On Stage: Phoebe Legere really is unique

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Phoebe Legere, who will headline a show on August 4 at The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com), is a talented singer, songwriter, instrumentalist — a multi-talented artist who is like no other.

The descriptive word “unique” is often misused – frequently as an unsubstantiated hyperbole. When used to describe Legere, it is “spot on” – and still a little inadequate.

Legere, who has released close to 20 albums, plays seven instruments including one she invented to help physically challenged children play music — the Sneakers of Samothrace.

Phoebe Legere is a Juilliard-trained composer in addition to being an internationally recognized visual artist. She offers small collectible paintings after each performance. Each original art work has a CD embedded within it.

Her most recent album “Heart of Love” is a hymn to life on the American Highway – and a Top 20 Americana album.

“The musical genre is folk/Americana,” said Legere, during a phone interview last week from her home in New York City’s East Village.

“I play guitar, Native American flute, piano and accordion. It was released on February 14, 2017 and immediately went Top 20 on the roots charts. It’s all originals – except for my cover of ‘Jambalaya.’”

Legere’s music is a blend of Americana, Cajun, New Orleans jazz, country, folk and blues. She is an award-winning accordion player, virtuoso piano player, a rural folk blues guitar stylist, and an award-winning songwriter.

A standard-bearer of the Acadian-Cajun renaissance, Legere is descended from one of the original Acadian families in North America.

Her album “Acadian Moon,” which was released in 2015, received strong radio play in Canada. “Heart of Love” is faring even better – on both sides of the Canadian-American border.

“A DJ friend of mine gave me a list of every Americana station in America – and a list of college stations,” said Legere, who has performed at prestigious venues around the world including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and at the Congrés Mondial Acadien.

“I sent out 400 envelopes with the CD along with self-made heart-shaped chocolate lollipops. That resulted in me reaching the Top 20.”

In reality, the deejays were suckers for the music – after being lured in by the lollipops.

Legere, whose debut album “Trust Me” was released by Epic Records in 1986, has a long and diverse artistic resume.

She has appeared on National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Morning, ABC, NBC, PBS and Charlie Rose. She also received the prestigious Acker Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2014.

In 2015, she appeared in HBO’s documentary “It’s Me Hilary.”

While still in her teens, Legere was signed Epic Records as a songwriter. She opened for David Bowie on his National Tour in 1991 and led a number of influential New York bands, including Monad, 4 Nurses of the Apocalypse and her nine-piece swing-punk outfit Swingalicious.

After the radio success of her 1989 album “Marilyn Monroe” (Island Records), and her appearance in numerous underground films, Legere shifted her focus to avant-garde classical music and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her work with the Cleveland Chamber Symphony.

Legere, who has had six of her original plays with music produced in New York City, did not enter the world of entertainment unprepared.

She graduated from Vassar College, studied composition at the Juilliard School. She also studied piano at the New England Conservatory, and film scoring, orchestration and jazz arranging at the NYU Graduate School of Music Composition.

Legere studied composition with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Morton Subotnick, Wayne Oquin and Dinu Gezzo. She also studied jazz arranging with Ira Newborn and Rick Shemaria.

According to Legere, the death of the record business is a much-needed correction.

“Life in the music business is never easy,” said Legere, who has been embraced by the Outlaw Americana community and music lovers around the world. “It’s so competitive.

“At one point, record companies felt artists didn’t have to be musicians. Female artists got signed because they were pretty. They didn’t need good musicians. They could just use machines.

“They didn’t have to deal with intelligent people. Intelligent people are like lightning rods. They’re really doctors. They’ve been doctors for thousands of years.

“I was signed by Epic Records when I was 16 so I really know about the abuse and sexual harassment – and unethical practices. Now, big record companies are falling apart.”

According to Legere, “Right now musicians have a golden opportunity. For the first time, we can shape our own careers. Musicians are no longer the slaves of music corporations.

“We are free to invent the music we hear in our hearts today, and invent new ways to deliver it to the listeners of tomorrow.”

Legere was too talented – and too smart – to be sucked into the world of being just another pop princess.

“I got involved in very avant-garde music more than 15 years ago,” said Legere, a versatile artist who created a 15-person, rideable giant Eagle sculpture that runs on alternative energy (learn more about The Shamancycle at Shamancyle.com).

“I did an epic poem with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra – singing the poem and improvising the music.”

In another of her many projects, Legere is the executive director of her own nonprofit organization — The Foundation for New American Art.

The Foundation for New American Art is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation that fosters art and music education programs geared to underserved communities.

The goal is to educate, nurture and strengthen the artistic and musical spirit of the children of low-income communities, as well as provide support for after-school programs.

She visits schools, military bases, libraries with encouraging workshops — most notably her “Songwriting from The Heart.” Proceeds from Legere’s lectures and public performances will go to The Foundation for New American Art.

“I am dedicated to nurturing the visionary artists of the future,” said Legere. “Art and Music are not extra-curricular. Art and Music are integral to the harmonious development of the human heart and soul.”

Legere has brought the project to Pennsylvania this week.

“I’m spending the last week in July teaching at Foundation for New America Art’s Camp Superstar at Ruhe Farm in Emmaus,” said Legere.

“We’re bringing arts and music to the children. We’ll be so focused on the arts, music, dance, theater – and nutrition.

“At my Steel City Coffee House gig, in addition to my songs and stories, I’ll be reporting on the joy and gratitude of bringing the Art Spirit to Pennsylvania/New Jersey/New York children of low-income communities.”

Video link for Phoebe Legere – https://youtu.be/Xo2q62GU3yM.

The show at Steel City Coffee House, which has Radka Kasparcova as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.

The other show this weekend at Steel City will feature Novyy Stil’ and Nikia Camp on August 5.

Fastball

Frequently, there are bands that have several hits and then sort of fade from the spotlight – bands that people sometimes ask, “Whatever happened to…?”

People might at times ask that question about Fastball.

After rising to prominence in 1996 with the debut disc “Make Your Mama Proud,” the Austin, Texas-based trio exploded into a household name with 1998’s breakthrough album “All the Pain Money Can Buy.”

Fueled by the chart-topping hit “The Way,” the Top 5 song “Out Of My Head” and the Top 20 favorite “Fire Escape,” the album soared to platinum-plus sales in just six months.

Fastball scored a pair of coveted Grammy nominations, an MTV Music Award nomination and regular rotation on the late-night talk show circuit (Conan, Letterman and Leno to name a few).

Fastball never really went away — but its recorded output did slow down.

The trio – Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar), Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion) — released “The Harsh Light of Day” in 2000 and followed with “Keep Your Wig On” in 2004 and “Little White Lies” in 2009.

Now, after an eight-year gap, Fastball released its sixth album, “Step Into Light,” earlier this summer and immediately set out on an extensive North American tour with Everclear.

The new album, which was released through the band’s own 33 1/3 label, is the first Fastball full-length to get a vinyl LP release. The band is now out on its own headlining tour – a tour that stops at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) on August 3.

“We’ve been together with the same lineup for 23 years and we’ve never really stopped,” said Scalzo, during a phone interview this week from a tour stop in Atlanta, Georgia.

“In every one of those years, we’ve done something. The new album, which is distributed through Red Eye, is a giant step for us.

“The album came out May 19. We recorded it a couple years ago in Austin at the Bubble Recording Studio.

“We were trying to get in and out of the studio because a package tour fell through. So, we decided to gather eggs together and see what we wanted to do.

“We were pretty pissed about the tour cancellation. So, we got a new manager and a better booking agent. With our old booker, we had been doing weird gigs like metal bars in the middle of nowhere.

“So, we started forming a team with a new booker. We had to decide how to put the album out. Our previous two albums had done nothing because of poor promotion.

“So, we went and did a Pledge Music drive. It was more successful that we expected and hit double the goal. We went to a publicist and paid him. It’s going great – I’m talking to you.

“We’ve also been getting songs on the radio and people have been responding. It’s all been good enough to get people in front of us when we play.

“The music industry has changed drastically. We’re finally getting a handle on it. The new album is out and selling well and we’ve already done a few videos for us. Things are good again.”

Video link for Fastball – https://youtu.be/2nv7TRGp5gk.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall, which has Rad & Kell as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Other upcoming shows at Ardmore are Donavon Frankenreiter with special guest Matt Grundy on August 4, Freeway & Friends on August 5, Jeff Washington Band with Swamp Ash on August 6 and Junior Brown with special guest Transistor Rodeo on August 9.

Shemekia Copeland

Several new things – very good things – have happened in Shemekia Copeland’s life since the celebrated blues vocalist played the area last summer.

In December, she gave birth to a son – Johnny Lee Copeland. Earlier this week, she Living Blues magazine announced the winners for the 2017 Living Blues Critics’ and Readers’ Awards and Copeland was named Blues Artist of The Year (Female).

“This is the second year in a row that I’ve won that award,” said Copeland, during a phone interview Tuesday from her home in Chicago.

“I’m blessed to be able to have a job that doesn’t feel like a job – just something I love to do. The Critics’ and Readers’ Choice Award is important because the people chose me – especially because I haven’t been out there touring so much. I’m grateful for it.”

Copeland, who is headlining a show on August 3 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com), curtailed her touring schedule a little because of her pregnancy.

“I cut back on my shows but I was still doing gigs up to six days before he came,” said Copeland. “I had a show on December 18 and Johnny Lee was born on Christmas Eve.

“He’s amazing. He’s seven months old and he just started to crawl. Now, we need to child-proof everything.”

Copeland has been touring in support of her most recent album “Outskirts of Love,” which was released in September 2015 on Alligator Records. Her previous album was “33 1/3” in 2012.

“I feel like I’ve had this album made forever,” said Copeland. “I started making it two years ago. We did it in pieces. I like working on it, stopping and reflecting and then going back.

“It was recorded at two studios — Southern Ground and Sound Emporium. I used the same producer at both — Oliver Wood. He’s a genius. I love working with him. Oliver makes the calls and he’s usually right. I trust him to make the right decision.

“The album is doing well. The music has been received very well — especially in Europe. I’ve been going to Europe for years. I don’t have a huge presence there — but it’s getting better.

“I played some shows in Europe last March. France, Norway and Switzerland have been good countries for me and my music. We’re foreigners there. We come across the ocean to perform for them and they’re very appreciative.”

Copeland was born in Harlem, New York on April 10, 1979, and came to her singing career naturally. Her bluesman father (the late Johnny Clyde Copeland) recognized his daughter’s talent early on.

He always encouraged her to sing at home and even brought her on stage to sing at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club when she was just eight. At that time Copeland’s embarrassment outweighed her desire to sing.

But when she was 15, and her father’s health began to slow him down, she received the calling. At 16, Copeland joined her father on his tours after he was diagnosed with a degenerative heart condition. Soon enough Copeland was opening, and sometimes even stealing her father’s shows.

Copeland stepped out of her father’s shadow in 1998 with her groundbreaking debut CD “Turn The Heat Up,” which was recorded when she was only 18.  Since then, she has recorded seven more albums — including “Outskirts of Love.”

“With the new album, the choice of songs took forever,” said Copeland. “Songs are so important. If you’re putting something out in the universe, you have to do it right.

“I only pick the amount of songs that are going to be on the record. If I pick it, then it’s going to be on the record. I look at what I want the record to say.

“On my last three albums, I’ve started doing some songs that are a little more political— topics like religious hypocrisy and domestic abuse.

“On this tour, I’m doing a lot of songs from the new album. And, I’m doing songs from all my previous albums. But, I’m not doing any covers. I have enough of my own to draw from.”

Copeland plans on working the new album for a while.

“I’ve not gone back in the studio at all since I made the new record,” said Copeland. “I’m not a serial recorder.

“What I put out in the universe is really important to me. When I make an album, I want to have something to say. People who make an album every year usually have nothing to say.

“I already have a big repertoire of songs to draw from for my live shows. And, I have a great band that’s been with me a long time.

“Our guitarist Arthur Nielsen is in his 18th year. Our bassist Kevin Jenkins is in his 12th year and guitarist Willie Scanlon is in his seventh year. Our drummer Robin Gould is the new guy at three years.”

Video link for Shemekia Copeland — https://youtu.be/q5b7Rj6nV94

The show at Sellersville, which has Bex Marshall as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 and $45.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) are Craig Thatcher Band Pays Tribute To Jimi Hendrix on August 4, Trespass (Genesis Tribute) on August 5, Socks In The Frying Pan on August 6, Poor Man’s Whiskey on August 8 and Blaze Bayley (of Iron Maiden) and Psychoprism on August 9.

When West Coast surfing sites are mentioned, most people think of areas like Zuma, Venice or Malibu.

Current Swell

Current Swell, which is headlining a show at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com) on August 3, took its name from a surfing term.

The band members are associated with the surfing and skate park scene in their hometown along the Pacific Ocean. But, it’s not a California beach town, it’s Victoria in British Columbia Canada.

Current Swell, which features Scott Stanton, Dave Lang, Ghosty Boy, and Chris Petersen, is a Canadian indie rock band that has released six albums – “So I Say,” “Trust Us Now,” “Protect Your Own,” “Long Time Ago,” “Ulysses,” and “When to Talk and When to Listen.”

Current Swell’s third Nettwerk Records release, “When To Talk And When To Listen,” has allowed the band to make more of an inroad in America – a daunting task for most Canadian acts – and a tour that stretches from Vermont to Texas to Minnesota.

“We just started a new leg of the tour today,” said Land, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Burlington, Vermont.

“We’ve toured in the states a handful of times. We’ll do the West Coast once a year. Getting off the coast and inland is a rare occurrence. A few years ago, we did the East Coast and Midwest so it’s good to be back.”

“We’re coming at it from a much smaller scene. In Vancouver, we can draw over 1,000 fans to a show. In Seattle, 250 is a good number.

“Making the new album, we worked with an American producer and looked at the American scene. We used Jacquire King as our producer.”
Grammy-winning producer Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Tom Waits, Norah Jones, Cold War Kids, Of Monsters and Men, James Bay) produced the album over four weeks in two vastly different locales — Nashville and Vancouver.

Nashville is where King lives and does most of his studio work. Vancouver is a ferry ride away from where Current Swell makes its home. Both cities have music at their core.

“We made a list of four producers we’d like to work with,” said Lang. “We put out feelers to all these people and sent them demos. Jacquire wrote back the next day and said he liked the demos. So, we sent him songs.

“He’s a Grammy Award winner and has worked with huge bands. We went to Nashville and worked with him – and we invited him and his team to come to Vancouver. We spent two weeks at Blackbird Studio and two weeks in Vancouver at the Warehouse Studio.”

During the first night at Nashville’s famed Blackbird Studios, King cut short the sessions and told the band to come back when they had something worthwhile to say. Current Swell was talking loud and saying nothing.

A blunt, band-only meeting quickly cured what ailed the band.

They went back to their first-ever phone call with King months earlier, when they discovered he had an extensive list of questions and ideas for each song. The four friends returned the following day ready to create.

“Jacquire’s production made our music more rock-focused, more pop-focused and to have good choruses,” said Lang. “He brought out the rock edge. That’s what he’s known for.

“He told us that what we do here could change the course of our lives. He told us that we really needed to focus. It was good to have someone caring about the music. He pushed us to another level.”

Video link for Current Swell – https://youtu.be/PJ9UnScTQI8.

The show at Boot & Saddle, which has La Capitaña as the opening act, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Delaware is also a good destination this weekend for music fans — especially music fans who love the blues.

This weekend, it’s time once again for the annual Riverfront Blues Festival which is being held August 4-6 at Tubman-Garrett Waterfront Park (Water and South French streets, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-576-2139, http://riverfrontbluesfestde.com).

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials

As always, at least one of the headline acts is an Alligator Records recording artist. This year, it’s Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, who are performing on August 4.

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.

His 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.”

Video link for Li’l Ed & The Blues Imperials — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fU4aw907pT4&list=PL9A2DC920F3A6D813.

Li’l Ed & The Blues Imperials will perform on August 4. Tickets are $35 each day or $90 for a festival three-day pass.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present “Taller – Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Black Crowes album Southern Harmony and the Musical Companion” along with Hannah Taylor & the Rekardo Lee Trio on August 4, “Crowded Streets – A Tribute to Dave Matthews Band” on August 5 and “Open Mic with guest host Bill Currier” on August 6.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will have Frank DiMino with Mantis and Dog Tag Money on August 4 and Snowed-In with The Climaxers on August 5.

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