Holidays are especially exciting times for children and, given the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., kids all over will likely be going to be getting a little extra love this season.
Zak Morgan knows kids. The Cincinnati-based singer/songwriter has already had an amazing career in children’s music, with his second self-financed album, When Bullfrogs Croak, earning numerous awards and acclaim, including a 2004 Grammy nomination for Best Musical Album for Children, a remarkable feat for an independent artist.
Morgan’s accomplishments and hard work (he notches over 200 shows a year for kids across the country) paid off with a contract with Universal Music’s kids’ music imprint, myKaZoo Music. His debut for the label, The Barber of the Beasts, came out in late October and would make a fantastic stocking-stuffer for the little ones this Christmas.
Like his previous releases, The Barber of the Beasts features artwork by famed local illustrator C.F. Payne and contains an extensive booklet of lyrics and drawings. The album also features some notable guests, from local musicians like Dan Dorff, Paul Patterson and Josh Seurkamp to nationally acclaimed artists like Robbie Fulks and locals Karin Bergquist (Over the Rhine) and the iconic Bootsy Collins.
But it’s Morgan’s magical stories and songs that are the focal point. There is a perfect formula for children’s music; like with kids’ films these days, many artists try to hard to make their albums “parent friendly” and tend to go overboard, while those who “dumb things down” tend to be the most annoying. Morgan’s gift is finding the perfect balance.
The Barber of the Beasts is for smart and imaginative kids and parents, seeming designed to be enjoyed together. Morgan is great with clever word play and he isn't afraid to drop a few “big words” (or at least unfamiliar words). That’s where the booklet’s excellent vocabulary guide comes in handy. Parents can go over words with their children, who will have not only been entertained by Zak’s fantastical storytelling, but will also learn something in the process.
Many of the tracks on Barber feature gorgeous chamber string arrangements, but there are also tunes like “Snow Day,” on which Morgan channels his inner Tom Waits (vocally), the shuffling, jazzy Pop cut “Swinging On A Star,” the Country-esque “Nancy Jane” and the great Bootsy collaboration, “The Case of the Dry Markers,” a swingin’, “spooky” Jazz struttin’ mystery with a Halloween vibe.
Here is the debut music video from the album for "The Case of the Dry Markers":
The songs and music are elegant and often downright majestic (particularly the ones with the spine-tingling string arrangements), while Morgan’s clever stories are loaded with a silliness that the young listeners will gleefully embrace.
I believe The Barber of the Beasts (which will specifically appeal to kids between around the ages of 1-8, but certainly fits the "fun for kids of all ages" bill) was released in time to make next year’s Grammy nominations. It will be a crime if it doesn’t make the cut. When it comes to children’s music, Zak is like the Bob Dylan of the genre — minus the curmudgeonly grumpiness, of course.
This Saturday at 1 p.m., Morgan and a host
of special guests will present the local release party for the album at
The Monastery recording studio (2601 Stanton Ave., Walnut Hills), the
performance/recording space owned and operated by producer/guitarist Ric
Hordinski (who also performed on, produced and co-wrote material on the album).
Tickets are available through brownpapertickets.com for $10 (or $20 for families of two-five people). Remaining tickets will be available at the door the day of the show for $15 (or $25 per family). Your ticket also includes food and admission to the post-show pizza party.
It was an eerie evening leading into the MidPoint Music Festival 2010’s kick-off night Thursday. A gigantic, gorgeous sunset was soon followed by a huge, neon-lit moonrise, which guided my path down the highway to the festival. Once downtown, the streets resembled their usual non-weekend selves — nearly empty, save a couple of neighborhood locals scrambling about. And, while the threat of rain is usually the weather event MidPointers fear most, tonight’s air was dry, humid and record-breaking hot. Who would have thought a music festival on the first weekend of the fall would be met with 95-degree temps (in the daytime, at least)?
OK, so which Babylonian weather deity did we collectively blow like a $5 crack whore to assure us of an entire weekend without getting firehosed by the kind of precipitation generally associated with tropical monsoons? Because I want to get his number in our rolodex for next year. Another absolutely gorgeous night for another spectacular evening of musical diversion and awesomeness. That’s right, awesomeness.
There are a couple of things that have been on my mind of late, and this always seems like a decent forum to vent my musings, particularly since I'm not in therapy. First of all, what exactly constitutes medical attention for an erection lasting more than four hours? Does a stereotypically sexy nurse, um, give you a hand? Or does a mummified doctor from the bygone era of bone saws that could drop an oak tree and hand-cranked skull drills apply leeches to the affected area and then show you pictures of Yogi Berra and golf videos to bring down the swelling, so to speak?
While we wait for an answer to arrive, let's move on to the other, perhaps more salient issue that I've been pondering. As everyone knows, the end of the year brings the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nominations, which then inspires a good deal of grumbling speculation about who has gotten nominated and, more importantly, who has not.
Look, no one understands better than I the elation that accompanies being recognized for your work. Six years ago I nabbed second place in the Non-Daily Newspapers Feature Personality Profile category of the Ohio Excellence in Journalism awards. I know, right? At the same time, I can count on fingers and toes the number of letters I've received over the years about things I've written, and many of those have been from the subjects I've written about just to say thanks.
My prized correspondence was from now-deceased Rolling Stone/Billboard editor Timothy White for getting the title of his Beach Boys biography wrong in a piece I wrote about Dick Dale. I had cited White's book as The Nearest Faraway Beach, largely due to my love of the Brian Eno song, "On Some Faraway Beach," and partially because I jotted down my notes in Joseph-Beth Booksellers when I was in the throes of a flu that would have eaten a vaccine for an appetizer. White's book was, in fact, The Nearest Faraway Place, and in it, he mentioned that Dale had been born in Beirut, Lebanon, among other interesting tidbits about the legendary guitarist. When I asked Dale about some of the entries in White's book, he countered with, "Does it say Dick Dale was born in Lebanon?" (he referred to himself in the third person, a lot). I said that it did, and he responded, "Then throw that book in the garbage."
It was a great quote so I used it in the story, which prompted White's letter, where he first corrected my idiot error and then clarified that he had interviewed Dale personally at a time when White speculated that Dale thought being born in Lebanon would make him seem more exotic (he was of Lebanese extraction), but when Beirut became synonymous with terrorism, he claimed Boston as his birthplace. All in all, though, he was very complimentary about the article.
As usual, I digress. As much as people love being hailed for their accomplishments, they are stung when they feel they've been passed over, for whatever reason, and that's completely understandable. It becomes slightly problematic when people demonize the process in an effort to explain their absence from the end result.
Here's the thing; those of us who comprise the nominating committee try not to take ourselves too seriously, but we are very serious about the task of establishing these nominations on an annual basis, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, we love music and we respect the people who make it. We also feel it is extremely important to recognize great work and to share that recognition with the entire music community.
And that's pretty much it. We don't have an agenda to push. We don't nominate our friends (although our friends sometimes get nominated). Speaking for myself, I really try to set personal feelings aside when the time comes to look at the past year and determine who has done work worthy of CEA recognition.
Of course, that determination is open to a certain amount of subjectivity. We are human beings, after all. That's why we cast our nets as far as we can, to make sure the nominating process is as fair as humanly possible. Is it a perfect system? Not hardly. But I think we've gotten it pretty close to right. This year we involved the public in the process and that helped widen the focus even further, but there still seems to be a certain amount of dissatisfaction about the nominees and conjecture about how they got there. In the final analysis, it boils down to a few simple facts. If you're nominated, congratulations; you've distinguished yourself in a music community that I honestly feel is one of the best in the entire country. If you win, huzzah and holy shit, you've further distinguished yourself within a formidable slate of your musical peers.
And if you're just a spectator, keep working. Keep doing what you do. The accolades are nice, but put things in perspective; at the end of the day, the CEAs are a party with door prizes. Prestigious door prizes, but door prizes nonetheless. And whether you're a winner, a nominee or neither of the above, don't allow your recognition or lack thereof to overinflate or devalue your sense of what you do. What matters is the work. Your work. Whether it garners you a nomination or not.
It's the same in any field of endeavor. How many painters wind up in museums in their lifetimes? How many athletes give their lives over to the sports they love for an almost microscopic chance to get a plaque in their respective halls of fame? Celebrity, wealth and notoriety are all fairly illusory. What matters is the work.
The immortal and forever great Frank Zappa may have put it best: "Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best."
And there it is, in it's simplest and most potent form. If you are out there, turning words and melodies in your head into real music with your hands, heart and soul, you are contributing to one of the best things in life. Awards are the icing on a cake that doesn't necessarily need to be iced. When you make great music, we are the winners. And we'd like to thank you. And God and our families and friends and our eighth grade English teacher who said we'd never amount to anything, because he was sort of right. Thank you.
So this is how the music industry works in the 21st Century: Without a hint of radio support, Angels and Airwaves (AVA) with opening act Say Anything got 1,500 faithful fans to show up for a Rock & Roll show here in Cincinnati.
Thank you, Mr. Internet.
Bret Michaels is a one of a kind crossover superstar who has transformed himself from hard rocker to big partier to reality television star. Best known for his nearly 30 years with rockers Poison (giving us such Rock & Roll staples as “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”, “Talk Dirty to Me” and other arena mega hits), in 2010, Michaels’ life took a dramatic turn when he was faced with multiple emergency surgeries. The first was to remove his appendix and then a sudden life threatening brain aneurysm led to brain surgery. He bounced back by winning Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, continuing solo music tours across the country, completing a summer tour with Poison and Motley Crue and plotting more television projects.
CityBeat spoke with Michaels this week in advance of his pre-Super Bowl party concert tomorrow in Indianapolis. He performs Friday at 9:30 p.m. in Indianapolis, helping open the Super Bowl Village and get fans in the right spirit for the big game next Sunday. (Friday’s concert is free; click here for more info.)
Contemporary Arts Center has officially announced that Patti Smith will perform The Coral Sea with daughter/pianist Jesse Smith on May 17, in connection with her CAC exhibit, also called The Coral Sea, that opens the next day and features work not previously seen in the U.S.
At the concert, Smith will also play selected material from throughout her career.
The CAC website says that "The Coral Sea performance work found its beginnings from Smith’s 1997 book of the same name, her requiem to her dear friend Robert Mapplethorpe (who took the cover photo of Smith’s debut album, Horses, among his many other accomplishments). With music arranged and performed live by Kevin Shields — of heralded British shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine — two separate performances were held at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in June 2005 and September 2006. In 2008 those performances were released as a live album."
Mapplethorpe's own posthumous photography retrospective at CAC, 1990's The Perfect Moment, became a major controversy when cultural conservatives led by now-retired Sheriff Simon Leis tried to shut it down for obscenity. In a famous trial, a jury sided with the CAC. The concert venue and ticket information will be announced soon at www.contemporaryartscenter.org.
I first wrote about Smith's art show coming to the CAC in CityBeat last year here.
Formed in 1978, Classic Punk band Social Distortion reached the height of its fame in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The band has seven studio albums beginning with its iconic Mommy’s Little Monster. Although there has been over a dozen ex-Social D members, the group — known as a touring juggernaut (sometimes at the expense of making new music) — has maintained a lineup that has been fairly consistent for the past decade.
CityBeat caught up with rhythm guitarist Jonny “2 Bags” Wickersham in anticipation of Social D's current tour. The group performs at Bogart’s on Saturday (Oct. 13) night and will surely wow fans new and old.
CityBeat: I know Mike (Ness) has said in the past we won’t have to wait seven or eight years for a new Social D record. Are you guys working on new music right now? How is that coming along?
Jonny Wickersham: In a perfect situation we would love to get a record out sooner than we have been putting them out. I don’t know that it looks like it will happen real soon. We have been really busy touring the last couple of years. As far as new material there are always new songs in the works. We will work on them at sound checks and rehearsals. When it comes time to get serious to put a record together, the songs that stick in our minds are the ones that are the best stuff and they typically make the record. We will finish it up. We will see. Conceivably we can get together and start really getting serious in the beginning of next year and have a record to follow shortly after that. It has to feel right. I have always felt it is a good thing not to rush records. I know that people like to see a record come out on a certain schedule with bands, but it is also good to evolve a little bit as people and as a band in between albums.
CB: You spend most of the time as a touring band on the road. Do you ever write down the tour stories or keep mementos from the tour to remember them all?
JW: I have never been a big journal keeper or anything like that. I don’t. Certain stories definitely do stick in your mind but not really.
CB: What current music or music you are listening to right now is currently inspiring you?
JW: You know what a really great record is, the new Hot Water Music Record, have you heard that?
JW: I have been listening to a lot of that in my car.
CB: Good driving music?
JW: Oh yeah. It is such a great album. It really is good. I also like the Drive By Truckers a lot. I don’t listen to a lot of new music to be honest. I listen to a lot of old Blues and stuff and old Rock N Roll.
CB: From your standpoint, what are the characteristics that make a good Social D song?
JW: I would have to say a good riff and a good lyric that is poppin'. You can’t go wrong with a good lyric. You can try to stretch that a bit, not just stay with our formula as a band. We have a different division of sounds with the band. We are not trying to re-invent sound in an extreme manner or anything but it is good to try to mix it up. I am hoping in the future, in the stuff coming up, we can do that and re-visit some of the earlier stuff.
CB: We are heading into a critical election year. Ohio is a crazy place to be during this whole thing. Do you guys have any political views or support for any of the candidates?
JW: Well, I am going to vote for Obama and hope for the best.
CB: What is the worst job you have ever had?
JW: I don’t know. I had a job at the Orange County jail once a long time ago. We had to cut the bunks down from three bunks to two and carry them all out to the loading dock and get them out of the jail. Any job where you are locked up is not a great job. I had so many jobs growing up. I started working in construction fields at a really young age because where I come from that is just what you did when you got to the age of going out to get a job, try to get a construction trade. I have also worked at Carl’s Jr. and Burger King as a teenager and neither one of those jobs lasted more than a couple weeks. I have worked as a stagehand. I have worked in an Art Department building sets for film production. Those are cool jobs. I really liked the Art Department work. Any job that anybody could have at this point is a good job is kind of how I feel. I definitely never want to think I am beyond any kind of work. You never know what is going to happen in life. There are times where being able to get any job is critical for you.
CB: Do you have any scars?
JW: I have a scar on my upper leg. When I was a little kid, me and a couple friends built this bicycle Motocross track on a dirt lot by our house in our neighborhood. We went out and worked really hard with shovels and built this really cool track and the enemy kids down the street, who were our nemesis, came over one day when we weren’t there and totally ruined our track, kicked in all our berms and jumps and trashed it. So we went down the street where they had built this really shitty tree fort that was like three stories tall off the ground into the tree. We went up there and we started hammering at it, we brought sledgehammers over and we started bashing in their tree fort. The stupid thing on our part was that we started on the bottom and climbed up to the next level and up to the next level. We were breaking this tree fort apart and we were way up at the top and the thing collapsed. I fell and my leg got clipped up on a nail. It ripped my leg open so I have a scar. I have a bunch of other scars too.
CB: What is the last thing you do before you go to sleep?
JW: Well it depends. Turn out the television if I have been watching the television. I don’t always watch TV at night. Sometimes I do. If I am on the bus on the tour, I listen to music on my iPod. The last thing I do is turn that on and I usually fall asleep listening to a record. Then I have to wake up and pull the headphones off and fall back asleep. If I’m reading a book, close the book and turn out the light. It can be one of many different things.