PHOTO FRIDAY: Lunar Chiefs

Lunar Chiefs are a new band out of Chicago with a cool, hard-to-nail-down sound, but it's all their own for sure. Where does it come from? "There's no rhyme or reason to it, really," says vocalist and guitar player Ronnie Barnes. "You come down in the studio and you start playing something, and all of a sudden it gives you an idea. Figuring out a good three piece rock version of some of these great songs is really satisfying, especially if then you recreate it live."

Live is exactly what Lunar Chiefs will be this Sunday, March 20 when they appear at Evenflow, a great venue in Geneva, Illinois. From the bands website LunarChiefs.com, here's some more details: "Doors open at 2:00 P.M. We go on at 3:00 P.M. Three bands coming together to support Suicide Prevention Services of America. It is another fine production from the good people at Chicago Music Guide. Come on out hear some good music and support the important work the SPSA is doing for those in desperate need."

Finding Ashley Wallbridge

Ashley Wallbridge (Photo courtesy of Ashley Wallbridge)
BT (Photo by Andrew Rauner, courtesy of Enhanced Music)

If you were ever trying to find Ashley Wallbridge, there would be a couple of places that you could look, although it would depend a lot on exactly when it was that you were trying to find him.

Fifteen years ago, you could have looked in Stoke-on-Trent, a city of about half a million people in the north of England. If you'd been looking for him then, and not a lot of people were, you probably would have found him buried in a laptop screen, working on beats and bridges and builds, starting to make the music that would soon make a lot of people want to find him.

It didn't really take that long. By the time he was eighteen — about ten years ago — people were already starting to find him, especially people who were looking for a brand new energy in electronic dance music. By then, Ashley Wallbridge had already won a bunch of DJ competitions (with a fake ID no less) and had been featured on Radio 1, the BBC's music powerhouse. It was just a couple of years after that, in 2008, that his tracks began hitting playlists and dance floors, and if you're trying to find Ashley Wallbridge now, you can find several hundred of his originals and remixes at sites like Beatport and Juno.

That's a lot of records, and they not only cover a lot of years, they cover a lot of different ideas and textures and musical insight. Wallbridge comes out of the scene that for years was just called Trance, but has evolved into what now is more often called Trance and Progressive, but his range is wide. So is his impact — he's remixed Avicii for PRMD (Avicii's own label), and you could fill a record box with his collaborations with great producers like Gareth Emery and Andy Moor.

PHOTO FRIDAY: Thodos Dance Chicago's New Story Ballet Sono's Journey

Thodos Dance Chicago is at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance on Saturday, March 5 in a final Chicago performance of Chicago Revealed. These are photos from their very well received appearance two weeks ago at The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. You can check out the full gallery of Johnny Nevin's photos at johnnynevin.com.

Jim Ed Norman's Music

Jim Ed Norman (Photo Courtesy of Curb Records)
Jim Ed Norman (Photo Courtesy of Curb Records)

You may already know a lot about Jim Ed Norman, and just not realize it. In any case, you almost certainly know a lot of his music, although you probably don't think of it as exactly 'his' music. He doesn't either, but the impact that his music has had on the way that a lot of great artists have made their own music has been immense. Even though it probably includes some of your all-time favorite recordings, it's just not that easy to say exactly what Jim Ed Norman's music actually is. But one thing it's always been is a reflection of who he is, so if you know a lot of his music, you actually know a lot about him.

Jim Ed Norman's music has crowded the tops of many charts for many years, but since his name is never in the column labeled "recording artist", people don't usually think of him as one. That's ironic, since he's such a master of the art of recording. He's been a musician, an arranger, a producer, and a very successful label head (twice so far), but the art that he's a master of is just a little too complex, or maybe just too unique, to have its own name. It's a lot of different things, each musical moment custom-made for the moment that needed it, but it's a creativity that's always very deeply interwoven with the fabric of other artists' creativity. When the records come out, the artist you hear about is always somebody else.

Artist he is though, and that's what makes Jim Ed Norman's music so important and yet so elusive — it's what changes other people's music from what their music would have been to what it could really be. That's why he can be an arranger, a producer, a label executive — sometimes even a piano player or guitarist — and still do exactly what he does. The real question is, how does he do it? Actually that's probably three real questions — what does he do, how does he do it, and especially, how has he been able to keep doing it for almost five decades?

He began his career very much as a recording artist, playing keyboards and guitar in a band called Shiloh, which is what originally brought Norman and fellow band member Don Henley to Los Angeles from Texas. Even though Shiloh broke up after the release of their first album, Norman's career in recording music began to expand, and it's never really stopped.

He continued to play keyboards and guitar on a number of tracks, including several legendary ones, but his first real jump to a different orbital plane was when he taught himself orchestral arrangement. He did it almost entirely just by listening carefully to the arrangements he admired. "Arranging is my first love," Norman says, "but by that I mean 'orchestral arranging'. The early credits I received — like The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Bob Seger — were usually for this kind of work."

Although Norman is known most for his influential work in Rock and Country, those are by no means his only influences. Early in his career, for example, he saved all his money to make a trip from L.A. to visit Sigma Sound studios in Philadelphia, home of the soaring string and horn arrangements that made the Philadelphia Sound such a hallmark of seventies R&B. That's always been an important part of his music, the way he appreciates other people's music, and the soulful vibrance in many of Norman's own arrangements may be part of why so many of them are classics in their own right.

PHOTO FRIDAY: Thodos Dance Chicago Rehearsing for Sono's Journey

Melissa Thodos' new story ballet Sono's Journey premieres Saturday, January 9 at the Auditorium Theatre. Here are photos from the Company's rehearsal for the work.

Talking With Kaki King

When you can do something as well as Kaki King can play a guitar, there's just no telling where it might take you. With her latest album, she's found yet another new way to do what she always seems to do -- to find great music in a guitar and play it like very, very few people can. This time, though, there's something else. Her latest album isn't just an album, it's also a carefully imagined multimedia performance. In The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, King makes her way calmly through eleven tracks of showcase quality composition, but for those who see her perform it live, there's even more. On stage, all of it is framed in additional new dimensions of light, projection and picture. (from Johnny Nevin's story at The Huffington Post)

Johnny Nevin's story Light in the Music and Music in Light, Kaki King's Off on a New Adventure appears this week in The Huffington Post, but there was much more that Kaki King had to say about the project when Johnny spoke with her about it. Here are some excerpts from their conversation …

Johnny: How did you come to this musically? I get the impression from what I've read that it's definitely part of a journey.

Kaki King: Well, the music and the visuals, they can't really be separated, I mean I can't tell one story without telling the other. But about the record, I had this idea in my head to create a projection-mapped guitar show, and then I would write music. It would just be solo guitar. I would send some demos, to the collaborators, and they would send stuff back to me. You know, sometimes just internet photos, like do you like A or B? Or, which look are you trying to go for more? Like, is it this sort of flashy thing, or this puffy thing? Then they would supply me with the visual imagery that they were thinking about. Then, because I then had this new imagery coming at me I would write music to fit that — I would shape the music I had already written to fit in more.

So I'd be like, well this is great but it really needs a pedal that does like a wah effect with a delay, so that the music sort of looks and sounds more like this globulous mass. That's kind of how it worked. It was really, and still today is a constant back and forth. I'm able to change a lot, I'm able to change the music, I'm able to change the visuals, in most circumstances one or the other, and so I'm still looking and I'm still listening. I'm still adjusting to kind of make it fit as well as I can.


Photos by Johnny Nevin

How to Just Keep Bringing It: Rui da Silva Makes Some New House Music

Rui da Silva (Courtesy of Rui da Silva)
Rui da Silva (Photo courtesy of Rui da Silva)
It's Your Love Cover Art (Courtesy of Enhanced Music)

Rui da Silva has a brand new record out — it's a collaboration with New York producer Duane Harden called "It's Your Love", and there are quite a few things about it that could end up getting it heard a lot. The classic arc of the songwriting, Joe Killington's full-gear vocal, and the carefully colored production from da Silva and Harden are just some of the things that could make it a stand-out moment in a career that's had quite a few of those already.

Rui da Silva is a House producer from London who has been releasing quality track after quality track for a while now. One of the scene's most respected voices, he's been finding new sounds, new ideas, and new ways to discover what House music can be ever since he traded in his bass guitar for an early generation of analog drum machines and samplers.

He discovered House music in the early nineties, when he was playing bass in a garage band in his native Lisbon. "It was pretty hard to keep everybody interested in the band," he remembers, "and I realized that with House music you could just do it all on your own. So I just jumped into that, and got a bit of equipment. I got a couple of magazines to figure out what people were using and just took it from there."

The rest of the world first heard what he was doing when he and DJ Vibe, calling themselves Underground Sound of Lisbon, recorded a track called "So Get Up". They sent a promo copy to New York — just one — with no contact info on the label except a phone number and part of a map of Lisbon. Night after night for six months, Junior Vasquez banged it in his legendary Sound Factory sets, until finally TRIBAL America's Rob di Stefano got the phone number off the record and tracked da Silva and DJ Vibe down in Lisbon.

With the TRIBAL America release, "So Get Up" became a world-wide House phenomenon. "It created a new sound that didn't exist," da Silva says, "because our influences were quite unique. We were consuming techno from Detroit, house records from New York, and some sounds from the UK, and we were just trying to figure out our own dance music." That's something da Silva has never stopped doing — figuring out his own dance music. As a musician, he's exceptional in more than a few ways, but one of the most striking is the way that he always seems to be just beginning his journey. What makes that even more unusual is that it's already been quite a ride.

After a few more years in the Lisbon scene that he had helped to create, da Silva decided to move to London. "It was a risk, but I felt that I was at a place that I could not move further," he recalls, "so it was either just settle for where I was, or take a chance and move further. I decided to move further." Much further, as it turned out, topping the UK charts with a record he did with Cassandra Fox called "Touch Me", co-founding Kismet Records, and releasing a mesmerizing sequence of widely admired tracks. In 2015 alone, he has more than a dozen new releases as an artist (and several more as a remixer) that cover a multi-chromatic spectrum of style, texture and sound. "I'll always expect to find new sounds," he says.

Smile, You're On the Radio: Go Country, Tonya Campos and Mo Pitney's "Boy and a Girl Thing"

So how does a song even get on the radio anyway? How does it happen, that great moment when you're listening to the radio and you hear that song you like?

There could probably be a lot of stories about how that happens, because a lot of songs get played on a lot of radio stations. But even when you find out how just one song got on one radio station, it turns out that it's more than just one story. It's a lot of different stories about a lot of creative people, and here's a good example.

Mo Pitney has a brand new song called "Boy and a Girl Thing", a carefully crafted, catchy-as-can- be, guitar-driven groove about all the things that happen between boys and girls. Tonya Campos is the Program Director at KKGO, better known to everybody in Los Angeles as Go Country 105. Like Program Directors at radio stations all around the country, she's right in the middle of figuring out what song you want to hear when you listen to her station. The reason that's a good example is because Go Country is playing "Boy and a Girl Thing" on the radio.


Mo Pitney (Photo by Johnny Nevin)

Photo Friday: Dylan Scott and "Crazy Over Me"

Curb Records recording artist Dylan Scott and his stage-scorching band rolled into Chicago for a show at the legendary Joe's Bar on Weed Street last week. Forty-five minutes before the show, Joe's was packed wall to wall with a thousand of his fans, and when he broke into his new single "Crazy Over Me" most of them could sing along, even though it wouldn't be released for a week.

Dylan Scott is an artist whose fans are so enthusiastic about his music that every new thing he does gets massive attention, even if some of it stays under the big media radar. When Curb released the "Stripped" version of "Crazy Over Me" on video in late July, so many of his fans found it, watched it and shared it that by the time he got to Chicago just a few weeks later, the sold out crowd already knew it like it was a hit.

When I talked with Dylan Scott last fall for a story here at aotpr.com and at The Huffington Post, it was really clear how important his band is to him. "I've got my brother playing electric guitar for me, and he's a guy who will just rip it up. And then his best friend, who's actually from Louisiana as well, is a phenomenal guitar player," he said. "So I've got both of them in my band, and then my drummer and bass player are also brothers, and I'm telling you, they are A-list players. I don't know how I lucked up and this happened."

It's a sight to see, that's for sure, Logan Robinson (Dylan's brother) and Sean Barger on guitars, Darrick Cline on bass and Garrett Cline on drums. Just like Dylan Scott, they know what they've got, and they're just relentless in bringing it to the people who came to see them play.

Here's a look at just some of the excitement of this amazing band on stage at Joe's, and if you want to read more about Dylan Scott, check out this story about him at The Huffington Post: Dylan Scott and Where It All Comes From.

Dylan Scott's new single "Crazy Over Me" is at iTunes.

Photos by Johnny Nevin, and there are more photos of Dylan Scott at johnnynevin.com.

Urban Pointe Shoes: Bringing Beauty Back

Briana Robinson and Kevin Shackelford didn't exactly know at first. As they loaded Shackelford's video equipment into a car they borrowed from one of Briana's friends, they didn't know that what they would film that bright summer day would turn out the way it did. The project they were about to film became a burst of bright discovery called Urban Pointe Shoes, but as they set out to shoot that day, they didn't yet realize that they were going to make a such a beautiful document of defiant hope.

They didn't really even know each other. Shackelford is an independent filmmaker who works with music and fashion artists. Robinson is a choreographer and dancer with Thodos Dance Chicago, the widely respected dance company she joined after completing her studies at Juilliard.

"I first heard about the project from a woman by the name of Eileen Mallory," Robinson recalls. "At the time, she was working at Ballet Chicago, where I trained when I first started dancing. My close friend Joshua Ishmon, who was also on staff at Ballet Chicago, heard about the project from Eileen and recommended me for the opportunity."

The project was a short film that Shackelford was making for his production company K-Shack Video. "Kevin was looking for an African American ballerina who was comfortable with improvisation, and not afraid to dance in unlikely environments."

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