Besides

June 26th, 2007

I’m getting married in October. Which is thrilling. But, on top of working for The Man, producing a documentary with my brother, and training for my eighth NYC Marathon, it makes for a hectic year — one in which releasing a new CD is out of the question.

So today I’m releasing two new CDs.

Kind of.

This massive life transition motivated me to do some housekeeping (literally and figuratively). In cleaning out my closets, I found all sort of recordings I thought you might like to hear.

“Besides” Volumes I & II collects twenty-five previously-unreleased, re-mastered recordings ranging from my first solo sessions (1993) to outtakes from “Love & Other Indoor Games” (2004). Along the way, you’ll find covers of REM (“Second Guessing”), Matthew Sweet (“I’ve Been Waiting”), and The Police (“Message In A Bottle”).

The two-cd set is available on most major digital distributors, including iTunes:

Besides Volume I (1993-1997)

Besides Volume II (1997-2004)

Also, as I’ve mentioned, I’ll be performing with my pals Chris, Tony and Ryan on Thursday night at Pianos in NYC, and solo on Saturday night in Des Moines, Iowa. I may even make a cameo Sunday night at Smitty’s in Waterloo.

But as much as I like having things to do with my time, and money in my pocket, this whole “Besides” project (which began last fall) isn’t just about squeezing days from a crowded calendar or blood from a stone. It’s some kind of milestone, a boundary to mark what was, and what will be.

As frustrating as it can be to make music as a sideline (some might call it a hobby, but that phrase kills me), it’s not something I want to give up any time soon. I like organizing my thoughts and feelings around rhythm and melody. I like standing up with a bunch of friends and negotiating some new sounds between us, something that didn’t exist before. And heck, I’ll say it, I like the sound of applause. Ask Abbi: I talk about making a new CD all the time. I even know what I want to call it.

But I figure all good art needs some sort of gestation period. And given that I’ve released eight CDs in the last seven years (ten with this double-CD!), well, it seemed like a good idea to take a breather, re-assess, re-think, re-calibrate, and then really step it up on the next one.

Anyway, that’s the thinking. Here are the songs you’ll find on the records, and where they came from:

Volume I (1993-1997)

Tracks 1-5 (Wax & Feathers,” “Crossing To Safety,” “Rebecca,” “Flood” and “Keelhauling”) derive from my 1993 solo debut, “Always Almost There,” which was previously unavailable on CD.

The Syracuse New Times described “Always Almost There” — recorded with producer Steve Feldman in the months after I graduated from Syracuse University, thusly: “The introspective nature and acoustic foundation of the songs put the album in the Toad the Wet Sprocket or R.E.M. vein, but this is not a sound-alike record, but rather Wagner on display. Over soft-strumming, airy guitars, Wagner sings with strength, clarity and passion.”

Tracks 6-11 were recorded in the winter of 1994 with guitarist Eric Gilman by producer Luke Gilfeather (both of whom went on to produce “Out Of Your Head”). The album includes re-worked material from “Bloom,” (“I-90,” “Late November Mind,” “She Said, She Said,” “Kathryn (Of A Thousand Faces)”), outtakes (“Five Star Day”) and covers (The Police’s “Message In A Bottle”). Though released as a limited-edition casette, none of these songs were previously released on CD.

The final four songs on Volume I (“Manifest Destiny,” “The Michael Song,” Matthew Sweet’s “I’ve Been Waiting” and “Debris”) were recorded in the spring of 1997 with Steve in his Palm Springs, CA, studio (where he and I later recorded “Crash Site.”

Volume II (1998-2004)

“Broken Wing” was recorded in New York City with “Crash Site” engineer Duke Rashkow in the September 2000 sessions that also produced my most beloved single, “Dear Elizabeth.” (I told someone the other day that all of the time and money I spent on rock ‘n roll was worth it for “Elizabeth” alone). The progression would later evolve into “Live Forever” on “Love & Other Indoor Games.”

The solo acoustic demo of “California” was recorded with producer Kevin Anthony in August 2003, just a few days after I wrote it. The song was re-recorded for “Almost Home.”

“She’ll Come Undone,” and “Second Guessing” — an REM cover from the band’s “Reckoning” album that was a one-time fixture on my live set lists — are outtakes from the “Almost Home” sessions. “Annalia (Come Back Home)” was, in fact, originally written and recorded in 1999 (in Aruba, of all places). This version was re-recorded for “Almost Home,” then scrapped (I didn’t like the drum sound).

This demo version of “The Rest Of My Life” was radically re-thought by Kevin and guitarist Chris Abad for “Love & Other Indoor Games” LP. I totally went out and had a sandwhich while they changed it around. You can hear second version in this music video, but the demo never saw the light of day.

Finally, “Christopher Street,” “Beholden” (a riff on “Catcher In The Rye”), “Cast A Spell On You” and “Wishes” (beware profanity!) — were recorded in November, 2003, with Kevin just prior to his relocation to Minneapolis. I released as a limited edition bonus EP for people who pre-ordered “Love & Other Indoor Games.”

By the way, I used to write a music column at The Saratogian called “B-Side” (my last installment — written at the tender age of twenty-four — was headlined “True Confessions Of A Music Journalist-Turned-Monster”). For those of you who remember actual vinyl records, the b-side is the flip-side of a single. It’s usually the place where musicians play a little fast and loose with expectations, releasing covers and instrumentals and — arguably — disposal tracks that only the most obsessive of fans cares about. I’m not sure that’s the case here, but fast and loose is the spirit this release is intended.

Either way, I hope you enjoy listening to these songs as much as I enjoyed recording them.