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Singer-Songwriter Jonathan Kingham is joining Toad the Wet Sprocket on tour this year.  Toad will be coming to the Pittsburgh area soon.  (You can check out the WYEP Concert Calendar for more information.)

Barb WYEP's Sunday Mix Host (WYEP):  Hello Jonathan!  Thanks for taking the time, while you are out on the road with Toad, to respond to some questions via e-mail for the WYEP Music Blog!

Jonathan Kingham (JK):  My pleasure. Thanks for having me!

WYEP: Jonathan, how did the opportunity come about to play keys for Toad the Wet Sprocket?

JK: I've been friends with Glen Phillips for a long time and consider him one of my best friends. We've toured a lot together over the last few years with me opening for him and backing him up on keys and guitars and vocals. He offered up the idea of me playing keys and lap steel with Toad and I thought it would be a good time as I'm a fan of all the Toad albums and obviously I'm a fan of Glen's solo work so I said yes.

WYEP:  How many Toad songs did you have to learn?  What is your favorite Toad song to perform?

JK: I think the list Dean emailed me was about 40 songs. We got two rehearsals and that was about it. Luckily there are a lot of youtube videos I can reference....My favorite song to play is probably either windmills or one of their new ones called "moments" and "Friendly Fire" They've been writing for a new album and the new tunes are really great!

WYEP:  You recently relocated to Nashville from Seattle.  As a singer-songwriter, how has this move been for you artistically?  Seattle has quite a vibrant local music scene, so what prompted the change?

JK: I absolutely love Nashville. I've been living there part time on and off for the last 8 years and it just finally made sense to be there full time. I love Seattle and was there 15 years. It is really beautiful, but it is also really hard to travel and tour out of there. Nashville is so central to everything, the cost of living is a lot lower and the community is really welcoming and supportive. Oh, yeah, and the sun comes out a little more often than in Seattle...I'll probably be writing more happy songs now that I'm in Nashville

WYEP: It is intriguing when a singer-songwriter covers a song by another singer-songwriter.  On your most recent release Smooth Out the Lines, you do an amazing version of Marc Cohn's Ghost Train.  Why did you decide to record that particular song?

JK: Thanks a lot. I am a big fan of Marc and I always felt like that song got overshadowed by "walking in Memphis"on that album. I had been playing Ghost Train for a long time live at shows and it seemed to fit nicely with the other 9 songs on the new album so I recorded it.

WYEP:  You host songwriting workshops.  If I were to enroll in your Songwriting Made Simple workshop, what would I learn?  Is it really simple to write a song?  After all you have many years of experience as a songwriter, how do you share with others what you have learned?

JK: I really love a great song and our whole goal with the songwriting workshops is to help people realize that even if they don't have any formal music training they still possess the ability to write a song. We start with the different parts that make up the structure of the song, then we have the students create a chord progression, and then craft a melody.  Then we do brainstorming lyrical exercises to get ideas flowing which we then funnel down into ideas that become our title, verses and chorus. It may not be a song that changes the world, but it will be a song and it will hopefully set you down the path of writing more songs.  So yes, it really is simple to write a song. ...

WYEP: So, last year, if I called the City of Seattle, and was put on hold, I would have had the chance to hear a song from you in the Muzak?  I read on-line about the Seattle onHold program that plays music by local artists on city phone systems.  Seattle was the first city to feature local music.  What song(s) of yours were selected?  How did your music get chosen to be a part of this program?

JK: It was a cool thing. It wasn't thru Muzak but the City of seattle used all local musicians as their on hold music. I believe they played "September skies". It came about because I had done a Seattle Downtown Series concert and the guy who booked the series also was the one spearheading the on hold music.

WYEP:  One of my favorite songs of yours is Grace.  What was the inspiration behind that song?  It is really beautiful and I think your signature song.

JK: Thanks a lot. That is my favorite song I've ever written and I don't like a lot of the songs I write. Ha. I had that guitar riff and the first verse  for a long time and then it all tumbled out. I feel like some songs you really work at and try hard to write and about every 50 or 60 you get handed a gift that you are just the conduit for and it comes out effortlessly. That song is a reminder to me to never take for granted what I have been given.

WYEP:  Another favorite is September Skies.  When I am outside walking and that tune comes on my MP3 player, it provides such vivid images in my mind of the fall season.  For a song like that, do the lyrics come first and then the melody?

JK: That song was actually done and ready to be mixed and was titled something different when my mother got diagnosed with cancer. It was in the fall and I was on tour in Ohio, walking along the river. It brought everything acutely into focus about how fragile and precious life is and I went in an re-wrote all the lyrics and re-cut the vocals. For that one, when I wrote the string arrangement I actually liked the melody line of the violins better than the original melody so I re-wrote it to marry with the string section.

WYEP:  I am also quite partial to AM Radio (Hardwood Floors).  I grew up listening to AM Radio and was even on-air at AM Radio stations many years ago … I was wondering if you wrote this song about a particular radio station.  There are not many radio stations on the AM band that are as soulful sounding as you described in the song.

JK: Well that wasn't about one particular station but that song started out as a tribute to my dad. We didn't have a TV growing up and my father would listen to old radio dramas on his little AM radio and he'd listen to baseball on Sunday afternoons and so I started out to write a song for my dad and his AM radio but it quickly shifted to a "late night with your lady and some wine" kind of song.....

WYEP:  How did you pick up your rapping skills?  You seem to have the natural ability to be able to spontaneously perform a rap.

JK: Uh, yeah i'm kind of freak that way. I've always loved all styles of music especially hip hop. I used to tour with a folk group and one of the other guys in the band Evan Brubaker and I would freestyle battle back and forth. Then I started playing college cafeterias and a lot of the time, the students wouldn't be paying any attention. Then I'd drop a few freestyle rhymes on them and all of a sudden you have everyone in the room's attention. Now it is kind of expected that I'll do it but its different every single night so I don't get tired of it.

WYEP:  Jonathan thanks for your time!  Safe travels and best of luck in the future!

JK: Thanks so much, we'll see you in Pittsburgh, home of the silent "H"

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Marc Cohn's latest release is Listening Booth: 1970.  The Kent Stage became our listening booth Tuesday night, as Mr. Cohn gave a reflective and emotional performance in front of what could be considered a hometown crowd.

During the nearly two-hour show Marc Cohn moved from playing the piano, to the guitar (he's a lefty like Jimi Hendrix) to standing alone center stage to sing.  Mr. Cohn soulfully feels the music he writes.  He also surrounds himself with a small, talented band which includes his long time guitarist, Shane Fontane (whose resume includes playing with Bruce Springsteen and playing for Presidents of the United States).

Mr. Cohn played a variety of songs from all of his studio albums Marc Cohn (1991), The Rainy Season (1993), Burning the Daze (1998), Join The Parade (2007), and Listening Booth: 1970 (2010).  Known as a singer-songwriter, ironically his highest charting CD to date is Listening Booth: 1970, from which Mr. Cohn sang and provided a commentary on his cover versions of  "The Letter", "The Only Living Boy in New York"  and "Into the Mystic". I've only had the chance to see Mr. Cohn in concert four times since his career began and I'm always amazed that he manages to come up with different arrangements.  His music tends to be reflective and he continues to breathe new life into his songs.  He is also very appreciative of the fans who support his music.

Cleveland is Mr. Cohn's hometown.  Many of his songs contain references to places around Cleveland and the weather (clouds, rain).  Mr. Cohn's most recent release looks back to music from 40 years ago and being in Kent, OH he remembered the events that took place at Kent State University in 1970. He even reflected on the attempted carjacking in Denver in 2005 when he got shot in the head (something Mr. Cohn does not often talk about.)  His stories continued as he shared how his Grammy award winning song (Best New Artist) "Walking in Memphis" came to life, giving most of the credit to the real life Muriel (who plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood.)

It was a family reunion for Mr. Cohn, as his three brothers were in the audience.  Mr. Cohn came out to do an encore with a cake in his hands, candles lit.  We sang happy birthday to his brother Al, who will be turning 70 this week. 

The evening of music came to a fitting end when Mr. Cohn sang "One Safe Place" and then he, his brothers and his band all took a final bow.

Opening the show with a 30-minute set was an 18-year-old singer-songwriter from the Jersey Shore named Cara Salimando. She reminded me of the singer Jewel, just needs some polish.  She plays the keyboards and ukulele.  It was a nice touch that she offered a free 3-song CD EP of her music.

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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Marc Cohn

“Listening Booth:  1970”

July 20, 2010

Saguaro Road Records

Produced and Arranged by John Leventhal

Co-Produced by Rick DePofi

So.  I’ve been waiting (and hoping) for that one CD to review this year that would surely make it to the top of my best of list for 2010.  Over six months in to the new decade I finally heard that CD.  “Listening Booth: 1970” - Marc Cohn (Saguaro Road Records).

Marc Cohn has referred to this CD as his best.  I’m not willing to go quite that far (just yet), since, after all, it is a CD of covers.  Over the years, Cohn has proven to be a genuinely gifted songwriter.  On this CD he shares his soulful voice.

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Cohn felt the year 1970 was pivotal for him.  He would go to the local record store, choose some records and enter the Listening Booth to check them out before buying the music.  Thus the concept for this CD:  listening to, or in Cohn’s case, recording those songs that made an impact on him during his formidable years.

As a fan of singer-songwriters, I usually have low expectations of a covers CD.  After all, a singer-songwriter is supposed to sing and record songs that they actually write.  Hence the term singer-songwriter.  So when they sing songs written by other people, I tend to wonder what the motives are.  Fulfilling a contractual obligation to the record company?  Writer’s block?  I need not have worried when it came to Marc Cohn.  Actually, any new music from Cohn is a cause for celebration.  From his debut in 1991, he has only released 4 CD’s of original material over a 16+ year period.  Only four!  I consider each of those CD’s as a greatest hits collection.  Thus, something new from Cohn is a big deal in my book.

Marc Cohn exemplifies the term “quality over quantity”.   So I should not have been so surprised that I would enjoy a CD of covers by Cohn.  There is not bad song in the bunch.  The list of writers include some of the most successful artists of all time:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Van Morrison, just to name a few.  Cohn shares vocals with India.Arie, Kristina Train, Aimee Mann and Jim Lauderdale.

If I must choose some favorite tracks: “Wild World” and “Maybe I’m Amazed”.  Despite my initial hesitation that “Make It With You” is only meant to be heard on AM Radio; Marc Cohn & India.Arie give it plenty of soul.  Cohn is at his best on the mid- to up-tempo songs.

Here is a track listing for “Listening Booth: 1970” with writer credits in (italics) and a sampling of some of the other artists who have recorded these songs:

Wild World (Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens) Jimmy Cliff, Jose Feliciano, Mr. Big, Maxi Priest

Look at Me (John Lennon) John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band

Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney) Petula Clark, Joe Cocker, Faces, Lena Horne, Nancy Sinatra

Make It with You (with India.Arie) (David Gates) Bread, Marc Anthony, Philip Bailey, Aretha Franklin. Teddy Pendergrass, Dusty Springfield, The Whispers, Andy Williams

The Letter (Wayne Carson Thompson) The Box Tops (1967), Joe Cocker (1970)

The Only Living Boy in New York (Paul Simon) Simon & Garfunkel, Everything But the Girl, David Mead

After Midnight (John J. Cale) Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale, Chet Atkins, Jerry Garcia, Sergio Mendes, Leon Russell, Steve Winwood

The Tears of a Clown (with Kristina Train) (Henry Crosby, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder) The Beat, Petula Clark, The English Beat, The Miracles

No Matter What (with Aimee Mann) (Pete Ham) Badfinger, Def Leppard, Jellyfish, The Knack

New Speedway Boogie (with Jim Lauderdale) (Jerry Garcia) Grateful Dead

Into the Mystic (Van Morrison) Paul Carrack, Ben E. King, Michael McDonald, Van Morrison,

Long As I Can See the Light (John Fogerty) Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker

A partial Marc Cohn Discography:

Marc Cohn

Release Date: February 12, 1991

Label: Atlantic / Wea

The Rainy Season

Release Date: May 25, 1993

Label: Atlantic / Wea

Burning The Daze

Release Date: March 17, 1998

Label: Atlantic / Wea

Marc Cohn Live 04/05

Release Date: 2005

Label: United Musicians

The Very Best Of Marc Cohn

Release Date: June 20, 2006

Label: Atlantic / Wea

Join The Parade

Release Date: October 9, 2007

Label: Decca

Join The Parade Live EP

Artist: Marc Cohn

Label: Miles Away Records

Release Date: 7/8/2008

Barb S. - Sunday Mix Host

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