On Stage: One degree of separation from Beissel to music’s greats

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By Denny DyroffEntertainment Editor, The Times

Danny Beissel

“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a parlor game based on the “six degrees of separation” concept, which posits that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart.

If you look at rock vocalist Danny Beissel’s long and varied resume, you’ll quickly notice that there is just “one degree of separation” between the Philadelphia rocker and many of rock music’s all-time greats.

Beissel, who has spent the past decade performing with such musical stalwarts as Jeffrey “Skunk” Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers), Barry Goudreau (Formerly of Boston), James Burton (Elvis, Ricky Nelson) and more, is hosting the release of his debut album “Featherborn” at the Centre Theater (208 DeKalb Street, Norristown, https://rotationrecords.ticketleap.com).

“For ‘Featherborn,’ I used one bunch of musicians in the studio when I was making the album,” said Beissel, during a phone interview Thursday afternoon from the theater in Norristown.  “For my live shows, I just put guys together. I use different cats in different towns. Now in Philly, I’m playing with all my friends from the area.”

Joining Beissel on stage for the Centre Theatre performance is Candlebox’s Brian Quinn as well as Philadelphia musicians John McNutt (Guitar), Mike Czimback (Drums), Mike Vlaanderen (Bass) and Doug Depta (Keys).

The first record from his new project “Featherborn,” the album is described by Beissel as a “the culmination of [his] musical voyage” after fronting such super-star bands as The American Vinyl All Star Band, which featured current and former members of Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Boston, The Wailers and Fosterchild (with members of Candlebox, Tantric, and FUEL).

The album was recorded at the iconic Blackbird Studio in Nashville with veteran engineer John McBride (Martina McBride, Stevie Nicks, Garth Brooks). It features two founding members of Train — Charlie Colin on guitar/bass and vocals and Scott Underwood performing double duty as drummer and producer.

What elevates “Featherborn” to the level of an all-star project is the first-class special guest appearances by friends and former bandmates including Baxter, and Brian Quinn, who is Candlebox’s lead guitarist.

Inspired by Elvis Presley at an early age, Beissel started his musical journey fronting The Elvis Experience, a band dedicated to preserving the Presley’s integrity through music rather than theatrical stage performances

“Elvis got me into music,” said Beissel, who grew up in Philly’s Frankford section and graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School. “I didn’t try to impersonate Elvis. Instead, I tried to capture the essence of Elvis.

“I was always attracted to music and started playing guitar when I was young. I was also into acting and performed at Fringe Festival events. I studied method acting – the Meisner technique.”

The Meisner technique is an approach to acting which was developed by the American theatre practitioner Sanford Meisner. The focus of the Meisner approach is for the actor to “get out of their head,” such that the actor is behaving instinctively to the surrounding environment.

In the IMDb online database, Beissel’s biography states, “Danny Beissel is an actor and director, known for “Conspiracized” (2003), “Blush” (2018) and “September 12th” (2005).”

Beissel’s foray into the world of films added more entries to his “one degree of separation” list. But, music all along has been his primary focus.

“The Elvis Experience started in 1995,” said Beissel. “I stopped it around 2001 after I had played Graceland. That’s when I started writing my own music instead of just playing someone else’s music.

“My first original band was The Daze and we only lasted for two shows. Around that time, I met Brian Quinn down on (Philly’s) South Street. He and I started playing together. Then, we started writing together. Kevin Miller left Fuel and hit up Brian to join his new band Fosterchild.”

Fosterchild was formed in 2005 by drummer Kevin Miller and guitarist Brian Quinn soon after Miller’s departure from Fuel and Quinn’s resignation from Octane. A few years later, the band’s line-up was — Danny Beissel- Voice/Guitar; Brian Quinn- Guitar/Vocals; Mike Vlaanderen- Bass/Vocals; and Bobby Pirylis Jr.- Drums/Vocals.

Next up for Beissel was the American Vinyl All Star Band. This band features celebrity members from some of the most popular groups in history ranging from the 1960s to the 2010s – Skunk Baxter, Barry Goudreau (Former member of the band Boston), Tim Archibald, Leroy Romans (The Wailers/Third World), Robert “Mousey” Thomson (James Brown).

The all-star band has shared the stage with rock luminaries such as Steven Tyler, Robin Zander (CheapTrick), Rick Derringer (McCoys), James Montgomery, Cliff Williams (ACDC), Slim Jim Phantom (The Stray Cats), Hugh McDonald (Bon Jovi), Ronnie Vannucci (The Killers).

Major deposits were made here to Beisell’s “degree of separation” account.

“In 2012, I went to see the American Vinyl All Star Band in Fort Myers, Florida,” said Beissel. “I joined them a week later in Utah. I was singing all their hits from all their bands.”

Now, Beissel is focusing on Featherborn and his new album of the same name.

According to Beissel, “This album is extremely personal to me as these are the songs I’ve been waiting to record and the players I’ve been waiting to record with. I can’t wait to finally come back home to share my album with my friends and family.”

Video link for Danny Beissel – https://youtu.be/SNia3nTUew8.

The “Featherborn — Philly Record Release” show, which is sponsored by Rotation Records, starts at 8 p.m. with doors at 7:30 p.m.

A full digital download of the entire record, as well as a voucher for a copy of the limited release vinyl, is included with each ticket.

Flogging Molly

If you made a musical concoction based on the Southern California skateboard/punk rock scene combined with a feisty Celtic vibe/traditional Irish music mentality, the result would be something very much like the band Flogging Molly.

Flogging Molly — Dave King – lead vocals, acoustic guitar, bodhrán; Bridget Regan – violin, tin whistle, backing and lead vocals; Dennis Casey – guitar, vocals; Matt Hensley – accordion, concertina; Nathen Maxwell – bass guitar, vocals; Mike Alonso – drums, percussion — is currently touring the states in support of its most recent album – “Life Is Good,” which was recorded in Ireland just like their career-defining album, “Float.”

The tour touches down locally on February 23 at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com)

Founded in Los Angeles in 1997, Flogging Molly has always defied categorization. The infectious originality and the urgency of their songs is a badge of honor and key to the band’s creativity. They infuse punk rock with Celtic instruments—violin, mandolin and the accordion—and they merge blues progressions with grinding guitars and traditional Irish music.

Prior to forming Flogging Molly, Dublin-born Dave King was the lead singer for heavy metal band Fastway featuring guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke of Motörhead and bassist Pete Way of UFO in the early to mid 1980s. He later fronted a hard rock band called Katmandu (1991), featuring Mandy Meyer of Krokus on guitars.

Afterwards, King retained a record deal with Epic records and began to work on a solo album. King reconsidered his record deal when the label opposed his idea of bringing in traditional Irish instruments. King negotiated out of his record deal to go his own way musically. 

In 1993, King met guitarist Ted Hutt, bassist Jeff Peters, drummer Paul Crowder and violinist Bridget Regan and put together a rock band with a Celtic feel. They began to play a mix of Irish traditional and rock. Putting King’s poetic lyrics to rocking melodies, they played at a Los Angeles pub called Molly Malone’s weekly and built a loyal following.

Together, they wrote songs such as “Black Friday Rule” and “Selfish Man,” which was the beginning of Flogging Molly’s sound. Hutt and Peters then left Flogging Molly, so King and Regan began to find new members and the current band was formed.

“I’ve been with Flogging Molly since 1996,” said Hensley, during a recent trans-Atlantic phone interview from a snowy tour stop in Oslo, Norway.

“I met Dave at Molly Malone’s. That’s the club where most of us met him. I had gone to see a band called Those Darn Accordions – an all accordion band – and then went to Molly Malone’s to have a few pints.

“My friend told Dave that I was an accordion player. We started talking and he gave me a cassette tape. Eight days later, I went to a rehearsal in L.A. and he said – you’re in the band.

“I also play with lots of acts such as NOFX and Rancid. And, I have a side project – Brogue Wave – that plays traditional Irish music bands. There is also Spy Kids, an old ska band.

“I’m always playing with friends, but Flogging Molly is always the main thing. We’re on the road about eight months a year. This run is one month and then we’re home for seven days before going on a full U.S. tour.

“In the early years, we all lived in L.A. Now, I’m the only person in California anymore. Dave and Bridget live in Ireland and Detroit, which is where Bridget’s parents live.”

Flogging Molly’s most recent album “Life Is Good” was released last June on Vanguard Records. It is the band’s sixth studio album and the follow-up release to 2011’s “Speed of Darkness,” which reached Number 9 on Billboard’s Top 200. 

“We spent a lot of time working on the new album,” said Hensley. “We did a little in L.A., but most was done in Ireland. We recorded it at a studio called Grouse Lodge.”

Grouse Lodge is a recording studio near Rosemount, County Westmeath, Ireland. Designed by Andy Munro, it has two studios and living quarters in nine stone outhouses.

“We also made our ‘Float’ album at that studio,” said Hensley. “It’s a nice secluded studio where you find yourself hanging with dogs and farm animals. Recording in Ireland helps the vibe of our music.”

According to King, “We’re not a traditional band. We are influenced by traditional music and inspired by it. But, without question, we put our own twist on it.”

Video link for Flogging Molly – https://youtu.be/rtS_qb_9Ln4.

The show at Fillmore Philadelphia, which has Lucero as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Another show this weekend at the Fillmore will be Anderson.Paak & The Free Nationals on February 24.

Mary Fahl

Mary Fahl performs concerts around the world and, every once in a while, gets to perform in “her own backyard.”

Based in Bucks County, the versatile singer with the haunting voice can almost call Philly home but a show at the Sellersville Theater hits much closer.

On February 23, Fahl will be playing a show just a short ride from her home –a gig at the New Hope Winery (6123 Lower York Road, New Hope, 215-794-2331,newhopewinery.com).

“I don’t do a lot of shows in the winter,” said Fahl, during a recent phone interview from her home in Upper Bucks County. “I don’t want to push my luck with the weather. I’m doing New York this week and then New Hope. I love the New Hope Winery shows. It’s fun and it’s close to home – about a half-hour away.”

Fahl is a singer, a guitarist and a songwriter. More than anything, Fahl is a performer.

“Performing is my primary form of self-expression,” said Fahl. “When I do a show, I want to take you on a complete journey. I want to transform you.”

Fahl has been delivering transformative shows for years. Once you’ve heard Fahl sing, from that point on when you hear a song by Fahl, you immediately know who is singing.

“I’ve been working on a new record,” said Fahl. “It’s a folky, ambient classical record. It has a lot of ambient guitar, cello and a little me on guitar.”

Prior to the release of her next album, Fahl just put out an EP titled “Four Songs.” This limited-edition, signed and personalized EP is a fundraiser to help Fahl complete the full album. Each purchase enters the buyer into a drawing to receive a free copy of the fully-produced album.

The “Four Songs” EP is a collection of Italian arias beautifully produced by John Lissauer.

“I’m in the middle of finishing up the classical album,” said Fahl. “It’s beautiful. I’m dead in the middle. I got a lot of the vocals done. I’m immersed in the most beautiful music in the world – really exquisite melodies. The French part is very tricky.

“I’ve been working with John Lissauer, who is a composer and producer. He wrote the melody for Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ For this album, I wrote a lot with John Laswell. It’s sort of a classical folk album. And, it’s still me singing the way I do. The songs are in soprano, so I had to lower my key.

“It’s not a stuffy classical record. I’m less conscious about things like holding the note the right length or technique. I don’t have the ability to abide by stringent operatic technique. It’s a really fun project. It is music that feeds the soul.”

Many of Fahl’s fans have been with her ever since her time with October Project which lasted from 1991-1996.

“October Project had a large body of work and I still perform some of those songs in my live show,” said Fahl. “If I don’t do some of those songs, fans get upset. I also like doing interesting covers.”

Fahl has written and performed songs for several major motion pictures, including the lead song (“Going Home”) for the Civil War epic “Gods and Generals.” Her music can also be found on the original soundtrack of the 2003 movie “The Guys.”

In 2011, Fahl recorded her own version of one of rock’s all-time classics — Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Fahl re-interpreted the songs on an album she titled “From the Dark Side of the Moon.

For many artists, the task of re-inventing songs from an album as iconic as “Dark Side of the Moon” could have been too much of a challenge. Not so for Fahl who crafted a disc that honored its roots but established an identity all its own.

“After making the Sony classical album (“Classics for a New Century”), I wanted to do something that was fun,” said Fahl. “An independent filmmaker I knew wanted to use me in a performance piece. I wanted to do something that I didn’t have the ability to write.

“That’s when I decided to do the ‘Dark Side’ recording. It’s like a classical piece of music. I did not intend to make a cover record. It’s my version and it doesn’t sound at all like Pink Floyd’s version. But, a lot of die-hard Pink Floyd fans have responded well. They like the album — and my live versions of the songs.”

Fahl is a singer, a guitarist and a songwriter. More than anything, Fahl is a performer.

“Performing is my primary form of self-expression,” said Fahl. “When I do a show, I want to take you on a complete journey. I want to transform you.”

Video link for Mary Fahl — https://youtu.be/ISjBz_DIbKI.

The show at the New Hope Winery will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and $45.

Liz Cooper

A few years ago, Liz Cooper decided to change her taste in clubs. She put her golf clubs away and switcher her focus to music clubs.

In 2014, she former her band Liz Cooper & the Stampede and embarked on a career in music.

In June 2014, she and her band released their debut EP titled “Monsters.” Last August, the trio – guitarist/vocalist Cooper, bassist Grant Prettyman and drummer Ryan Usher– released its debut album “Window Flowers” on Sleepyhead Records in conjunction with Thirty Tigers.

On February 23, Liz Cooper & the Stampede will bring the album support tour to this area for a show at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com).

Cooper grew up in Baltimore and then attended Towson University on a full athletic scholarship for golf. After her freshman year, she stopped playing golf and left school to pursue a musician’s path in Nashville.

“I didn’t love what I was doing when I was at Towson,” said Cooper, during a recent phone interview. “Golf was fun but I was more passionate about music. I just love music so much.

“I worked for a year to save enough money to move to Nashville. I worked on a maintenance crew at a golf club. Then, I got enough moneyy to make the move. I thought about Los Angeles and New York, but L.A. was too far and New York was too big.

“Nashville was a very unfamiliar place for me. But, when I got there, I wasn’t overwhelmed completely. It has a good rock scene. Rock, alt-country, Americana – they all intertwine. Everybody collaborates with each other.

“The first gig as Liz Cooper & the Stampede was in 2014. It was all me. When I started playing, I was playing with a bunch of different people.”

Cooper’s music is rock with a lot of added flavors.

According to Cooper, “Dream-folk psychedelic rock is what we’ve heard on the streets and we dig what the people think. I suppose the blending of my unique vocal texture with my no rules, what-the-hell-am-I-doing picking and playing style from acoustic to electric guitar is the dream folk. The psychedelic is the way Grant Prettyman makes his very rare, very sexy Red Lobster red bass sometimes sound like a scary monster that lives in your basement, or a beautiful melody that makes you want to cry.

“And our rock? Ryan Usher. He’s always creatively thinking outside the box, always bringing the vibe, and is always there to reel us back in from a jam we’ve lost ourselves in. All together we like to sing sweet, sweet harmonies. We live to be wild, we love getting weird, and we always have fun — pure bliss.”

After a few years, Liz Cooper & the Stampede finally dropped its debut album “Window Flowers.”

“We made the album in 2016 in Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 studio,” said Cooper. “It came out in August which is just the right timing. It took a long time to finally get it finished. We went to Atlanta to finish it up.

“Prior to the studio, we were just playing and learning. We just toured and toured – toured the songs on the album. I had a lot of these songs for a long time. I just get a vibe of what I want the flow to be.

“When I’m writing, there is no rhyme or reason. I’m open to all of it. Now, I have an easier time of coming up with the melody first. Writing is never easy. One key is getting to where there are no distractions.

“In our live set now, we’re playing as many songs from the new album as we can. There is this challenge to do something creative every day – even if it’s just meeting new people. Being creative has become a natural habit.”

Video link for Liz Cooper & The Stampede – https://youtu.be/K_mTsrvdpSI.

The show at Boot and Saddle, which has Harpooner and Ian Ferguson as opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Other upcoming shows at Boot and Saddle are Crying in Public on February 24 and Twen on February 27.

James McMurtry

James McMurtry, who will headline a show on February 24 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com), spends many days and weeks each year moving – moving from town to town to perform his music.

Right now, he’s doing a different kind of moving.

“I had to move out of Austin after living here for 18 years,” said McMurtry, during a phone interview Friday from a tour stop in the Washington, D.C. area.

“They tore down the building. The owners decided to sell because the ground underneath the building is with a half-million dollars. I’m moving to Lockhart, which is 30 miles south of Austin. I just hauled the last load.

“Now, I got a new house with an empty room where I can breathe. I wrote the last couple records in iPhone and didn’t need a space. I like Apple products because they work with each other.”

McMurtry’s new single, “State of the Union,” is now available as a free download via his website — www.jamesmcmurtry.com. The singular songwriter’s razor-sharp sociopolitical commentary surely will turn heads.

The song hits hard right from the opening lines — “My brother’s a fascist, lives in Palacios, fishes the pier every night. He holsters his Glock in a double retention. He smokes while he waits for a bite. He don’t like the Muslims. He don’t like the Jews. He don’t like the Blacks and he don’t trust the news. He hates the Hispanics and alternative views. He’ll tell you it’s tough to be white.”

According to McMurtry, “Every region of the United States seems to have its own way of Anglicizing, or rather, Americanizing Spanish names. There’s a town called Palacios on the Texas coast. Texans pronounce it ‘Palashuss,’ which just happens to kinda rhyme with ‘fascist.’

“While there’s usually at least one in every town, I don’t know for a fact that there’s even one actual fascist residing in or near the town of Palacios, Texas. This song, like most of my songs, is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any of my characters to actual persons, living or deceased, is just plain lucky.”

It’s a case of – “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

“There is nothing in the song that I haven’t heard said,” said McMurtry. “It’s just what’s out there. I wrote it probably a year ago. My friend Chris Fullerton has a home studio. We brought Warren Hood in to play fiddle and a bunch of us sang.”

The “choir” on the single included Jenni Finlay, Brian T. Atkinson, Hood, Fullerton and McMurtry.

“I don’t remember what the catalyst for the song was,” said McMurtry. “There’s nothing strictly autobiographical. It’s a mixture of a lot of people – some of whom are my relatives.”

McMurtry’s most recent album is 2015’s “Complicated Game,” which was released in 2105. “Complicated Game” is McMurtry’s latest collection of narratives and another display of his astute writing. It covers personal and political topics delivered in McMurtry’s inimitable style.

“I try to avoid writing like the plague,” said McMurtry. “I don’t really start with a topic. Usually, I get two lines and a melody together. It’s — O.K., who said that? When I find a character, I start to build the story. Once I find the character, I step into his shoes. The biggest thing is to not break character.

“With the songs on ‘Complicated Game,’ some are old and some are new. ‘You Got to Me’ started 20 years ago while ‘Ain’t Got a Place’ took 15 minutes. For my set list, I play whatever works. Some songs work and some don’t.”

McMurtry will making this tour without his band.

“This is a solo tour. I can’t fly a band anymore — except for festivals where they provide the gear. And, we’ve run out of routing gigs.

“I just signed a deal with New West Records. Hopefully, we can have a record out by summer – by the end of June. I have one or two new songs written. That’s the only new material I’ve been doing.”

Video link for Larry McMurtry — https://youtu.be/DFEtebvenJ4.

The show at Sellersville Theater, which has Bonnie Whitmore as the opener, will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 and $39.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Corey Smith on February 25, Gaelic Storm on February 26 and The Fitzgeralds: Fiddle & Step Dance on February 27.

The Columbia Icefield is an imposing behemoth, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains, a glacial structure that feeds into the Columbia River, and, eventually, into the Pacific Ocean. It’s alien, unapproachable, and yet, somehow, a striking metaphor for man’s relationship to nature.

Nate Wooley

“Columbia Icefield” is also the name of Nate Wooley’s new group and the title of the quartet’s new album which was released on February 22 on Northern Spy Records.

“I had been working on a lot of music for bands that already existed, and I was getting a little bored,” said Wooley, during a phone interview from his home in Brooklyn.

Wooley had just returned that morning from a tour in northern Europe.

“I’m home finally,” said Wooley. “I did a Scandinavian tour for a week with shows in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Then, the snowstorm on Wednesday here caused my flight from Toronto to New York to be cancelled. But, now I’m finally home.

“European audiences are more open to my music. There is a larger audience there that has heard my music before. They’ve heard more of it that people here in the states.

“Anyway, I was getting bored before I made this last album and friends took me to Columbia Icefield. When I was there, I just started to get ideas to write new music. By the time I got back, I knew who I wanted in the band.”

Wooley’s choices for the new band were Mary Halvorson on guitar, Susan Alcorn on pedal steel, and Ryan Sawyer on drums.

“I got back from the Icefield and put the band together,” said Wooley. “Mary and Ryan live here in Brooklyn and Susan lives in Baltimore. We recorded ‘Columbia Icefield’ around this time last year. The compositions were inspired a lot by the icefield and some of it came from music I had already been working on

“Making the album was an interesting thing. We hadn’t played any gigs. We rehearsed one day and then recorded the album. There was a lot that was written before we went in the studio and that was new for me. Usually, it’s 50 per cent improvisation – or more.

“Maybe there is 30 per cent of this new music that’s improvised. The strength of the record is that you can’t when the improvisation starts or stops. It’s very fluid. The music is tension and release over something static.”

On “Columbia Icefield,” the veteran trumpeter attempts to deal with his relation to the Icefield and, more generally, humanity in the face of the unapproachable. But this alien entity is laced with contradiction and imposes itself onto Wooley’s music in a magnificent way.

Wooley grew up in Oregon near the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, which flows more than 1,200 miles from the Canadian Rockies through Washington and into the Pacific. He saw the Columbia empty into the ocean nearly every day of his youth.

With his new music, he traces it back northeast to the massive geographic feature of the same name — the place where snowmelt and glacial collapse gives rise to the river. The quartet’s evocative songs — which move from confident rhythmic strut to near-pastoral drone, from drifting reverie to ghostly dissonance — convey a fitting sense of topography, of watching a landscape rise in plain sight.

According to Wooley, “This record really came down to trying to build structures that have a feeling of being really large and slightly disturbing, but also, natural. It’s earthbound. It comes from a natural place. It’s not an attack on our senses. We understand it.”

The Pacific Northwest and its link to nature is part of Wooley’s DNA.

“I grew up in Oregon where the Columbia meets the Pacific,” said Wooley. “My dad was a big band sax player. I started playing with him early on and he always found music for me to listen to.

“I started off on piano, but trumpet has always been my main instrument. I moved to Denver in 1997 and then to New York in 2001. I went to Lamont School of Music when I was in Denver. I was also there to hang out with (legendary trumpeter) Ron Miles.

“My early influences were mostly swing – Charlie Shavers and Dizzy Gillespie. By middle school and high school, it was all Miles (Davis) and then Ron Miles took over.”

Now, Wooley is bringing his new band to Philly as part of Ars Nova Workshops.

“Ars Nova has been great for years,” said Wooley. “They provide a mainstage for free jazz and experimental music. It’s hard to find a place to see this music on a higher level.

“‘Columbia Icefield’ is released on February 22. We’re on the road for three nights and then we’ll have a CD release show Monday in Brooklyn. We’re going to play it just as it came out on the record.”

Video link for Nate Wooley – https://youtu.be/9WtsJoenWvM?list=RD9WtsJoenWvM.

The show at the Ruba Club will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18.

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