On Stage: Carlene Carter reaches back into her family tree for new project

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Now that Valentine’s Day is over, it might just be a good time to check out some live music. There are shows with a variety of genre choices around the area on February 15 including country rock/Americana, jazz/blues, alt-pop, avant-garde, Hawaiian/SoCal reggae and singer-songwriter.

Carlene Carter

Carlene Carter, who has one foot in country-influenced rock music and the other foot in rock-influenced country music, has been performing shows in the area for more than 40 years but none in the recent past — until this weekend.

“I haven’t been to the Northeast in a while other than my tour with John Mellencamp,” said Carter, during a recent phone interview from her home in Madison, Tennessee. “I’ve toured more in the Northwest.”

The singer/guitarist is part of a very large family tree – and a very musical family tree.

Carter, who will perform in concert on February 15 at Longwood Gardens (Route 1, Kennett Square, 610-388-1000, www.longwoodgardens.org), is part of a family that is to country music what Queen Elizabeth and her clan are to British royalty.

Carter is the daughter of country music legends June Carter and Carl Smith, stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, and granddaughter of “Mother” Maybelle Carter of the original Carter Family.

Her first recorded release as a solo artist was on Warner Brothers Records in 1978 when she went to England to record her acclaimed self-titled debut album (with Graham Parker and the Rumour), and Musical Shapes (with Nick Lowe and Rockpile).

In 1987, Carlene Carter joined with the singing trio The Carter Sisters, consisting of her mother June Carter Cash and June’s sisters Helen and Anita Carter. Together, they formed a revived version of The Carter Family and occasionally performed with Carter’s stepfather Johnny Cash.

Carter’s most recent solo album “Carter Girl,” which was released in 2014 on Rounder Records, is an homage to the Carter family’s long musical history — and a representation of what the family’s music sounds like in this era. The songs on the album cover many generations of Carter Family music.

Carter shares writing credit on one track with her great uncle A.P. Carter (recently in the Billboard Top 10 as co-writer of the pop phenomenon “Cups”) — and the track features vocals by Vince Gill. Other guest artists on the CD are Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Elizabeth Cook.

That album set the stage for Carter’s next project – the Carter Family’s “Across Generations” album which was released late last year on Reviver Legacy Records.

“I’m touring now in support of ‘Across Generations,’ which came out in October’” said Carter. “I always do some Carter Family but, in 2020, I’ll be doing a lot more.

“The show is a conglomeration of 40-plus years of making records. My ‘Carter Girl’ album was the steppingstone. The ‘Across Generations’ album covers five generations of our family and its music.

“It starts with Sara – Maybelle’s sister. Her and my grandmother used to communicate musically by sending reel-to-reel to each other. Sara’s grandson Dale is on the album and so is her great-great granddaughter.”

Carter’s last two projects have delved heavily into the family’s history.

“A lot of stuff we found in the archives,” said Carter. “I played a lot of grandma’s style of guitar.

“We recorded it at Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, Tennessee and set up the equipment in the living room. With technology, it made it sound like we were all in the same room singing together. It was just surreal to be singing with them. There was a feeling of their presence.

“John Carter Cash produced it. He wanted to do a record with ‘The Carter Family.’ We had Will Carter and all the living Carters from the last 30 years – including many third and fourth generations.

“We started talking about the project in 2014. It was made over a period of four years. It really started with John Carter Cash going into the archives. With the original Carter Family, we wanted to include something that had never been heard before. We used one of grandma’s tapes. It had to be pure.”

Video link for Carlene Carter – https://youtu.be/8Rr6M4Y4foQ.

The show at Longwood Gardens will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Another act featuring a musical family will touch down locally on February 15 when Echosmith headlines a show at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400,www.worldcafelive.com).


Even before Echosmith released its debut album “Talking Dreams” in 2013, the Los Angeles alt-pop band had been gaining popularity at an amazing rate.

The Sierota siblings — Sydney (vocals/keyboard), Jamie (vocals/guitar), Noah (vocals/bass), and Graham (drums) – grew up in Southern California in a musical household and shared a love for playing instruments and listening to bands as varied as Coldplay, The Smiths, U2, Joy Division, and Fleetwood Mac.

The band released its debut album, “Talking Dreams,” in 2013 on Warner Bros. Records. On January 10, 2020, Echosmith dropped its sophomore album, “Lonely Generation,” on its own label, Echosmith Music LLC.

“The new album has been a long, rewarding process,” said Sydney Sierota Quinseng, during a recent phone interview from her home in Los Angeles.

“We wrote a lot of songs and recorded a lot of songs. We re-recorded a lot of songs when we really focused on the album rather than touring so much. We wanted it to feel more personal than ever. The album’s songs were written over the course of a couple years.

“Then we re-wrote all the choruses and then the bridges. We asked ourselves – how can this lyric be even more personal? We’re in this coming-of-age period with our lives so there are a lot of changes. There were a lot of last-minute additions which couldn’t have happened if we didn’t take our time.”

As soon as they could hold instruments, the Sierota siblings began playing music together as kids. They traded the living room for farmers markets and open mic nights, while quietly honing their songwriting chops.

“Talking Dreams” earned a prestigious RIAA gold certification, yielding the double-platinum breakout smash “Cool Kids,” which notched a quarter-of-a-billion Spotify streams, and the platinum-certified “Bright.”

In 2014, Echosmith was named both an MTV “Artist to Watch” and a VH1 “You Oughta Know” Artist. They have performed all over national TV, from Ellen and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon with “Cool Kids” to Live!

“Our dad was a musician and songwriter,” said Noah Sierota. “He played piano and drums. We all got to learn everything – bass, guitar, upright bass, synthesizer. And, we all play drums. It makes songwriting sessions more fun.

“With songwriting, we start with what we bring to the group – melodies or an idea. We write with our dad too. We care about the message we send out. It’s a fun process. Usually, a story idea comes first, and we look for a message.”

Even though the siblings are young – Graham 21, Sydney 23, Noah, 24 – they have been doing this for a long time.

“We started at a very young age,” said Sierota. “About 12 years ago, we all played together at a cancer benefit. We played songs by Rage Against the Machine, Rihanna and Coldplay.

“Ever since then, we were trying to find places to play. We avoided the pay-for-play scene in L.A. – too much pressure and not my favorite way. We did our first recording when we started having a studio at our house. “

The band’s house studio has always played a major role.

“We spent many months last year working on the album,” said Quinseng. “With a home studio, we had a lot of time.

“There are a lot of emotional songs on it that you have to feel the emotion to sing it right.

“Finally, we finished all the songs and sent them to the mixer. Making an album is a hard thing to do. I’m so glad it’s done. We’re extremely proud of it.”

Video link for Echosmith – https://youtu.be/XbNxbAO9wzc.

The show at World Café Live, which has Weathers and Jayden Bartels as opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Vanessa Collier

Vanessa Collier has played shows all over the world.

On February 15, she will be performing a concert virtually in her own backyard when she co-headlines with Deb Callahan at the “Night of the Mighty Blues Women” show at the Arden Gild Hall (The Highway, Arden, Delaware, http://ardenconcerts.com/).

The venue in the small community of Arden is located less than seven miles from Collier’s home in Concordville.

Still in her mid-20s, Vanessa Collier has toured all over the world numerous times and has released three solo albums. With searing saxophone solos, soulful vocals, and witty lyrics, her songwriting features a blend of blues, funk, rock, and soul.

Collier’s impressive vocals and stinging saxophone work saw her light up stages as part of Joe Louis Walker’s band in 2012 and 2013.

In 2014, her debut album “Heart Soul & Saxophone” won her accolades as a “Best of 2014 Blues Breaker.” In March 2017, she released her sophomore album “Meeting My Shadow.”Collier’s latest album “Honey Up” was released on July 6, 2018.

“I’ve been touring a lot since ‘Honey Up’ came out,” said Collier, during a recent phone interview from her home in Delaware County. “It’s been almost non-stop. I did 115 shows in 2018 and more than 200 in 2019.

“I pretty much always take the band – except when I go to Brazil to play. Fred Sunwalk, who is from the Sao Paulo area, emailed me a few years ago and asked me to come to Brazil. For the last three years, I’ve gone there at least once a year.”

Sunwalk, a guitarist, singer and composer, is among the top names in contemporary Brazilian blues. With 22-year career, five CDs and a DVD, he performs at the main blues and jazz festivals in Brazil and makes frequent tours in the United States and Europe accompanying international artists.

“When I tour in Brazil, I use Fred’s band,” said Collier. “They know the music well.

“I haven’t been in the studio for a while. Making an album every two years seems to be a good number for me. I’m writing songs now for my next album. There will be vocal tracks and instrumental tracks. I always do a mix.

“Playing sax, songwriting, singing – I think of them as equals,” said Collier. “I really enjoy the songwriting process. I’ve always been a sax player. I keep the balance when I’m writing.”

Collier is primarily a sax player, singer and songwriter but is also well-versed in playing clavinet, flute, electric organ, and percussion.

“When I was little, I really wanted to play piano,” said Collier. “I don’t know why. I started taking piano lessons but didn’t like the teacher, so I quit after six months. I saw someone playing sax on television and fell in love with it. We rented a sax for me when I was in fourth grade. That was in school. Then, I studied with a private instructor for a few years.

“Then, I took lessons with Chris Vadala, who played sax with Chuck Mangione. I studied with him for seven years – classical, jazz and funk. He started me doubling on flute and clarinet. I still play those instruments. Mainly, I play sax — tenor, some soprano and some baritone.”

Collier’s latest album “Honey Up” was released just over a year ago.

According to Collier on her website, “This album is a snapshot in time of what I enjoy writing/playing/singing and brings together my diverse inspirations and ideas and, on this album especially, more of my personality.

“Of course, there’s always a purpose to some of my songs as they are based on things I struggle with, like why we can’t listen and respect each other, why we can’t work to find common ground, and why we can’t find our way out of the small boxes we place (or accept) in our lives, but even those songs drive us forward and the music is upbeat and funky.

“Similar to my previous records (which I also produced), the songs on ‘Honey Up’ pay respect to the traditions and roots of blues music, but branch out with my own blend of rock, funk, gospel, NOLA, and soul grooves and, of course, my love of the saxophone. Each song is different, and I hope you find a favorite (or two or three…)!! Thank you for listening!”

“The ‘Honey Up’ album was nominated for Blues Music Award (BMA) Contemporary Blues Album of the year,” said Collier.  “The album came out last July and did well right from the start. It was a Top 5 Billboard Blues Album and was well-received by radio deejays.”

Collier was nominated in 2017 for a Blues Music Award in the “Instrumental — Horn Player of the Year” category. She also won first place in the “Lyrics Only” category of the 2017 USA Songwriting Competition. In 2018, Collier was nominated in two categories at the Blues Music Awards – “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” and “Instrumental — Horn Player of the Year.”

In 2019, she was again nominated in same two categories at the Blues Music Awards – “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” and “Instrumental – Horn.” She claimed first place in the “Instrumental – Horn” category.

“Honey Up,” which had a three-month residency on Billboard’s “Top Blues Albums Chart,” provides a good look at Collier’s influences.

“With jazz, the first person I was turned on to was Cannonball Adderley,” said Collier. “Other major influences were John Coltrane, Junior Walker, and Maceo Parker. Vocally, I started with Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and that morphed into Norah Jones and Bonnie Raitt.”

Collier also is a music teacher and has been involved in various “Blues in Schools” programs.

“I grew up in Clarksville, Maryland and then graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston,” said Collier, who earned a dual degree in performance and music production, and engineering. “Right now, I’m basically just playing and teaching.

“When I’m playing live, it’s mostly sax and vocals. I do play guitar on two songs. I use three saxes – soprano, tenor and alto – with the majority on soprano. In my current show, I’ve been trying to work songs from ‘Honey Up.” Generally, I play a blend from all three records.”

Video link for Vanessa Collierhttps://youtu.be/Ji0x9vkQVcQ.

The show at Arden Gild Hall, which is a co-headline with Deb Callahan, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

The avant-garde show will be a Fire Museum Presents production at the Icebox Project Space (1400 North American Street, Philadelphia, www.firemuseumpresents.com).

Laurie Amat

The show on Saturday evening will feature Erik Ruin’s Ominous Cloud Ensemble, Laurie Amat and the Bismuth String Quartet.

Amat, who is well known for her solo and collaborative performances throughout Europe, including projects with The Residents and Czech scholar/keyboardist Mirek Vodrazka, will be the busiest of the three acts.

“I’ll do a little set of my own,” said Amat, during a phone interview Thursday from her home in Providence, Rhode Island.

“It will be a 20-minute set vocal piece. I’m going to be doing an acoustic vocal improv – with movement. Then, I get to work with the Ensemble. With the Ensemble’s musicians and projections, we create a world.”

Erik Ruin is a visual and theatrical artist living in Philadelphia. Known for his use of paper cuttings, printmaking, and shadow puppetry to convey political themes, Ruin’s distinctive style has been featured in several books, art exhibitions, and as a featured member of the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative.

Erik Ruin’s Ominous Cloud Ensemble is an ever-evolving, collectively improvising large ensemble for projections and music, led by visual artist Erik Ruin, recently lauded by the New York Times for his “spell-binding cut-paper animations.”

Ruin manipulates intricate paper cuts and painted films on overhead projectors to create abstract landscapes and fragmentary scenes that are nonetheless charged with meaning, merging with music that ranges from dark atmospherics to ecstatic peaks of dissonance.

Erik Ruin’s Ominous Cloud Ensemble

Members of the ensemble include a rotating cast of Philly’s finest musicians, who have collaborated with everyone from Anthony Braxton to the Sun Ra Arkestra to Bardo Pond.

“Eric’s work is so beautiful,” said Amat, has performed pure-voice, site-specific resonant space pieces internationally in such traditional venues as concert halls, museums and galleries, cathedrals and alternative spaces including castles, bunkers, cisterns, rivers and concrete overpasses. “I’m honored that he asked me.”

Amat is an acclaimed vocalist, improvisational performer, experimental composer and teacher. Her approach to singing is informed by broad experience including pop, rock, traditional and inventive opera, spoken word, video, dance, theatre and performance art.
Amat’s talent for inspiring upcoming vocalists and other artists stems from her focus on the power of the voice as an instrument to convey a pure expression of direct human emotions and story through technique, raw talent and experimentation.

“My performance tends to be more direct and visceral,” said Amat, who just returned from a concert in Jacksonville, Florida.

In January, Amat performed with the Residents when they did their first-ever live shows of their 1988 concept album, “God in Three Persons.” The shows were staged at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

On stage were the Residents, characteristically clad in masks, joined by Amat. There were two actors, one playing Mr. X, who narrates the show, and another essentially playing a shadow of Mr. X, who provides a physical/dance accompaniment to the spoken narrative.

“The shows at MOMA were amazing,” said Amat. “I had sung the original vocals on the album when it came out in the late 1990s. I was living in San Francisco then.

“I moved back east to Providence. I hadn’t seen them (the Residents) for a long time when they came up with the offer to do these shows. It was intense.

“It had been since 1996. It was like coming home. It was really, really good. We’d all like to do it again. The MOMA shows stirred my creative side.”

Video link for Laurie Amat – https://youtu.be/6i8SM-T33B0.

Video link for Erik Ruin’s Ominous Cloud Ensemble — https://youtu.be/UDi7oSZbGLQ.

The show at the Icebox will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8-$15 sliding scale.

Jared Feinman

On February 15, singer-songwriter Jared Feinman will present his first show of 2020 when he performs at The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com).

It will be an acoustic show by the singer-pianist from the Philadelphia area – a show unlike most performed by artists in the genre.

At Saturday night’s show in Manayunk, Feinman will be accompanied by a small string group and a world-renowned trumpeter.

“I’ll have a string trio featuring young players who are graduates from the Curtis Institute of Music,” said Feinman, during a phone interview Thursday afternoon from his home in Newtown Square.

“I’ll be playing my original music with string arrangements to accompany the songs. I’ll also be joined by Arnetta Johnson on trumpet.”

Johnson is a world-class trumpet artist whose resume includes performing with Beyonce at “Super Bowl L.”

Feinman writes poignant lyrics and arranges mournful instrumentals that enhance his vocals and create a sultry mix of jazz and blues. With their mournful and moody style, his signature songs have been coined “murder ballads.”

“I’ve always been into music,” said Feinman, who went to Radnor High and then spent his final two years of high school at The Hill School in Pottstown.

“I started studying classical piano at age 6 and studied it for 10 years,” said Feinman. “I was also studying jazz piano through high school. Music was more of a hobby back then.”

Feinman was drawn to classical composers such as Frederic Chopin and Claude Debussy. He also studied jazz piano under the renowned jazz educator, the late Jimmy Amadie, who had worked with Mel Torme.

According to Feinman, “I attribute my feel and approach to harmony largely to Jimmy. He was a powerful influence on me as his youngest student when I was only 15.”

After graduating from The Hill School, Feinman attended the University of Richmond as a business major.

“I hit a crossroad at the University of Richmond,” said Feinman. “I wasn’t cut out for school. I jumped ship at Richmond five credits short of graduating with a business degree.

“Eventually, I made my way to Berklee College of Music and graduated as a voice major in 2017.

“I thought about moving to Nashville after graduation. But I chose Philadelphia. Philly has a good scene with a lot of good clubs.”

Since returning to his hometown in 2017, Feinman has been releasing singles — starting with his debut release in 2018, “Love Is An Obstacle.” His second single, “All My Life,” was released in October 2019, and third single, “88,” was released in November 2019.

“I have no album yet – just several singles,” said Feinman. “People these days don’t want to sit and listen to a full album. But I still plan on making an album.

“The album is conceptualized — conceptualized in my head. But for now, I’m just introducing my music one song at a time.”

Video link for Jared Feinman – https://youtu.be/jwPD97u-C4Q.

The show at The Locks at Sona will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.


Pepper is a reggae band that has its roots in Hawaii and its home in Southern California. It also has a home away from home in Philadelphia where it has built legion of fans after years of playing killer shows in the area.

On February 15, Pepper will return to the Philly when it brings its “Step To The Local Motion Tour” to the Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011,http://www.lnphilly.com).

Pepper is a Southern California-based band from Kona featuring Kaleo Wassman (Vocals, Guitar), Bret Bollinger (Bass, Vocals), and Yesod “Yee” Williams (Drums, Vocals). For more than two decades, the trio has travelled around the world performing to sold out crowds. Garnering critical acclaim and amassing a dedicated fan base along the way.

Currently, Pepper is touring in support of its chart-topping album, “Local Motion,” which spent 15 weeks on the Billboard Reggae Charts. “Local Motion,” which is Pepper’s eighth full-length studio album, was released via the band’s own label, LAW Records.

“The main thing is that this is our first headlining tour in a couple years,” said Williams, during a recent phone interview from his home in California’s South Bay area.

“That’s really exciting because we get to play longer sets. We usually have only 50-minute sets as co-headliners. We hear from our Ohana about the length of the set. We call our fans ‘Pepper Ohana.’”

Ohana is an idea in Hawaiian culture. The word “Ohana” means family in the Hawaiian language, but in a much wider sense, to include not only closer relatives but also cousins, in-laws, friends, race, and other neighbors.

Bringing the vibe back to the band’s reggae rock roots, the new album is stacked with hot collaborations. “Local Motion” pays tribute to the many days and weeks the three friends spend on the road touring, and the relationships forged both with their fans and the music community alike.

“We cut ‘Local Motion’ in the last half of 2018,” said Williams. “It was an interesting project.”

Recorded at Great Stone Studios, Sea Major Seven, and the band’s own studio, Kona Town Recording, “Local Motion” featured a more collaborative approach to production compared to previous releases.  These collaborations included long-time friends Stick Figure, E.N. Young, and Micah Brown of Iration.

“There was a lot of back-and-forth with producers,” said Williams. “We wanted to hear what different producers would do with the songs. We had four different producers pick songs they were emotionally gravitating toward. We wanted to keep them passionately involved.

“We recorded ‘Neighborhood’ and ‘Truth’ with Noah Krohn. We cut ‘Warning’ and ‘Carnaval’ at a studio in Oakland. Dave from Dirty Heads (David Foral) produced ‘Brand New Day.’ Wayne Lothian did ‘Sugar’ with us and Jeff Nisen worked on ‘We The People.’

“Kaleo and Bret usually start a song with an idea on acoustic guitar and then we build the song. This time, we sent them straight to the producer.

“We’ve been a band for a long time, and we’ve gotten set in our ways. Making this album was a different process. It was all over the place – in a good way.”

Williams and his mates knew that it was a good idea to move out of their comfort zone.

According to Williams, “Working with the community on this album led us to places musically we never would have gone on our own. Right away, we were at a different starting point than normal — out of our comfort zone and ready to grow.

“So, the process of “Local Motion” was very different, and the end result sounds like us condensed down to our purest form, for lack of a better term. All the fluff was stripped away so it really is an illuminated version of our essence which just feels and sounds right.”

Williams explained the album’s vibe.

“It was weird,” said Williams. “It’s a throwback but also a progression. The reggae vibe has always been in our music, so we wanted to go in that direction. Our fans always stay with us.”

Video link for Pepper – https://youtu.be/mev_z2Ipxes.

The show at Theatre of the Living Arts, which Kash’d Out and The Elovaters as openers, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

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