rock

Record Industry Vet Named to Lead Eco Group Rock the Earth

Rock the Earth- for the Grateful Web

Denver non-profit, Rock the Earth, has announced that they have selected music industry veteran Shawn Kilmurray to serve as its new Executive Director. Together with the support of Rock the Earth's Board of Directors, he will be responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the organization as well as raising brand profile, diversifying sources of funding and developing strategic alliances. Mr. Kilmurray joins Rock the Earth after nearly two-decades in the recording industry. He has held senior Marketing, Production and Operations roles at Sony BMG, Universal and Warner Music, and is a voting member of numerous industry professional organizations. Active in the music community, Mr. Kilmurray will seek to expand RtE partnerships with artists and other music-related entities. Kilmurray shared "While the record business is currently undergoing tremendous change, a new day has dawned in this country and people recognize what can be accomplished when we work together. My challenge is to create synergistic opportunities to involve artists and the music industry at-large to increase environmental awareness that educates and inspires fans and artists alike to take action and produce quantifiable results on important values-driven environmental issues that directly impact our lives, our children's lives and their children's lives." On the selection of Mr. Kilmurray as Executive Director, John Fleckenstein, Senior Vice President at BMG Label Group notes, "I've had the pleasure of working with Shawn frequently over the years; he's a passionate music guy with deep contacts in the industry. I cannot think of a better fit for Rock the Earth. I have no doubt he'll prove to be a tremendous asset to them." Having crossed paths with each other last summer while actively involved with the Obama campaign, founder Marc Ross looks forward to the future of the organization with Kilmurray as Executive Director. "All of us in Rock the Earth are very excited about the addition of Shawn Kilmurray as our new Executive Director. It is our belief that given his passion for the environment as well as his management experience and deep connections within the music industry, Shawn will be able to elevate Rock the Earth to the next level in our goal to become the pre-eminent environmental advocacy organization working with the music community." Enthusiastic about the opportunity, Kilmurray explains, "I am delighted to be asked to lead the organization at what is a critical time for the global environment. Whether it's climate change, chemicals in our food, water issues, deforestation, air pollution, extinction of species or the lack of government action, few of us truly take ownership and act on these issues, foolishly believing others will do it for us. Music has the power to open the heart and touch the soul. Artists have always been at the forefront of social change so they understand the importance of taking action. My objective is to develop collaborative alliances with those members of the music community dedicated to the pursuit of environmental solutions."  Supporting renewable energy, reducing dependency on fossil fuels, sustainability, widespread recycling and increased responsiveness, Shawn Kilmurray and Rock the Earth will continue to promote activism that produces clear-cut results. Bill Sondheim, President of Entertainment and Worldwide Distribution at Gaiam, Inc. reflects on his professional relationship with Kilmurray, "I have known Shawn in various music positions over the last fifteen years. During that time he has consistently demonstrated an ability to balance creative integrity with strong fiscal results. At this critical time when our planet is in peril, I rest easier knowing that he will bring that same passion and intelligence to this worthy cause."

ABOUT ROCK THE EARTH Rock the Earth is a Colorado-based, national public interest environmental organization dedicated to protecting and defending America's natural resources through partnerships with the music industry and the worldwide environmental community. The organization has most recently worked with coalitions to oppose increased drilling on the Roan Plateau and to limit motorized boating through the Grand Canyon. Rock the Earth has also received support from the Educational Foundation of America, musicians Jack Johnson and Incubus' Make Yourself Foundation and the Rex Foundation, allowing it to pursue the defense of important natural areas. For more information, go to www.RockTheEarth.org

Chris Darrow was California's rock Zelig - Reissued 70's LP

Chris Darrow- for the Grateful Web

Chris Darrow may not be a household name — yet. But throughout the history of Southern California country-rock, folk, surf, psychedelic and world music, he has cast a welcome presence. His trail-blazing, country-rock-leaning pair of solo albums, Chris Darrow (1973) and Under My Own Disguise (1974), soon will be released by Everloving Records, the home of Inara George & Van Dyke Parks, Cornelius and Herman Dune . The Darrow collection, titled Chris Darrow/Under My Own Disguise, will be available as a deluxe two-CD, two-LP (180 gram vinyl) with a 48-page 12" x 12" photo book. Street date is March 3, 2009.
 
The music will also be available through digital retailers without all the fancy stuff.
 
The Chris Darrow story begins with Kaleidoscope, a late '60s L.A.-based band cited by Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page as his "favorite band of all time." Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman wrote in his book Follow the Music that the first Kaleidoscope album, Side Trips, is his favorite album of all time. Why this cult mania? Kaleidoscope was the first to blend country, rock, folk, blues, psychedelic and world music and have been called the first "world beat" band. They were also precursors to the Flying Burrito Brothers. Singer/songwriter/guitarist David Lindley was also a member.
 
But the Chris Darrow story did not end with Kaleidoscope's dissolution. He joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and then followed the band's Jeff Hanna into the Corvettes on Dot Records. The Corvettes (sans Chris) went on to become Linda Ronstadt's band. Later the Dirt band reformed with Bernie Leadon, who soon became a Flying Burrito Brother. (Is this saga Southern California enough for you?) Darrow later recorded and toured with Hoyt Axton, John Stewart, James Taylor, Sonny & Cher, Gene Vincent, John Fahey and Helen Reddy. As the Chris Darrow reputation continued to develop, he crafted a pair of legendary solo albums for the United Artists label: Chris Darrow and Under My Own Disguise.
 
The story goes on and on — Darrow went on to record with Nesmith, Kaleidoscope briefly reunited, he recorded with Chris D's Divine Horsemen, formed an unlikely working relationship with colorful producer Kim Fowley and an even less likely collaboration with the Surf Punks' Dennis Dragon. As Darrow continued his 40-year (so far) career in the music business, a new generation of artists discovered him.
 
Ben Harper, who grew up in Darrow's long-time roost of Claremont, Calif., covered the song "Whipping Boy" from Chris Darrow. The Dust Brothers later remixed it. Mudhoney's Steve Turner has come to idolize Darrow, writing: "It's these solo albums that keep finding their way onto the turntable around my house They have slowly, through the years, wound up in the hands of the right people. People like you and me. And that's no accident."
 
Likewise, many authors have cited Darrow's contribution to the development of Southern California rock.  He is invoked in such volumes as Barney Hoskyns' Waiting for the Sun and Hotel California, Chuck Crisafulli's Are You Ready for the Country, Richie Unterberger's Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock.

Enter Everloving Records, the esoteric label from L.A.'s Loz Feliz, known for its relationship with the Claremont musical community that begat both Darrow and Ben Harper. The LA Weekly's Randall Roberts described Everloving as "globetrotting this year, putting out thrilling music by Germans, French, Japanese and Angelenos. The label since 2003 has delivered hot music action from wherever it arrives. They cherry-pick choice little records from across the globe and deliver them stateside."
 
Everloving Records is noted for their innovative packaging. The Darrow package is an objet d'art. But how will the label create widespread demand for a double album reissue by an artist from the '60s and '70s whom — if you're under a certain age — you've likely never heard of til moments ago? Glad you asked. That's where you come in.

Super 400: “For The Rock and Rollers”

I like the word timeless, but what does it really mean? Last night, driving up to The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ for the Super 400 and Speakeasy co-bill, I had some examples of timelessness present themselves. Pearl Jam, driving with the windows down and the sunroof open, The Black Crowes, a quarter pounder with cheese meal: all timeless.

Indigenous: A New Blues-Rock Incarnation

photos by Jeremy Cowart- for the Grateful Web

Bands evolve. Some for the better, and some not. South Dakota's Indigenous blues band has certainly moved into new, fresher territory with their new band lineup. The story of that band is quite unique.

Indigenous burst on the musical stage as youngsters, three siblings and a cousin. They were all members of the Nakota Nation and living on the Yanton Indian Reservation, located in the southeastern portion of South Dakota, along the Missouri River, close to Nebraska. (Those ethnic and geographic roots are important, so keep that location in mind)

Their father, Greg Zephier, a spokesperson for Native American rights had been a musician in the 60s and '70s, and he wanted to pass the legacy of classic rock artists that he admired and had learned from to his children. "Yeah, my dad was really into music," said Mato Nanji, the oldest of the siblings and the guitarist. "That was pretty much where I heard everything: the R&B, the blues, the rock. There was just all kinds of music. He and two of his brothers and a nephew used to have a band called the Vanishing Americans. They used to play all of the old rock stars, Santana, everything. That's kind of where I got my start. They were actually broke up before I was born. I found his guitars and his records."

Ptcecha, Mato's sister, took up the bass, and Wanbdi found drums to his liking. Their cousin, Horse, added percussion. First they learned a lot of blues and rock covers. Mato's strong voice was able to carry the weight of a Hendrix tune or an Eric Clapton song. Then Mato began to write originals.

"My dad always said from the start, 'You need to write your own songs,'" Mato remembered. "I've always tried to do that from the start. I think one of the first songs that I wrote was 'Things We Do.' We recorded it for a CD the Indigo Girls put together, a compilation of different artists. [Honor the Earth (1996)]."

At first, Zephier toured with them as a family, until the youngsters were discovered by the wider world.

When their debut album, Things We Do, (Pachyderm Records) in 1998, it hit Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, something that no Native American bands had ever done. Soon, they came to the notice of Bonnie Raitt and BB King. They had become another young blues phenomenon out of the Plains, like Fargo's Johnny Lang. BB King was so impressed with these young talents he invited them to join his Blues Festival Tour. A year later their father passed, but he had lived to see his children's success.

Indigenous continued to tour widely and record. But the siblings were growing up, having families, and some even growing away from the music of their youth. They recorded their last record together, Long Way Home, in 2005. "It was a lot of hard work over the years, touring non-stop, pretty much," Mato said. "I think everybody kind of sat back after the last record and just wanted to pursue different things, I guess. ....My sister hasn't really been playing that much. My brother wanted to start his own band.... Now, they're doing different styles of music than what I do....I just wanted to keep going and keep the name because it's always been about the music, and it always will be."

A year later, Mato decided to release a solo album. That record, Chasing the Sun, became a way to break out on his own while still maintaining amicable relations with his siblings. "My brother played bass on the last record," Mato said. "There were a couple of songs my sister wrote, and I think a couple of them ended up on the record. I kind of co-wrote some songs with her."

For the next year, though, Mato looked for a band to tour with to support this new album and to continue as a band entity known as Indigenous. Oddly enough, the band he found, the extremely talented Kris Lager Band from Lincoln, Nebraska, was one he came to know when Indigenous was first discovered. "I think we met probably in the late 90s. Off and on, we played together at shows." Then in the spring of 2007, the Kris Lager Band and Mato ended up getting together and doing a jam. "A mutual friend got us together, and we did an acoustic thing," Mato explained. "It was a little private show right in the studio there in Omaha. That was the first time we actually played together as a band. We did an acoustic set, and we came out and jammed together. I felt really good. I have always wanted to try having a full band with me, another guitar player and a keyboard player, as well as drums and bass. We have just been jamming together ever since."

The addition of keyboards was something the original Indigenous didn't have. "I think on each record we did, that's what you hear anyways. There are some keys on there and some other guitars. I've always wanted to take that, tour with that as a full band," he said.

But the Kris Lager band wasn't immediately folded into Indigenous. It was all part of the unique evolution of the band. "I've had different band members off and on for the past year, since the record came out. They were really good players, too."  But the Kris Lager Band had been opening for Indigenous. "I think after I saw these guys play, I really, really liked them and liked the music so I thought maybe we can kind of get together."

Kris Lager adds another strong lead guitar that many other blues guitarists would not have wanted. But Mato doesn't consider him competition, but assistance. "One of the big influences starting out at the beginning was still a lot of guitar playing," Mato said, "and I think that's what a lot of people were drawn to. A lot of guitar playing was part of the history of the band." And, Mato is amazing. He has been heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix in his attack on the guitar. Now, with Kris Lager taking the lead sometimes, Mato can concentrate on vocal delivery that is heavily influenced by Sam Cooke and other early R&B singers.

Mato and the Kris Lager band had been playing for only three months as Indigenous when I saw them last August at the Last Ride Bluesfest in Thief River Falls, MN. They were incredible together. Then, I saw them this past March at the Jackpot Junction Blues Fest, and they blew everybody off the map! "I think there was a pretty cool connection," Mato says. "It is at a point where it's kind of unexplainable when you play together as a band."

Phenomenal is more like it. The blues is still there, but there is a life in the music that comes from the vocals and the driving guitars. And Mato is extremely generous on stage with his bandmates. Everyone has a chance to shine. Though the songs are his, the vocal duties are mainly his, and most of the blazing guitar work is his, the band is exceptionally Indigenous, with each member sharing the burden and the glory on stage.

Though you try not to compare artists on the same bill, you do. At Jackpot Junction Blues Fest, I saw many other blues players. Some were old legends; some were young legends. But one thing was clear, though I saw a lot of flash and power noodling, especially among the younger players, none of that could compare with the technical skill and heart of the new Indigenous band. This was one blues band that made you feel so good after you heard them and, especially, when you saw the delighted interplay among the musicians. They were having a bang-up good time and the audience did, too.

Mato parted with Vanguard, his past label, in 2007 and is now looking to record a new CD with the exciting new Indigenous incarnation later this year. I can't wait!

Planet Defenders: Rock the Earth Marshals Action through Music

Bonnie Raitt & Rock the Earth's Marc Ross- for the Grateful Web

Six years ago, Marc A. Ross discovered a seminal way to champion environmental causes. Ross, who has been both an environmental prosecutor and an industry defense attorney, remembers, "One common theme that I saw…. was that small groups of citizens that were directly impacted by environmental issues…were being steam rolled by industry. They were being outmaneuvered, being outgunned, out-litigated simply because they didn't have the PR or the financial resources to hire competent counsel and scientists to take up their very legitimate claims."

That's when Ross decided to level the playing field by tapping the high profile music industry's PR strength and its ability to fundraise for charities. In 2002, Rock the Earth was born, and Ross became its executive director.

Rock the Earth brings environmental awareness to music fans, garnering not only donations for their projects but also volunteers. Today, the organization has only three paid employees and three dozen Volunteer Staffers and Advisory Board Members. They also have a technical team of scientists from a variety of fields, environmental attorneys, and consultants. This broadens Rock the Earth's ability to tackle different issues.

Early on, Rock the Earth consulted with festivals, tours, and the cruise industry to help them green their events. Over time, other organizations, such as Reverb, CLIF Bar GreenNotes, and MusicMatters, have appeared to take on that mission and other environmental concerns.

Rock the Earth's mission evolved to providing environmental education, fostering activism, and offering legal and technical assistance to small groups. "We're a great plug and play organization," says Ross. For example, Rock the Earth is an active presence at many festivals and concerts. They maintain a presence at Bonnaroo on the Solar Stage. "Every day, we conduct a series of interviews, panel discussions, and musical performances all on the theme of social change through music," Ross explains.  His one-on-one interviews showcase performers who don't normally talk about these issues. At Bonnaroo, Rock the Earth has worked with a number of artists, including Bob Weir, Warren Haynes, Michael Franti, Bonnie Raitt, John Butler, Trevor Garrod (Tea Leaf Green), and Liz Berlin (Rusted Root).

ozzfestLast year, the organization was a major presence at Ozzfest and at Warp Tour shows. "We were the first and only non-profit to work with Ozzfest, and obviously the first environmental group to work with Ozzie," Ross says. "A lot of Ozzie's music has been political over the years from 'Crazy Train' to some of his newer songs on his most recent album are political and environmentally-conscious songs…. I just don't think the rest of the environmental movement thought about working with someone like Ozzie."

This year Rock the Earth is also moving forward with its first environmental litigation. Against the National Park Service, it focuses on mismanagement of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. "It will impact how all wilderness areas and, in some ways, public lands are treated in this country and whether concessions and recreation are put over wilderness protection," says Ross. "Pretty soon there won't be anywhere you can go in this country without hearing the roar of motors."

Rock the Earth also has partnered with the Center for Water Advocacy as well as several indigenous plaintiffs, including the Oglala Sioux tribe, to stop the expansion of a uranium mine in Nebraska that affects indigenous water rights and may affect public health. "That issue has legs because it touches on global warming and whether or not this new Western uranium boom and nuclear power boom is the solution to global warming," says Ross.

This past year, Rock the Earth was successful in its first petition campaign against Wal-Mart to get them to stop buying and selling mulch from Louisiana cypress trees. The organization also conducted its first service project, partnering with the John Butler Trio, CLIF Bar GreenNotes, and two other organizations, to clean up Ocean Beach in San Francisco.  And, Rock the Earth's legal and technical team worked or reviewed fifteen separate issues brought to them by the music community.

Nearly half of its 2,000-plus members in all fifty states have volunteered to work tables at festivals and concerts, provide technical or legal assistance, write grants, or help spread the word.  This will ensure that Rock the Earth will continue to champion the earth as its motto says: Defending the Earth One Beat at a Time.

fishThis spring, Rock the Earth was awarded the Mimi Fishman Memorial Community Service Award at the 7th Annual Jammy Awards. Those Ross was honored and humbled by the award, he also called music fans to action saying, "...regardless of who is our next President, come January 2009, our country and our planet will still continue to face very serious environmental issues that will only be solved by keeping the pressure on the government and polluters and holding them accountable for their actions." The work continues.

UPDATE:  On April 29, 2008, a three-judge panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled in favor of the Oglala Tribe's right to challenge the proposed Crow Butte Uranium Mine expansion. Though, the NRC Staff has appealed, much work remains by the tribe to block the mine expansion.

Welcome to the Rock Show - Jason Isbell & Will Hoge

Last summer, shortly after Jason Isbell dissolved his ties with the Drive-by Truckers, I had the opportunity to catch him at another local DC venue, Rock & Roll Hotel.  The small space was packed with Truckers fans eager to hear one of the three voices behind the band, solo, and able to interpret songs as he deemed fit.  Needless to say nobody left disappointed, and the next ti

Ben Harper To Present at 2008 Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame

photos by Amanda Bell- for the Grateful Web

Ben Harper will induct blues harp legend Little Walter into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10 in New York City!

Ben will perform live today, Feb. 29th at the 58th Annual Festival della Canzone Italiana di Sanremo, Italy's popular long-running song contest. He'll join Italian sensation Jovanotti for the song "Fango" , and play "Lifeline" solo acoustic. The event will be televised on Italy's Rai Uno.

Ringo Starr and Ben Harper meet for a one-on-one interview as part of the exclusive MySpace series "Artist on Artist." Catch it now at myspace.com/artistonartist!

B.H.I.C. will be the featured artist on the March 6th episode of "Live from the Artists Den", airing on Ovation TV. It will feature live footage from their 2007 performance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. Get a sneak peak of "Forgiven" at ovationtv.com.

A live version of "With My Own Two Hands" has also been released on the CD "Live from the Artists Den: Season One." Buy it at Amazon.com.

"Body of War", featuring Ben Harper's "Black Rain" and a live duet with Eddie Vedder on "No More", is now available for pre-order at www.bodyofwarmusic.com. The website also features special footage and a studio version of the Vedder tune.

"Body of War: Songs that Inspired an Iraq War Veteran," a double-CD compilation of songs curated by Iraq war veteran Tomas Young, will be released by Sire Records on March 18, 2008.

Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals are heading back to Europe this summer! They'll be playing a mix of festivals and special headlining engagements. The current list of events is posted in Tour Dates. More dates will be added soon!!

B.H.I.C. invite you to Vail, CO on Saturday, April 12th for a special one-night only engagement at the 2008 Spring Back to Vail concert. Tickets on sale now!

Check out a smokin' live version of "Whipping Boy" recorded during the "Lifeline" tour in B.H.I.C. Radio exclusively at www.benharper.net!

Elana James Inks New Deal, Plays Fuji Rock Fest & Keeps Swingin' For Fences

Photo by Richard Dowdy, 2007- for the Grateful Web

The North Carolina-based music mavens at Redeye will be handling North American distribution of the eponymous solo debut disc by singer, violinist and songwriter Elana James beginning Tuesday, July 24. The move will make the ebullient, eclectic collection of town 'n' country swing available at most major nationwide chains-including Borders as well as in hundreds of discerning, independently-owned stores.

James began enchanting listeners in 1998 as co-leader (with Whit Smith) of the Austin-based Hot Club of Cowtown, a refreshing, nimble-fingered combo that merged the sophisticated, high-stepping sizzle of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli's Quintet of the Hot Club of France with the driving energy of Western swing.

Buoyed by five critically-acclaimed discs and live shows imbued with an almost punk-rock energy, the Hot Club was on the verge of a popular breakthrough when, just after opening all of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson's ground breaking 2004 summer tour of American minor league ballparks, the group disbanded.

Still reeling from the breakup, the young musician had only begun weighing future options when the two musical godfathers whose very tour ushered the demise of the Hot Club stepped in with offers that could not be refused.

First, veteran producer Fred Foster called James with an invitation to play twin fiddle parts with the legendary Texas Playboy Johnny Gimble on Willie Nelson's next record. Almost immediately after that call came an invitation to play in Dylan's touring band.

"When I got that call," Elana remembers, "It was so incredible - I felt like God had reached down out of heaven and anointed me with a golden wand."

The Dylan slot ended up expanding to two full tours (one as the fiddle player for Dylan himself complete with prominent positioning in the shows), but James experienced a real revelation before the first tour was even complete:  Oddly enough, performing with arguably the greatest, most-revered songwriter of the last 50 years gave her the confidence to pursue a similar path leading her own band.

". . .He's peerless at what he does, and yet he's still doing exactly the same thing as everyone else," she notes. "And it made me realize that if I started my own thing, there's a lot of dignity in just doing it; you don't have to worry about who you're playing for, you don't have to worry about how it's received, you just have to do it."

Elana James began recording her self-titled debut album in 2005, but a second Dylan tour delayed completion of the recording until the summer of 2006, with assorted finishing details further setting back the release.

But by any measure, the elegant Elana James is more than worth the wait, presenting an artist brimming with talent, self-assurance and a strong musical vision that encompasses string-jazz and country roots as well as displaying - through a half-dozen artfully-drawn original tunes, Elana's rare gift for truly integrating lyrical content with melody and tone.

Through it all, James' clearwater, emotionally - transparent vocal delivery is the ideal vehicle for her uniquely personal world view, and her violin playing slips with a natural grace from bold, charismatic leads to empathetic ensemble playing and back again.

The legendary swing fiddler Johnny Gimble illuminates a pair of traditional Western Swing fiddle tunes, pairing his inimitable style with Elana's on his own arrangement of "Silver Bells" and using electric mandolin to spar with James' violin on an immaculate, up-to-date rendition of "Goodbye Liza Jane."

With knowing, soulful nods to Duke Ellington ("I Got It Band (And That Ain't Good)" and "I Don't Mind") and Eubie Blake (a luscious "Memories of You" ), Elana James - with and her fine, hand-picked cohorts - further extends her impressive musical palette and wide-ranging love-and command - of American music.

Willie Nelson lauds James as "a beautiful voice, a fantastic musician with the heart and soul of an angel."  He neglected to mention that she's smart and beautiful, too, but it's a sure bet he noticed.   

(Elana James is currently available through such online outlets as Amazon.com, CDBaby, Miles of Music, etc.).

 

ELANA JAMES AUGUST 2007 TOUR DATES

August 7 Starlight Concert Series, Evanston, IL

August 10 Great Lakes Festival, East Lansing, MI

August 11 Great Lakes Festival, East Lansing, MI

August 12 Great Lakes Festival, East Lansing, MI  

August 15 Continental Club Happy Hour, Austin, TX

August 18 Performing Arts Center Simsbury, CT

August 22 The Continental Club Happy Hour, Austin, TX      

August 29 The Continental Club Happy Hour, Austin, TX

GB Leighton: A Roots Rock Band to Watch

photos by Sheila Ryan- for the Grateful Web

It's been said that fine, delicate wines need to mature slowly. For bands, sometimes that's true. In GB Leighton's case, it has taken almost two decades of songwriting and serious performing to develop into a force that is poised to take on the musical world.  That maturing is grounded in Brian Leighton's songwriting, his powerful vocal delivery, and the backing of a phenomenally talented band.

There is nothing delicate about GB Leighton. However, there is a rootedness in Minnesota "nice" that pervades the songs and the band's performances. Even when Leighton sings about bad boys, there is still the urge to forgive the young pup, no matter what he did.

That is one reason why GB Leighton has been a big draw to Minnesota clubs.  Brian and his band seem to generate a good time wherever they play, whipping up audiences, not into frenzied crowds, screaming for his body or into drunken music fanatics, but  into warm friendly places where people dance till they drop and sing along with Leighton standards. The band creates a Cheers type of atmosphere, where everyone knows your name–or soon will–while  couched in musical refrains.

Leighton's love of music began in his Shoreview, Minnesota home, listening to the country outlaws of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and eventually being turned on to Bruce Springsteen who offered a vocal delivery full of energy that profoundly influenced Leighton's own singing style. He began playing guitar at 14, and started GB Leighton at 18, his first and only band.  The band recorded its first studio album a few years later in 1991, when Leighton could legally play in bars. Then in 1994, the band produced One Time...One Life, an album of songs, some of which Leighton still pulls out at every show.  Other studio albums, live cuts, and a DVD followed, with nearly a dozen recordings to the band's credit.

In the early days, GB Leighton burned a path through the US, playing such clubs as Tramps in New York, Howlin' Wolf in New Orleans, Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, and Bohager's in Baltimore.  The band even sold out in 800 to 1200 seat venues, while continuing to draw eager fans to regional clubs, becoming overwhelmingly one of  Minnesota's top-drawing bar bands.  Leighton has also opened for the BoDeans, bluesman Jonny Lang, and Joe Cocker. He and his band appeared in a cameo and on the soundtrack for the independent film, The Marksman, which was viewed at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in 1997.

Though Leighton has stayed close to home for a number of years, only slipping down to Acapulco in the winter for a week of non-stop music, he and the latest incarnation of his band are ready for wider touring. And, with good reason. His current band lineup is strong enough to stand against Leighton's powerhouse vocals.  Now, he has to reason to hold back and doesn't, allowing him to give everything he can during performances without fear that he'll blow a band member (or the audience) out of the venue. He has a big sound that comes from deep inside, but there is a clear, understandable quality to his singing without distortion or screaming. His audiences want to catch not only the words but the vocal nuances that he uses and his choice of phrasing. That is further enhanced by strong vocal backup by band members Luke Kramer, James Patrick Carey, and Jason Perri.

Though Leighton is definitely in charge on stage, he is also generous. Long time bandmate, Kramer complements Leighton's songs with intricate guitar riffs and, on the new album, Shake Them Ghosts, lap steel, and takes several solos during shows. Carey on keyboards and Perri on sax and fiddle (yes, fiddle, in a rock band!) add color and energy throughout the songs. Perri shines as he struts on his part of the stage, adding those high note solos, and Carey rocks, swinging his keyboard layout to the side so that the audience can see his fingers dance among the keys. Nick Salisbury on bass and Ryan Inselman on drums, the anchors of the band, keep the musical organism moving and always danceable, and sometimes take a solo themselves.

Though the band is tight and has great vocals, GB Leighton could remain a bar band for another twenty years if it weren't for the songs that Leighton has been writing. And, the latest batch on the new album, Shake Them Ghosts, have shifted the band into brand new territory.  As Leighton evolved over the years, the energy and pureness that was present in his Live From Pickle Park album (1998) was lost as Leighton moved into more pop sounding arenas that culminated in his This Life album in 2003. Though the songs themselves were good, there was something missing. When Leighton and his band entered Winterland Studios in Minneapolis last December to record Shake Them Ghosts, Leighton not only was reclaiming something of himself but also moving out into a gutsy, rootsy genre that had a much broader appeal and spoke to a wider audience than the cute babe in the bar.

The groundwork for Shake Them Ghosts was laid months earlier when Leighton journeyed to Nashville to work with Nashville songwriters at Still Working Music, the publishing company owned by Barbara Orbison, Roy Orbison's widow and manager.  There he connected with writers like Clay Mills whose work has been recorded by Reba McIntire, Trisha Yearwood, Danielle Peck, and Diamond Rio.  Mills lent his skills to two of the most infectious songs on the album, "Twisted" and "Wings Workin' Overtime."  Leighton worked with other writers: Rachel Thibodeau, a Minnesota native, who has written for Marina McBride and Lila McCann; Jay Knowles whose songs have been cut by George Strait and Montgomery Gentry; and Liz Rose who has a song on Bonnie Raitt's latest studio album, Souls Alike.

Though you'd expect collaborative work coming from writers like these to be the stuff of pickup trucks and honkey tonks, what happened was a matchup of closeted rockers who really wanted to help Leighton shape his ideas.   "We're not in there to just write a great country hit or anything like that," Leighton says. "We're there to write something just a little more rocking and something that will use words that I'm going to say live."

Leighton has always been able to capture more than a smooth pick-up song. His "Man in the Moon," a song from one of his older CDs, tells about faithfulness and standing with someone no matter where they are, and "One Foot Over" is about having the determination to follow your dream. However, the songwriting experience of throwing songwriters in a room and expecting something to come out that often is daunting to so many was actually the necessary stimulus that Leighton needed.  "I did definitely learn a lot about writing songs from people who do it every day and who live in a city that expects great stuff to come out of them," he says.

Then as Leighton and his band came into the studio to produce these songs, the album was further shaped by producer Don Dixon who had produced The Smithereens and R.E.M. Dixon also brought in rock drummer Kenny Aronoff to assist the album since Leighton had just hired Ryan Inselman who was very new to the band.  Aronoff, named #1 Studio Drummer for five consecutive years by the readers of Modern Drummer Magazine, had previously kept time for  Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Elton John, John Mellencamp, Smashing Pumpkins, and Willie Nelson. Inselman, however, didn't just sit on the sidelines. He observed Aronoff and even added hand percussion to a few tracks. "After he was in the studio watching Kenny Aronoff play," says Leighton. "I just saw a different drummer."

The resulting album is strong and intense. The good times are still there, but there's a maturity and a personalization in the details of the songs and in the whole band's efforts, vocally and instrumentally, that takes this CD to another level. "Wings Workin'' Overtime," a collaboration with Clay Mills about the transformative power of a woman's love, is more than worth the price of the album–or five albums for that matter.  However, "Twisted" and "Favorite" are lighter cuts that attract audiences but offer more. "Twisted," for example, co-authored with Clay Mills and Stephanie Lewis, is twisted. It begins like Primus rising up through the floorboards of a backwater honkytonk and morphing into a crap-kicking rock anthem. It is pure Leighton, delivered with guts and warmth.

GB Leighton is a band to experience. Find them and the party at a venue near you or in their latest recording,  Shake Them Ghosts. Check out tourdates and CD info at www.gbleighton.com.

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Other Janie Reviews:

1. The White Iron Band (6/16/2006 6:44:38 PM - http://www.whiteironband.com)
Their hard-hitting tunes make the Kentucky Headhunters seem like lite rock, and they can sweet talk you out of a band mood with the strike of a chord or the honeyed blend of multiple-part harmonies.
2. Phil Lesh Legacy (7/14/2006 5:00:43 AM - http://www.gratefulweb.net/photos/photoInterface/photos.aspx?direct=Band...)
But it is Lesh himself who is venturing out to major jam festivals this summer in search of the vibe and some answers. He's looking to explore why the jam scene keeps going and what it all means. As part of a long-term oral history project, Lesh has started formally dialoging with people of his generation and young people today about the 60s, what some have thought was a Golden Age of enlightenment and music or a time of unachievable idealism and unrest.
3. Enchanted Ape: An Enchanted Experience (7/16/2006 6:17:05 AM - http://www.enchantedape.com/ )
Enchanted Ape takes their name from Thomas Carlyle's (1843) written comment about non-conformists, where he states, "...and thou art as an Enchanted Ape under God's sky, where thou mightest have been a man, had proper schoolmasters and conquerors, and constables with cat o'nine tails, been vouchsafed thee...."
4. Umphrey's McGee: Layers of the Unexpected (7/16/2006 4:45:30 AM - http://www.umphreys.com/ )
An Umphrey's McGee show is a musical extravaganza as the band members trip in and out of musical genres. This band is unique even in the jam scene because of the musical diversity, not only within each set, but within each song. Audiences can hear jazz, rock, ambient space music, Primus-edged metal, and even country wedged up against each other.
5. Blues on the Prairie: Backyard Barbeque and Blues Fest (1/1/2007 2:44:03 PM - )
Blues legend Buddy Guy showed up in a striped shirt and overhalls. When I had seen him before, he wore polka dots and changed guitars like a fashion statement, including a white one with black polka dots on it. There was another change, too. Guy had only a four piece band. Back in 2005, he had a very talented saxophone player with him. The current configuration, however, is top-notch. They are master musicians in their own right, and hold up well in Guy's nightly game of dueling instruments.
6. The Bands of 10,000 Lakes, Part 1 (3/15/2007 10:49:07 AM - )
With warmer temperatures, jamfans are already looking toward summer festivals. To tempt you further, we're going to take a look back at last year's 10,000 Lakes Festival in Minnesota, the new kid on the festival circuit that is drawing fans to its musical honey and its truly sweet location.
7. Unity the band: Bringing the Love (3/16/2007 8:17:47 PM - )
Though reggae, like American hip-hop now, is found all over the world, roots reggae differs depending on where is it nurtured and grown. "The difference with reggae we have in the island," Pita says, "is we have a little bit more of an African flavor, our African heritage and Indian nature. It's old style. It's almost a little faster than reggae, but it has a little pop to it."
8. Turbine: Always Turning Out The Good Stuff (3/17/2007 5:38:42 AM - )
In 2005, jammers at the 10,000 Lakes Festival were floored by the power duo from New York City, Turbine. Ryan Rightmire (harmonica, acoustic guitar, vocals) and Jeremy Hilliard (electric guitar, vocals) had audiences awe-struck when they launched into their set. "There was a moment after the first long jam of the set, and no one was making any noise during the song, " recalls Hilliard. "We finished and for a second, we were wondering what was going to happen. Then everyone sort of exploded."

Rock the Vote -- Support John Kerry!!!

Vote For Change -- 2004- for the Grateful Web

In an effort to overturn the current administration and restore democracy to the White House, members of the entertainment industry are going on tour. Stars like Bruce Springteen will be joining the Dixie Chicks, the Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and other pop stars for MoveOn PAC's Vote for Change Tour.

It's no secret, the purpose of this tour is to make John Kerry the next president.

Groups like R.E.M. have always been political. In addition to their support for organizations like Greenpeace, R.E.M. has used their music to make a statement. Albums like "Automatic for the People" and "Life's Rich Pageant" include songs about envronmental issues, homelessness, and government corruption. Pearl Jam has written songs and spoken out against hunger and poverty.

Until we get a new adminstration, none of America's problems either at home or abroad will be addressed. Wages for the average American worker have been steadily declining since Reagan-Bush won the election in 1980. The Republicans have done nothing to stop this, and I think we all realize that giving tax breaks to greedy corporations and the wealthiest Americans will not solve the problem. But maybe Rocking the Vote will.

Musicians have a special interest in politics. As their music conveys a message, protections of civil liberties, such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment, is particularly important. Since we live in an age where Linda Rhondstat can be booed off the stage in a casino in Las Vegas for dedicating a song to Michael Moore, we know that the right to free speech is in jeopardy.

Bruce Springsteen understands the danger of allowing the current administration to stay in power. He was recently quoted: "It's an emergency intervention. We need to get an administration that is more attentive to the needs of all its citizens, that has a saner foreign policy, that is more attentive to environmental concerns."

It's no secret that the current administration is out to serve the interests of big business and the wealthy. George Bush's recent slight against African-Americans did not go unnoticed. He refused to speak to the NAACP. After President Kerry accepted an invitation to address the group, Bush decided to make a speech to the Urban League, an organization comprised primarily of wealthy African-American business owners.

We must put an end to the current administration. They have already stolen one election and threaten to do the same in November. This is not the kind of government that our forefather's envisioned. The government is supposed to be "for the people, of the people, and by the people." Our forefather's wanted a government in which every person's vote counted; not the kind of debacle we saw in the last election in which votes for the Democratic candidate were thrown into dumpsters behind polling stations. Government by the people means that Bush doesn't just get to steal an election because he's got friends in high places. It doesn't mean that Cheney gets to go to war to help Halliburton's bottom line; and it doesn't mean that Republicans get to make decisions that only favor the wealthy.

To make a change you need to get out and vote. And, it does matter who you vote for. You must vote for the Democratic candidate to restore Jeffersonian democracy to America. We can't afford to have votes wasted again on Ralph Nader. Support John Kerry and Rock the Vote!!!

For more information about the MoveOn PAC's Vote for Change Tour, click on the links below:

http://dailytelegraph.news.com.au/story.jsp?sectionid=1267&storyid=1730906

http://netmusiccountdown.com/news/article.php?id=6099

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/southflorida/sfl-05concertsaug05,0,6978264.story?coll=sfla-news-front

http://www.johnkerry.com/front/splash.html