A singer–songwriter is a musician who writes, composes and sings their own material including lyrics and melodies. Recently I had the chance to see a couple of sets of singer-songwriters; from the local and national level.
The quarterly local songwriters spotlight hosted by Joe Grushecky and Rick Witkowski featured guests Billy Price, Carol Lee Espy and Bob Corbin. All five songwriters took turns performing three of their signature songs, old and new. There were stories and laughter and a good camaraderie and mutual admiration and respect. I would watch the other singer-songwriters sing and play along almost spontaneously being caught up in the moment. Grushecky did some older songs “Fingerprints”, and “Pumping Iron” and something new, the title track of his latest release “East Carson Street”. Witkowski started with “Soul Control”, then did a personal song about “Love & Food & Rachel” for the daughter they never had and B.E. Taylor Groups “Vitamin L” became a sing-a-long (taking us back to the MTV video days and a #1 hit in Pittsburgh). In between the guests took their turns in the spotlight. Billy Price offered “Who You’re Workin’ For,” “Eldorado Cafe” and a new song he co-wrote with someone from France “Under the Influence”. Carol Lee Espy kept commenting how hard it was to follow Price’s energetic performances with her laid back country tunes. Espy sang what she called her signature song “My Name is Mary” along with “Cross the River” (written from a farmer’s point of view; she had to think like a man) and “The Allegheny Song”, about the river. Bob Corbin began with a new going away tune “I’ll Be There”, then did “Scooter, Michael, Danny and Me” and one the six songs which he wrote that reached #1, Alabama’s “Fire in the Night”.
The most interesting part of the evening was when each of the songwriters performed a song that they wish they had penned. “You Better Move On”, by a relative unknown (except to the Beatles and Rolling Stones) Arthur Alexander was the choice by Grushecky. Price chose an Al Green song “Love and Happiness”. Espy likes the 3-chord songs by John Prine and sang “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”, a song about the dissolution of a relationship. Another John; Hiatt, was the choice for Bob Corbin, at the piano he sang “Have a Little Faith in Me”. Witkowski went with “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.
After a standing ovation, the songwriters came back on stage to sing a song from The Band, “The Weight”. Does anyone really know all the lyrics to the song or even the words to the chorus? A sheet was passed around to each performer as they took a verse and the audience joined in on the chorus. It was an wonderful two hours of music and a great way to spend a Saturday evening.
Just a few days later Pittsburgh was the first stop on a brief tour for a trio of singer-songwriters. Ben Sollee and Carrie Rodriguez have been joined by Erin McKeown. All three came on stage to start the show, then Rodriguez did a solo set. She used two different guitars and really knows how to play the fiddle. The half-dozen songs included a couple of tracks from her 2008 release “She Ain’t Me”: “Infinite Night” and “Absence”. Her new CD is going to be a covers CD, including the Townes Van Zandt song “Rex’s Blues” (appropriate tune for the venue, The Rex Theater) and a song that her dad e-mailed to her “When I Heard Gypsy Davey Sing”. Ben Sollee’s set was filled with long, lavish instrumental introductions on the cello, proving that songwriters can also compose beautiful music without lyrics. At the end of his set, Sollee was joined by Rodriquez and McKeown and really “electrified” the stage. After a short break, it was McKeown’s turn. Despite jet lag (returning from a European tour), she took center stage. She treated the audience to three tracks from her most recent release “Hundreds of Lions”, by introducing each song as “Track 1”, “Track 2” and “Track 3”. For the encore, the trio played Cat Stevens “Wild World” and rounded out the two hour show with a rousing instrumental. Despite little rehearsal, these singer-songwriters really came together and treated the “school night” crowd to a warm, enjoyable evening of music.
Barb S. – Sunday Mix Host
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ben sollee billy price bob corbin carol lee espy carrie rodriguez erin mckeown joe grushecky rick witkowski singer-songwriters