“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” Track List & Album Art Revealed

November 29th, 2010

holidaysm.jpgLast month, a dozen New York City singer/songwriters gathered in Brooklyn get their holiday cheer on early. The group’s recording of Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again” will kicks off “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4,” a thirteen-track charity compilation benefiting 826NYC.

Since its inception in 2007, in “A Holiday Benefit” has raised over $10,000 for the nonprofit organization’s support of students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills.

Two weeks ago, five-year-old Otis Leimbach created an inspired album cover featuring a snowman amidst a colorful, nighttime cityscape.

Last week, all twelve acts delivered their contributions to the release, including two beautiful originals (Alex Wong & Rachel Platten’s moving “Make It Home,” and Casey Shea’s plaintive “All I Want For Christmas”), plus covers of classics from artists as diverse as Mike Viola (Zach & Sarah’s poppy “Give Me A Second Chance for Christmas”), Cyndi Lauper (Kelli Rae Powell’s inspired “Feels Like Christmas”) and Stevie Wonder (Chris Abad’s rousing “Someday At Christmas”).

This week, Oasis Disc Manufacturing will begin pressing the limited-edition CD. Here is the complete “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” track list:

1- A Holiday Benefit Singers “Christmas All Over Again”
2- Rachel Platten “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”
3- Zach & Sarah “Give Me A Second Chance for Christmas”
4- Alex Wong & Rachel Platten “Make It Home”
5- Bryan Dunn “I Believe in Father Christmas”
6- Wes Hutchinson “Last Christmas”
7- Charlotte Sometimes “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
8- Casey Shea “All I Want For Christmas”
9- Kelli Rae Powell “Feels Like Christmas”
10- Clyde “Blue Christmas”
11- Dave Pittenger “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
12- Benjamin Wagner “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
13- Chris Abad “Someday At Christmas”

On Monday, December 6th, directors’ Kathy Kim and Danielle Owens-Reid will premiere their “Christmas All Over Again” music video.

On Tuesday, December 7th, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” will be available via iTunes.

On Thursday, December 16th, we’ll celebrate “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” at Rockwood Music Hall’s Stage II. The charity concert will feature performances from Alex Wong, Bryan Dunn, Casey Shea, Charlotte Sometimes, Chris Abad, Dave Pittenger, Kelli Rae Powell, Rachel Platten, Wes Hutchinson, Zach & Sarah, and myself, plus a silent auction. NY1’s Roger Clark will host with special guest comedian Negin Farsad. All proceeds will benefit 826NYC.

Tickets will be $8 in advance, and $10 at the door. Pre-order your “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” tickets now!

And be sure to download “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3”, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. II” and “A Family Holiday” on iTunes today!

Visit www.aholidaybenefit.org and www.826nyc.org for more information.

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Golden Slumbers: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” Track-By Track

November 28th, 2010

aaa.jpgThe hardest part about recording “Golden Slumbers” with Casey Shea was asking Casey Shea to record “Golden Slumbers.”

I’ve known Mr. Shea pushing ten years now. Still, it didn’t take ten minutes to discover his affinity for The Fab Four.

At his own wedding, Casey nailed “All My Loving.” At my wedding (where the purvasive rumor was that he was John Lennon’s Lost Son), he crushed “Twist & Shout.”

Heck, one listen to his instant-classic “In Search of Seas,” and you know this guy worships at the alter of Lennon & McCartney (with an emphasis, clearly, on Lennon).

And have you seen him lately?

Just as recording “Golden Slumbers” with him was obvious, asking for his help was difficult. I imagined he’d wonder, Why rebuild the Parthenon? Why repaint the Mona Lisa? Why cover “Golden Slumbers?”

Still, it was the song that started the whole project. Growing up, the record player (or “hi-fi”) was in the basement. And the basement rug was littered with Beatles albums. “Golden Slumbers” was a natural; it had all the elements: a longing for home, a languid melancholy, and a peerless melody. I sang it for Maggie when she was just a bump in Abbi’s abdoman — long before I knew she was Maggie.

And so I asked. And explained that it was for my future progeny, and that proceeds would benefit children’s media research and advocacy. And he said yes without pause.

The next big thing was deciding whether or not to add an extra chorus. Ends up “Golden Slumbers” was one of dozens of half-baked song fragments the band sewed together for side two of “Abbey Roady.” So it’s short: just two verses and one chorus.

In the studio, though, pianist (and singer/songwriter extraordinaire) Misty Boyce and I had a brief debate.

“Won’t the purists decry my meddling?” I asked.

“F ’em,” she replied. “It’s your version.”

And so it is.

I tracked the vocals months later in my bedroom, struggling to find the right timber. Like much of “Forever Young,” the melody is at the edge of my range. The subject matter and lullabye aesthetic, though, forced me to find those notes gently.

I sent the rough mixes to Casey in Brooklyn, and cellist Patrick Riley in Des Moines.

When their respective parts came back, I was shocked by their gentle beauty. Casey’s three-part harmonies (whipped off in a few minutes, no doubt) sounded like the breath of angels. And Patrick provided the billowing clouds below.

Taken together, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. When I play it for Maggie, she never fails to fall silent and stare into the speakers, awed. And then her eyelids flutter, and she slips gently into sleep.

As intended.

* * *

“Forever Young” is a collection of all-star cover songs for the young and young at heart. Proceeds will be donated to The Fred Rogers Center and The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood. Though neither is affiliated with the project in any way, we believe strongly in supporting their efforts towards advancing early learning and children’s media. The complete “Forever Young” track list:

1 – Rainbow Connection (featuring Amber Rubarth)
2 – Forever Young (featuring Emily Easterly)
3 – The Only Living Boy In New York (featuring Chris Abad)
4 – Mr. Tambourine Man (featuring Bryan Dunn)
5 – You Are My Sunshine (featuring Jason Walsmith & Becca Smith)
6 – Sweet Baby James (featuring Jeff Jacobson)
7 – You’ve Got A Friend (featuring Mai Bloomfield)
8 – Golden Slumbers (featuring Casey Shea)
9 – Amazing Grace (featuring Jamie Leonhart)
10 – Moon River

Download “Forever Young” on iTunes, or purchase a physical copy from Authentic Records Online now!

You’ve Got A Friend: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” Track-By Track

November 22nd, 2010

mai.jpgI’d been angling to collaborate with Raining Jane’s Mai Bloomfield for nearly three years. It took me that long to find the right song.

I first met Mai in 2008. Raining Jane was opening for The Nadas in Des Moines. I was opening for both. The ladies knocked my socks off with their three-part harmony. But it was at the following night’s late-night, bandmate-swapping show that I was truly smitten.

Mai, Raining Jane drummer Mona Tavakoli, bassist Becky Gebhardt, and Nada frontman Jason Walsmith joined me for an impromptu performance of “Dear Elizabeth” that — after nearly ten years of playing the song — gave ME goosebumps. Mai improvised a cello part within two measures, then a sweeping solo. Sure, it was late and there was drink involved, but — with Mai’s beautiful soprano at my back, the final chorus was breathtaking. I resolved then and there to record with her.

Over the years, we became pen pals. Her dispatches from the road were always enthusiastic, never jaded. Her “Wyoming Sky” became a headphone traveling companion. I never missed a show when she rolled through town. I snapped up her EP, “Eclipse,” the moment it hit CDBaby. In person, via email, and on CD, Mai never failed to make me smile, to capture in song and spirit what’s best about being alive. And so, as I considered duets for “Forever Young,” Mai was at the top of my list.

We bandied around potential songs for weeks, considering “Northern Sky” (among others) before arriving at the James Taylor and Carol King chestnut; the original duo’s East and West Coast sensibilities suited me, as did the song’s simple message (if not for my daughter, then for Mai). Trick was, “You’ve Got A Friend” is a piano-based song. And I’m neither a pianist, nor guitarist enough to transpose for six strings. Enter Chris LoPresto.

Chris so quickly and thoroughly impressed me when we met mid-way through rehearsal for my “Last Show Ever” (it wasn’t) by showing up mid-way through rehearsal and slipping effortlessly into the fold, that I roped him into helping score “Mister Rogers & Me.” (He knocked out a dozen songs in just one weekend, half of which are now in the film.)

I asked Chris to come up with something mellow, something beautiful, something a little bit sad. He reported later that — once he figured out the approach — he bagged it on one pass. His sparse, patient re-imagining of the song left plenty of room for Mai and my voices, and — perhaps as importantly — her cello. When I shipped off the raw files (one piano, one vocal), I couldn’t have dreamed she ship back such a work of absolute beauty.

From 3000 miles away, with no direction at all, Mai delivered a gentle, subtle, heartbreakingly-sweet harmony. With zero guidance, she helped make “You’ve Got A Friend” one of the most-beautiful recordings of my career. Her performance is not simply pitch-perfect, but sentiment-perfect. In her plaintive cello and soft harmonies, she elevates the entire song. It’s a 4:33, though, that she delivers the coup de grâce: the gently-sustained “friend.” In that instant, she is a strong though nearly-silent reminder that — through it all and across the miles — we have each other, and that’s all we need.

* * *

“Forever Young” is a collection of all-star cover songs for the young and young at heart. Proceeds will be donated to The Fred Rogers Center and The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood. Though neither is affiliated with the project in any way, we believe strongly in supporting their efforts towards advancing early learning and children’s media. The complete “Forever Young” track list:

1 – Rainbow Connection (featuring Amber Rubarth)
2 – Forever Young (featuring Emily Easterly)
3 – The Only Living Boy In New York (featuring Chris Abad)
4 – Mr. Tambourine Man (featuring Bryan Dunn)
5 – You Are My Sunshine (featuring Jason Walsmith & Becca Smith)
6 – Sweet Baby James (featuring Jeff Jacobson)
7 – You’ve Got A Friend (featuring Mai Bloomfield)
8 – Golden Slumbers (featuring Casey Shea)
9 – Amazing Grace (featuring Jamie Leonhart)
10 – Moon River

Download “Forever Young” on iTunes, or purchase a physical copy from Authentic Records Online now!

Best “Forever Young” Review Ever!

November 6th, 2010

pirates.jpgIn seventh grade, Mrs. Culp kicked me out of her music class. That she should find me twenty-five years later to tell me that she’s “impressed beyond words” with my new benefit CD, “Forever Young,” then, is sweet relief — and my best review ever.

Mrs. Culp’s junior high music class was a south-facing, high-ceilinged, soundproofed-wall affair flooded with sunlight. A student-painted mural of musical staff, notes and instruments was splashed across the beige walls like a Technicolor wave. Mrs. Culp stood before us, a cross between Katharine and Audrey Hepburn: firm, but loving.

Though we could sing well enough, and figured out the recorder and acoustic guitar in quick succession, Skip Cooley and I had a tendency to drive Mrs. Cult to distraction with our chatter and giggles (made worse, I suppose, by our relentless flirtation with the fairer seventh graders).

One afternoon curing chorus, Mrs. Culp reached her tipping point. “Gentlemen,” she bellowed, “What’s going on?”

“We’re trying to figure out how to harmonize,” I improvised.

Mrs. Culp paused the song and said, “You may do so outside. You have five minutes. When you’re done, you may share with the rest of the class.”

Skip and I walked outside, heads hung low, then leaned against the cinder block walls and began. We didn’t know what we were doing, so sounded out two seemingly different, seemingly complimentary parts to the same song: “You Are My Sunshine.” Moments later, she called us back in front of the classroom where we surprised everyone — excepting her, I’m betting — with our version of the song.

Two years later, Mrs. Culp would select me as Frederick, the lead in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” Two standing-ovations later, I was hooked. When I handed Mrs. Culp a bouquet of roses, she beamed. When I was caught on tape as the sole dissenter during a wrap party food fight (it wasn’t just that I found my cast mate’s pie-tossing cake-smearing behavior juvenile, I immediately empathized with the janitorial staff — and wanted to protect my brand-new Generra shirt and Jimmy-Z shorts), she heaped high “leadership” praise on me in front of all of them. A few days later, Mrs. Culp sent a thoughtful, hand-written note that I retain to this day.

Until this week, I hadn’t heard from Mrs. Culp since she attended the Philadelphia stop on my 2002 “Almost Home” tour. She emailed to say hi, saying, “I’m truly anxious to hear of your work, performances, committment to music and the arts. You have a great talent and I hope the world has been recognizing same.” I sent her a copy of “Forever Young,” and a note about Abbi, Maggie, MTV News, “Mister Rogers & Me,” and everything else. On Thursday, she wrote back.

I have listened to the CD MANY times! Your interpretations are musically intriguing and suited to the lyrics. Your style is smooth, intimate, relaxing, lyrical and almost dreamy at times. I am impressed beyond words with your talents! Your duet partners make a good pairing with great harmonies.

I invited our neighbor’s children (five-year-old boy, three-year-old girl) to listen to “Forever Young.” The boy often tells me he likes music and sometimes asks me to teach him a song (and I do this every time!).

First, they both absolutely loved “Rainbow Connection” and wanted to hear it again, immediately! Your spirited rendition of “Forever Young” had them moving bodies and feet around the room. We clapped and tapped during “Mr. Tambourine Man.” I sang harmony with you on “You Are My Sunshine” … they both want to learn the song! I sang along with you on “You’ve Got A Friend” and they enjoyed this, too! Your performance of “Golden Slumbers” was beautiful. We all sat in silence and listened!

Now, my reaction/thoughts on “Amazing Grace” . . . your performance touched me deeply, moving me to tears. The range of this song is perfect for your voice … talk about being impressed. Phew!!!

Thanks, Mrs. Culp. For the harmonies, and for everything.

* * *

“Forever Young” is a collection of all-star cover songs for the young and young at heart. Proceeds will be donated to The Fred Rogers Center and The Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood. Though neither is affiliated with the project in any way, we believe strongly in supporting their efforts towards advancing early learning and children’s media. The complete “Forever Young” track list:

1 – Rainbow Connection (featuring Amber Rubarth)
2 – Forever Young (featuring Emily Easterly)
3 – The Only Living Boy In New York (featuring Chris Abad)
4 – Mr. Tambourine Man (featuring Bryan Dunn)
5 – You Are My Sunshine (featuring Jason Walsmith & Becca Smith)
6 – Sweet Baby James (featuring Jeff Jacobson)
7 – You’ve Got A Friend (featuring Mai Bloomfield)
8 – Golden Slumbers (featuring Casey Shea)
9 – Amazing Grace (featuring Jamie Leonhart)
10 – Moon River

Download “Forever Young” on iTunes, or purchase a physical copy from Authentic Records Online now!

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” Drops December 16

November 1st, 2010

xmas.jpgLast Sunday afternoon, a dozen New York City’s finest and kindest musicians gathered at Galuminum Foil Studios in Brooklyn to record our fourth “A Holiday Benefit” group single. This year, the group tackled Tom Petty’s “Christmas All Over Again.”

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4,”, the fourth installment of our annual charity compilation CD, features brand-new holiday recordings from Chris Abad, Clyde, Bryan Dunn, Wes Hutchinson, Casey Shea, Charlotte Sometimes, Rachel Platten, Dave Pittenger, Kelli Rae Powell, Benjamin Wagner, Zach & Sarah, Vienna Teng & Alex Wong.

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” will be released Thursday, December 16 at Rockwood Music Hall Stage II. Tickets for the event — which will include individual and group performances, plus a silent auction — will be $8 in advance, and $10 at the door. Pre-order your “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 4” tickets now!

All proceeds will be donated to 826NYC (nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills). Taken together, CD sales, downloads, events and silent auctions have driven nearly $10,000 since the project’s inception.

You can download “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3”, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. II” and “A Family Holiday” on iTunes now.

Visit www.aholidaybenefit.org and www.826nyc.org for more information.

Meantime, enjoy this brief teaser trailer from last weekend’s shenanigans.