R.M. Isaiah’s San Francisco Sound is Magically Tragic

Exploring the music of R.M. Isaiah this morning has been a rich experience full of serendipity for me. I’d like to write a bit more about this, but I’m still reeling, and there’s too much I need to tell you about this great artist.

As you listen, you may find yourself comparing R.M. Isaiah‘s voice to the voice of legendary singer songwriter Tom Waits, and there are similarities. The amount of gravel in their throats for instance, is nearly the same. But there’s something softer about R.M. Isaiah and somehow more accessible. Less complicated, but no less poetic.

Your body I know is a wise man

A pawn in my collection of friends

There are books about Tom Waits, and I’m not going to try to sum up his style or his work here in a few sentences, but although truth lurks and snakes inside his songs, they are often performances, performance pieces. Tom Waits is a master at creating a cast of characters that strut and crawl across the stage of his songs.

But R.M. Isaiah is doing what Tom Waits was so floored by Dylan doing. He’s sitting down with the guitar and telling a story. There’s no circus. Isaiah is not a caricature of himself. Meanwhile High Witness, the band that Isaiah is a part of and who he recorded Master and Margarita with, creates the perfect bed for Isaiah’s voice to lie in. There’s no distraction. The first chord is so lush, for a second I thought I was going to be listening to a jazz tune, and even the shimmering cymbal crashes support Isaiah’s voice. Nothing gets in the way. There is one personality here, making music that’s earthy, mysterious, and immediate.

If you click through on the cover of the evocatively titled Numbers Have Their Way and visit R.M. Isaiah‘s bandcamp page, you’ll be able to listen to and download the digital album. I urge you to do this.

The song Master and Margarita intrigued me before I even heard it, because just as I was about to read the title my gaze slid across the screen and landed on the song’s label. It had been marked True Fiction.

You ask my about my trip to the labyrinth

But I can’t think of nothing to say

And that’s the only lie I heard. R.M. Isaiah has plenty to say, and I plan on listening.

Bright Beams

You Are Projecting from Bright Beams was just the kind of piece I needed to hear today. The beginning of the song is a slowly revealed spacious soundscape that cleared my head and took me away from my desk. Listening to You Are Projecting made me take a minute to just sit and breathe, and that reminded me that there are other things in my life that need my attention besides stories and queries, unfinished manuscripts, workshops, and websites.

Bright Beams marked their track as Lo Fi on the Sirenstories SoundCloud even though the production does become fairly thick with layers by the middle. Which is fine, but it’s the beginning of the piece that I love, with only a voice whispering, “Shh . .  .  ” the start of You Are Projecting is truly Lo Fi, and quite wonderful.

Laptop, Bedroom, Dreampop.

These are the words Bright Beams used to tag their song, and other than those three evocative words, they left no info for me on the Sirenstories SoundCloud. I can’t tell you who they are or where they’re from. I can’t tell you where they’re playing or even if they are ‘they’!

Kind of mysterious . . . but that’s how many Sirens are. Elusive and mysterious.

This is Bright Beams’ avatar. Sea or sky? From what I’ve read, Sirens inhabit both worlds. I think Bright Beams may as well.

Of course I Googled around, but sadly, I didn’t discover the identity or musical history of Bright Beams. I did however find this wonderful poem on my serendipity search. It was waiting for me on the lovely website of the Poetry Foundation.

Avising the Bright Beams

BY SIR THOMAS WYATT

Avising the bright beams of these fair eyes
Where he is that mine oft moisteth and washeth,
The wearied mind straight from the heart departeth
For to rest in his worldly paradise
And find the sweet bitter under this guise.
What webs he hath wrought well he perceiveth
Whereby with himself on love he plaineth
That spurreth with fire and bridleth with ice.
Thus is it in such extremity brought,
In frozen thought, now and now it standeth in flame.
Twixt misery and wealth, twixt earnest and game,
But few glad, and many diverse thought
With sore repentance of his hardiness.
Of such a root cometh fruit fruitless.
Thank you to the Poetry Foundation and to Bright Beams.

The Best Teachers are Sirens

Meet Mrs. McGee . . .

A total Siren, right?

Mrs. McGee is the teacher featured in What Do You Want to Be? a new picture book written by Beth Carter and illustrated by Leo Silva.

I ‘met’ Beth on author David Harrison‘s wonderful blog about two years ago. At that time, I was going to his blog almost every day for inspiration. David has written over eighty children’s books and runs a Word of the Month poetry contest on his site that’s great fun. If you need inspiration, I suggest you try it, the word prompt will get your pen moving. For me, the experience was more about community than contest, and I felt like my poems had a home on David’s site even though they were all really works in progress.

When she found out that What Do You Want to Be? was going to be published, Beth, who lives in Missouri, asked me if I would write a song to go along with her book. I said yes, and last weekend I went up to Woodstock with #MySonIs5 to record the track that What Do You Want to Be? inspired. Hope you enjoy it!

Here are a few pics of #MySonIs5 recording his part at Kevin Salem‘s studio in Woodstock.

After a while, what starts out as fun in the studio becomes work, and even #MySonIs5 begins to feel the pressure . . .

Finally he finishes, and takes a bow. #MySonIs5 has stamina in the studio and—what? What did you just ask me? Did I actually make him listen to old Grateful Dead on the drive home from Woodstock? Um.

Click on the pic of Mrs. McGee to get a copy of Beth Carter‘s book for your kids. If they like the song, tell Beth and she’ll probably send you a copy, or come back and listen any time here on Sirenstories.

To learn more about Beth Carter, visit her blog, Banter with Beth

What Do You Want To Be?  Song lyrics

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

When I arrived at school today

My teacher smiled and said let’s play

Join me in a circle on the floor

She asked us all what we held dear

The people we loved to be near

And what we thought the future held in store

She gave us crayons & pens & pads

She said, no answer’s wrong or bad

Just think my friends then think a little more

Use pictures, words; free thoughts like birds

Express yourself and you’ll be heard

You’ll learn in part what you are all here for

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me (I don’t know!)

A baker or a builder,                          

Or a swimmer in the sea

A mommy having babies (Maybe!)

Or a maybe a daddy

A dentist, doctor, artist, author                              

Teacher, Forest ranger, or you might like to sing . . . (I’d like that!)

You can do anything!  (Definitely.)

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

An astronaut, a lawyer

Or a farmer growing trees (Next stop outer space!)

The president, a fireman

A keeper keeping bees

A dancer, banker, preacher, painter

Help save things are endangered (Yeah, like pandas!) maybe you’ll sew . . .

You can give it a go!  (I think I might want to think about this . . .)

What do you want to be?

Asked Mrs. McGee (A baseball player!)

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be?  (A candy maker!)

Raise you hands high and share your dreams with me

(A cow!)

(I just want to be me.)


Believe in Sirens

I believe in a deep earth smell and in the sound of the falling rain

In tripping over my heavy heart

And in getting up again

These are a few of the wonderful lines from I Believe by singer songwriter Denise Moser. Accompanied by a lovely acoustic guitar part and minimal rhythm track that includes a supportive piano, the line is delivered with quiet breath of a chuckle that immediately brings to mind the laughing singspeak of Alanis Morissette. Indeed, I Believe could be an early Alanis song, Alanis on a mellow day.

Denise Moser‘s vocal vibrato gives her a slightly tentative sound, as if she is exploring her voice and her ideas, perhaps for the first time. This doesn’t make her sound inexperienced, instead the slight quaver in her voice gives her performance a freshness, a newness. Her performance of I Believe is restrained—a quality I love—as if the she is hesitant to share her personal list of favorite things. These are the details of her delivery conspire to draw the listener in.

The fact that the lyrics of I Believe are a list of favorite things, brings to mind the Rodgers and Hammerstein song My Favorite Things, one of the greatest songs of all times and one of my personal favorites. I Believe will be forever linked in my mind to My Favorite Things, how cool is that?

I Believe expresses Denise Moser‘s love of nature and family while deftly exposing her love of love as well as her tenderness. Knee deep walks in snow, apologies, weaknesses, dreams; these are all on Denise’s list, which is a list of things literally stated or implied. Her use of strong yet simple images that often comfort make the song poetic, but it is the invisible things she sings about, and the way her slightly tremulous voice gently nudges us until our own emotions step forward  for our examination, that makes the song art.

I Believe in a second chance and in a brand new fresh mistake . . . 

My recommendation is that you listen to I Believe multiple times, because the song gets better with each listen. With every play the song reveals another corner of Denise Moser‘s heart and if you listen long enough to her honest, encouraging voice, you’ll find that your own heart will mostly likely yield some hidden pain or joy. It wasn’t until I’d listened to the song half a dozen times that I found myself in tears.

Let this song break you open and help you discover or rediscover your Dreaming Self. If you’re already living your dream, this song will be a faithful companion.

My wish for this Philadelphia singer songwriter is that she continues to write and share her music, and I’m sure she will, because she believes. I do too.

Click on the cover art by Alisa Lowden Preston to get your own copy of I Believe.

 

I believe in winter boots, and in clean slate snowy days

In knee deep walks through the neighborhood

And in a dried oak fire blaze

I believe in sleeping in, and in grasping at a fading dream

I believe in saying what I mean

I believe in I’m so sorry, and do you know I care

I believe in I can see you there

 

I believe in a deep earth smell and in the sound of the falling rain

In tripping over my heavy heart

And in getting up again

I believe in letting go of those things that I cannot change

I believe in reaching past my range

I believe in it’s my turn, and I’ve waited for too long

I believe in wishing on a song

 

I believe that what makes you you, well it’s the same thing that makes me me

That our differences are more the same

Than we ever would believe

I believe in my own words of in the beauty of today

I believe in brown hair turning gray

I believe in a second chance, and in a brand new fresh mistake

I believe in giving what I take

 

I believe I’m a daddy’s girl, and I’ve always had a broken heart

I’ve tried to find my way back home

And it’s never been that far

I believe in tenderness, and being kind in love

I believe the dreams that I dream of

I believe in magic stones and in taking off my shoes

Do you know – I believe in you…



Do Sirens Wear Sensible Shoes?

I love this lyric:

Moving Day, I tore up your picture and packed the frame.

Check out Moving Day by Sensible Shoes.

Catch Sensible Shoes tonight at the Orchard House Cafe, NYC.

Read my earlier blog to learn more about the Vermont based band Sensible Shoes the group film director Jonathan Demme says, “Rules the blues news!”

Click on the poster to connect with Sensible Shoes on fb.


Never The Bride, Always the Siren

I’m not going to get super personal, but I want to explain why I haven’t been posting music lately. It’s because I’ve been overwhelmed.

Things have been very intense around here. As some of you know, Irene created a landslide in front of our home, and although our house isn’t in danger at this point, we have to do something or we’ll probably lose part of our yard. We can no longer go into the garden, or our gazebo, which hangs precariously on the edge of the cliff. The gazebo is from the 1930’s. My husband and I got married in it. Let’s not look for a sign. I’m debating posting pictures.

We’ve had engineers and FEMA and lots of other people climbing around on the cliff/hill this week. Some of our neighbors are having similar problems so people are talk, talk, talking and the phone’s been ringing off the hook.
Meanwhile, #MySonIs5 started school this week, Kindergarden, so my emotions have run high. And although I’m thrilled I’ll supposedly be getting more writing time, with all the extra school mommy stuff, so far, I’ve only seen a few extra hours.
It’s amazing how #MySonIs5 starting school has brought out the wicked perfectionist part of my personality. I think I bought him three different pairs of boots this week. One of them will fit just right. I thought I had eradicated Miss Perfection long ago through yoga practice so I’m disappointed to see her around. Ugh.

I’m tired, so tired I don’t want to keep fighting that feeling. I want to embrace it. I think it will be easier, right? To just fall into the feeling. So today I’m posting Gotta Get Back from Never The BrideNikki Lamborn‘s voice sounds exactly how I feel. Worn.

The big difference is that Nikki Lamborn‘s voice sounds worn in a good way, like old Rolling Stones worn, like Torn and Frayed  worn. Like your favorite and most comfortable jeans worn.

I almost want to hear a rougher production here, something broken, something stumbling, but the production on Gotta Get Back is perfect, and Never The Bride is a better band because of that. The crystal clear sound and well thought out rock production really does support Nikki Lamborn perfectly. I can tell she must be a strong woman, Never The Bride is a rock band with history, but if she had to let it all go, if she had to lean, or even collapse, this band would catch her.

I could say a lot more about Never The Bride and Gotta Get Back, but check this out:

Roger Daltrey of The Who: described Bristol-born Nikki Lamborn as “The best rock voice since Janis Joplin.”

Enough said.

Except for one more thing. If you love Melissa Etheridge, you’ll love Never The Bride and the classic rock sound of Gotta Get Back.

Click on the pics to go to Never The Bride‘s various web pages.

Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2: Never The Bride: “An absolutely brilliant band, one of the best live bands in Britain.”

By the way, that’s Nikki at the top of the post, not me. I feel a lot better now. Thanks for listening.

And special thanks to Never The Bride for uploading their song to the Sirenstories SoundCloud.

If you want to submit one of your songs to Sirenstories, go to SoundCloud.com and join the Sirenstories group. Then share a song with the group. I’ll do the rest.

Sweet Sirens, The Crosswalk Kings

As soon as I heard Our Goodbye I fell in love with the song and the voice of the songwriter, Seneca Block, lead singer and guitarist of The Crosswalk Kings. Our Goodbye is a gentle lullaby of love and loss, and its simple poetry perfectly expresses the profound subject of parting.

Life is a field of green

Between winter snows

So when your heart knows loss,

You will find love to know,

They’re cut from the same cloth.

And I hope that it makes you smile

One more time.

And I won’t forget you.

When I become the earth.

And all the beautiful flowers

To whom I give birth,

Call out your name,

I hope that it makes you smile

One more time.

Don’t you worry away your days.

We will find our way.

So smile, this is our goodbye.

This is our goodbye.

Our goodbye.

Our Goodbye is just under three minutes, and the tempo is moderate, but yet I had to play the song over and over because it disappeared too soon. I wanted to hear it again and again and besides, I couldn’t write. I was crying my eyes out.

Our Goodbye is in 3/4 time and starts with a swaying acoustic guitar. Seneca Block’s voice comes in and lies down gently on top. At about the 2:20 mark the full band kicks in. At this point Seneca sounds like his heart is breaking, even as he tries to reassure us, or perhaps himself, that things are going to be all right. My skin prickles when Jon Simmons comes in on piano, playing a lovely, conversational melody line that for me, is the voice of the person Seneca is singing to.

At 2:50 the piano melody—so simple, so expressive—gives me full on goosebumps, and then too soon, like the song, it’s over. But that melody line answers Seneca’s lyrics, and just as Seneca seems to want to reassure us even as his heart is quietly breaking, the piano sounds as if it seeks to reassure him. The conversation is complete. We’ve been privileged listeners.

Seneca Block’s vocals make think just for a second of John Mayer, and someone else who I can’t quite place, someone who really knows how to sing. To my ears Seneca Block’s singing voice is close to speech, a style that is authentic and soothing and a personal favorite of mine.

When so many people are spilling themselves all over the media, their souls bared to such extremes that their performances are nearly without nuance, hearing the restraint in Seneca’s voice is a relief, a rare breath of artful restraint that promises a gentle, healthy intimacy.

Our Goodbye was recorded at Emerson Radio Station and I’ve included a bunch of pics from the session. I love these photos, they match the honest music of The Crosswalk Kings.

Based in Boston, The Crosswalk Kings have a singer songwriter/pop/rock sound that could be called Adult Contemporary, although I’m not sure if that label is quite right for them. The quiet yearning in Seneca Block’s voice is something we will all know at various times in our lives and resonates like good poetry. I don’t like the idea of putting this band in a box.

The Crosswalk Kings uploaded three songs to the Sirenstories SoundCloud, so I’m sure I’ll post more about them at some point, but really, I can’t wait to hear what they do next in the studio. Click on their pics and you’ll wind up at their Reverbnation page or their fb page where they’ve just posted a few new beautiful demos.



In the Head of John Peel

And in the head of Modal Roberts. And in my head. That’s where you’re going. But could that be any weirder than the trip In the Head of John Peel just sent me on? I think not.

When people submit to Sirenstories I listen to their songs and read the notes/lyrics they leave for me. Or not. Some artists don’t seem to understand that I want to write about them, and they leave me nothing but the tune.

But whether or not they leave me a message or few autobiographical facts or links or lyrics I often go poking around online to learn more about them.

In the case of In the Head of John Peel it wasn’t artist Modal Roberts I wanted to learn more about, but the subject of his song, John Peel.

I’m not saying that Modal Roberts doesn’t interest me, because he does. See?

The alternative blues sound of In the Head of John Peel made me think immediately of guitar god singer songwriter Chris Whitley. There’s a certain rawness, something visceral that the two artists share and In the Head of John Peel definitely has that Delta blues flavor that Chris’ music has.

That may be where the similarities end. The more I listened to In the Head of John Peel the more hilarious I found the song, it’s much funnier than any song Chris wrote, any song that I know of at least. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

But okay. The trip I took. I listened to In the Head of John Peel twice and I was like, huh? I’d heard of John Peel but as a sort of DJ legend, I didn’t really know any details about him, so I Googled him.

There’s a ton out there about John Robert Parker Ravenscroft, (August 30th, 1939 – October 25th, 2004), known professionally as John Peel. Wikipedia even has a sample of what they call his “seismographic handwriting style”.

Of the myriad of bizarre facts Wikipedia had to offer about the English disc jockey, radio presenter and journalist who broadcasted regularly from 1967 until his death in 2004, I thought the strangest was that following Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, he passed himself off as a reporter for the Liverpool Echo in order to attend the arraignment of Lee Harvey Oswald and he and a friend can be seen in the footage of the November 22/23 midnight press conference at Dallas Police Department when Lee Harvey Oswald was paraded before the media. He later phoned in the story to the Liverpool Echo.

John Peel showcased new acts that later achieved great fame on his show, and he was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio. He was widely known for promoting the music of  various styles, including pop, reggae, indie rock, alternative rock, punk, hardcore punk, grindcore, death metal, British hip hop, and dance music.

Here’s the thing:

His favourite single is widely known to have been the 1978 song Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. In an interview in 2001, he stated “There’s nothing you could add to it or subtract from it that would improve it.”

But Modal Roberts doesn’t really believe John Peel, and that is what In the Head of John Peel is about.

Did John Peel really dig the tune as much as he said he did?

The opening guitar chords of Teenage Kicks remind me of Blondie’s One Way or Another which was released the same year. You’ve probably heard Teenage Kicks, Wait—no? Well here you go. It was almost impossible to decide which version of the song to post, but in the end I fell for this one:

Are teenage dreams so hard to beat
Every time she walks down the street
Another girl in the neighbourhood
Wish she was mine, she looks so good

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

I’m gonna call her on the telephone
Have her over ’cause I’m all alone
I need excitement oh I need it bad
And it’s the best, I’ve ever had

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight
Get teenage kicks right through the night

So. Is this the perfect song?

It was almost as difficult to decide which picture of Modal Roberts I should post. Click on the pic above and you’ll wind up at his website where you can check out some other photos of him. Or maybe if you’re lucky you’ll catch him at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Modal is performing at Paradise in the Vault August 6th—14th.

I’d love to see Modal Roberts live, but until I do he will be forever linked in my mind with John Peel and The Undertones, Chris Whitley and maybe even JFK. The fact that In the Head of John Peel made me think even for a minute of Chris Whitley,  whose music I hold above all others, is high praise.

And yes Modal, I did follow the links down the rabbit hole and ended up at the John Peel narrated JFK video. I’m pretty sure that will make you laugh.

The Fighter

Sydney-based singer/songwriter Dan Schaumann‘s The Fighter begins with an almost languid guitar intro—beautifully played—making the opening of The Fighter sounds more like a lover.

Half a minute into the song the tempo picks up, and just under the minute mark Dan’s voice comes in, delicious Aussie accent and all.

The verses are gorgeous with the tail end of the first sounding like Elliott Smith has stopped by, and the end of the second giving us the on ramp to a chorus that, when it comes, kicks up the energy level of the tune so that you finally hear the song is indeed about a fighter. I love this slow reveal, and I found myself wondering if fighting with this guy would be so bad.




Dan Schaumann comes close to speaking at times, a singing style that I love and prize because it shows the singer is inhabiting his body and not just his head. Stories and passions come from the body and Dan’s style conveys a from-the-gut honesty.

Dan is soon to release his debut album, A Thousand Days Beneath The Sun. Recorded and produced in Brisbane by James North Productions, it consists of thirteen self-penned tracks which predominantly reflect the rapturous, romantic and remorseful emotions experienced while residing in England for 15 months during 2008-2009 – over 16,000 kilometres away from home in Australia.

This song, The Fighter, refers to the state of emotional turmoil brought on by fighting excessively hard to hold onto a past love which has passed the point of salvage. Eventually, even the greatest fighter has to call it a day and move on.

The Fighter

Oh the fighter with his heaven in his heart and his hell to behold 
His desire is to remedy the scar of the flame to her soul 
Oh denier with the heaviness imparted he dreams he could change 
Cruel reminders of the innocence of love vs the means to remain

Persevere 
Through your tears 
Learn your lesson well

Oh the hour, will it speed or will it burn with a laboured old fuse 
Not an answer to the plead, a deafly ear and a reason to lose 
Oh the fighter will he stay or will he stray far away from his means 
All the while through her silence and his tears he will conquer with the thrill of her nightmares

Oh the fighter 
Oh the fighter 
Oh the fighter 
Oh the fighter

Oh the fighter will end it before it’s repaired 
The fighter surrenders and shows that he cares 
The fighter will end it before it’s repaired 
The fighter surrenders and shows that he cares

Dan’s got a great website, click on the photo above to visit. Click on the pic below to go to his fb page.
I’m looking forward to reading Dan’s blog posts about his ghosts and dreams of electricity.
I might even browse his photos of toilets.
Hmm.
Maybe I’ll just keep listening to The Fighter instead.
Good luck with A Thousand Days Beneath The Sun Dan, and  thank you for sharing your music with Sirenstories.
Hope your tour brings you to Asbury Park.