On Stage: Yamagata celebrates new album

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times

Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata

When Rachael Yamagata performs on September 23 at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com), there will be many reasons for celebrations.

Fans at the venue can raise a toast to celebrate the birthdays of a trio of music luminaries – John Coltrane, Ray Charles and Bruce Springsteen. They can also toast Yamagata’s birthday on September 23. And, they can celebrate the official release date of her new album “Tightrope Walker.”

“Things have been really crazy lately,” said Yamagata, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from her home in Woodstock, New York. “We just made three music videos. And, we’ve been rehearsing for this tour with a totally new lineup except for one person.

“I have Michael Travis on guitar and he’s been with me for a long time. The new band members are Adam Popick on drums, John Alagia on guitar and piano, Ann Williamson on keyboards and Brandon Walters on bass.

“I’m also finishing m Pledge campaign so I’ve been shipping off a lot of things. It’s great. I actually have physical copies of the CD – and vinyl – in my hands. And, I’m going to have a CD release party on my birthday at Union Transfer. I love that venue. It has a great sound.”

“Tightrope Walker” was a long time in the making.

“I’m releasing it my own,” said Yamagata. “It was mostly recorded at my home in Woodstock, New York and we did some at Village Recorders. A lot of it was done in an organic set-up in my living room or outside. I live on 12 acres with a lot of nature that is conducive to being creative.

“I worked in a really comfortable environment. I recorded a lot at home — whenever I felt the inspiration. There were a lot of advantages in doing it at home. Unlike in a recording studio, you don’t have to look up at a clock. I wanted complete freedom without pressure from a studio.

“I have a complete studio set up in my home and my boyfriend is a recording engineer. This is the first record where I took on more of a producer role. I did a lot of trial-and-error with the arrangements and musicians. Producing it myself, I was able to work on instincts.

“Some of the production ideas I used are ones I wouldn’t have arrived at with another person adding input. I didn’t have to record songs in parts. I worked hard on 15 songs doing a lot of revisions, re-recording and re-tracking — revising them until they felt really interesting to me. I used banjos, mandolins, sax and drums. I even sampled patterns of rain on a stool.”

The new album is organic — and diverse.

“The songs are all very different,” said Yamagata. “It’s like a new sound for me. They are very big and there are edgy, angular arrangements. It’s not as traditional as some of my earlier albums –it’s riskier. It’s more of a positive record.”

Gripped by the indecisive nature of true Librans, Yamagata weighs all decisions heavily — especially when it comes to making her music.

“It took awhile to get the final version of the songs on the new album,” said Yamagata. “It was so close. It’s like — get it finished already. Even with the tracking, I was making changes right up to the end. At one point, I had to let go. It can be painful.

“The theme of ‘Tightrope Walker’ — I loved the idea of perseverance and of taking risks…of pursuing what you love no matter what. It’s about the relentless pursuit of your passion and not giving up. It’s more empowering than anything I’ve done before. Metaphorically, it aligned with my career.”

Video link for Rachel Yamagata – https://youtu.be/YmyWJy2_Hao.

Chris Smither

Chris Smither

The show at Union Transfer, which has Pressing Strings as the opener, will start at 8:30 p.m. Other upcoming shows at the venue are Lush and Tamaryn on September 22, The Growlers on September 27 and Billy Bragg and Joe Henry on September 28.

If you’re a fan of acoustic music, great songwriting or inventive guitar work, you definitely need to listen to Chris Smither. And, you need to see him perform live.

If you’re a fan and have never seen him perform onstage, it’s not because you haven’t had a lot of opportunities. Smither, one of America’s premier singer-songwriters, released his first album “I’m a Stranger Too!” in 1970.

“It’s hard to believe I’ve been making music all these years — but it’s what I do,” said Smither, during a phone interview Tuesday from a golf course near his home in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Smither will return to this area for a show on September 24 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

“I’m still doing a fair amount of live shows.” said Smither. “I have a few this weekend. I’m going back to Sellersville for another show and then going down to play at Mountain Stage. October is busy. I have 10 shows in California and a few shows on the way back. I still do a bout 100 shows a year. I used to do 200.”

Smither celebrated his 50th year of music-making in 2014 by releasing a two-CD retrospective titled “Sill on the Levee” on the Signature Sounds label.

“With ‘Still on the Levee,’ it just got to the point that I was coming up on 50 years and decided to do something special,” said Smither. “It was the idea of my producer and manager to pick representative songs and re-record them – and to go back to New Orleans where I started.”

The New Orleans native reconnected with his roots when he recorded the double-album at New Orleans’ Music Shed with longtime producer David Goodrich. He also released a book titled “Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012.”

“About three years ago, I was doing a tour with the core musicians on the album and my manager said — we should do every song you ever recorded with this band,” said Smither. “There were all these milestones last year — 50 years of songwriting and my 70th birthday. It just came together.

“I had to re-learn quite a few of the songs. It was interesting. I found that I hadn’t painted myself into a corner. Philosophically, there wasn’t anything I regretted. But, on some of the recordings, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing on guitar when I made the original.

“It’s more interesting to hear them now. When I made the new album, half of the songs were changed a little and half were pretty close to the original. There were no major mutations even though the production methods have changed considerably.”

Smither’s sophomore album “Don’t Drag It On” came out in 1971. He didn’t get into releasing albums regularly again until 1991.

“In the mid-80s, I quit drinking and got healthy again,” said Smither. “I was lucky. I’m one of the survivors. I was in pretty bad shape — but nothing irreversible. Quitting was enough to get me back to good health.

“When I was drinking, I stopped doing music full-time. I only did occasional gigs. I was keeping ends together doing carpentry and construction work. One day, this woman I knew asked me — what do you do? I said — I’m a carp …  and that was all I could say.

“It was right then that I realized that I’m a musician — that’s what I do. I started getting back into music. It was sort of serendipitous — opportunity meeting the prepared. I ran into people who were interested in representing me. It didn’t take that long to get back. The first year or two — it was a lot of work.

“But, I still had a reputation for being a pretty good singer and guitar player. The first album that came out then was ‘It Ain’t Easy.’ Actually, I recorded it when I was still drunk. We just wanted to put something out. After that, I started to work steadily. I put out ‘Another Way to Find You’ in 1991 and ‘Happier Blue’ in 1993. ‘Happier Blue’ did really well.”

Smither has released 10 albums since “Happier Blue.”

“I put a new album out about every three years,” said Smither. “There is a fine line between too much and too little. I work best under deadline. Right now, with the new album and the book, there is no pressure. I’m not going to do another record until I feel like it.”

Even though it might be two years or more until Smither’s next album, he is staying busy — and not just with live gigs.

“I’m starting to write new songs,” said Smither. “I’m scheduled to go into the studio next June. It takes me a long time to write.

“Mostly, my songs start with guitar parts. I work around and get a progression. Once I get a harmonic rhythm, then I work on the melody. Usually, the lyrics grow organically out of the music.”

Video link for Chris Smither – https://youtu.be/THQO-JljMnA.

The show at Sellersville, which features Milton as the opening act, wilkl start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 and $45.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Johnny A. and Greg Sover on September 22, Sonny Landreth and Cindy Cashdollar on September 23, Herman’s Hermits and Smash Palace on September 25, Wishbone Ash on September 27 and Richie Furay on September 28.

Kid Runner

Kid Runner

Not all the excitement this fall in Columbus, Ohio is being generated by Ohio State University’s powerhouse football team. There is also a band called Kid Runner that is starting to gain national attention with the release of its new EP “Body Language” and the accompanying national tour.

That tour brings the Kid Runner – Frances Litterski, Drew Lizon, Scott Griffin, Kurt Keaner, Bobby Heigel – to the area on September 24 for a show at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com).

“We all met at Capital University in Columbus in 2011,” said keyboardist Litterski, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon as the band traveled from Columbus to Detroit for the tour’s opening gig,

“We were all music majors. Kurt and I had played together a little bit. Then, we met our vocalist Drew at a Wombats’ show in Columbus in fall 2011. We didn’t really start jamming together until February or March when we found our drummer. Our first show was in fall 2012.

“We recorded our first EP that summer because we wanted to have a record out to sell at our shows. It was a self-titled EP that came out as ‘Runners.’ That was our original name. Then, we found out that there was a Swedish metal band that already had the name. So, we officially became Kid Runner in January 2013.”

Soon after, Kid Runner released the single “Move”, which landed them on an X-Games commercial that same year. The band’s follow-up EP “Wake Up Now” was released in November 2014 and it landed them spots on Bunbury Music Festival, Midpoint Music Festival, and CMJ 2015

“We put out the ‘Move’ single and that was a big jump because it was placed in an X-Games commercial,” said Litterski. “We also did an entrance anthem for the Columbus Crewe pro soccer team earlier this year.

“Most of our recording is done at our home studio. We use Logic and employ a lot of electronics. We usually say we’re an alternative pop band but it’s actually a kind of weird mix of genres. We even have a biut of hip hop in our music.

“We are very collaborative with our songwriting. Someone will bring in an idea and we’ll build off that. We’ve been releasing EPs and singles but no album yet. We just want to keep working on getting our music out there.

“We don’t want to take out a huge chunk of time to make an album right now. It’s not the right time to do that now. This show will be our first time to play Philadelphia so we’re really excited about that.”

Video link for Kid Runner – https://youtu.be/UaiBP67i2hU

The show at MilkBoy, which has Step Rockets as the opener, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Other upcoming shows at MilkBoy are Royal Teeth on September 23, The Toasters on September 27 and Andy Frasco & the U.N. on September 28.



One of the country’s premier dance companies will be on display on September 23 when Philadanco performs at Bryn Mawr College’s McPherson Auditorium in Goodhart Hall (150 North Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, 610- 526-5000, http://www.brynmawr.edu/arts/series.html).

Philadanco’s virtuosic, versatile, and blazingly energetic dancers return to Bryn Mawr for a program of four works including Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s rhythmic “Hand Singing Song” and the company’s most beloved dance, “Enemy Behind the Gates” by Christopher Huggins. Rounding out the program are David Brown’s “Labess” with music by the Afro-Euro a capella women’s vocal ensemble Zap Mama, and Francisco Gella’s”Between the Lines.”

Philadanco is celebrated for continued innovation, creativity, and its strong advocacy of African-American artistry. A Philadelphia cultural treasure for more than 46 years, the company continues its legacy of breaking barriers and building bridges across cultural divides.

Video link for Philadanco – https://youtu.be/ZiUtA6Ot9-U.

The show at Bryn Mawr College will get underway at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors over 65, $10 for students with ID and $5 for children under 12.



Dayshell, a metal band from Southern California, is getting its second wind.The trio released its self-titled debut in 2013 and quickly amassed a devout fan base through tireless touring alongside heavy hitters such as Chevelle and Middle Class Rut.

Now, Dayshell – Shayley “Dayshell” Bourget (vocals, guitar), Jordan Wooley (bass), and Zack Baker (drums) – is taking it to a new level with the release of its sophomore album “Nexus.”

The hard-rocking threesome will visit the area on September 25 for a show at the Voltage Lounge (427 North Seventh Street, Philadelphia, 215-494-7386, voltagelounge.com).

“It’s just the three of us and it sounds pretty tight,” said Bourget, during a phone interview Tuesday from a tour stop in Columbus, Ohio.

“Me and Jordan were born in Lake Elsinore, California. It’s a pretty dead-end place. Take away the lake and there is just Elsinoreans. Now, me and Jordan are living in Menafee, California. Zack is from Los Angeles and he still lives there.

“With the new album, some of the songs are old riff ideas. I started writing pretty soon after the release of ‘Dayshell.’ So, ‘Nexus’ is the result of two years of writing and other ideas I resurrected. We had 40 ideas heading into the studio.

“We recorded the album in L.A. with producer Erik Ron. He’s a good dude and he understood what we were looking for. We were in for tracking for four weeks ands we actually finished on time. There wasn’t much per-production. The songs were 80 per cent done before we went in. We did pre-pro for two days and started tracking on the third day.”

“Nexus” was the band’s first for Spinefarm Records and has an official release date of October 7.

According to Bourget, “The album has a raw, fiery tone to it, which I was searching for all along. What sets this apart is the rawness, the speed, the energy, and the diversity. This is what the band was always meant to be.”

When it came time to begin writing for what would become “Nexus,” Bouget focused on raising the bar both musically and lyrically. Galvanized by the likes of Animals As Leaders and Periphery as well as longtime inspirations Deftones and Incubus, he struck an elusive balance between modern tech metal grooves and hypnotic, heartfelt vocals.

“Going into ‘Nexus,’ I really started to get down with Djent metal,” said Bouget. “There is definitely a djent influence with the technique on my picking hand. I started to be articulate with my picking. It’s not shredding, but the rhythmic patterns are more technical.

“Getting a new drummer really helped us. I found Zack on Twitter after he posted a Dayshell cover. On this album, we found a niche. This is the album that is determining what our sound wants to be. This is Dayshell 2.0.”

Video link for Dayshell – https://youtu.be/000QuH3LVVE.

The show at Voltage Lounge, which also features I The Mighty, Artifex Pereo and Picturesque, will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

bumpin-ugliesBumpin’ Uglies – Brandon Hardesty, Vocals, Guitar; Dave Wolf, Vocals, Bass; TJ Haslett, Drums – have just released their third album and now are touring in support of the new disc. The tour brings them to Philadelphia on September 25 for a show at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

The group was formed by lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Brandon Hardesty in 2008, when he set out to create a sound and an approach that was unique and immediately identifiable. The band incorporates many styles into its music, with a major emphasis on ska, reggae and punk.

“I met Wolfie eight years ago when I put the band together,” said Hardesty, during a phone interview Tuesday as the band traveled from a tour stop in St. Augustine, Florida to a show in Charleston, South Carolina. “We both were playing at open mics at Whiskey, a club in Annapolis.

“I was up there doing my thing and Wolfie was in a Southern Rock and called Cheaters. Years later, we met TJ. He was in a Philly band called the Mahlors. He got on board in April 2015. We had been going through a Spinal tap thing with drummers. We’d get a drummer and he’d last one year to the day. TJ is our fourth drummer.”

With two full-length LP’s, a live show LP and two EP’s under their belt, Bumpin’ Uglies prolific studio work is the product of continuous song writing and a desire to keep putting out fresh material for their ever-growing fan base.

They achieved national recognition with the release of their 2011 LP “Free Candy”, and they have continued to gain momentum with each subsequent release, including “Load in-Load Out” (live show LP)”Ninjah Reggae Assassins” (LP released in 2013 which reached #1 on iTunes Reggae chart), and EP’s “Freak Out Hell Bus” and “Sublime with No One”, both released in 2015.

“The music definitely has changed,” said Hardesty. “The whole thing has been a learning experience. It started off as reggae-rock and then we got into teo-tine ska. More recently, we’ve gotten into dub-reggae and punk.

“I’d like to think the songwriting has progressed. I’ve always dug the genre of ska-punk-reggae – bands like Reel Big Fish, Rancid and Sublime. I’ve also always been influenced by songwriters such as Johnny Cash, Neil Young and the Avett Brothers.”

The band now is touring in support of its new album “Keep It Together,” which came out on September 9 on Right Coast Records.

“I had been working on songs for ‘Keep It Together’ for five years,” said Hardesty. “We started recording it in fall of 2014 with our previous drummer. When we changed drummers, we had to re-do all the drums and some of the bass lines.

“We finished the album in February 2016. It was our first time working with Right Coast. So, we sta on it and waited for a proper release. They wanted to schedule its release aorund our tour this fall with Ballyhoo, who are on the same label.”

Video link for Bumpin’ Uglies – https://youtu.be/-U_DxSLUBq8.

The show at the World Cafe Live, which also features Zach Deputy and Ballyhoo, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Terry Bozzio on September 22, Spokey Speaky on September 23, Jon McLaughlin on September 24, Kula Shaker on September 27 and Sara Watkins on September 28.

Luke Winslow King

Luke Winslow King

On the same night, singer-songwriter Luke Winslow-King will be performing on the Upstairs Stage at the World Cafe Live.

Luke Winslow-King is a guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, and lyricist based out of New Orleans,who plays vintage blues and jazz and is known for his slide guitar work.

It is no secret that Winslow-King is a student of the arts and an ambassador for New Orleans’s rich and colorful culture. As a teen he attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts near his hometown of Cadillac, Michigan. Later he studied music theory at New Orleans University and eventually received a scholarship to study music abroad in Prague, Czech Republic.

Following a chance to move to New Orleans after becoming stranded when his tour van was ransacked, Winslow-King’s education continued as he was schooled on the job from frequent, skin-thickening gigs on Royal Street, club performances at various spots along Frenchmen, and pick-up/recording sessions with local standouts.

In 2012, Winslow-King signed with Bloodshot Records. Earlier this year, he released his fifth album “I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always” – his fifth album and third for Bloodshot Records. On thew disc, the singer draws from a deep, dark creative well turning heartbreak and divorce into an inspired soundtrack for picking up the pieces.

Electric and sentimentally raw, the album is part sonic travelogue, part handbook on navigating the stages of grief. It pulses through his geographical stomping grounds.

It begins with the pre-war jive of New Orleans, travelling the bloodlines that flow along the Mississippi River toward the Delta bottleneck-slide, and the funky meter of Memphis R&B. Further north, it takes a right for an infusion of greasy Chicago blues, and arrives at the headwaters of his birthplace in rural Michigan for some tell-‘em-like-it-is confessionals.

The album was written and recorded while Luke and his band were on a 2015 summer tour in Italy (and later finished in New Orleans’s Parlor Studios, mixed by Colin DuPuis, engineer for the Black Keys).

“I tour with a four-piece band – guitar, bass, drums and me on guitar,” said Winslow-King,” during a phone interview last week as he traveled between gigs in Ohio and Michigan. “I’ve been playing with these giuys for years – all of them. It’s an amalgam of musicians from New Orleans and Michigan.

“I’ve toured in Italy a number of times over the last few years. For me, it’s a third home after New Orleans and Michigan. People in Europe are really knowledgeable about American roots music. They have a culture of supporting the arts.

“All the songs on the new album were written between December 2014 and May 2015. I performed them in May and June and recorded them in July. We like to play the songs live before we record them to see how audiences respond to them.”

Through nine songs, Winslow-King stylistically nods to a blend of contemporaries and influences like Gary Clark Jr., Bonnie Raitt, and Ry Cooder while maintaining a unique, coherent voice.

There are moments of suffering, anger and indignation, and resignation. It all bottoms out with the shimmering heat of the Delta thrum in the title track.

“Our new show is more electric,” said Winslow-King. “We’re playing a lot form the new album and one or two songs from ea ch of my previous albums. It’s pretty well-balanced. The music features a lot of different styles. But, as long as it’s me, I feel comfortable doing it.”

Video link for Luke Winslow-King – https://youtu.be/H3ywaYUiBn8

The show on the Upstairs Stage, which also features Brian Dunne, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $132.



Fans of the New York-based band Drowners waited almost three years for the band to release its sophomore album.

The wait ended this summer.

The band’s second release, “On Desire,” which was recorded and mixed by Claudius Mittendorfer (Interpol, Johnny Marr, Neon Indian), was released on June 24 via Frenchkiss Records.

The fans will have an opportunity to hear the tracks from “On Desire” when Drowners  — Matt Hitt, Jack Ridley, Erik Snyder, Daniel Jacobs — visit the area for a show on September 26 at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-739-9684, www.johnnybrendas.com).

“We’ve only played the new songs live a couple times,” said Hitt, during a recent phone interview. “We’ll have 70 per cent from the new album and we’re playing three old ones. That will make these shows exciting.

“And, we added a synth player to our live show. We brought in an extra pair of hands. Our previous shows were more punk and thrash. It’s still there but now our sound is thicker.”

Hitt grew up near Cardiff, Wales and went to college in Cardiff. Then, he decided to cross the Atlantic and relocate to the United States.

“We got together three years ago when I moved to New York from Wales,” said Hitt. “At that time, I was experiencing a male model career.

“I learned guitar when I was 12. I saw the Monkees on television and I wanted to be Mike Nesmith. I played guitar in local bands when I was younger. The first record Drowners made has the first songs I wrote. I had been writing for about five years.

“When I’m writing, it’s often that I come up with lyrics and melody and then write out chords behind. It’s pretty difficult but it’s also my favorite part. It’s like putting puzzle pieces together musically.”

Drowners released its self-titled debut album in January 2014.

“We finished touring our first album and then spent all of last year writing the new one,” said Hitt. “We took a few breaks because we had gigs already booked. We tracked all of the drums and bass live. We tracked it all as a band and then re-recorded the guitar and other stuff.

“The first album was my first foray. I was writing songs to facilitate playing live. Through touring, we learned what works and what doesn’t work with songs. The new album was more of a collaborative effort.

“Our music tastes had changed. Common influences for the members of the band are British post-punk like Joy Division, 80s British rock and melancholic pop music like Roy Orbison.”

According to Hitt, ““The first record was written as though we were walking the crowded streets whereas this one is more like we’re observing it from a high window at night.”

Video link for Drowners — https://youtu.be/VuFYXj5k8ug.

The show at Johnny Brenda’s, which has Sad Actor as the opening act, will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Other upcoming shows at Johnny Brenda’s are Portland Cello Project on September 22, Sean Hayes on September 23, Bilal on September 24, Pylon Reenactment Society on September 25, and Beaty Heart on September 27.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Johnny A. on September 23 and Leigh Nash on September 25.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Amy Fairchild and Cliff Hillis on September 23, and Anna Spackman and Street Geek on September 24.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will present OsO, Brian Medlin, Self Help Me, Chris Newhard, and Kevin Cox on September 24.

Doc Watson’s Public House (150 North Pottstown Pike, Exton, 610-524-2424, docwatsonspublichouse.com) will have Southernedge on September 23 and Chatterband on September 24.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present Ross Bellenoit, Dylan Jane, and John Malline on September 22, Matt Duke and Haley Slagel on September 23, and Project Ico on September 24.

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