The Fifth Annual Singer-Songwriter Cape May Music Conference Sails Into Jersey

It seems each year comes faster than the last. At least it does for anyone keeping track of annual events here in the Garden State. With that whimsical wisdom in mind, I once again remind you that the songwriter music conference in Cape May will be back at the tail end of March. The SS Cape May continues to grow, adding new and diverse artists with each annual undertaking. The heart of the festival is centered at Congress Hall, an almost 200-year-old establishment that’s been dealing with musicians as far back as 1882 when John Phillip Sousa conducted his Marine band concerts on the front lawn of the Shining-like building.

In addition, while the SS Cape May music conference is still relatively young (five years), the city of Cape May has welcomed them with open and helpful arms as they take over the different establishments and watering holes across town in their continued quest at building a name and a reputation of economic quality. Unlike most musical conventions, there is a lot to absorb for those looking to take away vital industry information. The event coordinator John Harris states that, “Over 80 music industry professionals and 150 acts and artists will participate in the weekend conference. The singer-songwriter weekend features two afternoons of music business panels, workshops, mentoring and keynotes for musicians and registered guests. At night, the acts and artists highlight at 15 Cape May live music venues.”

Thanks in part to Kat Falcey, this year’s New Jersey acts are prominently featured at Congress Hall as well as on display over at Aleathea’s Restaurant, the centerpiece of the 118-year-old oceanfront Inn of Cape May. Tunes 2 Ya is a booking and promotional company that focuses on New Jersey’s singer-songwriter artists. Falcey’s stable is top-notch and includes keynote speaker Christine Martucci on Friday, March 30, over at Congress Hall, as well as Todd Sheaffer (Railroad Earth) on Saturday night in the same room.

After their respective speaker spots, Martucci and Sheaffer will take the Congress Hall Ballroom stage for a set of their tightly tuned sounds. Another Jersey mainstay that will perform at Congress Hall is Arlan Feiles. Feiles is recognizable for his contributions with Grammy nominee Linda Chorney and her album, Emotional Jukebox. Feiles is also noted for the demos he made with Dave Grohl of Nirvana, which became the inspiration for his album titled, Troubled Monkey. The legendary Tom Dowd (he produced Eric Clapton’s Layla) managed that album and it included tracks backed by Levon Helm, the late Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson. Arlan is one of the event highlights for me.

As mentioned earlier, Falcey will also have a great lineup all night at Aleathea’s featuring Charlie Phillips, Cranford’s Jill Cagney, Jersey Shore resident Juliane Suozzo and one of my all-time favorite performers, Williamsboy. Williamsboy (Billy Williams) is one of those acts that I just shake my head at and wonder why record companies are not banging down his door. He will be featuring many great songs from his last CD, Analog. Williamsboy packs the sucker punch of Steve Earle, the spiritual insight of John Prine and the physical delivery of Springsteen. My recommendation is that if you desire to see one performer that is the real deal, make sure you check out this artist. In addition, a late minute Friday night addition will be Emily Grove. I have done some scribbling about Grove in the past and I’m anxious to see her out of the Asbury Park comfort zone. She is a natural talent and I know she will bring her A game to the Cape.

Saturday night at Aleathea’s restaurant will also feature Flemington, NJ writer Russell Norkevich, Jamesburg’s Johnny Lisco and Emi Santa, as well as Jo Wymer, Jim Popik (Ten Foot Tall), Asbury’s own Gary Reed, and Kats newest artist, Michael Janus. Janus hails from the artistic vein of original Moody Blues singer Justin Hayward. Melodic, mid-tempo, deep and thought provoking, Janus builds some interesting compositional layers on his latest disc, Wrought Iron Soul. Be sure to see him at both his Congress Hall and Aleathea’s Restaurant spots.

All the showcase performances are open to the public. The Keynotes are at 5:15 p.m. for conference attendees and the public performances are after 8 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of Congress Hall. For more information on the event, Tunes 2 Ya and their specific artists, check out the details over at sscapemay.com and tunes2ya.com.

Jack Brag releases Unbroken White

Jack Brag is back with a brand new disc titled, Unbroken White. This disc marks the group’s sophomoric rising and continued foray into their dark and symphonic flavored journey. Jack Brag’s 2008 release These Days was a refreshing record and that trend continues with this current disc. The band has a knack for combining the greatest vibe of the ‘80s with complex orchestration and compositional complexity. In addition, while the band churns, swirls and goes where no man has gone before, their sound is still viable in many commercial situations. If there was ever a band perfectly suited for soundtrack alignment, it is Jack Brag.

Unbroken White features 12 interesting songs steeped in the chorus pedaled power of 1984. This is a very tough thing to do without sounding corny and pretentious, but Jack Brag is what they play. The believability factor is in the way they execute the performance on this disc. Songs like “Second-Hand Clothes” chug underneath compressed and hypnotizing cello work courtesy of Jay Varga and the Joy Division-like beats of Bill Quinn as vocalist Jim Robertazzi belts it out with a mix of Curtis Ian meets Stan Ridgway while slam dancing into David Byrne.

“Box Of Sad” features The Cucumbers and feels like the hit on the CD for me. I really love the strange, pre-chorus melody that spirals down the rabbit hole and clears the way for the crystalline cellos of Varga before being swallowed into the ring-modulated jangle of guitarist Rich Ferreira. Deena Shoshkes adds summer day sunshine to the chorus with her ‘70s vocal splashes, and bass man Tony Donato wrings soul out of each note, never overplaying as he makes his scalable, complex runs.

“Unbroken White” fires like a demented Doors song gone gleaming and dark. Many progressive chord changes drag the mind into sonic chasms and percussive code makes a musical statement here. The cello glides alongside the spaced out vocals of Robertazzi like a hawk scanning the landscape for make-up-wearing punkers in trench coats.

“Start A Fire” is a quaint, celebratory sing-along that once again brings forth recollections of Jim Morrison. Perhaps it is the melodic choice that Robertazzi shoots for, I’m not sure, but whatever the case, Morrison has to be a major influence for him. The band comes together well here blending guitars, bass, cello and drums with the easy feel of a group that has been doing it for years.

Unbroken White is an album steeped in the tradition and attitude of the ‘80s. Blending bold and experimental compositions with the talent of each experienced member is the cement that enables Jack Brag to stand up to the elements of superficial fashion and musical hipster whimsy.

It was also great to see special guests The Cucumbers on this disc. You cannot get any more genuine than using those fine musicians on any musical project and I am glad they are survivors. A refreshing and outspoken oddity, Unbroken White will break apart all your pre-conceived notions when it comes to learning about new music with a twist from the golden past. For more information on Jack Brag, head over to jackbrag.com.

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