Tag Archives: Teresa Y Green

Steph Johnson’s Art Don’t Belong in a Box

musicisartsteph

“You want to be free, you must let go of everything.”
–Steph Johnson, “Be Light,” from Music is Art

Steph Johnson can sing that line with complete integrity. She has made her name in San Diego’s music scene by jumping feet-first into new ventures without fearing change, or letting possible risk stand in the way of expressing herself.

She began her musical journey by leaving a career in banking to play music full-time. After success in soul and R&B with a band she loved, she stumbled into a collaboration with Rob Thorsen that led her to switch music genres and now is a beloved voice in San Diego jazz.

She has had great success. She won the San Diego Museum of Art’s award for Best Jazz Album before she considered herself a jazz musician. Music is Art is her fourth album, and The Steph Johnson Trio is an in-demand act in San Diego.

She is used to making her own way, and learned early that her path would be unique. As she says in her bio, “I thought everybody sang like Aretha Franklin,” Johnson said. “But because I had a big voice, even as a little girl, whenever I tried out for the choir, in elementary or middle school, I was made an example of how not to sing — because I had this big voice that wouldn’t blend.” Thankfully, she believed in herself–advice she wrote into the lyrics of her latest album, Music is Art.

The album represents her perfectly. The R&B is there, flavoring her jazzy original songs. The vocals are throaty and soulful, and the lyrics reflect her blend of optimism, willingness to have an open heart, and celebration of what makes each person unique.

My favorite track on the album by far is the title song, “Music is Art.” She laments a world where music is not respected unless “you can vote for it on TV,” and celebrates music as a creative expression that should defy labels. “Music is art, it don’t belong in a box” is the refrain, and she delivers the words with intensity.

Steph Johnson is well-known in the San Diego music scene for her great instrumentation and on-point vocals. She is also an activist who is open about giving her heart to all that she does. She started Voices of Our City choir with fellow musician and activist Nina Leilani, which is a group formed from those experiencing homelessness and professional musicians. The group does public performances as a way to share beauty with people who rarely have their voice heard while also bringing attention to a topic too many people ignore.

Visit her website for more information on shows, to purchase her album, or learn more about this great performer.

The Urge To Create

The urge to create is always there, and can come from the great joys and pains of life. Creation gives life transcendence, and can make the unbearably painful or simply the mundane more tolerable. Creation is a gift to the world.

That Green Hen is about giving people a way to share their gifts with others. We do that in a myriad of ways that are ever-expanding. So far, we’ve done a Facebook page that highlights public art, music, and cultural events, and a blog that shines light on musicians, writers, and artists. More cool things are in the works.

Both Hen and I have a deep need to create. In meetings, we have ten ideas for every one we pursue. Hen goes about his business, trusting the good ideas will appear over and over until he can use one. I frantically write things in the latest app I’ve adopted for productivity, often never to be seen again. But we create. And create some more.

Our site is dedicated to helping you–whether you’re a professional creator or a hobbyist or someone wanting to try something new. Let us know what you like, and how we can help you with your creations. And support your local artists of all types. If you like what they do, giving them your time, purchasing their creations, and sharing the word helps keep our world unique and soft. We all know there is far too many hard edges out there. We hope our small attempt at support makes the creative fire burn just a little brighter in the world.

 

Happy Independence Day!

We’re celebrating Independence Day here at TGH. We’ve got some artists’ work and upcoming events to share.

First, an event going on right now in Nashville:
Dawn Beyer and Kyle Mercer at Tequila Cowboy in Nashville
DBeyerFoJ

Here’s some fine strummin’ from Active Melody that’s oh so apropos:

Here’s a cool national anthem rendition from Anthem Lights

Check back on this post–we will update it with new items as we get them.

Hen Needs to Up His Game

You may not know that Hen is a guitarist and drummer (and a few other things with instruments–he’s kind of a genius that way). After seeing these videos, I think it’s time he take up tap dancing, right?

Here’s an homage to that classic by Brit actor Tom Chambers:

Now I’ve got to search out someone playing guitar while doing a tango. . .

Will Overman Band: All I Say

When I reviewed Die Where I Began, one of the things I loved about Will Overman Band was the way the band’s songs capture a feeling in words and music. Their new single, “All I Say” shares that strength.

The single is released fresh off their appearance at MerleFest, the great music festival in Wilkesboro, NC, created to honor Doc Watson’s son, Eddy Merle Watson. They joined other groups I will need to check out, such as Scythian, The Waybacks, Shinyribs, and Fireside Collective, as well as the great John Prine. Our Charlottesville boys certainly held their own with their honest lyrics, gorgeous vocals, and layered instrumentation.

“Every closing door becomes a slam when silence fills the air;
You know that you’re wrong, but your ego says hold strong;
So you can be like me.”

The song describes the moments we all regret–slamming a door too often in a loved one’s face, literally or figuratively, walking away from someone who needs us to hear and acknowledge a hurt, the moment you say something you can’t take back, and the moment you decide to stop saying anything at all.

As often happens when the angry words flow, then stop, you “realize too late” that there is love between you, when you see your loved one “walking away.”

Will Overman Band hits these painful emotions with a poignancy that resonates after the song is finished. I plan on weighing my words more carefully after listening.

You can hear the band at their CD release show at The Southern Cafe and Music Hall in Charlottesville, VA, on June 4. You can grab “All I Say” and Die Where I Began on their band page at SoundCloud.

Green’s Done Found Something New

While watching A Craftsman’s Legacy I got to hear the story of Akira Satake, a potter in Asheville, NC. Satake comes from a talented family of artisans. While his father was a potter, Akira originally loved music and had no interest in learning pottery. He studied photography for a while, then decided to pursue the music he loved and started a band, then a record label. His business pursuits stressed him out, so he decided to take up a new hobby–and returned to his roots with pottery.

Pottery relaxed him and he decided to pursue it as his full time career. But he never abandoned his music. He primarily plays banjo, often with an Asian or jazz feel. If you’re in Asheville, check out his pottery. But wherever you are, check out his music. A refreshing sound.

 

Jimmy and Enrique in the Moment

There is a dirty-little-not-so-secret here at TGH. Green (that’s me!) doesn’t actually PLAY an instrument.

 

Well, I have played in the past. I took lessons on viola, violin, and piano, and sing off and on in church choirs. But I’m not a “real” musician. I’m the writer in the group. So even though I love listening to all kinds of music, I have only reviewed albums with vocals. I can talk about lyrics. And talk. But there are a lot of wonderful instrumental albums out there. Having half the website be an amazing musician makes me realize I’m missing a lot in my word-centric world.

 

I had to find a way to write about music my way. I feel like the old guy using the kids’ slang talking about gigs and licks and shredding guitars–or is it shredding music on guitars? Anyway, I usually focus on the poetry of lyrics and the overall feel of the music. Today, I decided to take on one album that is a wordless wonder: In the Moment by Jimmy and Enrique. Jimmy and Enrique are friends and colleagues of Hen, so that’s our full disclosure. In spite of that possible handicap, their album has me dancing in my seat as I type. The album has a strong Latin sound, and mixes all kinds of other influences.

 

Latin music has roots in a lot of different cultures. The guitar itself, recognized as a major instrument in Spanish and Latin music, descends from the Persian tar, a lute-like instrument named for the Persian word for “string.” Or so I’m told by Wikipedia. The troubadours, the original touring bands, have been connected to William of Aquitane and his influence from Muslim prisoners he captured on a crusade. Troubadour music highlighted loves lost and gained, amorous conquests, and evidently ribald poetry. The gyrating rhythms in Spanish, Latin, and Arab music are all perfect accompaniment for such subject matter. Jimmy and Enrique manage to get a lot of feeling across without needing words, which I guess is what great musicians do.

 

After listening to the album for the first time, I read another review. I was terribly pleased with myself to have noticed the Middle Eastern and of course, Latin influences in the music. Looking at the album now, I realize the song titles would have provided context clues. I dare you to listen to this album and sit still. Here are some highlights:

 

“Las Dos Vidoras” (“The Two Vipers”) is, well. . .serpentine. If a couple of snakes decided to start a flamenco, this is the song they would want as background. I can’t listen to it without trying to do a little “S” wiggle with my spine. Good luck managing better than me.

 

“Sandstorm” started and my first image was a camel ride with dervishes whirling around a caravan. That was before I checked the title of the song. So J&E have done a masterful job evoking the feel of the desert. I want some Morroccan tea, which I have now discovered is much more complex than it looks. Not unlike most music, but especially the subtle layers throughout this album.

 

As we continue our world-tour-in-an-album, we come to “Calypso Coronado.” Since I’m not a California girl, I did not recognize the (possible?) reference to Coronado, CA. The calypso feel, however, came through loud and clear.

 

“Chocolate Eyes” has a smooth sound. I hear a little island, a little jazz, a little Latin, and a little sitting on a veranda with a microbrew and enjoying life. And dancing. Definitely dancing.

 

J&E are some of the best musicians in San Diego. Jimmy Patton is a top-class guitarist, currently signed with Pacific Records. He is acknowledged as one of the best guitarists in the country, and has opened for jazz greats Stanley Jordan and Terrance Blanchard. Enrique Platas is a world-renowned drummer and percussionist. He has played on albums from Sony Mexico, and has opened for the B-52s and trumpeter Chris Botti.

 

You can buy In the Moment on their website.

 

Die Where I Began–The Unusually Traditional Will Overman Band

Will Overman Band

Since I started writing for That Green Hen, I’ve been amazed at how much quality music I’ve missed as a “radio girl.” My internet cohort, Hen, has been part of the local music scene on the West Coast for years, so he should have told me what I was missing, but NOOOOO, he kept it all to himself.

Now I love discovering new music, and one of these days I’m going to shed my inner Emily Dickinson and go off and visit some of these groups in person. The Will Overman Band is one of the great groups I’ve never heard until now. Here are my thoughts on their latest album, Die Where I Began.

The album is a nice mix of bluegrass-tinged americana and folk, expected themes and interesting twists. I especially love the cultural references worked into the songs, and the unusual topics handled creatively. There are not many songs about sitting in a hospital room, or being the one to break someone’s heart. And not many homages to a place that compare a street singer to Kurt Vonnegut. Will Overman Band goes to all these places, and does them with a touching skill that will send me searching for all their previous work.

A quick run-through of songs:

Whipporwill: True to bluegrass tradition, “Whipporwill” gives you all the banjos and fiddles you could want. The image of “licking my pen and writing these words about you” puts you back in time. The references to the natural world harken to any number of old songs that have come down out of the mountains.  Songs where love is best expressed as “the wind that cools you down when I’m not around” in a “song as long as the song of a whipporwill”.

Fix My Girl:  A song about waiting in the hospital room of a loved one. It catches the desperate tenderness you feel in a sterile hospital. “White wristband turning, strumming my new song. . .” while being willing to take her place if there was any way to trade places. If you’ve ever spent time sitting by a bed in a “hospital with its poker faced rooms,” this song will resonate with you. And probably make you cry. My favorite song on the album.

Minnesota I Was Wrong: For me, this song is made by the line: “the moon’s eerie beckoning is a broken-hearted dusk.” It’s just one of the great lines the pop up in this album.

Take Me Back to Virginia: I’m morally obligated to like this song, since I’m from Richmond. The band hits everything you’d expect about Virginia, and touches on our great education tradition, too, with references to Kurt Vonnegut, comparing him to a street performer who smells like “mustard gas and rose.” They hit the blue sky, the James River, dogwoods, freshly-turned fields, hills, and of course, in that Southern Gothic tradition made famous by Edgar Allen Poe, death gets a mention, too.

Falling In and Out: It’s not that often you find a song from the heartbreaker’s viewpoint. “Falling In and Out” is for those who spoke first, then reconsidered. The music is tender and sad, and Overman gets just the right amount of wistful tears into his voice to make you feel sorry for the one who walks away.

I Miss You: It’s appropriate that this song should follow Falling In and Out. “My lady done left me, but I pushed her along” explains where things stand. “I miss you, my dear,” with a sightly manic banjo accompaniment captures the feeling of sending someone away, knowing they need to go–in this case on a mind-opening travel tour “across this vast world”, yet wanting them back so very very badly. It  has the same feel as “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

You can follow the Will Overman Band on their Facebook page, and buy their album on iTunes.

Pretty Gritty on Pretty Gritty

I have listened to Pretty Gritty on YouTube and talked about two of their videos on this blog. So when I got their 2012 self-titled album, I thought I knew what to expect. Clean, lushly-instrumented, sweet songs that feel like ice cold lemonade on a southern summer day. Well, think again.

Pretty Gritty the album is more whisky sour than lemonade, but it is wonderful. This is a sassier album, hitting the jazzy country side harder than americana/folk. “Hey You” is a girl’s anthem with that never-ending attempt to get a man to play serious instead of just playing.

“I Don’t Know Why” goes with “Hey You” in my mind. Why oh why oh why has the one who “used to kiss me proudly in the daylight” suddenly grown cold? But since the melody is more honky-tonk swing and less weeping folk, you smile while you sing “now you’re always cold and I don’t know why.”

“Highway” is a driving song. For an interstate, not a curvy country road–because you’re going to want to push the pedal down and go fast.

You can find a little americana in the album. “This Heart of Mine” has the sweetness I have associated with PG. It is a declaration of love, and a plea for gentleness. “Don’t go breaking this heart of mine. . .I am putting it on the line, won’t you take it?” It is as tender as a high school sweetheart, and a feeling everyone has had when love is new and scary.

For something completely different, try “Hellhound Blues.” It fits into what I think of as Gothic Country, mysterious music with a hint of Stephen King-style horror. It’s like stories around a campfire in the middle of the night–you feel a small thrill of adrenaline, but no one’s really scared. But I bet you’ll want to sing along.

“Stay” is another of the deeper-than-they-sound sweet songs that went on to become a PG trademark. A song about the gentle healing of a broken heart, and the tentative steps someone takes back toward love when they’ve been hurt and are confronted with new love. “I hold my breath and hold on hope, each time I hear your voice ask if I’m ok as if I had a choice. Oh it always cuts so deep watching as you go.” A touching song that expresses the tricky combination of hope, fear, and longing  perfectly.

My absolute favorite song on this album is “Good Man.” It’s one of those great “nothing’s going to crush me” songs, the kind of thing they play in a movie when the hero has been beaten and goes into training to go get the bad guys. A great song when you feel overwhelmed, but know you have a lot more in you than you’ve shown so far.

Train songs are fun. Especially when they have a hobo feel. And songs about musicians striking out to seek their fortune are staples in country music. “Ol Train Whistle” steps right into this tradition. The song is upbeat and gives you no doubt that Pretty Gritty is well on their way to musical success.

The group has moved from their Maryland home just up the highway from me in Virgina. Now they’re in Portland, a little further up another highway from Hen. The move has moved them to a more roots music than country, which is not a bad thing. But I hope they will circle back sometime and take a step or two towards the rocking country of this album. Either way, I’ll be listening.

You can see Pretty Gritty’s tour schedule and buy their music from their website Their next show is February 20 at The Bitter End in Portland.