On Stage: Top singer-songwriters at The Flash

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Beth Nielsen Chapman

On August 9, Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, www.kennettflash.org) will present a dynamite double-header featuring two of America’s most respected, veteran singer/songwriters – Beth Nielsen Chapman and Dan Navarro.

Chapman’s recording history dates back to 1980 when she released her debut album “Hearing It First.”

Since then, the twice Grammy-nominated artist has released 13 solo albums. She has also written seven Number One hits and songs recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Elton John, Neil Diamond, Michael McDonald, Keb Mo’, Roberta Flack, Waylon Jennings, Indigo Girls, & Faith Hill’s Mega-hit “This Kiss,” which was ASCAP’S 1999 Song Of The Year.

Chapman is now touring in support of her most-recent LP — “Hearts of Glass.”

“With ‘Hearts of Glass,’ I was supposed to make a record with Charlie Peacock as producer,” said Chapman, during a phone interview Wednesday morning as she rode Amtrak from Providence, Rhode Island to New York City.

“Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t match up and we weren’t able to do it. Instead, I worked with a young producer named Sam Ashworth at Art House Studios in Nashville.

“I put the basic performances down and then let him work with the tracks. I wanted the songs to be sparse with the emphasis on the songs rather than on the production.

“I had a bunch of new songs along with three or four older ones I wanted to remake without a lot of production. One of the new songs – ‘Epitaph for Love’ – is one of my favorites. It took me 18 years to finish it and it really came out great. I just finished two more that I’ve bene carrying around for six or seven years.

“My songwriting happens in different ways. I write on guitar, but I also write on keyboards, dulcimer and ukulele. Usually, I write the melody first. I’ll hear the vowel sounds first.”

Chapman’s songs have been featured in film and TV. Diversity is a trademark of her work — from singing in nine different languages on “Prism” (2007) to “The Mighty Sky” (2012), a Grammy-nominated astronomy CD for kids of all ages. “Sand & Water” (1997), which was written in the wake of her husband’s death, was performed by Elton John to honor the memory of Princess Diana.

In the fall of 2016, Chapman, Olivia Newton-John and Amy Sky created and toured behind an inspiring project called “Liv On – A New Album to Aid & Comfort Those Experiencing Grief & Loss While Using the Power of Music To Heal.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of different stuff,” said Chapman. “I’ve been touring a lot in the U.K. I wrote a song for Keb’ Mo’ called ‘Put A Woman In Charge.’ I’ve been nominated for a couple Grammys. I’ve been doing a lot of teaching and writing – and being a songwriter on other people’s projects.”

Recently inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Chapman is also a cancer survivor and environmentalist and considers herself a creativity midwife, passionate about inspiring others to fully blossom into their creative life.

When Chapman was working on the final lyrics for the songs to be recorded for her “Back to Love” album in 2010, she struggled with completion. Then, a physical sign sent the alert that this was much more than just “writer’s block”.

 “I recorded it over a period of a year – 2008-2009,” said Chapman. “This time, when I was ready to finish it, I had a lot of trouble finding the lyrics. I got diagnosed with a brain tumor and that threw everything off.

“I’ve always had a ringing in my ear because I’ve had tinnitus since I was 11 and I still do. But I was getting this other sound in my ears – a very loud drone. I knew something was wrong, so I went to get an MRI done. The doctors told me that I had nothing wrong with my ears but that I had a brain tumor.”

So, Chapman opted to have surgery done to remove the tumor. Fortunately, everything came out all right.

“I was so happy to wake up from surgery and see my brain working,” said Chapman. “The good news was that all the trouble I had finishing songs was gone.

“The location of the tumor had it pressing on the left central lobe, which is the part that translates emotions into words. After the surgery, my brain was working again and writing lyrics was no problem. It’s ironic because a lot of songs I was working on before the surgery actually related to what I was dealing with.”

Throughout her career, Chapman has been in demand as a keynote speaker and teacher of workshops on creativity, songwriting, grief, and healing through art, using a unique inspiring approach to tapping into the creative process. She has also taught at universities internationally including the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, The Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, and the Berklee School of Music among others.

“Hearts Of Glass” is a powerful collection of songs that reach into the place within us where vulnerability meets strength — a place which is often where Chapman’s songs will take you.

“In my live shows now, I’m playing a lot of songs from ‘Hearts of Glass’ along with some new unrecorded ones,” said Chapman. “I also go all the way back and pull songs from all my albums. It’s a pretty good mix.”

Video link for Beth Nielsen Chapman — https://youtu.be/yj17oBIKBuU.

Dan Navarro

There is a very strong probability that you know Dan Navarro’s music – even if you’ve never even heard his name. If you recognize the song “We Belong,” you’ve heard his music.

Many, many music fans know Navarro – not as a solo artist but as one-half of the popular duo Lowen & Navarro.

Lowen & Navarro was a songwriting team composed of David Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro, who met in Los Angeles, California, in the 1980s.

They wrote the song “We Belong,” which became a major hit for Pat Benatar in 1984.  They became active as a performing group in 1987. In 1990, they began to release a number of records of their own, including “Learning to Fall” and “Purpose.”

In March 2004, Lowen was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Because of compromises to his playing and singing, Lowen ceased touring.

The duo played its last shows in June 2009. Lowen died of complications of ALS on March 23, 2012 at the age of 60.

Now, Navarro is touring on his own – touring in support of his new album “Shed My Skin.” After a career spanning decades and a dozen albums with Lowen & Navarro, Navarro recently released his first true studio-recorded solo album this spring.

“I took it to Folk Alliance a little over a year ago,” said Navarro, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from his home in Venice, California. “It was released to folk radio.

“The record was taking a really long time to finish. I wanted to wait on promotion until it was completely finished. So, it came out sporadically.

“It went to community and college radio last year and reached the Top 10 in August 2018. It was officially released in February. Then, we got Europe distribution and released it overseas in March. It’s gotten a lot of good reviews in Europe.”

Recorded and produced by Steve Postell, the album features Navarro (vocals, guitar, percussion) along with Postell (guitars), Jon Ossman (upright bass), Brendan Buckley (drums), Peter Adams (piano), Phil Parlapiano (accordion), David Glaser (mandolin), and Debra Dobkin (percussion).

“I was determined to write everything alone,” said Navarro. “It took some adjusting after writing for 20 years in a partnership. I went in with the 12 songs we used. The 12 songs include eight originals, a few obscure covers and a standard thrown in.”

Navarro’s career started as a songwriter — most often with Lowen — for artists as diverse as Pat Benatar, The Bangles, Jackson Browne, Dave Edmunds, The Temptations, Dionne Warwick, The Triplets, Marco Borsato, and Rusty Weir.

“I’ve been in L.A. since high school,” said Navarro. “I grew up in Calexico (CA) and went to UCLA to study music. I moved to L.A. in 1969 and I’m still living here.

“The thing about this run, it’s not a comeback tour. It’s what I do – and I keep doing it. I still have the energy to tour and do the drive. It’s just me.

“About 90 per cent of my shows are just me. It maximizes the finances. And, it’s easier to move around. I’m playing folk clubs so I can get away with solo shows. And, I never need to rehearse.”

Navarro has transitioned smoothly into a busy solo career over the past decade, touring nationally almost constantly.

He has a parallel career as a voice actor and singer in films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean 5,” “The Book Of Life,” “Rio,” “Happy Feet,” and “The Lorax” and TV work on variety of shows including “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”

“I’ve been doing solo work for 10 years now and I’ve got it down,” said Navarro. “I do close to 100 dates a year. I don’t see any need to retire.

“I do have to find new things to say. Our generation has to find a way to stay relevant. To do that, you have to say something worth hearing. I’m not trying to be hip – but, I want to remain relevant.

“I look at success in a different way. I’ve sort of separated myself from outcome. It’s not that I don’t care but I don’t care. I wasn’t that concerned about charting. I sang what I wanted to say the way I wanted to say it. With the new album, people tell me that they’re moved by it and I consider that a success.”

Video link for Dan Navarro – https://youtu.be/H_uZGnqFlUc.

The show at Kennett Flash will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30.

Other upcoming shows at Kennett Flash are Better Than Bacon on August 8, Warchild on August 10 and Ben Arnold on August 13.

The Steel Woods

The Steel Woods are coming back. After playing a show at the Fillmore last year, the band is returning to Philly for a concert in the same building. On August 9, the band will be back in Philly for a show at The Foundry at the Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com)

Like their name, The Steel Woods are a hybrid musical force, part hard-edged, part Americana roots country folk, man-made, yet organic, rock but also bluegrass, R&B, blues, gospel, soul and heavy metal – “the materials which America is built on” according to co-founder Wes Bayliss.

The Nashville-based band is also steeped in the ethos of Southern Rock, with the music on its debut Woods Music/Thirty Tigers release, “Straw in the Wind,” both timeless and indefinable, sounding like it could’ve been recorded at any point during the past half-century.

In January, The Steel Woods released their sophomore album “Old News” via Woods Music/Thirty Tigers.

Centered around the soulful and commanding vocals of lead singer Wes Bayliss and the instrumental prowess of guitarist Jason (Rowdy) Cope, The Steel Woods – Bayliss, guitar and vocals; Cope, guitar; Jay Tooke, drums, vocals; Johnny Stanton, bass — are a band steeped in Southern culture with a modern approach and powerful intensity.

“We’ve been together for a little more than three years,” said Cope, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from a tour stop in Connecticut. “We started touring pretty heavily in early 2017.

“Wes and I first met in 2015 in Dixon, Tennessee. We were backing a singer named Larry Fleet. Wes was hired to play guitar and sing. I was hired to play guitar. When Larry took a break that night, Wes and I stayed on stage and started playing a couple tunes. I was very impressed with his playing.

“After that night, Wes and I started hanging out and fishing. We’d hang out at fishing holes in Kingston Springs, Tennessee – and we’d bring our acoustic guitars. We were fishing for smallmouth bass, redeye bass – anything that would bite. We were also fishing for songs.

“In spring 2105, it started to get real. We wrote together and cut some songs. Some were Wes’ songs, some we co-wrote and some were from Brent Cobb. We did strategic songs in Nashville. We wanted to get in the radar.”

One of the paths the duo travelled to get on the radar was unique.

“We made a three-song EP,” said Cope. “There is construction going on everywhere in Nashville. So, we went to all the construction sites and handed out free copies of our EP. We wanted to connect with the blue collar workes because our music is blue collar. We try to keep it real and honest.

“The first EP was self-titled. We followed up by adding three songs and making it a seven-song EP. Then, we added five more songs and that became the ‘Straw in the Wind’ album.”

Bayliss said, “I met Rowdy and we had the same interests. So, we decided to put a band together. We had both been working in different projects. We found that we really had a lot of common interests. We went at it with an open mind and trusted each other’s natural directions.

“I’m more of a country player. He’s a big-time pedal steel emulator but he likes to rock out. We write everything together. The main thing we wanted to focus on was to write really good songs. There’s not a ton of big-league rock songs that have an Americana base. It’s mostly about the lyrics first and then making it big and rocky.”

The themes reflected on “Old News” range from perseverance to unity to hope and resilience. Inspired by conversations they had with people they met on the road, The Steel Woods strive to find common ground through shared life experiences and a musical connection.

“Old News” includes a Black Sabbath cover (“Changes”) and four tribute tracks that honor Tom Petty (“Southern Accents”), Merle Haggard (“Are The Good Times Really Over (I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver)”), their dear friend Wayne Mills (“One Of These Days”) and Gregg Allman (“Whipping Post”).

“We started recording ‘Old News’ in June 2018,” said Cope. “We spent six days at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, North Carolina – my hometown. Then, we went home and went to Blackbird Studio in Nashville to do the overdubbing and mixing.

“Right now, we’re trying to take our live show to the people. We’re doing the West Coast for the first tine and we’re playing in Europe in September. And. We’re coming back to Philadelphia.”

Video link for The Steel Woods — https://youtu.be/7TNZyBPai5Q

The show at The Foundry at the Fillmore, which has Lauren Calve as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16.

Another upcoming show at The Foundry is Guccihighwaters, smrtdeath, LIL LOTUS, on August 9.

Christina Holmes

In the middle of July, Christina Holmes let everyone know what she was going to do for the rest of the summer.

Holmes announced that she was going to join Donavon Frankenreiter on tour the remainder of the summer starting with a July 24 show in Deland, Florida. Last weekend, Holmes took a break from the tour and performed two days at the 2019 SalmonFest in Ninilchik, Alaska,

Now, she is back on the East Coast and has resumed her jaunt with Frankenreiter. The tour makes its way to the area this week and will touch down on August 8 at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com).

Holmes in on the road touring in support of her new album. Earlier this year, she released her third studio album, “The Beautiful Struggle,” via her own label — Cove House Records.  The 11-track album, which is her most personal, passionate, and powerful work to-date, made its debut at #13 on the iTunes Singer-Songwriter charts.

“The album came out on May 31,” said Holmes, during a phone interview Wednesday morning from a tour stop in Maryland. “Making the album was a year-and-a-half process.

“I recorded the album at Spitfire Studios in Los Angeles. I had recorded my second album, ‘Stand Up,’ there. I co-produced it with Warren Huart and it was a great experience.

“It took two weeks to finish it the first time. Then, I wasn’t happy with the way it turned out. I went to L.A. again and remade a lot of it. Then, I had to go back home.”

Home is Narragansett, Rhode Island for the singer-songwriter who is originally from HoHoKus, New Jersey.

“I grew up in HoHoKus,” said Holmes, who plays guitar, bass, djembe, and piano.

“Then, I went to college at the University of Rhode Island and liked Rhode Island so much I stayed there. When I was in college, I knew that music was what I was supposed to do.”

After keeping a childhood songwriting ambition a secret, she went from braving open mics to brightening the spirits of bedridden hospital patients alongside the charity Musicians On Call. Following a seminal “Amateur Night” gig at the Apollo, she dropped her 2013 debut, “Peace, Love, & C. Holmes,” and travelled around the country on a sold-out tour with Trevor Hall.

According to Holmes, “I’m so excited ‘The Beautiful Struggle’ is finally here. This album was a long time in the making and I hope that everyone feels the heart and soul that was poured into it.  I want everyone to know that even when there is a lot of bad going on in their life or the world, they can always find the beauty in everything.  I hope people walk away with the strength to know they can keep going on even in the darkest of days.”

It took a while for the album’s songs to develop.

“I did most of the songwriting for the album over the last two years,” said Holmes. “But, there are two songs on the album that I wrote when I was 15 or 16.

When I’m working on songs for an album, I just writer the songs and let the vibe develop. I just write what I’m feeling. As I wrote the songs for the new album, I felt a theme develop – that life in general is a beautiful struggle. Struggles can be a good thing.

“Even making the album was a beautiful struggle. It took a few different sessions. The final session took place in early April. The album was mastered in April and I released it at the end of May

A true experience catalyzed the process as she mustered the courage to tell her then-girlfriend, “I love you.”

According to Holmes, “When I met my wife, she had been previously with her husband. I was going through my thing, but I knew I was in love with her the moment I saw her. Since she was married, I didn’t really express my feelings.

“The struggle was I knew who I wanted to be with, yet I couldn’t. All of these wrenches kept getting thrown into the mix. I admittedly threw some of those in myself. Finally, we got married last year. The album covers the whole period.”

These “stories of struggle” comprise the entire body of work.

Holmes explained the motivation associated with her new album, ““I hope people walk away with the strength to know they can keep walking. No matter what life throws at you, you’re going to make your way through. I hope you feel good when you hear it.”
Video link for Christina Holmes — https://youtu.be/TA2fuhT5PyM.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are John Eddie and Richard Bush & The Peace Creeps on August 8 and Splintered Sunlight on August 10.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) will present “The Heavy Hittas of Comedy feat. DeRay Davis, Bill Bellamy, BSimone & Desi Banks” on August 10.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will host John Schneider  with Christian Davis on August 8, Blues & Brews Ft. Mike Zito, Eric Steckel & Damon Fowler on August 9, Shawn James  with New Reveille  on August 10, Edgar Winter Band with Chapell on August 13, and The Waifs on August 14.

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