On Stage: Keith Harkin brings a bit of Ireland for St. Patty’s

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Keith Harkin

Keith Harkin couldn’t have picked a better day to play a show in Philadelphia.

If you’re a musician from Ireland, it is almost mandatory to have a gig in the states on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I always tour in March,” said Harkin, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from a tour stop in Atlanta, Georgia. “I love playing live shows that time of year. Actually, this year I’m booked most of the year.”

On March 17, Harkin, who is from Derry in Northern Ireland, will headline a show at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com).

If you’re a fan of Celtic music and you regularly attend shows featuring Irish musicians, then there is a pretty good chance you’ve seen Harkin perform onstage. Harkin was part of the popular Irish music group Celtic Thunder for nearly a decade.

After being discovered by Grammy-winning producer David Foster, Harkin signed to Verve Records and released his self-titled debut solo album in 2012. The LP became the Number 1 best seller on iTunes in addition to reaching Number 1 on the World Music Chart in both the U.S. and Canada.  Harkin’s sophomore recording, “On Mercy Street,” was released in 2015, followed by his 2016 holiday release, “Nollaig,” — both of which also reached Number 1 on Billboard’s World Music chart.

Harkin recently released a live, acoustic album “In the Round” on Blue Elan Records. It was recorded and filmed last summer at Full Circle in Venice Beach, California – which just happens to be Harkin’s current hometown.

“I left Derry when I was 18 and moved to London,” said Harkin. “After living in London for a while, I moved to Los Angeles. I do miss the seasons from Ireland. But, if I’m there during the winter, it only takes me about a week until I’m ready to head back to California.

“I’ve always travelled my whole life. I’ve surfed all over Ireland – especially the west coast. My parents took me camping a lot when I was young. And, I toured America many times when I was in Celtic Thunder. I still go back to Ireland a lot because I have a studio in Donegal.”

Harkin is thriving on his own – free from the restrictions of performing with an act like Celtic Thunder.

According to Harkin, “I was with Celtic Thunder for a great 10 years, but I never got to actually show what I do best. A lot of people didn’t know I could even play three chords on guitar, much less hold a whole concert together on my own. They didn’t know I wrote my own songs. So, the time finally came for me to show that side of me.”

Harkin has been fairly prolific with four albums in five years.

“I pull songs from everywhere,” said Harkin. “I’ve been playing songs in clubs for 20 years. I have four solo records and I’m in the midst of making a fifth.

“The live record was recorded nearly three years ago. It took so long to get it out that, in the middle, I record a Christmas album. I’m delighted with the way the live album came out. People say it’s the best record I’ve done.

“When I play live, it’s just me. I mainly play on my own. On this tour, I’m just going out and doing my own thin. I want to develop on my own. I’ve got all the songs written for my next album and I’ve been talking to a few different producers and engineers.

“On this tour, I’m playing songs from all my records. And, there are songs I play that I’ve never recorded. And, there are always a few Irish songs I knew growing up.”

Video link for Keith Harkin — https://youtu.be/5IYD3a2PsAQ.

The show at MilkBoy Philly, which has Joey Harkum as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Kerri Powers

Kerri Powers won’t be releasing her new album “Starseeds” for about two months but her fans can hear a preview of some of the songs when she headlines a show on March 17 at Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com).

“This isn’t a big tour — just a three-day run this week,” said Powers, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from her home in Canton, Connecticut. “I just go wherever my agent sends me.”

Produced by Eric Michael Lichter at Dirt Floor Studios in East Haddam Connecticut, “Starseeds” features eight new original compositions and two choice covers — a moving take on Blind Faith’s restive anthem “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Polly,” a lovely song of wistful reflection written by the late Gene Clark of Byrds fame.

“I’ll be releasing the album on the fourth of May,” said Powers. “After that, I’ll be touring a lot solo. And, hopefully, I’ll be doing some shows with my band.

“‘Starseeds’ was about a year in the making. We just finished the mastering and we’ll be doing a radio campaign in April.

“This is a studio album. I recorded it at Dirt Floor Studio here in Connecticut with Eric Lichter. He played a lot of instruments as well. He also did my album in 2014 with me. We had pedal steel, bass and drums in the studio. I produced much of the album myself. It was my first time to be more hands-on.

“I decided to call it ‘Starseeds’ because starseed is a healer – an empath. I felt a lot of these songs were on a healing side – not just for myself. The songs are the healers. Music is really a healing force. It was important for me to ge the songs out there. I don’t think it’s about me. It’s about putting it out there and making a healing statement.

“The songs took me a long time to write. My most productive time is real early in the morning. I’ll wake up with an idea and go with it. I’m also a visual artist so a lot of the album is visually inspired. I’m an intuitive painter and an intuitive writer.”

Powers has taken an unconventional approach to her music career and the hurdles that inevitably come with it.  During an artistic youth indulging in music, painting and writing she composed her first songs when she was really young.

“I wrote my first sing when I was nine,” said Powers. “Music has always been a part of my life. I came from a musical family.”

Her creative instincts seemed to come naturally, given that there was a certain talent embedded in her genes. Bing Crosby was a distant relative on her father’s side, while her mother’s relatives claimed a kinship to Herman Melville. Her paternal grandmother even maintained a position playing piano as accompaniment for silent movies, as was the custom back in the day.

In her teens, Powers began performing in local coffeehouses throughout New England. But when she fell in love, got married and had a child, she put her pursuits aside. Later, after raising her son and overcoming the hardship of a difficult divorce she rediscovered her passion and returned to making music.

According to Powers, “I lost confidence and questioned everything about my ability as an artist for a long time. I wasn’t sure I would ever get back to performing. But I did continue to write. Writing the songs was what ultimately gave me the incentive to keep going.

“I wasn’t exactly sure what the driving force behind writing those songs was, but it kept me going. Music and art have always been a healing force in my life. I think most of us could say it has an incredible impact on us both personally and on a universal level.”

In the aftermath, Powers released a self-titled EP in 2014 and with zero radio or publicity assistance she was able to land the #1 spot on Roots Music Report’s list of “Top 50 Folk Albums of 2014.”  Over the years she has appeared at numerous prestigious venues and musical gatherings including the Boston Folk Festival, the Philadelphia Folk Festival and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Her song “Diamond Day” was featured in the motion picture “Chuck” and other tracks have made their way into the television series “Rescue Me.” and “Justified.”

“In my live shows now, I’m playing some songs from ‘Starseeds’ and some from my previous two albums,” said Powers. “I’m also doing the song from ‘Chuck’ and some songs that were used in TV shows.”

Video link for Kerri Powers – https://youtu.be/1AaOz-KDUHI.

The show at Burlap and Bean will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Yungblud

Yungblud is coming to America and he’s ready to tear it up.

One of the most promising new acts to come out of the U.K. in recent years, Yungblud will share the bill with K. Flay on March 18 at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com). The young Brit, who grew up in Yorkshire, just released his self-titled debut EP via Locomotion/Geffen Records.

“I left Yorkshire when I was 16,” said Harrison, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from a tour stop in Buffalo. “I finished a year of high school there and said – get me out of here. I went to London to fulfill my dream of being a rock star.

“I grew up in a musical family. There are pictures of me when I was six years old in a car seat with a Beatles ukulele and a microphone. My grandfather was an early influence. When I was seven, he introduced me to the Beatles ‘Revolver’ and other bands like the Small Faces. I just fell in love with rock-and-roll very young.

“Then, I discovered hip hop on my own. I would listen to acts like N.W.A. and Grandmaster Flash. My parents were always supportive. I remember painting my toenails when I was nine and my parents encouraged me. I got my first guitar when I was four, so I’ve been playing guitar my while life. At age 11, I played a song I’d written for my mom and she said it was really good. When I was 12-14, I was in a punk band playing around the area.”

With his wild take on alt-pop equally inspired by punk, hip-hop, and U.K. garage, Yungblud uses breakneck flow and tongue-in-cheek attitude to deliver pointed lyrics about everything from gentrification to disenfranchisement to addiction without getting heavy-handed.

According to Harrison, “I want my music to always have a message, but I don’t want to preach to anybody. This music’s just an outburst of emotion and anger, and everything else going on in my head.

“I always had a lot of energy. People misunderstood me a lot because I expressed my self in a different way. Music was my outlet.”

Yorkshire was not the place for young Yungblud.

“When I went to London, I went to art school and it was suffocating,” said Harrison. “So, I left art school and started playing open mics. I got a manager and that didn’t work out. So, I got a new manager.

“All this underlying frustration was building up. Brexit happened. Young people were getting confused. I knew exactly what I wanted to write. I was just going to say what I think. The world is a confusing place for young people. We’re an intelligent generation. So, I needed to say what I think.”

Now, Yungblud is bringing his music to an ever-growing legion of American fans.

“On this tour, we’re playing around a 60-minutre set,” said Harrison. “There are 10 sings in the set. I want people to leave the venue exhausted when we’re done.”

Video link for Yungblud – https://youtu.be/WqfnSZGadwc.

The show at Union Transfer, which also features K. Flay, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.

If you were asked to name places where reggae-rock bands got started, obvious answers might be Jamaica, other Caribbean countries, the Brixton section of London in England or maybe Santa Cruz, California.

It is unlikely that Rindge, New Hampshire would find its way to the list.

Roots of Creation

Surprisingly, Roots of Creation, one of America’s highly-touted reggae-rock bands, got its start in Rindge.

“We got started back in 2000 when we were students at Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire, said the band’s guitarist/lead vocalist Breett Wilson, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from a tour stop in North Jersey.

On March 18, the “Roots of Creation: Roc’s Grateful Dub 2018 Tour” will visit the area for a stop at The Foundry at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com).

“We’ve been touring for about 10 years,” said Wilson. “Our first album came out in 2005 an that’s when we started taking it seriously. In 2006, we moved in together, did another album and never looked back.”

Rootsy reggae-rock bands have always appealed to the fans of jam bands and frequently are popular attractions at jam band festivals. Roots of Creation have appealed to a variety of fans – reggae fans, ska-punk fans and, most importantly, jam band fans.

The band’s most recent album release cemented its appeal to all these groups. Focusing on the music of the Grateful Dead, the album is titled “Grateful Dub.”

Roots of Creation always loved the Grateful Dead and was inspired by the legendary San Francisco band’s music. In January of 2017, RoC set out to capture the spirit of the Dead in a reggae dub style.

The result was “Grateful Dub,” which was recorded at the band’s hometown studio in Brookline, New Hampshire. It was recorded with the legendary five-time Grammy winning producer/engineer Errol Brown, who has worked with Bob Marley, Rebelution, and Peter Tosh. Recorded over a period of 10 16-hour days in the middle of winter, the album offers Roots of Creation’s take on the band’s favorite Grateful Dead songs.

“This album has appealed to Dead fans,” said Wilson. “They can feel the passion. When I was young, I never got to see Jerry (Garcia) play but he’s always been a big influence. We had one Dead track on our last album. We also did a set with (Dead member) Melvin Seals one year at Jerry Jam. I was brought up by a hippie mom, so I was familiar with the music of the Grateful Dead from when I was very young.

“My roots are the jam band circuit. I started out street-teaming and going to festivals at an early age. I learned to play guitar by listening to Dead bootlegs. I also really liked reggae and American acts like Sublime and Rancid. I wanted to combine these elements with the jam scene.

“With Roots of Creation, we developed different styles. As we went on, there was more of a reggae-rock element. Making music like the Police, Clash and 311 has always been our goal.

“Working with Erol on the new album was a great experience. We like it to rock but he made sure we kept a solid rhythm section. We cut it at Studio Metronome in Brookline (NH) and he came there. He came into our element.”

The fruition of their work came with the album’s release on March 9.

“We started recording the album last January,” said Wilson. “We did 10 very long days in the studio to track it and then a year of listening, adding guests and tweaking. We were super-focused the whole time.”

Video link for Roots of Creation – https://youtu.be/i-QAaSydINk.

The show at The Foundry, which also features Darlingtyn, and The Elovaters, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $13.

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