On Stage: Sibling-powered Lawrence comes to The Met

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Usually, mid-week is a slow time for live music – especially Wednesday nights. But that isn’t so this week – not this Wednesday.

The area music calendar has several great shows in a variety of genres – indie-pop, blues and pop-rock on Wednesday.

Years ago, a much older generation had George and Gracie – comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen.

The current under-25 generation has Clyde and Gracie – musicians Clyde and Gracie Lawrence.

Together, they record and tour as an indie-pop band called Lawrence. On June 12, the brother-and-sister band will perform at The Met (858 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, http://themetphilly.com) as the opening act for Jon Bellion.

The siblings are touring in support of the band’s sophomore album, “Living Room,” which was released in September 2018.

When the band takes the stage at The Met, it will be performing songs from “Living Room,” which peaked at #2 on iTunes R&B/Soul Chart last year. The new music continues to receive critical praise – including serious kudos from NPR’s World Café.

“Our show in Philly is the first show of this tour,” said Clyde Lawrence, during a phone interview last week. “Right now, we’re still in New York finishing up some projects.

“With this band, it’s mostly people I met in college when I was studying at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Our first album was ‘Breakfast,’ which came out in 2016. We went on the road from there. We spent a couple years doing pretty intense touring. Then, we went in the studio to make ‘Living Room.’”

Gracie Lawrence said, “We recorded ‘Living Room’ late 2017 into early 2018. We were always touring and found time in between tours to record.  Whenever we were home, we’d do more recording.”

The band line-up of Lawrence features Clyde Lawrence (Keys, Vocals), Gracie Lawrence (Vocals), Sam Askin (Drums), Sumner Becker (Alto Sax), Jordan Cohen (Tenor Sax), Michael Karsh (Bass), Jonny Koh (Guitar), and Marc Langer (Trumpet).

“We basically record everything in our sax player Jordan’s home studio in Long Island,” said Gracie. “We did most of ‘Living Room’ there as well as some newer stuff.”

With the in-and-out, now-and-later recording process on “Living Room,” there could have been a problem with the album’s cohesiveness.

“Cohesiveness is a really tricky thing,” said Clyde. “It’s hard to tell. But at the end of the day, there is a cohesiveness because the stories come from Gracie and I. Even though the music is done different, it’s done in the same place and it’s sung with our voices. On the other hand, we want a wide diversity of songs.”

Gracie said, “Clyde and I write so much that we always have a ton of songs. But when you’re putting an album together, you do have to identify where the album is going and what your vibe is. Not all the songs are always going to work together, Sometimes, there are songs outside the vernacular of the album.”

Lawrence is versatile but is primarily a pop-soul band.

When Clyde was at Brown University, he started a soul, pop and funk band with drummer Sam Askin, bassist Michael Karsh, guitarist Jonny Koh, trumpeter Marc Langer and saxophonists Sumner Becker and Jordan Cohen. The band naturally found itself immersed in soul music. Gracie, who already was an established actor with film and Broadway credits, joined the band. Lawrence moved forward from there.

“We’re gearing up to release a new song in the next few weeks,” said Gracie. “Right now, we’re just going to continue releasing singles.”

Clyde said, “We want to put singles out frequently to keep people’s attention. For this tour, we’re not the headline so we’ll play a shorter set with more upbeat songs – songs from ‘Living Room’ and new material.”

Video link for Lawrence – https://youtu.be/WwxZi_ZK0mw.

The show at The Met, which has Jo Bellion as the headliner, will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $15.


Wylder, an indie-folk band from the Washington, D.C. area is going out on an eight-date tour in June – a tour that will touch down locally on June 12 at World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

In a way, the talented quartet is putting the horse before the cart as its new album “Golden Age Thinking” will not be released until July 12.

Formed in Virginia by singer Will McCarry, the band also features Lonnie Southall (guitar/mandolin), Mike Pingley (drums) and Jackson Wright (bass/piano). The group developed its own blend of indie-rock, chamber-folk and indie-folk – rock with strings and complex vocals.

“I was going to Mary Washington University in Virginia and met Lonnie and Jackson there,” said McCarry, during a recent phone interview from his office at a non-profit group that defends wildlife. “Mike came down from William & Mary and joined the band. Before that, the band had gone through line-up changeds with college friends. Lonnie and I met in a comic book class.

“Late in 2016, the line-up became set. Mike’s first show with us was at Mary Washington two years after we graduated. We still try to play a show at Mary Washington once a year.”

After the four musicians’ collegiate days in Virginia, they moved to the Washington, D.C. area to continue their musical journey.

“The D.C. music scene is hard to break into,” said McCarry. “But we’ve found our niche. The album release show will be at The Hamilton in D.C. on July 12. We’ll be bringing in some orchestral friends. We’ll also be doing shows later at two D.C. clubs – Jammin’ Java and Black Cat.

“Our first LP was ‘Rain and Laura’ in 2016. That was our last full-length. Since then, we’ve released a few singles. We put out our single ‘Ready To Break’ in 2018 and that kick-started the cycle for the next album.”

Train’s Pat Monahan premiered the “Rain and Laura” album’s first two singles “Bitter” and “Save A Way” on his Sirius XM program, Train Tracks. The band’s music has also been featured prominently on the ABC show “The Good Doctor” as well as many popular MTV programs. In 2018, the quartet performed aboard The Rock Boat XVIII along with Need to Breathe, Barenaked Ladies and Sister Hazel.

“Our latest single – ‘Ghosts’ – came out a few weeks ago – on May 17,” said McCarry. “I write ‘Ghosts’ on the farm I grew up on in Leesburg, Virginia. It’s a tribute to the house there that’ 100 years old and has a lot of ghost stories. I think about it as a place where ghosts meet.

“In a lot of ways, ‘Ready To Break’ is a bridge between albums. The rest of the new album is deeper introspective indie-rock.

“Recording ‘Golden Age Thinking’ was a long process. We wrote about 30 sings before we went in the studio. We all voted on our favorites. I have a group of guys who get my vision. We started recording the album last June.

“We went to L.A. and did 11 tracks at Kingsize Studio. We spent two weeks out there honing the record to what we wanted. I had ben working on some of the songs for three or four years. Then, we have a nice space at home where we tracked the backup vocals. We also spent a day at 38 North Studio in Falls Church. The album is introspective and reflective – and still around a base of acoustic guitar rock.”

Video link for Wylder – https://youtu.be/l3n0KvCozWI.

The show at the World Café Live, which also features Motherfolk and Homestead Collective, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Sellersville is a long way from the Everglades, but Alligator presence will still be felt in the Bucks County town on July 12.

Lil Ed & The Blues Imperials

On Wednesday night, the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will present a blues band double feature with two Alligator Records recording artists — Lil Ed & The Blues Imperials And Selwyn Birchwood.

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, beloved around the world as reigning champs of the raucous, slide-stoked Chicago sound, have spent more than 30 years cranking out high-octane blues on a series of critically acclaimed albums and in thousands of club, theatre and festival performances around the globe. With sales of over 120,000 units under their belts, this legendary band is captured at the top of their game on its latest album – “The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials.”

Lil’ Ed is Ed Williams, Chicago-born blues guitarist, singer and songwriter who has risen to fame on the strength of his standout slide guitar work.

“In the last year, I wasn’t working as much as I usually do,” said Williams, during a recent phone interview. “It’s partly because of the weather. Last year, we did 200 shows.”

The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials is bursting with Lil’ Ed’s rollicking slide-work and raw-boned vocals on a joyous blend of burning boogies, romping shuffles and heart-stopping slow blues. The ever-ready Blues Imperials continue to be his perfect sidekicks — laying down greasy, percolating grooves with reckless precision.

Lil’ Ed ‘s backing band — The Blues Imperials — are bassist James “Pookie” Young, guitarist Mike Garrett and drummer Kelly Littleton.

“I’ve always used a four-piece band — two guitars, bass and drums,” said Williams, during a recent phone interview. “Kelly, Mike and Pookie are my guys. This is a really tight band. These guys have been with me for about 30 years.”

Williams and his half-brother Pookie Young, received childhood encouragement and tutelage from their uncle, blues guitarist, songwriter and recording artist J. B. Hutto.

“J.B. would come and play for my family,” said Williams. “Slide guitar was the instrument for me because it shimmied. J.B. would play his slide and the 40-watt light bulbs in our house would dim.

“I started playing guitar when I was 11 or 12. J.B. would always play songs by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Elmore James. The Muddy Waters songs always had a lot of slide guitar. That’s what I really liked a lot.”

It’s been almost 30 years since Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials released their debut album “Roughhousin’” on Alligator Records. The band’s most recent album is “The Big Sound Of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials” in 2016.  All of Li’l Ed’s records over the last three decades have been on Alligator Records, a Chicago-based label specializing in blues music.

“Back around 1985, I was playing a North Side club here in Chicago and Bruce (Iglauer, producer and owner of Alligator Records) heard me play,” said Williams. “He invited me to play a couple tracks on a compilation album called ‘The New Bluebloods.’

“I went to their studio and did 15 songs. Then, we kept going. We cut 32 songs in a couple hours. That was where all the songs from ‘Roughhousin’ came from.

“I signed with Alligator Records then. Bruce and I shook hands and we’re still together 30 years later.”

Williams has started working on his next album for Alligator, but no release date has been set.

“I kind of write as I go because I write about things that I see or little things people say,” said Williams. “A good example is my song ‘Icicles in My Meatloaf.’ My wife had made meatloaf — some of it was for dinner and she froze the rest for later.

“When she defrosted it and served it, it wasn’t heated up all the way. My mother-in-law started to eat it, came across a part that was still frozen and said — there’s an icicle in my meatloaf.

“You get that kind of vibe going. I look around me. I try to focus on what’s going on around me in the world — all the things that happen in everyday living in all our lives. That’s why people relate to my songs.

“I have a little studio in my house. I’m always sitting down plucking on my guitar. I get a groove going and then decide if it’s a heavy song or as happy song.”

In 2013, the band was awarded the Living Blues Critics’ and Readers’ Awards for Best Live Performer. The band won this same distinction in the 2012 and 2011 Living Blues Critics’ Poll. The group won the coveted 2009 Blues Music Award for Band Of The Year, the same honor they received in 2007.

In his live shows, Williams presents fans with an overview of his career — and a heavy dose of the blues.

“I’ve got so many songs that I can play,” said Williams. “Every show, I try to mix up the material — old songs from 25 years ago along with newer songs. I also throw in some covers — Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Elmore James — all the good ones.

“I’m always working on songs – trying to find new material. I’ll probably get in the studio soon. It’s about time. I have a few songs ready to go. When that happens, I give them to the group and let them work on it.

“I am hoping to get in the studio sometime soon. I’m probably going to have 20 songs ready. I’m hoping that in a couple months that Bruce will come up and ask if we have something ready.”

Selwyn Birchwood

With his fiery guitar and lap steel playing, his trailblazing, instantly memorable songs and gritty, unvarnished vocals, Birchwood is among the most extraordinary young stars in the blues. His deep familiarity with blues tradition allows him to bust the genre wide open, adding new sounds, colors and textures, all delivered with a revival tent preacher’s fervor and a natural storyteller’s charisma.

Birchwood wrote and produced all 13 songs on his latest album “Pick Your Poison,” which was released in 2017 on Alligator Records. The album is a testament to Birchwood’s overflowing talents as a blues master – despite his young age of 34.

“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. “We’re just working hard.

“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’s fans are hoping for a new album soon.

“I’m just writing right now,” said Birchwood. “I write by myself and I’m working on material for a new album. I’ve got eight written and only need a few more. I want to get in the studio in the fall.”

Birchwood is one of the top acts 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.

“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 – 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.

“I don’t want to stand in stage and be recreating something that’s been done before – telling somebody else’s tale. I want to tell my own story. I’ll quote a few old songs, but I’ll never do a full cover.

“I’m just trying to find a sound that is my sound – blues, funk, soul, jazz, gospel – throw it all together and see what comes out.”

Video link for Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials – https://youtu.be/l9citE4Xzv0.

Video link for Selwyn Birchwood — https://youtu.be/MZjeJsN5CcU.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on June 12 will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $25-$39.50.

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