Ann Wilson is one of the premier hard-rock vocalists of all time. Smashing boundaries with longstanding Seattle outfit Heart, she’s enjoyed a decades-long career resulting in more than 35 million albums sold and an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Wilson recorded much of her new solo album, Fierce Bliss, at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, and enlisted the company of a trio of guitar powerhouses for good measure: co-producer Tom Bukovac, Warren Haynes and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Haynes, who last worked with Wilson on her Immortal solo release, returns for Fierce Bliss, bringing along Gov’t Mule for a pair of original songs: Gladiator and Angel’s Blues.
Shepherd accompanies Wilson on two covers: a monstrous version of the Robin Trower classic, Bridge of Sighs, and an ambitious take on the Eurythmics’ hit, Missionary Man, the latter of which has Wilson backed by a 40-person gospel choir.
An ethereal duet version of Queen classic Love of My Life with Vince Gill is also featured on the album, as well as fantasy art by Roger Dean, renowned for his work designing Yes’s sleeve artwork.
We spoke with Ann Wilson about Fierce Bliss, working with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes and her favorite memories of Heart.
Was it your desire to create a guitar-driven album?
“Yeah, that’s what I’m comfortable with and what speaks to me. I was blessed to get into the company of Tom Bukovac, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes. They’re great players who are also great humans. After we got vaccinated, we all put on masks and went to Muscle Shoals, where Tom had put together this band with Tony Lucido on bass and Sean Lane on drums.”
The band 10,000 Maniacs has covered a lot of ground during its 40 years together. From small niche market to international stardom, their current status is among the cornerstones of alternative music.
The band’s live show celebrates their musical legacy by embracing songs spanning its entire catalog and features a lineup still anchored by four of the six original members.
Viola player and backing vocalist Mary Ramsey began touring and recording with the Maniacs more than 30 years ago. She assumed the role of lead vocalist shortly after the departure of Natalie Merchant. Ramsey’s first album fronting the band was 1997′s Love Among The Ruins. The album featured the group’s ethereal take on the Roxy Music hit, “More Than This.”
The band will play will perform selections from their vast collection of hits at 7 p.m. April 26 at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe. Listeners can expect a few surprises during an intimate performance.
Fans can enjoy songs like the aforementioned “More Than This” as well as “These Are Days,” “My Mother The War,” “Rainy Day,” and “Because The Night,” the Patti Smith classic that became a monster hit for the band during its MTV Unplugged special.
10,000 Maniacs is Mary Ramsey (vocals, viola), Steven Gustafson (bass), Dennis Drew (keyboards), John Lombardo (guitar, vocals), Jeff Erickson (lead guitar) and Jerome Augustyniak (drums)
I recently spoke with vocalist/viola player Ramsey about the show and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the 10,000 Maniacs’ performance at SteelStacks?
Mary Ramsey: We have a variety of tunes from the Maniacs catalog over the years to choose from. We’ll be playing the hits as well as a few surprise covers. There’s a song John Lombardo will sing called “My Mother The War,” which goes way back. I have an electric five-string Zeta viola I play so we’ll do some Celtic tunes here and there as well. It’s an interesting blend of different sounds that work nicely together.
The band has been celebrating its 40th anniversary and you’ve been with them for more than 25 years. Can you give me some of the backstory on how you came to join the group?
I suppose it was all fate, John Lombardo had left the group for a while in the 80s and the two of us met and started a duo called John and Mary and were signed to Ryko Records. In 1990, 10,000 Maniacs released the Hope Chest CD. Some of John’s contributions to that CD were a few of the first songs the band had written, and they asked us to open for them. That was when Natalie [Merchant] asked if I’d like to sing background vocals and add strings to their set. That’s how I got on the MTV Unplugged performance. It was a thrill.
Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical, “Hairspray,” is on a 60-city U.S tour including two performances at Easton’s historic State Theatre on April 16.
The production is under the original guidance of director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
The show tells the story of 16-year-old Tracy Turnblad in 1960′s Baltimore as she sets out to dance her way onto TV’s most popular program and winds up changing the world. It features a score of hit songs, including “Welcome to the 60′s,” “Good Morning Baltimore,” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”
The touring version of “Hairspray” stars Andrew Levitt, who fans know as Nina West (from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), as Edna Turnblad. The ensemble cast also features Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad and Sandie Lee as Motormouth Maybelle.
I recently spoke with Metcalf about the show’s themes, big hair and more in this exclusive interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the upcoming performances of “Hairspray?”
Niki Metcalf: “Hairspray” is about a lot of things. There’s love, acceptance, dancing and singing as well as a lot of fun, laughs and joy. It’s got something for every kind of audience member. I play Tracy Turnblad. She’s a sixteen-year-old who has big dreams, a big heart and even bigger hair [laughs].
We start off the show with Tracy wanting to be on the Corny Collins show in 1960′s Baltimore. Then she meets a community of incredible people who teach her how to change the world for the better and stand up for what is right.
For more than five decades, the multiplatinum selling group America (featuring founding members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley), has been captivating audiences with their ubiquitous blend of acoustic-driven, harmony-rich sounds.
Some of their biggest hits, including “A Horse With No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” and “I Need You,” have gone on to become staples of classic rock radio.
Following their eponymous #1 debut album and winning Best New Artist at the 1973 Grammy awards, America went on to work with famed Beatles producer George Martin on a string of hugely successful albums. They’ve toured the world multiple times, performed the musical score for 1982′s “The Last Unicorn,” were inducted into the Vocal Hall of Fame in 2006, and received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.
Their most recent project is the 50th-anniversary box set, aptly titled, “Half Century,”
The group is currently back on tour, with a lineup that includes Richard Campbell (bass/vocals), Ryland Steen (drums/percussion) and Steve Fekete (guitars/keyboards/vocals). They’ll make a stop at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe 8 p.m. Saturday.
I recently spoke with Dewey Bunnell about the band’s longevity, songwriting and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: America recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Looking back now with all this perspective, what thoughts come to mind?
Dewey Bunnell: I don’t think anyone could have expected the kind of success we had in that first decade or how it’s lasted so long. We believed in ourselves and were expressing lyrically some themes and topics that were relevant to ourselves, our generation, and the times. Now we have multiple generations of fans who are still appreciating the music and showing it by coming to shows and listening to the music.
You and Gerry were teenagers when you wrote some of your early hits. How did the songs “A Horse With No Name” and “Ventura Highway” come about?
There’s really no hidden meaning behind “Horse …” It’s a travel log about finding oneself in an isolated place, like the desert. Growing up, our families were in the Air Force, so we traveled a lot as kids. I gravitated toward places like the wilderness, rivers, lakes, and the desert and was trying to capture that. There’s a lot of self-study and figuring out what you want to do with your life when you’re nineteen or twenty and right out of high school. It’s a song about introspection.
“Ventura Highway” was similar in that the lyric was about travel to some degree and about seeing the west coast for the first time. It was the ‘60s when my family lived there, which was a very impressionable time for me. At the time, the surf scene was blowing up; The Beach Boys, sun and surf, free wind blowing through your hair. All of that imagery was what I was trying to capture in that song.
Known for her catchy pop tunes with a tongue-in-cheek take on domestic life, singer-songwriter and actress Brooke Josephson is showin’ up for another round of infectiously honest and hook-laden material.
Josephson’s new EP, Showin’ Up, is the follow up to her acclaimed and female-empowered Sexy & Domesticated, and features introspective songs discussing the shifting energy and acceptance of who we are, the importance of the creative journey and making a difference, and the profoundness of lost relationship.
Self-produced by Josephson, Showin’ Up was mixed and mastered by Grammy winning engineer, Brendan Dekora (Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Anita Baker) and features musicians like guitarists Chris Nordlinger,Tim Pierce (Goo Goo Dolls, Crowded House, Phil Collins) and drummer Seth Rausch (Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow, Little Big Town). The EP also includes Josephson’s spin on the Bonnie Raitt classic, “Love Me Like A Man,” and features a radio single as well as an extended jam.
I recently spoke with Josephson about the new EP and more in this exclusive new interview.
How would you describe Showin’ Up in terms of its sound, and maybe how it relates to some of your previous work?
Josephson: I really leaned in with guitars on this one with Chris Nordlinger. When I think about the progression, both artistically and in my life, there’s been a lot of growth. This one definitely has more of a grounded, rock and roll sound.
What was the writing process like?
Josephson:I actually wrote all of the songs before the pandemic and was performing them live for about six months. It started with lyrics and then I put the music down in my home studio, gave it to my band, and the songs grew every time we played them live. Then we had our opening show at The Whisky in January of 2020 and everything came to a halt. I’ve been sitting with these songs for a bit, and they’ve taken on a whole new meaning from when they were first inspired.
Let’s discuss a few of the tracks, starting with “Rainbow.” What can you tell me about it?
Josephson: “Rainbow” was another one of those songs that was inspired by my daughter. I had picked her up from school one day and she seemed really upset. She put a smile on her face, but I could tell she wasn’t ok. It wasn’t until bedtime that she started crying and said that one of her closest friends had told her to find new friends. It was heartbreaking. So I told her the story of my brother who had a similar issue growing up. Then I remembered that Harry Chapin song, “Flowers Are Red,” and about owning your own color and what makes us special and unique. When she went to sleep I went in and started writing. I wrote it from that perspective and originally planned to release it in 2020. But then the George Floyd trial and Black Lives Matter happened. It was a dark time but there’s been a shift of energy, so when the single finally come out people were ready for something cathartic and bright. It’s a mindful awareness of the differences between us and the humanity that bonds us.
Josephson: I was at a songwriting conference and one of the inspirations was for us to think about writing a song to open our shows with. I thought about what makes doing a live show or going to a show so special, and it’s really all in the power of showin’ up. Not just the audience coming to be present but also as an artist. From the time you pick up your instrument for the first time or start wiring. Having to show up for yourself even when no one else is watching. It leads to the moment when everyone can come together. It’s another song that took on new meaning when I watched the heroes of the pandemic and the essential workers showing up to save lives while we were all stuck at home. It went from a performer’s point of view to something much bigger.
Josephson: That was inspired after my parents divorced after thirty-five years of marriage. Even though I was an adult, it affected me profoundly. My brother and a few close friends also went through divorces well. It’s a song about change but still wanting to hold on to what was. It was my way of writing a song for them.
What made you decide to do a cover of “Love Me Like A Man?”
Josephson: I’ve always been a fan of Bonnie Raitt. That song has so much grit and I’ve always performed it live. In my head I started hearing it with a different rhythm, sort of like the Nine Inch Nails song, “Closer.” We were having so much fun with it in the studio that I just let it keep running. That’s why there’s a radio version and an extended version on the EP. It wasn’t ego driven, we were all just in the groove.
Are there any other projects you’re currently working on right now?
Josephson: In addition to being a mom I’ve been booking things around music and live shows, including acting opportunities that have been popping up. I’ll be in New York in March to film a thriller that centers around the murder of my character. I’ve also been doing the voice of a fairy in a Disney feature that I’ve recently recorded.
Was there something you learned about yourself during lockdown, or a philosophy you’ve taken away from not being able to do the things you normally would?
Josephson: I’ve really had to recognize my struggle with perfectionism, and I didn’t realize how hard I was on myself. I like being productive but also had to be sensitive with two kids taking school on Zoom and my husband, who was also working from home. I’ve been leaning into self-compassions and, in doing so, I have more compassion for others. That was a big takeaway for me.
Now that we’re starting to slowly come out of the pandemic what are you most looking forward to about the future?
Josephson:Collaborating. I still remember when I walked on set for the “Rainbow” music video and saw my band for the first time I was laughing and crying. We were all together making music in the same room again. I’d love to work with other artists, whether it’s writing with them or having other songwriters who are looking for an artist to record their song. I’m really looking forward to collaborating and just being with people.
For three decades, electronic pioneer Howard Jones has been a regular presence on the international touring scene. He’s been performing his arsenal of hits and fan favorites, like “No One Is To Blame,” “New Song,” “Hide & Seek,” and “Things Can Only Get Better” in various band configurations, including his high-tech electronic setup.
But perhaps there is no better way to appreciate the foundational impact of Jones’ music than when it’s stripped down to its barest of bones. Jones will do just that when he brings his acclaimed Acoustic Trio Tour to The Sellersville Theater at 8 p.m. Feb. 20.
Joining Jones on stage that evening will be two of his longtime friends, Nick Beggs and Robin Boult, for an evening of musical fellowship.
Jones will certainly have no shortage of stories to tell. Since bursting onto the contemporary music scene in 1983, he’s sold more than 8 million albums. His monstrous 1985 album alone, Dream Into Action, went platinum in the US and featured four smash hits, including the aforementioned “No One Is To Blame” and “Things Can Only Get Better.”
A few of his other credits include performing solo at the piano at the Live Aid festival in 1985 and touring as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.
I recently spoke with Howard Jones about this and his upcoming performance in Sellersville.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your upcoming performance in Sellersville?
Howard Jones: We had been halfway through an original run of the trio tour when COVID struck. Everything was being canceled and we had to get home pretty quick. These dates are fulfilling the ones we didn’t get to do. It’s the trio tour with Nick Beggs on the bass end (he plays an instrument called the Chapman Stick and double bass), Robin Boult plays guitar and I’m on piano and vocals. Nick and Rob are two of my best friends in the world. Touring with them is a total pleasure and I hope that gets reflected in the music that we present. It’ll be the three of us enjoying ourselves on stage.
Being filled with emotion, I was having difficulty deciding what to say. I mean, how can you put into words the passing of a teacher who meant so much to you? So, what follows is the Facebook message I sent to Ed Milisits on November 10th, 2021. It was shortly after a group of about 75 singers, composed of several generations of students and friends, got together for a last minute flash mob in his back yard. It was our way of telling Ed how much we loved him.
For those who may not know, Ed Milisits played a huge role during my high school years. He was larger than life and, at times, almost felt like a celebrity to me. Blessed with perfect pitch and a love of choral music, Ed taught this fledgling rock guitarist the ins and outs of music theory and life lessons. Even though I’d find myself struggling, Ed was always there with encouragement or to answer any question. Often times we’d have deep conversations about the rules of part writing, and how that stuff didn’t jive with the music I wanted to play. But Ed said something that still sticks with me: “I know part-writing doesn’t line up with rock music, but you’ve got to first learn the rules before you learn how you can break them.”
I was fortunate to have connected with Ed again many years after high school was over. This was after he’d retired as a teacher and began conducting an adult choir which, to no one’s surprise, was comprised mostly of past students. My best memory of those days was requesting a piece for us to perform called “Os Justi.” It was one we’d done in choir my senior year and one that really resonated with me.
When I first made the suggestion to Ed, he said he’d put it up for consideration. Then, in the Spring of 2017, 30 years after last performing it, I received this message from Ed:
“Hey Jim…thought you’d be interested to know that Os Justi is ON THE WINTER PROGRAM LIST! We WIN…hahahahahahaha!”
I don’t normally share private email messages but this one seems fitting. It’s our last conversation, and Ed ended it with a heart/love emoji.
Godspeed, Ed. The best teacher / maestro I ever had. Save a spot for me in the bass section of the heavenly choir.
Hi Ed –
When they asked if I’d be interested in being part of a flash mob for you, I just couldn’t say no. You mean a lot to so many people, myself included. You may not know this but you played a big and important role during my formative years of high school. It took me a long time to “find myself,” but the choir and music theory classes meant everything to me.
Your teaching style and encouragement [“Talk to Me”] helped me to not only learn theory but also how to become a better person. Even the old lady smoke filled bingo nights we used to work for the concert choir were fun — ok, maybe that’s pushing it… lol.
You were the main reason I wanted to become a music teacher. I even remember you letting me shadow you one day while I was a student at West Chester. Sadly, I never wound up finishing college at all because I dropped out. Then last year, I finally decided to go back. I started taking classes at NCC and now have only one more class to take to obtain a degree in General Studies. It won’t do anything to help me get a better job but at least I can finally say I finished.
I’ve attached a photo from our choir trip to Ottawa back in 1987, one of the best times of my young life. I keep it in a large scrapbook along with programs and photos of my musical achievements and bands throughout the years. It’s my musical biography. Something very important to me all these years later, and it wouldn’t mean anything without you there.
I hope you enjoyed our little mini concert and wanted you to know that I think about you often and how much I love you.
Known for pioneering the classical-crossover music movement and for amassing an arsenal of album sales — including 40 million from The Phantom of The Opera soundtrack alone — Sarah Brightman has wowed audiences with her incredible three-octave vocal range and charismatic beauty.
Last year, while the world was in lockdown, Brightman put together and streamed her first-ever Christmas concert, “Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony.” The worldwide response was so overwhelming that this year she is bringing her Christmas Symphony Tour to America.
Perhaps there is no more fitting place for her to kick off her holiday tour than The Christmas City’s Wind Creek Event Center on Friday, November 26.
Accompanied by orchestra, choir and a dazzling light show, Brightman’s show will feature renditions of classics from the Christmas canon, holiday favorites, and a selection of her greatest hits.
I recently spoke with Brightman about her upcoming performance in Bethlehem and much more in this exclusive interview:
James Wood for The Morning Call: How did your seasonal Christmas Symphony show come about?
Brightman: When we were in lockdown last Christmas it was a fairly miserable time for everyone worldwide. I decided to stream a seasonal Christmas show for any fans who cared to watch and listen. So, I employed some musicians who needed the work and we put it all together. There was an overwhelming response which is why, when things started moving again, I decided to turn it into a proper seasonal show for the theater. It’s something I’ve never done before in America.
American alt-rock band Gin Blossoms first broke into the mainstream with their infectious 1992 album, New Miserable Experience. Songs from that album, which eventually went on to sell four million copies, included the jangle-pop and radio friendly “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away,” “Found Out About You,” and “Allison Road.” These cemented the band as one of the early 90s best-selling acts.
The band abruptly broke up in 1997 only to reform five years later and have continued to record and perform as many as 120 shows a year. Their 2010 release No Chocolate Cake shot up to #1 on Amazon and reached #14 on the Billboard Indie Chart. The band’s 2018 follow-up Mixed Reality, is reminiscent of the group’s earlier days. Vocalist Robin Wilson called it a companion to New Miserable Experience and an album the band would’ve wanted to make in 1990.
Fans of the Gin Blossoms — featuring Wilson, Jesse Valenzuela (vocals and guitar), Scott Johnson (guitar), Scott Hessel (drums), and Bill Leen (bass) — can relive the magic of the 90s when the group performs at SteelStacks’ Musikfest Café at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9.
I spoke with Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela about the band’s Bethlehem show and more in this exclusive new interview.
James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the Gin Blossoms upcoming performance in Bethlehem?
Jesse Valenzuela: We may have had a lot of time off and not touring as much as we used to but fans can expect to hear every song they want to hear. All of our hits will be represented. Then we’ll play some of the other material from our thirty-five years together. There’s a lot to choose from. It’s going to be a great time.
How did the band get started?
It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took some starts and stops before we actually became a band. We all had grown up in the same college town working in different bands. We all knew about each other and eventually just started playing together.
Emotional, ethereal, poignant, poetic. These words best describe singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb’s music.
From her platinum-selling #1 song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the “Reality Bites” soundtrack to her Grammy-winning children’s album Feel What U Feel, Loeb has a knack for writing songs that are as ubiquitous as they are vulnerable.
Loeb will bring her arsenal of music and storytelling to an intimate performance at The Sellersville Theater on Oct. 16.
In addition to performing her signature song, fans can expect to hear songs like “Do You Sleep,” “I Do” and “Let’s Forget About It.” Loeb will also be showcasing material from her most recent album, “A Simple Trick To Happiness.” Produced by her and writer/producer Rich Jacques, the album examines Loeb’s life as a mother, wife, artist, and businesswoman seeking to find a balance between personal fulfillment and purpose.
I recently spoke with Loeb about her upcoming performance at The Sellersville Theater and more.
James Wood for The Morning Call: As an artist, what’s it been like for you during the last eighteen months of the pandemic?
Lisa Loeb: It’s been a strangely creative time during the lockdown. I set up shop in my guest bedroom and was able to work on new songs and even start a new album. I also did a lot of livestreaming shows as well as events and fundraisers over Zoom. It was an interesting time getting to connect with fans from all over the world.
Have you performed at The Sellersville Theater before?
Many times. Joe Quigley, the bass player from my band, Nine Stories, has a brother who was one of the original owners when they started having live musical acts. We had a personal connection with the theater and have seen it grow over the years. As a singer-songwriter it’s a perfect theater. It’s intimate but formal at the same time. I love being able to go there and play.
What can fans expect from your performance?
I love to play songs that people want to hear. So, I’ll play songs like “Stay” and a handful of others that have been on the radio. I’ll definitely play songs from my new album, “A Simple Trick to Happiness,” because they’re new and seem to resonate during this time. I’ll also play songs from my entire career as well as requests and maybe even some songs from my children’s album. I also like to talk, so there will be a lot of stories.
How does the new album, “A Simple Trick to Happiness,” compare to some of your previous work?
For me, it’s a lot more personal. I wanted to write songs that people [when they hear them] can take with them throughout their day. There are songs about appreciating your life and respectfully walking away from situations that aren’t right. The title of the album is a little tongue-in-cheek. You can’t snap your fingers and find happiness but there are things you can keep in mind to make your life better.