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Saturday, November 23, 2013

New CD available Dec. 12 and other updates from a big week!

CD design by Brent James
By Ted Slowik

It's been an incredible week. First, thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the tornadoes in Washington, Ill., and elsewhere. It's humbling to see how quickly events can change lives, and uplifting to see the outpouring of support for people in those communities.

Big news on the CD front: all the audio and design files for the solo debut "Comfort Zone" were finalized and submitted for production, which means we have a release date! "Comfort Zone" will be available Dec. 12 through iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby and more!

The new Martin D-15
Copies of the six-song collection will be available for $5 on Saturday, Jan. 4 at Chicago Street Pub in Joliet. I'll be joined by great friends Rich Westrick and Ron Kostka to perform songs from the CD plus other originals on acoustic guitar. Chris Corkery will open the evening, and the great Aly Flood will join us to perform "Red Rover." I'll switch to bass and  Chuck Pelkie will join us on electric guitar, and George Joch is on board to complete the one-night only Big Eddy Springs Blues Band reunion! Quite a night! Word is Suspended Animation bandmate Dave McGranahan will join in the fun, and who knows what other special guests may join in??!!

If the progress on the CD wasn't enough excitement, also this week I bought a new guitar! It's a beautiful mahogany Martin D-15. I purchased it at Down Home Guitars in Frankfort, and proprietor Steve Haberichter expertly installed a pickup. I'm very excited to welcome this instrument to my family of gear!

Steve Haberichter and Nikki Giblin at Down Home Guitars
I was in luck! The day I picked up the Martin happened to be the day of Down Home Guitars' monthly open mic. It was my first time experiencing that, and it was wonderful hearing some of the instructors and students perform. As I listened, I realized everyone who experiences the joy of learning and expression through music gets something different out of it. And when a group of like-minded musical types get together there's an undeniable sense of community. It was a pleasure meeting Debbie Parks, who runs the open mic, and Willie, Molly, Laura and others.

On Thursday I performed "Slowiks" for a group of fellow PR and marketing types from colleges and universities across northern Illinois. We
Ryan Olsson at Tribes Alehouse
get together three times a year to discuss best practices. I met a couple friends who do similar work at other schools for dinner a few weeks ago, and Jessica suggested I perform at the meeting. I took her up on the invitation. It's strange performing in a setting like that, but it was fun and certainly helped expand my "Comfort Zone!"

Also this week I took part in the Wednesday acoustic open mic at Tribes Alehouse Mokena, hosted by John Condron. It was a great time as always. Next week, Black Wednesday, marks the two-year anniversary of the night I discovered Tribes open mic and met John. I'm
very happy with my progress as a performer, singer, guitarist and songwriter since then, and I owe much of it to Tribes. There's no substitute for experience, and I can tell I've improved by getting up and performing every week. Plus, the thought of performing every week motivates me to practice and learn new material.

Tonight (Saturday) will be a lot of fun! I'm joining good friend and expert musician Tim Placher for a night of music at Thirty Buck. It's a restaurant/bar near my home in Joliet owned by the family of Tom Thayer, guard on the Super Bowl champion 1985 Bears team and color analyst on the WBBM-AM 780 broadcasts of Bears game. Tim and Tom went to grade school together at St. Ray's, and there's always a great crowd there when Tim performs. He lets me play when he's between sets mingling with his friends, and it's always a fun time. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mitch Albom meets Eileen and we understand why it's important to start living

By Ted Slowik

Mitch Albom knows a thing or two about living. He's inspired millions of people and helped them to appreciate the gift of life, deepen their faith and act in the service of others.

Albom's book "Tuesdays with Morrie" is the best-selling memoir of all time. Albom chronicled his conversations with his college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or "Lou Gehrig's Disease." It's a cruel disease that ravages one's body but leaves the mind intact. 

Morrie refused to feel sorry for himself, though, and continued to do all he could to help others up to the very end. Morrie said wise things, like, "Learn how to die, and you learn how to live."

"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning," Morrie tells Mitch at one point.

On Saturday, Naperville's Anderson's Bookshops brought Albom to North Central College for an author talk and signing of his new book, "The First Phone Call From Heaven." As PR director at the college, I was prepared for anything: the over-enthusiastic fan, the deeply moved reader overcome with emotion in expressing gratitude to Albom for his work.

When your job is to work events like this, you learn to read situations well. Safety and security are always on your mind, but it's best to not let that show. You want to make sure the famous guest is comfortable, and you try to see that patrons all have an enjoyable experience.

So I was ready when a patron approached me in the theater lobby about a half hour before the event asking about wheelchair access in the century-old former church building where the event was held. She was part of a large group of family supporting a woman named Eileen, who has advanced ALS. Eileen can move her eyes but not much else, though machines help her breathe and even speak. (Think Stephen Hawking.)

It turns out that Eileen is pen pals with Mitch, and they had arranged to meet. I helped make sure the family got into the building OK. Mitch and his assistant Rosie arrived at the same time, so I also helped get them settled in the green room then took them up to meet Eileen.

It's really great when celebrities care about their fans and turn out to be the most down to earth people you could imagine. In this business there are divas and prima donnas and artists who obviously want no close contact with the public whatsoever, and your job is to respect that. On the other hand the ranks of the rich and famous include some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Mitch is one of those.

Mitch spent a good 20 minutes visiting with Eileen before the event, and when he began his talk he started by telling the audience about Eileen and the effort it took for her to be there. The sound of Eileen's respirator could be heard continuously during his talk, and Mitch hoped the other patrons weren't bothered by the noise.

Of course everyone was very nice to Eileen, including one couple who gave up their seats so Eileen's family could tend to her in a space large enough to accommodate her wheelchair. 

Mitch gave a great talk, then signed books with personal greetings for everyone who wanted one. Eileen was at the front of the line, and her family had many bought many books because his writing had touched them so personally. I was on hand if needed when Mitch asked if someone could record a video of Elaine "reading" a one-minute review she had written. I gladly offered to do it with my iPhone.

"I loved it," she began. "Miracles are possible. Even for those who doubt, for those who are broken and angry. Hope. This is a story about love and healing and many things, but most of all it is to have hope. Be open to the miracles in your life. And now Mitch your voice is in all who read your beautiful words."

In the video (which you can see here), Mitch thanks her and tenderly leans in and kisses Eileen twice on her forehead. He writes in "Tuesdays with Morrie" about the value of physical contact. For someone who has sold more than 33 million books to actually demonstrate that is truly special.

Mitch is humble about his talent, his charities (he visits Haiti every month for a few days to check up on an orphanage he founded) and his success. He's a great human being and a great writer. 

If you aren't already familiar with his work you should check it out. His books just might change your life.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dylan Michael Bentley: CD review, interview and video

By Ted Slowik
A lot of people are rooting for Dylan Michael Bentley, including his girlfriend, his mother and father, his many siblings and countless friends. He’s got a solid network of support rooted in his hometown of Sheldon, near Watseka in Iroquois County amid the vast expanse of central Illinois.
It’s a fertile wellspring of talent that has produced such musical storytellers as Chris Corkery,  Cody Diekhoff of Chicago Farmer and Ed Anderson of Backyard Tire Fire and Magic Box. Bentley follows in their footsteps with a purposeful nod to the trail they’ve blazed, like Hercules standing on the shoulders of giants.
Bentley’s an incredibly gifted songwriter. Wise beyond his 23 years, already sober and determined to find truth through his music. He’s a raw talent though, a diamond in the rough who is bound to improve with experience. One can’t help but wonder how good he’ll sound as he becomes more  polished.
Take his latest release, “Change In the Wind,” recorded between August and October at his parent’s home, where he and his dad often listen to Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska.” One can hear those influences on the new record. “Change In the Wind” is a solid collection of thoughtfully honest, passionately delivered songs performed mainly on acoustic guitar with some harmonica accompaniment, a little piano and some less-than-perfect drum sounds. Bentley plays all the instruments on this latest self-released effort.
When you evaluate this album solely on its songwriting merits, it’s very good. Some parts are great. A well-defined thread runs through the melodies and the lyrics, and some lines resonate extremely well. There’s a wonderfully crafted theme of hopeful ambition, with arrangements that bring in electric guitar and sweet harmonies
There's also a great deal of variety on the record. The title track is a straightforward, driving romp that clocks in at two and a half minutes and races along with the intensity of a locomotive at full speed. The next track, "Knock, Knock," has a catchy groove and lyrics that are about Bentley's decision a while back to quit drinking alcohol.
"I made it a point to be very public about my sobriety," he said during an interview following a recent set at The Full Bull Smokehouse Saloon in Watseka. "That way if I fall then I'm upsetting so many people in my life. If I'm not talking about it, people will know there's something wrong. I've always hated disappointing people."
The next track, "Wanderin' Blues" is an upbeat number with a knockout guitar hook and lyrics one would expect to hear from a 23-year-old living in small-town America. "I've been stuck in this town and I don't want to stick around oh Lord I've gotta get out," he sings. The next song, "Run," follows in a similar vein.
"Ramblin' Gamblin' Trav'lin'" is altogether different, though, a soulful vocal delivered over a percussive guitar track. "Blame it on the Weather" is a beautiful piece that introduces piano, and "Candle" is a lovely tune that contains the great line, "How many souls and hearts are in my hands? I put my fingerprints on 'em so they remember who I am."
Bentley’s an accomplished live performer who plays at least two gigs every week, in Watseka and at The High Note in Pekin, a two-hour drive away. When he performs live sometimes his timing may be a tad off, but his voice is clear and strong and he can create ethereal moods with his sometimes-percussive guitar playing. There’s something very harmonic about his music.
But “Change In the Wind” is just a notch below a professional release. There's no bass on the record, and the drum sounds are a bit out of time in spots and overproduced in others. You can’t buy Bentley’s music online, though at this moment you can hear “Knock, Knock” on his YouTube channel. (He says he's not sure how long he'll leave that up for public consumption.) You can buy his new CD for $10 at a release show Nov. 22 at the Full Bull in Watseka, and he’ll sell copies at all his shows.
The best way to learn more about Bentley is to friend him on Facebook and like his music page. "Facebook is half my job," Bentley said during a recent interview with the IBWIP indie music podcast.

Author's note: this is my first time adding video to this blog. If the above file won't play, try this link.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Concert review: Paul Brady and John Condron at Old Town School of Folk Music

By Ted Slowik

One of the great aspects of being a lifelong learner is the thrill of discovering something new to you, even if it's been familiar to millions for a long time.

For me that's the case with legendary Irish musician Paul Brady, who performed Nov. 1 at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music with an opening set by Joliet's John Condron.

Brady is an icon in Ireland, with a career spanning five decades and 14 studio albums to his credit. He's written songs that have been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner and Santana. I'm ashamed to admit I've only recently become familiar with his music.

I learned of Brady through Condron, who is producing my debut CD and who worked with Brady in Ireland in February. Condron, Brady and Mickey Harte co-wrote and recorded the song "Come Gather All" as a theme for The Gathering Ireland 2013, which is a series of events and festivals drawing visitors to Ireland throughout the year.

Admittedly the scope of my musical appreciation hadn't expanded to Irish music, but that's no excuse for not having been familiar with Brady's work sooner. He's a singer, songwriter and storyteller the likes of John Prine (with whom he's co-written), and his music and stories are universal and not at all restricted to a single ethnic genre.

His performance at the Old Town School of Folk Music (my first visit to the venue--why have I not seen artists here sooner?) was a solo show. Brady mostly sang in his booming voice and played acoustic guitar, though he did switch effortlessly to piano on a couple of numbers. He told wonderful stories about his songs, with a wit, timing and interaction with the audience that has been perfected over 50 years of world travels.

I liked his story about writing "Luck of the Draw" for Bonnie Raitt, which she took as the title for an album that won five Grammy Awards. Brady will be performing with Raitt at some shows in the United States this month. Brady's guitar work is simple and beautiful; his melodies are wonderful and his stories are captivating.

In the weeks leading up to the Old Town show I learned a little about Brady's music. I liked this recent program hosted by Philip King featuring a reunion of Brady and Andy Irvine performing songs on an album they did that was a huge hit in Ireland in the 1970s. The show also got some good press with an article by Mark Eleveld in Chicago's New City.

Condron's opening set felt wonderfully spontaneous. He sounded magnificent in the venue, with a deep, clear tone that brought out nuances that made familiar tunes sound brand new. I learned from an article in Joliet's Herald News that Condron's mother is from the same town in Ireland where Brady grew up.*

Condron's an energic performer who pours his heart and soul into every note. He has absolute command of his voice, and flawlessly pulls off complicated guitar riffs on songs like "Darkroom." The crowd responded enthusiastically to his use of slide, another tool he's perfected. He capped off his opening set by getting the audience to sing-along to the chorus of "Walk On the Wild Side," a fitting tribute to Lou Reed.

The show was a great experience. I'm looking forward to becoming more familiar with Brady's music and hearing Condron perform again soon.


* John pointed out after publication that the Herald-News article erred and his mother is not from Strabane, Ireland but Philly! Some of her ancestors were from that part of Ireland but she's proudly American.