Tag Archives: That Green Hen

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.

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: Cliche and I Never Knew

Just saw Pretty Gritty‘s video for “Cliche,” and can only say color me impressed. The song is sweet and catchy, using instruments ranging from a guitar to spoons to the top of a washing machine. The lyrics are fun, including lines like “I can’t ever seem to wake up on time.”

It is filmed in an apartment laundry room, and includes someone coming in mid-video to do laundry, which sparks a good-natured whistle from the duet’s Blaine Heinonen when he sees lingerie is included. Sarah Wolff plays on through being edged aside for loading laundry.

The music is foot-tapping, the idea for the video is clever, and the song is pure whimsy.

“I Never Knew” is crying set to music. It has a mournful feel, but retains the sweetness of first love lost. The lyrics are simple:  “But you don’t want to walk with me, you just watch me as I leave.”  The simple ending, “I. . .miss. . .you” captures the feel of the song perfectly.

Simple and direct, both songs showcase the charming harmonies that make Pretty Gritty’s sound.  Their homey instruments are comforting, like the deceptively simple music itself.

Pretty Gritty’s members are from Maryland and are currently based in the Portland, OR area. They describe themselves as “Soulful Americana” and the description fits perfectly. You can see their show schedule here.

You’re No Longer Her Concern: Mary Gauthier on Trouble and Love

TroubleandLove

If Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt, and Lucinda Williams decided to pool their musical DNA, their creation wouldn’t be far from Mary Gauthier. Bluesy melancholy and dramatic imagery are throughout her songs, with a downhome delivery that Hank Williams would be proud to claim. Her album Trouble and Love covers heartbreak, loneliness, and survival with twang, resignation, empathy, and hope.

The album starts with “When a Woman Goes Cold” with a theme that will become familiar. The aching feeling of knowing too late that love has gone, and the loneliness of the aftermath. Who has not felt the pang when you realize “you’re no longer her concern” and that the one you built a world around simply does not care anymore?

“False From True” backtracks to the disintegrating relationship, to the moment when “a stranger showed up in your eyes.” The music is heartbreaking in its simplicity, reminiscent of some of John Prine’s best work. The quiet gentle sound eases into your heart and mind, and the lines “I tried, I tried, but I could not break through/There’s two of you and one don’t feel” hit you right in your heart.

“Trouble and Love,” which shares the album’s name, has the same simple writing. “Friends say walk on; it’s more trouble than it’s worth/But my will is gone and my head hangs low/It ain’t the leaving, it’s the way you go” show a person broken, in the middle of the worst of a breakup.

Things can only go up from here, and Gauthier reflects on that in “Oh Soul.” Referencing Robert Johnson’s famous deal with the devil in exchange for musical talent, she says on her website “If anyone would understand the sorrow of selling one’s soul, it would be Robert Johnson. So a visit to his grave, searching for redemption, in solidarity and prayer, in hopes of connecting with the spirit of a fellow traveller during a hard time, a time of deep questioning, well, it just makes sense…” Her tempo goes up ever so slightly, and a soft optimism whispers into the music even while the lyrics reflect her fear of having lost herself in her destroyed relationship. But while the previous songs dwelt on her lost love, here she’s going inward, thinking about what she’s lost, and her desire to reclaim herself, crying “Redemption, redemption/Have mercy on me”.

“What is the process by which deep and mighty blows deepen us, open us, make us better people? How does calamity and deep pain create deep empathy?” So Gauthier muses on her blog post about “Worthy.” The music is quiet, and a touching humility runs together with a growing triumph as the song progresses. She touches on the part of loss that gives strength, and how the process of grieving opens a new view of herself: “Left stumbling in the dark, I had to go within/So I traced my scars, back to where I’d been/A diamond in the dirt, perfectly concealed.”

In a break-up, or any loss for that matter, once you let yourself feel your pain and begin to grow through it, you are able to look around at the people who have hurt you and give them release as well. Gauthier perfectly catches that feeling in “Walking Each Other Home.” Looking back at her hurt, she’s able to be kindly resigned. “Ain’t for me to say what’s bad or good/In the end/I know we did the best we could. . .[and] we’re all just walking each other home.” This song is my favorite of the album.

If she had ended the album here, she would have had a great progression of a breakup. But as anyone who has experienced a painful loss knows too well, accepting the loss is only the beginning. You have to learn to live without the person you loved, with the changed situation–and that lesson is sometimes slow and painful. In “How You Learn to Live Alone” she unflinchingly describes the numbness of living past loss. “You’re not here, but you’re still there/The sun goes up, the sun goes down/And you’re not sure you care” is one of the best descriptions of the long days putting one foot in front of the other, surviving until your life is something you want again. It’s part of the process, and “It don’t feel right, but it’s not wrong.”

And one day you want to live again. Sadder, wiser, you still want to reach out one more time. Your steps may be hesitant, your view may not be as sunny as before, but you find yourself “Moving on through the pain. . ./Waiting on/Another train.”

The album features many co-writers, including Gretchen Peters, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Scott Nolan, and Ben Glover. It is available on vinyl and as a cd on her website and as an MP3 download on CDBaby.

Year End Review: Rhythm, Harmony, and Creativity

dec31calendarstandardhalf

Hi, Green Hen folks! We’ve barely gotten on the ground for 2014, but thought we’d give you a quick look at what the year brought now that we’re in 2015.

This fall, we started a page to promote local music and make it easier for musicians, venues, and listeners to find each other.  While we put the finishing touches on our plans, That Green Hen will cover concerts in our local area, showcase local bands and venues, and share news of music non-profits doing good.

To be great, music needs several components–rhythm, harmony, and creativity, to name a few. We are learning to use those same components on our page.

  1. Rhythm: Music is about beats–some regular, some syncopated, a blend of the expected and unexpected. This page itself was an unexpected gift, unplanned until just a few short weeks ago. We are working out the best “notes” to offer–how often to post, when to post more about music in general, when about specific bands, which regions to highlight, and what blend of audio, video, and text is best. As we hone our working style, we have plans for a wide variety of content–interviews, quizzes, shared music videos and articles, musical collaborations, and links between music and health, music and literature, and music and learning. As we continue our “composing” we will find the sweet spot between a simple solo and a major symphony.
  2. Harmony: Few musicians manage to have a strictly solo existence–and if they share their work with others, there is always collaboration. That Green Hen is made up of two people with different skills and backgrounds–Green brings a (sometimes dizzying) array of ideas good and bad,  strong curiosity, a listener’s interest in music, and the ability to write about it. Hen is all the skills–musician, technical computer talents, and a lifetime of working on projects in all sorts of arenas and bringing them to fruition. Thankfully, a lot of Hen’s music interest is in the world of jazz, so he is rarely thrown off by sudden improvisations from Green. We look forward to working with musicians and music lovers to “strike the right chord” on our page to best promote music.
  3. Creativity: Music is an expression of creativity–whether you are composing a new piece or putting your own spin on someone else’s work. One of Green’s professors once said “Great work resonates.” We are currently looking at what is out there in the music blogosphere. What do we have to offer that is unique? Where can we go from what has already been done? Expect new and fun ideas, as well as sharing the best work of others in the music world.

There is one other area that is crucial to music: the listener. A musician may choose to create or perform with a listener in mind–or may not. But once a work is released to the world, the listener plays a part. What gets shared, what gets emulated, what lives on decades or even centuries after its creation–these are determined by the person receiving the music. That Green Hen knows that our readers and followers are crucial to our success. We welcome feedback. Please feel free to email us ThatGreenHen@ThatGreenHen.com or comment on our FB page or drop us a Tweet about what you see here–one thing about music lovers, we’re used to listening!

Picture Credit: http://www.freeimages.com/profile/djayo

Music and Literature: Mumford & Sons ‘The Cave’

Cavefreeimagesstandard
Image Courtesy of FreeImages.com

By Green

I’m the word geek here at That Green Hen, sometimes more focused on lyrics than the music. My favorite songwriters weave literature references into their songs, and knowing their references increases my appreciation of their work. From time to time, the English major in me will work her way out and decide to analyze a song or two on the blog. Please feel free to share you insights.

Today let’s talk about Mumford and Sons.  The best example of literary allusion, to my mind, is their song “The Cave.”

The title references Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which describes the non-thinking society as people in a cave, looking at the shadows on the wall and not realizing a world outside their experience makes those shadows. Plato invited his readers to challenge assumptions and look at the “real life” around them. (Gary Greg has an excellent article on this song.)  Lyrics such as “So come out of your cave walking on your hands / And see the world hanging upside down / You can understand dependence / When you know the maker’s hand” invite the listener to break out of unchallenged thinking and follow the writer’s choice “To live my life as it’s meant to be.”  They also work in a Homeric reference to the Sirens, those sea nymphs who lured unsuspecting sailors to death with their lovely song in The Odyssey (quick side factoid–the film “O Brother Where Art Thou” is also based on the Odyssey). In order to pass through their territory, Odysseus had his crew stop their ears with wax and chain him to the ship’s mast so the ship could not be compelled to head into the Sirens’ grasp. In the song, the lyrics express being true to your personal calling rather than following the temptations of other people’s plans for you.

These are the two most obvious literary references in the song–did I miss any?