On Stage:

By Denny DyroffEntertainment Editor, The Times

Nellie McKay

Fans of classic songs that are commonly referred to as standards are in for a treat this weekend with two very talented female vocalists performing songs from their recent albums devoted to standards – Nellie McKay and Paula Cole.

McKay, who celebrated her 36th birthday this week, is touring in support of her new album “Sister Orchid” – an album filled with songs that were popular long before she was born.

The album includes timeless gems such as “Willow Weep for Me,” which was first recorded in 1932 by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and later was a hit for Billie Holiday in the mid-1950s; “Georgia on My Mind,” a Hoagy Carmichael song from 1930 that was a hit for Ray Charles in 1960; and “In a Sentimental Mood,” which was penned and performed by Duke Ellington in 1935.

McKay will bring these songs to life when she performs at the Arden Gild Hall (2126 The Highway, Arden, Delaware, www.ardenconcerts.com) on April 20. She also has concerts scheduled for April 21 and 22 at Dino’s Backstage (287 North Keswick Avenue, Glenside, http://www.dinosbackstage.com).

On McKay’s website, “Sister Orchid,” which will be released on May 18 on Palmetto Records, had this description – “Conjuring the image of a lonely all night truck stop along highway 1 on the California coast, all but lost in the fog that comes creeping along the shoreline.. this album speaks of the night, the outsider, the plaintive wail of those lost at sea. ‘Sister Orchid’ was conceived in solitude, executed in darkness. It comes from a place of quiet, a world of low lights and cool drinks, up against a hard wall.  An oasis of hungry eyes and easy promises, warm as a biscuit, the kind of place your mother warned you against.”

“It took me a long time to make this album,” said McKay, during a phone interview last week. “I’ve known some of these songs since I was little. All of them are standards.

“For many years, I thought about doing a solo album like this. It seemed right. Selecting the songs to record was extremely difficult – almost impossible – because there are so many great songs. The songs I chose blended together well on this album.”

The album features McKay on vocals with just piano accompaniment.

“I recorded it last summer in Pennsylvania and New York,” said McKay. “The song list was large. We had about 40 songs and then whittled it down. Everything had something going forward.

“It was just me on this record. I sang and played piano. I think it has a different flavor than most albums – no other instruments.”

McKay first played shows in this area back in 2004 to accompany the release of her debut album “Get Away from Me” on Columbia Records

When she was getting started, McKay’s music bridged the gap between jazz and hip-hop — a combination not often heard in today’s pop music.

McKay was born in London and raised in New York, the Pacific Northwest and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Manor. When she was still in her teens, she was living in her own apartment in New York — at the edge of Harlem at 123rd and Amsterdam.

McKay, who attended school at Pocono Mountain Junior and Senior High, learned to play a variety of instruments including piano, cello, timpani, vibes, triangle and saxophone. Her main concentration has always been on keyboards.

“I played with the East Stroudsburg University Jazz Ensemble when I was still in high school,” said McKay. “Patrick Dorian, a music professor at ESU, gave me my first formal jazz training. He taught me a lot about composition.”

Eventually, McKay began playing gigs at New York piano bars such as Don’t Tell Mama’s, Stonewall Bistro, Psychic Cafe, Regents, Rose’s Turn, and Mozart Café (where she was canned because she liked to play Christmas songs in August when people weren’t sick of them). A record deal with Columbia followed and the rest is history.

“Sister Orchid” marks McKay’s seventh label release in just 31 years. Her previous albums include “Get Away from My Head,” “Pretty Little Villagers,” “Obligatory Pie,” “Normal as Home: A Tribute to My Day,” “Sweet Mobile” and “Blueberry Reader.”

McKay is like a modern-day “Renaissance Woman.”

On Broadway, she won a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Polly Peachum in “The Threepenny Opera.” She also co-created and starred in the award winning off-Broadway hit “Old Hats,” and has written and produced musical biographies around a compelling gallery of ladies – from environmental pioneer Rachel Carson to the life, conviction, and execution at San Quentin of underdog Barbara Graham.

Recent projects include “The Big Molinsky – Considering Joan Rivers,” and “A GIRL NAMED BILL – The Life and Times of Billy Tipton,” which was named one of the “Best Concerts of the Year” by The New York Times. 

McKay’s screen work includes roles in “PS I Love You” and “Downtown Express.” She contributed movie music to “Rumor Has It,” “Monster-in-Law,” “Gasland,” “Last Holiday,” and “Private Life.” 

In the television world, her music has been heard on “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Weeds,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “NCIS,” “Nurse Jackie,” and “SMILF.” Additionally, McKay’s writing has appeared in The Onion, Interview, and The New York Times Book Review. 

“Right now, it’s a cabaret act,” said McKay. “That’s what we’ll do – a classic cabaret show. The live show is a preview of the new album, so we’ll be playing all the songs from the album. Also, people call out request and I like to oblige them.”

McKay also has devoted much of her life to projects combating animal abuse.

She is a recipient of PETA’s Humanitarian Award and The Humane Society’s Doris Day Music Award in recognition of her dedication to animal rights.

“I’ve been a vegetarian since I was eight,” said McKay. “I’ve been vegan since 2004. Non-violence begins on your plate.”

Video link for Nellie McKay – https://youtu.be/ZuA1CtFF18w.

The show at the Arden Gild Hall, which has Mark Thousands as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30. The performances at Dino’s Backstage will start at 8:30 p.m. on April 21 and 7:30 p.m. on April 22. Tickets are $45.

Paula Cole

Live renditions of standards will also be the main course when Paula Cole performs on April 20 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com).

A few months ago, Cole released her latest album “Ballads”, a 20-song collection of American jazz and folk classics from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. It is dedicated to her father, Jim Cole. The first single from the album was a cover of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.”

Cole, who turned 50 two weeks ago, started as a jazz singer and now returns to pay homage to her first love of jazz and folk. “Ballads” is a journey to Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan, to John Coltrane and Nina Simone, to Bobbie Gentry and Nancy Wilson — sung by a Paula Cole we’ve not yet heard.

“This project has been in the back of my mind for decades,” said Cole, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her home in Beverly, Massachusetts.

“I’ve lived in the book of standards – Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Miles Davis. My dad was a musician and he always lived in the book. This album is something I needed to do for myself and my father. It’s been gestating for years. I always wanted a more guitar-based rhythm section with a rootsy feel and a classic piano player. This album has older music and I was also weaving in American standards by contemporary artists like Bob Dylan and Bobbie Gentry.”

Cole treats the timeless standards with respect and adds her own personal touch delivered by her rich voice in classic style.

“It’s been years in the making,” said Cole. “We recorded 31 songs in five days. It was hard to get down to 31 because I have so many standards I love. The lyrics ad to be apt to this work. I didn’t want negative things. There were many old songs by singers like Billie Holiday that were about women being mistreated. Those songs weren’t right for this. I needed lyrics that worked for me as a strong woman.”

Cole and her band – Jay Bellerose on drums, Dennis Crouch on upright bass, Kevin Barry on guitar and his wife Consuelo Candelaria on piano – went into the studio to record “Ballads” just under two years ago.

“I cut the album in August 2016 and it came out in August 2017,” said Cole. “I made it with Chris Rival, who is a wonderful engineer, in his hand-built studio in a barn. He looks at invisible vectors of sound and knows how to find the sweet spot. We did 31 songs and 20 of them are on the new album, which is a double album. It was very difficult to decide which 20 songs to use. We still have 11 great tracks that we didn’t use so, eventually, another album will come out of the session.

“But, it won’t be an immediate follow-up. The next album release – I feel like it’s ‘Amen – Part 2.’ It’s definitely more contemporary.”

Back in the mid-1990s, Paula Cole was a hot commodity in the world of rock music. Her single “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” was a smash hit that reached the Top 10 on Billboard magazine’s pop charts.

Her next single “I Don’t Want to Wait” reached Number 11 on the same chart and was used as the theme song for the hit TV series “Dawson’s Creek.” Another single was used on the “City of Angels” soundtrack.

Cole also recorded a duet with Peter Gabriel on “Hush, Hush, Hush”, a song about AIDS. She received rave reviews for her performances on the inaugural “Lilith Fair” tour and was nominated for several Grammy awards in 1997.

Then, Cole pulled the plug on her music career. She took a hiatus from life in the entertainment world for a variety of reasons. Finally, in 2007, Cole decided to resume her career as a singer/songwriter/producer.

Her “Courage” album was released in 2007 – followed by “Ithaca” in 2010, “Raven” in 2013 and “7” in 2015.

“Lately, it’s been an album about every two years,” said Cole. “I’m more prolific now. I enjoy being free from a record label. It’s also nice that I have the opportunity for direct communication with my fans.

“After I released ‘Amen’ in 1999, I took time off to raise my daughter Sky. She had health issues that required my attention round-the-clock. My responsibility was to her at that time. Once you have a child, everything changes.

“And, I needed a break from the music business. The pop market was shifting away from Lilith type singer-songwriters and going blonde. Darker, intelligent singer-songwriters were sent to the back burner. The industry’s attention was focusing more on the blondes like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. My team was pushing false goals and I didn’t like it.

“I’m in it for the music. I wasn’t in it to sell perfume and things like that. Everyone needs a fallow season. For example, I really enjoyed John Lennon’s work during his fallow season. Also, I’m an introvert and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I was a nervous wreck after a while with all the attention.”

So, Cole made her exit stage left. But, she couldn’t stay away forever.

“I was terribly depressed without music,” said Cole. “I really missed it. I’m a musician and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I just had to be patient. And, my fans had to be patient. It was all meant to be. I had to take time off – and then I had to come back.

“In my live shows, I always play my hits. I feel compelled to do them. They are like old friends – and they’re uplifting.”

Video link for Paula Cole – https://youtu.be/3WkkIdwOy74.

The show at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are The Suffers on April 19, Orchestra 2001: Zappa’s Radical Classical Roots on April 22, Herb Alpert and Lani Hall on April 23, Clint Coley on April 24 and Southern Avenue on April 25.


Music that has a classic feel of a different sort will be presented on April 20 when Market Street Music presents Ayreheart at First & Central Presbyterian Church (1101 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, http://marketstreetmusicde.org).

Founded by Grammy-nominated lutenist Ronn McFarlane, Ayreheart brings the lute—the most popular instrument of the Renaissance—into the twenty-first century with the energy of a rock concert. Played on a combination of instruments both new and old, Ayreheart performs Renaissance music, traditional Scottish and Irish tunes, as well as original music by McFarlane.

McFarlane plays the lute and writes original music for the instrument that incorporates influences from American folk, bluegrass, jazz, rock, and Celtic music. He and his Ayreheart bandmates –Mattias Rucht (djembé, drum kit, cajón, udu, frame drum, dumbek) and Will Morris (bass, colascione, violin, mandolin) — all have backgrounds playing in jazz and rock bands.

There are three albums in Ayreheart’s history – “Indigo Road,” which was a solo album by McFarlane in 2007; “One Morning,” a 2009 album that was credited to Ronn McFarlane & Ayreheart; and “Barley Moon,” an album released in 2016 credited to Ayreheart.

“The band developed out of an idea with ‘Indigo Road,’” said McFarlane, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

“I wrote it originally as a lute solo. But, I also liked the idea of different instruments that could give the songs new life. So, I started working with Will and Mattias.

“After that, I wrote songs that were structured to include other instruments. The music is ensemble music combining renaissance music with modern instruments. The concept of Ayreheart is to bring the lute into the 21st century with original music, dances from the Renaissance and Celtic music from the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Ironically, McFarlane didn’t get his start in music with an interest in music from previous centuries.

“I started as a teenager in 1967,” said McFarlane. “I heard my cousin play ‘Wipeout.’ I learned how to play electric guitar and eventually began playing in rock bands.

“Then, I got interested in classical guitar and fell in love with classical music. I was especially interested in Baroque and Renaissance music. So, I started learning how to play the lute. Part of what I liked about lute was the way it blended folk and classical. Ayreheart has classical music. It’s influenced by folk – and also bluegrass.”

Ayreheart’s growth began with the “One Morning” album.

“With that album, bringing the guys together and creating the music from ground up was satisfying. So was bringing the guys together as an ongoing band. My vision was being realized.

“By the time we made ‘Barley Moon,’ we had great coherence. There is no original music on the album – just music from the Renaissance and the 16th century. But, there wasn’t some dividing line between folk and classical.

“The modern instruments are a little louder. They have a more solid sound. The lute has more of a porous sound. You can hear through it. With lute and bass, the lute has to be amplified a little.”

Video link for Ayreheart – https://youtu.be/e4gLZe15BFQ.

The show at First & Central Presbyterian Church will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Rivers of Nihil

While just about everyone in the area is impatiently awaiting the emergence of spring, Rivers of Nihil, a death metal band from Pennsylvania, has already moved into autumn with the third release in its seasons-themed series of albums.

The quintet from Reading — Jake Dieffenbach: Vocals, Brody Uttley: Guitar, Jon Topore- Guitar, Adam Biggs: Bass / Vocals, Jared Klein: Drums – will be showcasing songs from the new album at a show on April 19 at One Centre Square (1 Centre Square, Easton, https://www.onecentresquare.com).

Rivers of Nihil has released three albums – “The Conscious Seed of Light” in 2013, “Monarchy” in 2015 and “Where Owls Know My Name,” which was released last month on Metal Blade Records.

While “Seed” and “Monarchy” were thematically centered around spring and summer, respectively, “Where Owls Know My Name” represents the fall. And although that season is usually associated with death, for Rivers of Nihil, the autumn serves as a rebirth.

“When we were making our first album, we had already planned it out with the seasons,” said Biggs, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon as the band was travelling to a gig in Columbus, Ohio.

“Jake and I had a conversation about making that a running theme. We weren’t sure about lyrical content and where to go. We thought a seasonal context would be something that people could relate to. It was meant to be something subtle.

“We didn’t want to knock you in the head with it. It’s there for anybody who really wants to think about it. The spring vibe on ‘Seed’ is more apparent in the lyrics than anything else.

“With ‘Monarch,’ we had gone through our first line-up change. We had a big shift in how we did things. We were more concerned with how to put things on display – displaying the new thing that we had. All the songs worked together as a concept. The songs were dense and were based on the idea of oppressive heat.

“Then came ‘Owls.’ We took a little while to get working on it. ‘Monarch’ took a lot out of us from the songwriting aspect. We had songs trickling out. Then, the writing picked up at the end.

“We cut the album last September at Atrium Audio, a studio in Lancaster. We wanted to focus on the negative aspect of autumn and channel it into the music.”

Formed in 2009 by guitarist Brody Uttley, bassist/lyricist Adam Biggs, and vocalist Jake Dieffenbach, Rivers of Nihil quickly made a name for itself in the death metal scene. The group cemented its reputation as a young band to watch by annihilating audiences with its live show.

“Right before we started, we were in different bands in the Reading area,” said Biggs. “Both of those bands collapsed around the same time so Brody, Jake and I started a new band. After we came together, we played a long time as a local band. Things got going in 2012 when we got signed to Metal Blade Records.”

“Where Owls Know My Name” shows have much the band has evolved over the last six years. The music is still powerful death metal but it also incorporates elements from a variety of genres such as electronica, jazz, alternative, and folk.

“We always wanted to be more musical than just a typical death metal band,” said Biggs. “We want to make music that we’re happy with.”

Video link for Rivers of Nihil – https://youtu.be/Es35XYlKNnA?list=PLy8LfIp6j3aL07LAHbo4vtLCgXnLCib55.

The show at One Centre Square, which also features Dying Fetus, Thy Art Is Murder, Enterprise Earth, Sanction, and Levitated, will start at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Other upcoming shows at One Center Square are Dru Hill on April 21 and Hawthorne Heights on April 22.

Dan Bern

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) hosts Dan Bern and Cliff Hillis on April 19, Rick Vito on April 20, Christie Lenee and Mark Unruh on April 21, Charis Latshaw, Wendell Woods, Jr.,  and Rebekah Latshaw on April 22 and “Concert for Billy – Celebrating the Life and Music of Billy Penn Burger” on April 24 and 25.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Sirens of Spring Tour featuring Christine Havrilla & Gypsy Fuzz with Mama’s Black Sheep on April 20.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will present The Go Around, Nathan Allebach and Hoss on April 21.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Bilal on April 19, 

Pink Talking Fish on April 20, Peace Drums Project Fundraiser on April 21, and The Mountain Goats on April 22 and 23.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present

Liz Longley with Mike Mains on April 19, Ray Bonneville with Abbye West Pates on April 20, and Danielle Miraglia and Robinson Treacher on April 21.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents

Dweezil Zappa on April 21, Rodriguez and Liz Vice on April 22, The Lightning Thief on April 23 and Steven Wilson on April 25.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have Jake Shimabukuro on April 19, Alan Doyle on April 20, Classic Albums Live: Pink Floyd’s The Wall on April 21, Los Lobos on April 22, We Banjo 3 on April 23 and Quinn Sullivan on April 25.

The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) will be the place to go for laughs on April 19.  Candlelight’s monthly “Comedy Club” night will showcase headliner Chris Monty, feature comedian Carolyn Busa and emcee Mollie Sperduta. Tickets, which are $30, include complimentary lite fare buffet.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment