Features News

Celebrate 5 Years of You Sing I Write Saturday!

This month You Sing I Write turns 5-years-old! I’ve come a long way from writing about bands in my dorm room at Rutgers and couldn’t be happier. To celebrate, this year I have an amazing line-up with some of my favorite New York bands that I’ve covered in the past for YSIW including Mary Bragg and The Ramblers.

The venue itself is W.i.P., the place where Chris Brown and Drake had their infamous fight a few months back. While we won’t be throwing bottles, I can promise you a fun time with solid music. And who knows, maybe a celebrity spotting or two?

Come join me Saturday in New York at 7 p.m. All the details are below and feel free to RSVP on Facebook. Hope to see you there!


Features Festivals

CMJ 2010: Five Artists to Watch

With hundreds of musicians in New York for CMJ last month, it’s nearly impossible to not discover a new favorite band. While bigger shows like Phoenix at Madison Square Garden created hype, up-and-coming musicians left impressions of their own. Below is a list of five acts to keep your eyes on in the next few months. Whether it was a room of 20 or 200, each band left their mark. Give them a listen and see why.

1. Elizabeth and the Catapult

Rockwood 2 was packed to capacity Saturday night as Elizabeth and the Catapult took the stage. While a line continued to form out the door, the band impressed with a 40 minute set that featured breathtaking vocals from Elizabeth Ziman combined with fitting musical accompaniment. The official CMJ showcase acted as a mini CD release show as the band’s next release was due out Oct. 26. While fan favorites like “Taller Children“ had concertgoers singing along word for word, newer tracks like the powerful “Go Away My Lover” hushed and captivated the room. As Ziman alternated vocals with Jeff Taylor, additional cello and edgy percussion parts accentuated the song well. Complete with whistling and a darker sound than previous songs on their set-list, the stand-out track impressed.

Watch a video of “Go Away My Lover” from Elizabeth and the Catapult’s CMJ performance below.

2. The Honeymoon Thrillers

Based in Nashville, The Honeymoon Thrillers came together after a discovery of records from the 1950s lying around the house. The five members are from four different bands and while they haven’t left their separate projects just yet, after I witnessed them live at CMJ they might soon reconsider. With classic guitar licks and “woah-oh-oh’s” that bring back rock & roll from the 50s, their energetic set was a crowd pleaser. Tracks like “Shine” embody the Beach Boys with spot-on harmonies and catchy choruses while frontman Nathan Barlowe’s energetic stage presence brought to mind Elvis Presley and his gyrating dance moves.

3. Matthew Mayfield

After a jam-packed morning of panels, while waiting for a friend to finish an interview I stopped by Rockwood 2 just as Matthew Mayfield took the stage at 3pm. Alone on acoustic guitar, his vocals reverberated throughout the room, having all in attendance drop everything to listen. With raspy Dave Matthews-esque vocals accompanied by his emotion-filled lyrics, the singer-songwriter struck a chord. Older songs like “Element” livened up his Friday afternoon performance while his intricate guitar finger picking fueled more angst-ridden songs including “Dead To You.” Mayfield’s vocals sound so familiar it comes as no surprise that his music has appeared on “Grey’s Anatomy.” While “First In Line” can easily be pictured on the show, it was “Fact or Fable” that made the greatest impact. Combined with fierce guitar strumming and Mayfield’s deep vocals, his voice silenced the room.

Watch Mayfield perform “Fact or Fable” on YouTube below and learn why he says it’s the heaviest song he’s written.

4. James Maddock

Combined with powerful vocals and descriptive lyrics, James Maddock’s music holds a certain timeless quality to it. His songs paint vivid pictures of love and failed relationships accompanied by soaring guitar and Maddock’s wavering vocals. Tracks like “Chance” embody an epic sound that can easily be pictured on the big stage while slower ballads like “Beautiful Now” showcase his more sensitive side. At times, his music evokes a certain Bruce Springsteen quality so it’s no surprise that The Boss himself is a fan and frequently plays Maddock’s music before he takes the stage. In the process of recording his next album, fans can expect to hear much more from the Englishman soon.

Watch James Maddock perform “When the Sun’s Out” on YouTube below.

5. The Ramblers

While they’ve been compared to The Band and “the finest Tennessee sippin’ whiskey,” the New York-based ensemble showcased their southern flavor during a performance at National Underground. The Ramblers had the room stomping their feet during upbeat numbers including “Leave a Letter Behind” and “Matter of Fact.” Alternating vocals between Jeremiah Birnbaum and Scott Stein proved effective and additional singer Shanna Zell added to their classic Americana rock. With soulful vocals and fleshed-out piano and guitar interludes, it was hard to assess who was having more fun: the band onstage or the fans on the floor. The Ramblers transformed the NYC venue into a southern honky tonk, having concertgoers sing and dance along during Birnbaum’s impressive guitar licks and Stein’s ferocious strokes of the piano. With frequent NYC gigs, The Ramblers are never too hard to find.

This article was originally posted on The Jazz Lawyer. Stay tuned for more interviews from CMJ in the coming weeks.


Join YSIW and The Ramblers Next Sunday in Brooklyn!

I can hardly believe it’s been a month since I moved to Brooklyn. While I’ve been exploring all the venues in the area and attending numerous shows in cool locations like rooftops and friends’ backyards, I thought, “Why not host my own backyard concert with my roommates?” So, instead of the typical housewarming party, my roommates and I are planning a show at our friend’s backyard in Park Slope next Sunday.

Won’t you join us?

Brooklyn-based band The Ramblers will bring their soulful Americana for a set you won’t want to miss. They’ll be performing the night before at Mercury Lounge, so if you’re in the area definitely check them out there and come to our soiree the next day for a scaled down, acoustic set. The Ramblers have been compared to The Band and like to refer to themselves as a mix of Jim Croce backed with Booker T. & the M.G.’s. With rave reviews by numerous music publications, they will surely impress.

Be sure to listen to The Ramblers on MySpace and to RSVP for the location of our backyard concert E-mail me. Hope to see you Sunday!

Related Links:
Q&A; with The Ramblers
Band of the Week: The Ramblers
The Show Goes On…Despite Blizzard
The Ramblers Showcase New Tunes at Joe’s Pub
Concert Reviews

The Ramblers Showcase New Tunes at Joe’s Pub Wednesday

Brooklyn-based The Ramblers have been in the studio the past few months perfecting their upcoming release, Getting There. Wednesday night the band will debut the new album in it’s entirety at Joe’s Pub along with additional band favorites and special guest Amy Regan.

I first featured The Ramblers as band of the week back in September after catching their impressive live show. Blending soul, jazz, country and roots music they described themselves as “Jim Croce backed with Booker T. & the M.G.’s.”

Frequent performers throughout New York, they’re offering a contest to local fans. The 100th person to RSVP to attend Wednesday’s show will win two free tickets and a signed copy of their latest album. For more information click here and to see The Ramblers live in action, watch the video of them performing “Picture of a Prayer” below.


Related Links:
Q&A; with The Ramblers
Band of the Week: The Ramblers
The Show Goes On Despite Blizzard
New Artist to Listen For: Amy Regan


The Ramblers

The Ramblers have been playing the New York music scene in various formation since 2007. While the members met performing at venues throughout New York including Rockwood Music Hall, singer Jeremiah Birnbaum said, “It’s always been a band of friends.” I sat down with the quartet after their impressive set at Joe’s Pub where they filled me in on how they first discovered the blues, the New York music scene and being invited to open for Levon Helm.

Made up of singer-songwriter-guitarist Jeremiah Birnbaum, singer-pianist Scott Stein, bassist Shawn Setaro and drummer Steve Purcell, The Ramblers are hard to place into one genre. Mixing roots, rock, jazz, blues and country, each song is new and unexpected. After witnessing them live, is evident that music is their passion.

“I don’t want to speak for all of us, but you make these little sacrifices for the music that you really love. Everybody in this room has struggled to make it work and made sacrifices to make it work. I think if you’re really true to yourself, that’s when the good things start to happen,” Birnbaum said.

Currently in the studio working on their next album, The Ramblers have partnered with Pledge Music, where fans and music lovers help fund the album. For more information on how you can help click here. Read below for more on The Ramblers.

I really like how you alternate singing between Jeremiah and Scott on each track.

Jeremiah: Conceptually, a lot of what we’re trying to do right now comes out of my love of Sam and Dave. There’s a tradition in soul music of dual lead vocalists. It’s interesting because we try really hard to separate this from our solo stuff. I think we’ve managed to succeed in that and there’s a lot of good chemistry, a lot of give and take and the energy flows well. I think the dual lead vocal thing is a pretty neat trick that we have up our sleeves. We’re sort of setting the scene. I’ll generally start and finish the set and we’ll trade off on things in between. But, Scott is singing on everything if I’m singing the lead and I’m singing on everything if he’s singing the lead.

Scott: When I started in the band I brought in a song, “Hard To Love,” which I had written on my own. I wasn’t anticipating being the lead vocalist, I was just a harmony vocalist, but I really wanted to sing that one. There were always two vocalists in the band, so it just seemed to be a natural fit for me to be an alternate vocalist. The first song we wrote together was, “Leave A Letter Behind.” When we play it live or as a duo we would just alternate verses because it was fun to do. I think that it just naturally lent itself to me and Jeremiah splitting it or dividing vocals.

It’s hard to place your music in one genre. One song you wrote in New Orleans and I definitely got that vibe. Other songs have that 60s rock ‘n’ roll sound and the last number felt a little country and twangy.
Shawn: You should have been here right before the set. We were trying to figure out cues to give the lighting person. We were giving one or two word descriptions of the song and it was, rock, country, up-tempo hillbilly. So that’s right. There are different feels. Some are more upbeat country-ish things even bordering on blues or soul. All in the roots world, but from different corners of that.

Scott: I think it’s interesting, what we’re doing. A lot of this music is joined together. Some people might not think of country music and soul music as similar, but they really are on certain levels. A lot of it is from listening to Levon Helm, The Band and a lot of other artists.

Jeremiah: A lot of the Stax Memphis music.

Scott: There is cross over material too. There are recordings of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers doing Stax songs in their repertoire but it sounds like a country song and it works perfectly.

Shawn: The famous Ray Charles Modern Sounds In Country and Western record.

Scott: I was also thinking of his performance of “Ring of Fire.” He makes it a Ray Charles song.

You were invited to perform at Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. How did that happen?
Jeremiah: We got real lucky. I work at a venue called Banjo Jim’s. It’s one of the greatest music venues I’ve ever known. We had booked a show there on a Monday night at 7 or 8pm. Scott wasn’t even in the band, but he wound up sitting in. In February of 2008 we had this gig and it was a great show and it just so happened that the guy that booked for Levon Helm was there and was knocked out by us and just asked us if we wanted to open up for Levon Helm. We were like, “Yes, please!” We built up to that show with a lot of other shows in New York, which really started cementing what we were doing at the time. We did that show and went on tour last summer, which was really fun.

How involved is everyone in the songwriting process?
Scott: All the new stuff has been in one instance or another, co-written by me and Jeremiah. Jeremiah and to a certain extent John, our former drummer, were writing together. What happened in terms of songwriting was that I wrote with Jeremiah and started contributing a couple songs of my own. What we realized when we needed to find new players was, here we have this band that has a name for itself and 90% of the material was either Jeremiah’s or mine. It was like, “We have enough material to keep this thing going.” And it made sense, so we did.

Shawn: That’s an interesting thing from an outsider’s perspective. How the songs are being written is in the process of changing. It used to be that there was a batch of tunes that were exclusively Jeremiah’s. And now there’s another batch of songs that are exclusively Scott’s or co-written. It’s bringing a different feel to the band. It’s interesting to be in the middle of a situation that’s changing from moment to moment.

I know bands hate the question “describe your music” but you’re so versatile. How would you describe it to someone who has never heard you before?
Scott: I think the roots rock thing is all encompassing. I know people don’t like categories, but you do have to describe your music. Everybody has influences. When people have trouble naming influences, that to me is a red flag that they don’t know what they’re doing.

Jeremiah: I think we’re like Jim Croce backed with Booker T. & the M.G.’s

Shawn: To speak to Scott’s point, there a
re a lot of commonalities betwe
en different music that are broadly categorized as American root music. Soul, R&B;, country, singer-songwriter. When you actually sit down and play them and listen to them and spend time with them you’ll discover commonalities. And I think that’s the ground from which these songs operate.

How do The Ramblers stand out from every band in New York?
Steve: We’re down home roots rock music. We are the real deal.

Scott: I don’t think about it too much. There are other bands that are doing the roots thing. I think it’s cool that we have a broad palate to work from. I think there’s a unique combination of influences. Everybody sounds like somebody. As long as you’re not completely aping one act or another, you’re doing fine.

Shawn: I can’t say I know every act in New York, but I think you can tell from the reactions tonight, there aren’t that many groups that really engage people in having a good, solid time. Through rocking out and mellower things, it’s a show you’ll feel like you had a really good time when you watch the people rock out. It’s not absolutely unique, but I think it’s pretty rare. It’s not the yearnings of a tortured soul or overly theatrical to the point of being ridiculous, it’s something you feel good about.

How did you all get into blues?
Jeremiah: For me, it was me and Ben in the Maplewood Library listening to Eric Clapton. We would hang out at the record section at the library, talking about guitars and what guitars were cool. When I was a kid my mom always let me listen to her records. There was Albert King. I got into blues because that’s what my mom loved to listen to, that’s what I started listening to. A lot of it was listening to the old K-Rock back in the 80s and 90s. The late night, Allison Steele, The Nightbird. She was a really great D.J. here in New York. I really got deeply into blues a number of years back, and started playing guitar a lot. That’s how I got into it, because of records and friends of mine who saw my interest and turned me onto all this.

Scott: I didn’t grow up listening to any rock and roll. I discovered it on my own. I was blessed to have a piano teacher, a guy named Pat Pace, who was a local legend in Akron. Once I started listening to the radio I found that I was able to pick off blues licks from whatever I heard. So, I went to my teacher and said I’d like to try some jazz and I continued to work with him.

Once I got into high school I really came into jazz. I was listening to Bill Evans, who was my favorite pianist. I was also picking up Muddy Waters and B.B. King records, even though they weren’t piano players per say, they had piano players and I was learning a lot of the language there. It was a couple of albums. In my grandfather’s house it was a copy of The Allman Brothers’ Brothers and Sisters. Just listening to the solo on “Jelly Jelly,” the piano solo and organ solo killed. I wanted to get deeper and deeper into music.

I played some songs for a family friend of ours who is a composer. He said the best thing you can do is, the bands that you like, find out who their influences are and listen to them. What you do is you realize that the blues, in its most basic form, is at the root of so much of our popular music. Certainly jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, but to an extent, country music and blues have very similar origins musically. By becoming more aware of the sources of music that I like I became much more heavily indebted to the blues in terms of my piano style. It kind of ballooned from there. I was hooked.

Shawn: Similar deal to the last third of Scott’s answer. You like some music and you figure out where that came from, through interviews, when people would do cover songs. Eric Clapton makes a lot more sense once I heard Albert King. It was like a light bulb went off and I was like, “Oh! That’s where that comes from.” Initially from other rock bands of the day and classic rock bands and tracing the lineage back from that

Steve: I probably got into the blues through jazz. When I started playing drums that was the genre of music I was listening to the most. And, a lot of jazz stems from the blues.

What’s the biggest struggle for an up-and-coming band?
Scott: Rent.

Jeremiah: I was gonna go for paying our bar tabs.

Scott: Touché. Certainly in New York there are many more opportunities. There are many more people covering the music scene and who are into it. It is a lot of competition too. There are so many bands in New York. Regardless of how many are good and know what they’re doing, you’re still competing for attention and space. We’re all holding down day jobs of one sort of another. How much time do you devote to it? I think there’s definitely a struggle with anyone in New York City unless they’re really successful financially. You have to find a balance between the time that you spend with what’s going to make you your money and what’s artistically fulfilling. If you’re lucky, that gets to be the same thing but it takes an awful lot of work to get there.

Jeremiah: Its little steps. The last year I’ve felt, on my own personal level, I’m doing more. I played music four nights this week. Scott did too. Shawn has another band that he works for and Steve teaches music to kids. I don’t want to speak for all of us, but you make these little sacrifices for the music that you really love because you’re working on getting it going. Thank God, we’ve been lucky enough to have some really awesome successes and people digging our music and we’ve worked incredibly hard for that. I wake up every day and I’m really grateful. Everybody in this room has struggled to make it work and made sacrifices to make it work. I think if you’re really true to yourself, that’s when the good things start to happen. If you’re always compromising then you get into that habit. I want it to be right, whatever we’re doing.

Band of the Week

Band of the Week: The Ramblers

Their music takes the listener on a journey. While some songs have that classic jazz feel with piano accompaniment and soulful harmonies, others embody more of a laid-back country vibe. They refer to their music as American roots, or for a more descriptive explanation, Jim Croce backed with Booker T. & the M.G.’s. An interesting comparison, but after listening to them I think you’ll agree.

Having been compared to The Band in many press reviews, Brooklyn-based band The Ramblers are well on their way to making a name for themselves. It can’t hurt that they were selected to open for Levon Helm either.

I caught The Ramblers’ performance last Thursday at Joe’s Pub where they featured songs off their debut release as well as some new numbers. The captivating four-piece wowed all in the venue with their versatility as many around me could be seen dancing in their seats.

First track, “Ride This Storm,” a classic and memorable rock ‘n’ roll song, was just a glimpse into what the rest of the night would bring. Playing just under an hour, vocals alternated well between guitarist Jeremiah Birnbaum and pianist Scott Stein while the band was rounded out by Shawn Setaro on bass and Steve Purcell on drums.

While Birnbaum’s guitar interludes captivated concertgoers, Stein’s soulful and jazzy vocals gave each track a new, and at times ethereal feel. The way the band segued from heavier rock ‘n’ roll to soul, country and folk was impressive. One moment the listener felt he was in a small, New Orleans jazz club and the next, Nashville at a dirt-filled honky tonk — no small feat for a band.

Alternating from soulfully emotional “Hard To Love” to country-esque, “Whiskey Blues,” The Ramblers had much to offer their audience. Whatever music you favor, The Ramblers are sure to please one of your desires. Watch below as they play “Always Another Way to Be Gone” live at Joe’s Pub.


For more on The Ramblers, be sure to visit them on MySpace and stay tuned for my interview from Thursday’s show.