking about where the music is going and honoring where the music came from. It was just a ‘let’s go and do it’ moment.

“When we recorded ‘We Are Stars,’ we knew we had something good. That was the arrival of Water Street.”

Video link for Water Seed – https://youtu.be/AnLDtxfGlE8.

The show at The Fire will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15.

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