On Stage: Aztec Two-Step debuting 1st new album in more than a decade

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Aztec Two-Step

Aztec Two-Step has been around for decades and has played the area numerous times over the years at a variety of venues – including Kennett Flash not long ago.

So, the fact that the duo is returning to the area for a show on August 11 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com) is no big deal.

The fact that the show at WCL is a “CD Release Show” for Aztec Two-Step — Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman — is a big deal.

Aztec Two-Step’s most recent studio album of new material was “Days of Horses” in 2004. Now, the two veteran musicians are doing shows in support of their brand-new album “Naked.”

“This is our first album in over a decade and the response has been great so far,” said Fowler, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from his home in New York City.

“We started recording at the beginning of the new year. We had three great sessions with four great musicians – Gary Schreiner, Michael Pisceglia, Thad DeBrock and Doug Yowell.

“Gary is our producer and worked with us on the John Lennon project. We’ve worked together for the last five yeqars. He po;lays keyboards, accordion and chromatic harmonica.

“Doug, the drummer, has worked with Koe Jackson and Suzanne Vega. Thad is the electric guitarist and Michale is the bass player. He’s the bass chair in the Broadway production of “Kinky Boots.

“We recorded it at Gary’s studio in New York City – Rich man’s Den – and at Teaneck Sound Studio in New Jersey. Neal is an extraordinary acoustic lead guitarist and he played really well with Thad on electric guitar.”

One of the questions the new release might inspire is – Why now?

“We’ve been together as a band for 46 years,” said Fowler. “We felt it was way past due to make a new record of all original recordings.

“It’s a good mix of songs we had around for a while and new songs that we wrote for the album. We wanted to get them on record. We recorded 12 songs and used 11 on the album.

“We recorded live in the studio and it was magic. We had good solid basic tracks in no time.”

Recording and touring non-stop since the early 1970s, Rex and Neal have accumulated 46 years of awards along with TV and radio appearances that include the David Letterman Show, World Café Live, and the King Biscuit Flour Hour. They have played venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to Kennett Flash.

In 1986, the duo’s “Living In America” received the New York Music Award for Best Folk Album and was named in Billboard’s year-end critic’s poll, and in 1999 they were the subject of “No Hit Wonder,” a documentary that aired on PBS.

There are a number of musical acts — a very large number — that can be classified as “One Hit Wonders.” The roster spans the decades from the 1950s to the 2010s and ranges from Ivory Joe Hunter with his 1956 hit “Since I Met You Baby” to Swedish House Mafia, which had its lone hit “Don’t You Worry Child” a few years ago.

Obviously, many of the “One Hit Wonders” have faded into well-deserved oblivion but some have persevered.

Modern English is still onstage singing “I Melt with You.” Nena, who had a worldwide hit with “99 Red Balloons” in 1984, is still playing to enthusiastic audiences in Europe.

Then, there is Aztec Two Step.

If you’re trying to remember any of the band’s charting singles over the course of its 46-year career — good luck. There are none.

The two musicians met in 1971 in Boston at an open mike at a club called the Stone Phoenix. Shulman was in a small school in Boston and Fowler was devoting his time to being a full-time folk singer.

In 1972, they began performing together as Aztec Two-Step, which got its name from a poem by beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. One year later, they were in Los Angeles doing their first album for Elektra Records.

The Elektra album “Aztec Two Step” started it. ATS’ second record “Second Step,” which was released by RCA Records, solidified the duo’s career. That album stayed in print with RCA for 17 years.

Even without a hit, Aztec Two Step was able to build a dedicated following — a fan base that has allowed the duo to release more than 20 albums and a number of live DVDs.

Now, Aztec Two-Step has a new album, a single featuring the title song and the possibility of a hit.

“I wouldn’t mind one little hit,” said Fowler.

Video link for Aztec Two-Steep — https://youtu.be/ydj0x9Zy4i0

The show at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30.

Other upcoming shows at the World Café Live are John Sebastian on August 10, Kyf Brewer on August 11, Snake Club and City in the Clouds on August 12, Roger Street Friedman on August 13, Southern Avenueand Big Mind on August 15 and Paula Boggs Band on August 16.


Jess Abbott used to be a member of the band Now, Now. When she is playing in a band, she goes by the name Jess Abbott.

However, when Abbott is recording or performing on her own, she goes by the name Tancred – a name she shares with an Italo-Norman leader of the First Crusade who later became Prince of Galilee and regent of the Principality of Antioch.

On August 11, Tancred will be in Philly for a show at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com).

“I’ve had a very busy time this year,” said Abbott, during a phone interview Tuesday as she traveled from Chicago to a tour date in Detroit. “We did a lot of touring. I did some shows in Europe. It’s been real busy.”

Ever since Abbott went out on her own as a solo artist, staying busy has never been a problem.

“I started Tancred in 2011 as a side project,” said Abbott. “At first, it was just a recording thing. I never tried to tour with it before. It’s been about two years now that I’ve been putting everything into it.

“When I decided I was going to take it on the road, I didn’t want a solo project. I wanted a fuller sound.  So, I put together a trio with a bass player, a drummer and me on guitar and vocals.

“I wrote all the songs myself. I started in late 2014 and wrote the last one in January 2015. Then, I went into the studio in May. It was produced by Anna Waronker from That Dog and Steven McDonald from Off! and Redd Kross at Whiskey Kitchen Studio.”

This year, Abbott has turned her attention to making a follow-up album.

“I did a lot of writing in the last year,” said Abbott. “I’ve been working on my next album. I just finished recording it in L.A. after one month.

“I had Louis Pesacove as my producer. A good friend of mine used to do radio and now she’s his manager. She knew he was looking to produce and co-write with people. We did a little co-writing but he was mostly just procuring. We cut it at his home studio.

“I started writing demos for this album in the summer of 2016. I’ve been going through so many phases of demos – in and out. I got it down to 11 songs and that ended up being the golden number. We only just finished mixing it.

“My music has gone through so many phases. The new album is definitely a little softer than ‘Out of the Garden.’ It seems like a whole new thing. I started Tancred when I was 19. There has been two or three years between each album, so they always sound different.”

According to Abbott, “Out of the Garden” was shaped by her experiences living in Minneapolis and working at a liquor store in a rough part of town — “I learned how to speak up when I needed to and how to truly be myself without reservation.

“I felt afraid walking home at night, and after a couple of months I just got sick of it and started getting into self-defense and self-empowerment as a means of coping. Finding my own strength changed everything.”

When Abbott composed the songs for the album, she knew where she wanted it to go musically.

“I wrote them with a full band in mind,” said Abbott. “This is the third Tancred album but it feels like the first because the songs are so different — not only a new page but a new book.

“I always write on guitar. I’ll pick up the guitar and it will always start with a riff for a chord progression. Ideas for songs will pop in my head and I’ll jot something in a notebook and then come up with a riff. But, I’ve never written lyrics first.”

Tancred’s live set will feature a mix of songs from the soon-to-be-released album and “Out of the Garden” and be delivered by a tight band.

“I’ve been playing with these guys for a while,” said Abbott. “We’ve gotten so much tighter. We know more about each other as musicians.”

Video link for Tancred — https://youtu.be/-GAeWVKi6CU.

The show at Union Transfer, which also features Slothrust and Mal Blum And The Blums, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

The upcoming schedule for Union Transfer also includes The Districts (Record Release Show!), The Spirit Of The Beehive, and Abi Reimold on August 11.

Donna McKechnie

Acclaimed vocalist and Broadway legend Donna McKechnie, who is bringing her one-woman show “Same Place: Another Time” to the RRazz Room at The Clarion Hotel (6426 Lower York Road, New Hope, 888-596-1027, TheRRazzRoom.com) on August 12, never lets the grass grow beneath her feet.

“I’ve been very busy this year,” said McKechnie, during a phone interview Tuesday morning from her home in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I love to work.

“I just spent a couple months in London in a wonderful jazz opera at The Other Place, a theater in the West End that used to be called the St. James Theater. The show was Drew McOnie’s ‘The Wild Party.’

“I came back to the states and just did a three-city tour of the show I’m bringing to New Hope. I played Palm Springs, San Diego and Los Angeles. And, I just now did a play reading for a new musical.

“I’m also getting ready to do ‘Pajama Game’ at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. I’m really excited about this show. We will be building it from scratch.”

Maintaining a schedule like this is impressive for any stage performer.

If you consider that this performer will turn 75 later this year, it becomes way more than impressive. It becomes awe-inspiring and inspirational.

McKechnie, the Tony Award-winning star of “A Chorus Line” is regarded internationally as one of Broadway’s foremost dancing and singing leading ladies.

Her Broadway credits include “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Promises, Promises,” “Company,” “On The Town,” and “State Fair.”

McKechnie, has also performed extensively on the concert stage, in cabaret, and with symphony orchestras, has also starred in such classic musicals as “Sweet Charity,” “A Little Night Music,” “Mack and Mabel,” “Gypsy,” “Follies,” and “Annie Get Your Gun.”

McKechnie’s new show, “Same Place: Another Time,” is a musical déjà vu celebrating the scintillating 1970s in New York City – an era marked by the heyday of Studio 54.

The journey she takes puts a personal spin on the “ingénue” coming to New York, finding love and success, losing her innocence along the way, perhaps, but never her spirit.

It is beautifully illuminated by the music of Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim, Marvin Hamlisch, Peter Allen, Jim Croce, Leroy Anderson and the musical arrangements of Emmy Award winner John McDaniel.

“I love this show,” said McKechnie. “I love the songs. I love it even though it’s about me. It’s fashioned after my life. I had this idea to put something together featuring the music of the late 60s and early 70s.

“Those days in New York during the Studio 54 era were magical. I love the songs from that time and I’m singing them again. My show has some of the old standards – and it also has some new music.”

Video link for Donna McKechnie — https://youtu.be/RWxaYGYnGyU

The show at the RRazzRoom will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45.

Other upcoming shows at the RRazz Room are Tony Nominee Charles Busch with “Naked And Unafraid” on August 19, Tony Nominee Beth Malone on August 25 and The Kinsy Sicks with “Things We Shouldn’t Say” on August 26.

In recent years, a lot of veteran bands are calling it quits and more solo music artists are retiring. That, in turn, has led to the number on tribute bands growing exponentially.

The Machine

Not surprisingly, very few of these tribute bands are capable of replicating the music of the acts they are trying to imitate.

The number of Pink Floyd tribute bands seems to be growing weekly. But, die-hard Pink Floyd fans know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

They know that a few of the PF tribute acts are really top-flight, most of them are ordinary and some are a downright waste-of-time.

Pink Floyd fans definitely know which acts are the real deal. That’s why fans from this area will be at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) on August 12 to hear The Machine perform.

The Machine — Joe Pascarell (lead guitar, vocals), Scott Chasolen (keyboards, vocals), Ryan Ball (bass, vocals), Tahrah Cohen (drums) — is a Pink Floyd tribute band that has been performing the music of the British classic rock act for more than 20 years.

Shows by The Machine are big, impressive productions that bring the awesome power of Pink Floyd’s music back to life.

The show at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) on May 28 will keep the tradition intact — but in a different and special way. The concert will be an acoustic show.

“The show in Sellersville is an unplugged show,” said Chasolen, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Colorado.

“It will be a stripped-down show – not what we normally do. I play accordion, acoustic guitar and melodica. And, we add one more member – a bass player named Ryan who also plays acoustic guitar and dobro.

“This kind of show is more interpretive. I love it. As a player, it gives me more freedom to interpret the part – to express the same part using only one sound. There is more improvising. We’re able to stretch out more. The songs are the same but there is more jamming.

“All the texture and depth is gone. All you’re left with are the songs. With Pink Floyd songs, there is a lot there lyrically. This type of show exposes the songwriting more. It’s more focused – less distractive.”

According to Pascarell, “The acoustic shows are really special. There are some songs we do in the unplugged shows that we rarely do in the full stage shows — especially some of the early songs from Pink Floyd’s years when Syd Barrett was in the band.”

Over the course of its decades-plus history, The Machine has developed a repertoire that covers Pink Floyd’s entire career — from 1967’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” to the “new” Pink Floyd album “The Endless River,” which was the most recent release.

Video link for The Machine — https://youtu.be/2XtQNrqy-oo

The show at Sellersville will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $33 and $55.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are The Young Dubliners and John Byrne on August 10, Over The Rhine on August 11, The Outlaws and Scooter Brown Band on August 13, and Iron Butterfly and Static Flow on August 16.

Vinyl Artifacts

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present Better Than Bacon Improv Comedy on August 10, and Vinyl Artifacts & Olivia Swenson on August 11.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Harry Walther Band on August 12 and the Philadelphia Main Line Ukulele Group on August 13.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will host Marah on August 11, Grunge-a-Palooza — Flannel, Love Killed Kurt, Last Exit, White Limo, Purple to the Core on August 12 and Dick Dale with special guest Creem Circus on August 15.

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