Brooklyn Roads Newsletter

Joan Osborne
Joan Osborne's Brooklyn Muse: A Challenge Well Met
Blake Christiana
BACK IN THE DAY: Brooklyn Music Milestones
BACK IN THE DAY: Brooklyn Music Milestones
Brooklyn Voices

Volume 2, Issue 3
Editor- David K. Moseder
Copy Editor- Barbara Krinitz
Publisher- Howard B. Leibowitz

All music…. All Brooklyn !!

Celebrity Interviews! New Artist Profiles! Contests! Brooklyn Music Venue Picks!

Celebrating Brooklyn in Music

Justin VernonAs we approach the winter and move indoors, warm thoughts come to mind about this past summer’s outdoor music scene here in Brooklyn--now known in many circles as the new music capital of North America. From the sands of Coney Island to the shores of Sheepshead and Jamaica bays, and from the streets of East New York and Bed-Stuy to the parks of Fort Greene, Prospect and Brooklyn Bridge, there were festivals galore presenting music of every genre and for every taste -- and most if it was free.

BRIC Arts Media‘s Celebrate Brooklyn! cemented its place as one of Brooklyn’s premiere music and performing arts organizations, partnering with the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy to bring us dance parties with Maceo Parker and DJ Spinna, La Excelencia with DJ’s Uproot Andy and Geko Jones, and Red Baraat with DJ Rekha.

Dan ZanesThe bandshell in Prospect Park boasted stellar performances by a diverse array of well-known and up-and-coming artists. Two local acts--Animal Collective and Sufjan Stevens--each headlined one of the five benefit concerts, and the demand for Stevens’ show was so great they added a second night. The Decemberists were at the park in June, while Justin Vernon with Bon Iver and The Rosebuds cooled off the overflowing crowd on a hot August night. The benefit fronted by Australia’s Cut Copy gave a boost to local opening act Midnight Magic, just as shows starring Los Lobos, Ra Ra Riot and The Heavy shone a spotlight on Brooklynites Zigmat, Buke & Gass and Superhuman Happiness, respectively. Dan Zanes, Smif-N-Wessum and salsa pioneer Larry Harlow also did their borough proud.

Lou ReedAmong others who graced the Celebrate Brooklyn! stage were Andrew Bird, Courtyard Hounds, Justin Townes Earle, Roy Hargrove, Chuck Brown, Dr. John, Ledisi, The Feelies and Foster the People. Hal Wilner’s Freedom Riders Project brought the likes of legends Rosanne Cash and Brooklynite Lou Reed to the bandshell stage along with Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Toshi Reagon and Eric Mingus to pay musical homage to the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, which helped shine a spotlight to the injustices of segregation. The showing of the complete and restored Metropolis with Alloy Orchestra was a wondrous evening of film and music.

Dr. JohnBrooklyn BP Marty Markowitz once again brought the stars out to both the Seaside Summer Concert Series (at a new location) and the Martin Luther King Jr. Concert Series, with blockbusters that included Aretha Franklin, Joan Jett, The Monkees, Cheap Trick, Queen Latifah, Jeffrey Osborne, Peabo Bryson, Freddie Jackson, Shaggy and The Mighty Sparrow. For oldies fans, our own Kenny Vance and The Planotones headlined Doo Wop in the Ballpark at MCU Park.

The Williamsburg Waterfront Concert Series ran the table with Bright Eyes, Dr. Dog, Fleet Foxes, Widespread Panic, Sonic Youth, Death Cab for Cutie, Stone Temple Pilots, Raphael Saadiq, Dam-Funk & Master Blazter, Guided by Voices, Coheed and Cambria, Adrian Belew and local favorite TV on the Radio.

Roseanne Cash

Brooklyn Bodega’s Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, which as always included local acts such as M.O.P. and Ali Shaheed Muhammed, may have staged the coup of the summer. As if getting Q-Tip to perform and create special programming wasn’t enough, they got Kanye West and Busta Rhymes to make a surprise appearance during the closing night’s “Q-Tip & Friends” set.

Now to all our friends out there, a reminder: Autumn winds may blow cold, but Brooklyn’s music scene never cools off, as hot acts continue to play our many fine music clubs and concert halls.

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Past Issues
 Volume 3, Issue 6
 Volume 3, Issue 5
 Volume 3, Issue 4
 Volume 3, Issue 3
 Volume 3, Issue 2
 Volume 3, Issue 1
 Volume 2, Issue 3
 Volume 2, Issue 2
 Volume 2, Issue 1
 Volume 1, Issue 3
 Volume 1, Issue 2
 Volume 1, Issue 1

Joan Osborne's Brooklyn Muse: A Challenge Well Met

Joan Osborne2011 was a busy year for Joan Osborne, beginning with Love and Hate, the multimedia music/dance/film production she created and performed as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Series in February, followed by a whirlwind tour that took her from Central Park to Seattle, ­all the while working on multiple recording projects and caring for her young daughter in their Boerum Hill home. So Brooklyn Roads was lucky to catch her between breaths this summer as she was preparing for an August residency at City Winery and a September tour with Dar Williams. She graciously shared with us some of her thoughts on her music, the music business and the Brooklyn experience.

One of the first things Joan told us was that yes, she was born in Kentucky, but no, “I didn’t grow up hearing fiddle at my dad’s knee.” In fact, her father was a classical music buff while her mother favored Broadway show tunes, and it wasn’t until she fell ill at age 9 that she had her musical coming of age.

“My mom put a radio in my room to keep me company. It was a time when you could hear a lot of different music on Top 40 radio…Charlie Rich, Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones, Motown. I just loved the music and it made an impression on me.” Such eclectic influences help explain why she can sing and write convincingly and beautifully is so many musical genres, from her folky Platinum-selling single One of Us and her rocking debut CD Relish to the country-flavored Pretty Little Stranger and two albums of soul and Motown covers.

Other than a very brief stint in the high school band of her “boyfriend for a minute,” Joan told us that performing music “wasn’t part of my growing up…I didn’t really dream of doing it until I was in my 20s.” She came to New York to study filmmaking at NYU, but it wasn’t long before “I accidentally discovered this amazing music scene going on and started going to bars and clubs. I became a fan of the people like The Holmes Brothers--amazingly raw, soulful music. That’s when I got my [musical] education and immersed myself in it.”

The Brooklyn Effect

Joan lived alternately in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including South Slope and Prospect Heights, before settling down in Boerum Hill in 1998. She lauds New York as a great place to be an artist because, “you have a street life that goes on all around you that you can engage with, observe, or get inspiration from.” She adds, however, that “Brooklyn is where so much is happening now. [It’s a] vibrant community of artists [where] amazing music and art are being made.” She also has high praise for the borough’s “great cultural institutions,” including BAM, where she performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic in 2007; the Brooklyn Museum, where she would like to perform as part of itsTarget First Saturdays series; and BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn! series, which she played twice “and would love to do it again. That band shell is great and the shows are always well curated.”

When we asked her how living in Brooklyn influences the creative process, she told us, “You do your own thing…lock yourself in your room and you write or you paint­,  but you also want to go out and see what other people are doing. You see something and say, ‘That’s amazing! What can I do to answer that?’ Brooklyn is constantly inspiring in that way; there’s so much going on around you, you feel challenged to do your best all the time.”

While Joan appreciates Manhattan, she prefers living one step away on this side of the East River, calling our borough “a more community oriented place. I know my neighbors, my daughter knows the neighbors…it’s a low-rise, mom-and-pop kind of existence that’s just hard to find in Manhattan any more. I’m sure there are pockets of it still, but it’s much more a way of life in Brooklyn. It’s the rule rather than the exception out here.” Her positive experiences living here ultimately manifested itself in her most recent album, Little Wild One, which is peppered with Brooklyn references.

Looking Ahead

Regarding the aforementioned recording projects, she revealed to us that “I’m in the mixing process with some blues, R&B and soul covers of Big Bill Broonzy, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters and a lot of really cool, interesting blues artists. I’m also writing some new songs with a side project group called Trigger Hippie with a couple of the guys who used to be in the Black Crowes, and with Jackie Green, a [San Francisco] Bay-area singer-songwriter who is an up-and-coming star on the Jazz band scene.” And sometime next year, “once the smoke clears on everything else I’m doing,” she will release the original songs she composed for Love and Hate as well.

Joan said she would also like to get a project going with Ben Harper and singles out Brooklyn’s own TV On The Radio among other artists with whom she would like to collaborate. “I don’t know if they have a slot for anything I would do…but I love what they do.”

A Woman in the "Business"

Joan, whose creative differences with the music establishment led her to create her own label, Womanly Hips, believes women performers don’t get the automatic respect that a male musician might get,” despite the fact that a lot of myths, such as women not being able to sell as many tickets as men, “have bitten the dust over the years.” She acknowledges, however, that, “Everybody can be treated like cattle in the music business. You have to do your work and put your time in and earn it, no matter who you are. You can’t blame it all on sexism if things don’t go your way.”

She shared an anecdote with Brooklyn Roads that illustrates some of the issues unique to women performers: “When I was just getting started, I was playing at a club in Buffalo, which was right next door to a strip joint.” The man who owned both establishments, she said, “came over after we finished our sound check, pulled me aside and advised me to dress sexier, said maybe shorter skirts would really help me out. He really had a concept that people just wanted to see naked girls. You just have to laugh off things like that. The people who came to see the show that night, that was the real thing. They came to hear the music. That’s who I was interested in pleasing.”

Joan has been pleasing audiences even since, and we are pleased to report that Joan will be back performing in the New York area soon,  while she continues to put the finishing touches on her next recordings. After chatting with her and getting to know her, we can say with confidence to our fellow Brooklynites that Joan Osborne is indeed “one of us.” 


Yarn Puts a Brooklyn Spin On the Alt-Country Sound

Blake Christina“I’ve been waiting so long for you to comfort me, but this boy has moved on,” sings Blake Christiana , bittersweetly, about his home town in Schenectady from his band Yarn’s third album, Come on In. He tells Brooklyn Roads that he left there about 10 years ago to find “a place where I could get excited [about music] again and make it happen.” That place he moved on to turned out to be New York City or, more specifically, Brooklyn.

He chose our borough initially because “a friend had couch in Bay Ridge…where I could stay for free,” but quickly decided that, “It’s a great place to live…I’ve never lived anywhere else since.” In fact he currently resides “in walking distance” from Jalopy, Red Hook’s iconic music venue where he sat for this interview with us.

Shortly after he put down roots here, Blake began interning for a recording studio where he watched in frustration as performers seemingly squandered time and “probably a thousand dollars a day” by showing up “with absolutely nothing prepared, nothing written. I’d be setting up mikes and beat machine and I thought, ‘Man, give me a chance.’” His chance came while working at another studio where he did get the chance to record, which ultimately led to his first band, Blake and the Family Dog.

Flash forward to the winter of 2006-07 when Blake says he wrote a lot of songs while touring upstate, and then “came back down to Brooklyn and wrote a whole lot more.” As he wrote, he concluded that, “These songs weren’t going to work with the band I had.” Or to put it in the country vernacular, that Dog wouldn’t hunt.

By this time he and fellow Family Dog guitarist Trevor MacArthur had “started playing with a mandolin player Andrew Hendrix and all he wanted to do at the time was wail on his electric mandolin and I said, ‘Man you just got to pick up your acoustic again and play some of these tunes with me.’” The idea was, Blake tells Brooklyn Roads, “to make some great acoustic country-ish record. Not country not like Toby Keith, but more like Jerry Garcia, the Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers.” The Burritos’ Gram Parsons was an especially strong influence. “I spent a month bingeing on his two solo records.”

In early 2007, the trio plus what Blake calls “a rotating rhythm section” debuted at Kenny’s Castaways in Greenwich Village as Yarn. It was Andrew who came up with name. “He had a dream…saw the name Yarn on the marquee at the Beacon Theater. He mentioned it to me and I said, ‘cool.’” What was cool about it, Blake says, was that it is short and has a double meaning that alludes to “what we’re doing -- telling stories, picking strings.”

With the addition of Rod Hohl on electric guitar, Rick Bugel on bass, and Jay Frederick (since replaced by Robert Bonhomme) on drums, they recorded their self-titled first album (and the follow up, Empty Pockets) at Excello Studios in Williamsburg. “I love that space. The atmosphere is good and the live room is amazing.” Among other gems, those early session spawned “No Future Together,” which won the Independent Music Award for Best Alt Country Song in 2007.

Blake likens the migration of musical artists to Brooklyn over the last 10 years to “Simon and Garfunkel moving to the Village in the ‘60s.” While he is concerned that rising costs may be making the borough tougher for aspiring artists, he sees a positive side to this struggle. “No question this city is not an easy place to survive in…let alone thrive, which makes it easy to write a sad song,” he tells Brooklyn Roads. ”You’ve got problems here that you wouldn’t have elsewhere. Not to diss the city, it’s been a great muse but I’ve written a lot of songs talking about Brooklyn.”

There is a reason he has stayed on here, however. “The beauty of Brooklyn is that it is a melting pot,” says Blake, which makes it all the more puzzling to him that “the media is so shocked” by the concept of a country band originating from Brooklyn. “We’re in New York where you can hear everything—country, Indian, Asian. You can see whatever you want and go partying with the dirtiest of rednecks.”

Regarding his favorite Brooklyn venues, he says, “I love the vibe of this place” (Jalopy) and fondly recalls a gig at Southpaw: “That’s a good room…we made some dough and had some fun.” He adds that, “Earlier on in Yarn’s days we would play Pete’s Candy Story. That’s like a miniature version of Jalopy. Cool little stage.”

Among his favorite fellow Brooklyn performers, “I’ve always loved the Doc Marshalls. I believe they have since moved to Nashville but they are back here on a regular basis. We’ve got some friends in Ollabelle. Tony Leone lives over in Williamsburg and I think Byron [Isaacs] lives somewhere in Brooklyn as well [as does Fiona McBain]. Those guys are great.”

His dream gig, however, would be to play with Willie Nelson. “I’ve got to get some time in with Willie before it’s too late,” Blake tells us. That’s not so far fetched when you consider that Nelson has played Brooklyn several times and “He’s not afraid to collaborate with young people. Bring it on, Willie!”

What’s next for Yarn? “We just wrapped up mixing Leftovers Volume 2   , which will be out this fall, and we’re finishing our new album, which will be more electric. If all goes according to plan, we will follow up in six months with a more acoustic, singer-songwriter album.” And of course, there’s a lot of touring, during which Blake Christiana and Yarn will be doing plenty of “telling stories, picking strings.”

Brooklyn Music Milestones

Sufjan StevensNov. 1-3, 2007: Backed alternately by an orchestra and a rock band, Kensington’s Sufjan Stevens performs The BQE at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. Stevens was commissioned to compose the performance piece, a tribute to the famous (or infamous) highway, as part of BAM's 25th Next Wave Festival.

Nov. 7, 1960: Save the Last Dance for Me, written by Williamsburg’s Doc Pomus and Brighton Beach’s Mort Shuman, begins its third week at number one. Today it ranks among the 25 most-performed songs of all time.

Nov. 19, 2009: New York magazine features a 12-page cover story on “Brooklyn’s Sonic Boom,” subtitled “How New York became America’s music capital again.” The article includes profiles of Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and MGMT, plus a guide the Williamsburg music scene.

Dec. 2, 1978: The Barbra Streisand-Neil Diamond duet You Don’t Bring Me Flowers -- written by two other Brooklyn music legends, Alan and Marilyn Bergman – zooms to the top of the charts. The original, created by a Louisville radio program director by splicing together the artists’ two individual versions, caught the attention of Columbia Records, which quickly urged its two top-selling artists to go into the studio and make it a true collaboration.

Dec. 13, 1928: George Gershwin's musical composition "An American in Paris" is premiered by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Dec. 29, 1982: Sheepshead Bay native Ken Dashow begins an 17-year run at progressive rock station WNEW-FM. When that station went to a talk format in 1999, he moved over to classic rock Q104.3 (WAXQ), where he can still be heard weekdays from 2-7 p.m.


Matt and Kim, Soulja Boy and Andrew W.K.Kudos to all those from Brooklyn’s music scene who made the list of The Village Voice’s “Best of NYC 2011,” including Geoff and Lynette Wiley’s Jalopy (Best Country Venue); Tami Hart’s punk n’ blues group Making Friendz (Best Reinvented Folk-Rocker); the Molly Hamilton-fronted trio Widowspeak (Best Result of the ‘90s Revival); Mr. Fine Wine (aka Matt Weingarden), host of WFMU’s Downtown Soulville (Best Radio Show); and alternative hip-hoppers Das Racist (Best Rap Moguls With a Business Plan)...Having previously recorded duets with Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, Norah Jones sings Speak Low with Tony Bennett on his new Duets II CD...Amy Allison, daughter of jazz/blues legend Mose Allison, has finished her sixth solo album, Turn Like the World Does, the follow-up to 2009’s critically acclaimed Sheffield Streets…More than two months after its release, Matt & Kim’s Converse-sponsored I’m a Goner video with Soulja Boy and Andrew W.K. is still going strong at 150,000 You Tube hits and counting. Now that’s what we call “going commercial”…No sophomore jinx for Zee Avi. Her second album, Ghostbird, which the 23-year-old Borneo singer-songwriter began composing in her Brooklyn kitchen, earned her a slot at the early-autumn Popped! and Life Is Good music festivals…Strange Mercy, the new album from St. Vincent (a/k/a Annie Clark), is a Rolling Stone “Editor’s Pick” and NPR calls it “her best and most immediate work”…Kath Buckell wowed the crowd at The Knitting Factory recently in support of her new CD, Faces Do Not Change. Originally from a farming district outside Melbourne, Australia, Buckell made the 10,000-mile move to our borough several years ago, proving once again that all musical roads lead to Brooklyn. Notable Quote: “Farewell, Jerry Leiber: a legend, a friend, and a major influence on Goffin and King. Rest in peace.”Carole King on the passing of her fellow songwriting legend.

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