Marc Reisman full of surprises on 'Strong Way'
Marc Reisman's new album is filled with surprises. “Strong Way” is a departure for one of the best harmonica players in the region. Formerly of the Iron City Houserockers, Reisman's first album of original material features a genre-defying mix of songs recorded with some of the area's best musicians, including Kurt Resch, Rick Witkowski, Ben Opie, Tom Valentine, Chuck Kristen, Paul Thompson, Richard Gartner, Reggie Watkins and J. D. Chaisson. Reisman also enlisted Resch, Mark Cholewski and Bill Toms as co-songwriters.
The CD release party for “Strong Way” is May 20 at Club Café, Pittsburgh's South Side.
Q: This is your first album of solo material. Why now?
A: I kept saying to myself I'm an instrumentalist, I don't know how to write songs. When you tell yourself a hundred times you can't do something, sometimes a lightbulb goes on and you say, what the hell, just try it. What really allowed me to do it when I was walking into work (as a lawyer) through the parking lot every day, I realized I was humming things to myself, thinking about beats, little snatches of musical ideas. I was singing them into an app on my iPhone.
And then I read Keith Richards' autobiography (“Life”) and it struck me when I read that these great songs were coming from little snippets of music, a hook, a lyric, one line, an idea. Before that I thought, whether consciously or not, that songs kind of spring almost full-blown from songwriters.
Q: Only one song seems to be what people might expect from you, the instrumental “Shruti Blues.”
A: I wrote “Shruti Blues” (an instrumental) with Richard Sleigh, the guy who builds my harmonicas. … I had no idea what a shruti box was at the time. It's literally a small wooden briefcase and it works on the same principle as an accordion or harmonica. It's got bellows on its side and you keep squeezing it and you're able to do chords and single notes.
Q: Aside from that song, the music is extraordinarily diverse. Was that by design?
A: I was just out to smash expectations. There are so many good harp players, and many better than I am. In my own world I had success with that. I did it for years and years, and I really felt I wanted to break expectations and do something that was really me.
Q: “House of a Hundred Souls” might be the most stylistically surprising choice as a reggae-flavored tune.
A: That's when I called Kurt (Resch, formerly of The Core) who just dove into it and ended up having a huge influence on the album. We proceeded to do full-blown demos of all the songs in his basement studio. Kurt's a great guitar player … but his musical skills are way beyond that. Musically, a lot of those songs got re-written, and I had to rewrite the lyrics too, because they didn't necessarily fit the way the music was headed.
Q: For the CD release show you are going to be singing your own material for the first time. Are you at all apprehensive?
A: At least I have a background with the Pep Boys where I was fronting a band, albeit a cover band. I do have that kind of base to stand on. But with this record, I have to sing a lot more. There's a lot more going on.
Q: “Strong Way” seems to be more than the sum of its parts. While recording it, did you sense that there was something special happening?
A: The record is magical and it's kind of a celebration. Even going to (Robert) Qualters for the album art — he paints like a lot of things I felt were going on aurally with the record. It's reaching a certain point in music for me that I'd never thought I'd get to. It spans a lot of styles.
Details: 412-431-4950, clubcafelive.com
Shows of Note
Chastity Brown, May 22, Club Café, Pittsburgh's South Side
Chastity Brown doesn't fit into any single genre, musically or personally. The eclectic music she makes — folk, blues, R&B, soul and funk — meshes well with her identity-themed lyrics. “What I've realized is that the personal is political,” Brown said in a recent interview via her website. “Just by me being a bi-racial, half-black, half-white woman living in America right now is political. Just being a person of color, a queer woman of color, for that matter, is freaking political.” Brown is touring in support of a new album, “Silhouette of Sirens.” 412-431-4950, clubcafelive.com.
Mumford & Sons, May 24, Key Bank Pavilion, Burgettstown
Mumford & Sons exist in that weird niche of having devout fans but also being subjected to some middling (and worse) critiques. Liam Gallagher of Oasis infamously said they look like Amish people and were as “rock and roll as a blue rinse.”
But the band just might have the last laugh, in more ways than one. Songs such as “Little Lion Man” and “I Will Wait” have become pop standards. And for “Hopeless Wanderer,” Mumford & Sons enlisted actors Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Will Forte and Ed Helms for a video that skewers the band's own perceived pretentiousness and includes the most hilarious use of banjo ever committed to film. 800-745-3000, livenation.com.
Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.