On Stage: Jesse Ruben comes home for show at World Cafe Live

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Jesse Ruben

For Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Jesse Ruben, his show on May 12 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, www.worldcafelive.com) is a much-anticipated homecoming.

Ruben, who moved to New York 12 years ago, grew up in Maple Glen and graduated from Upper Dublin High School. He went on to earn a degree in songwriting at the Berklee College of Music.

“I came from a musical background,” said Ruben, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from his apartment in Brooklyn. “My dad, Peter Scott Ruben, was a musician who used to do Sinatra shows.

“After I graduated from Berklee, I moved to Nashville. It was a fun place to visit but I didn’t want to live there. With the music business, it’s L.A., New York or Nashville. For me, New York was the only place to go.”

Ruben started his professional music career in New York. The city also held an attraction for his wife Jen Jacob, an actress who has done theater, voice-overs and TV. Recently, she played Dennis Leary’s wife on “Law and Order: Organized Crime.”

He is now on the verge of releasing his third album sometime later this year. The first single from the album is “Belong.”

“This Friday is the release date for ‘Belong,’” said Ruben. “The album has been sone since before the pandemic. I didn’t know when to release it.

“I tried putting music out during the pandemic. It was a weird time. You couldn’t tour. So, I waited. I wanted the songs to be heard by as many people as possible.”

Ruben’s songs have gotten more than a dozen placements in the US and abroad and have been featured on shows like “One Tree Hill,” “Teen Mom,” “Switched at Birth,” Germany’s “The Bachelor” and the recent Disney+ series “Diary of a Future President.”  All of his albums have reached the Top 10 of the US iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts.

“This will be my third album,” said Ruben, who is known for his lyrical storytelling and engaging live shows. “I’ve also released three EPs and a smattering of singles. My last EP was ‘Hope’ in 2019 and my last full-length was ‘Thoughts I’ve Never Had Before, Part 1.’

“The songs from the new album were written before the pandemic. The last EP was more electronic and poppy. For the new music, I wanted to get back to acoustic.

“I recorded the album at Dwight Baker’s studio in Austin – Matchbox Recording Studio. I was there for 12 or 13 days. Dwight, who is in The Wind and The Wave, did the production.

“Some of the songs were about political stuff, and some were about getting older. Some were about mental health, and some were about family.”

Health has played a major role in Ruben’s music.

Ruben has run the NYC Marathon three times for The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the largest non-profit devoted to spinal cord injuries, and five times to raise money for Lyme disease research. He is a co-founder of Generation Lyme, a community built to empower people facing Lyme disease through sharing patient stories and hosting online Meet-ups.

“I had Lyme disease starting in 2013,” said Ruben. “It was a tough time for three years. Now, I’ve been in remission since 2016. With Generation Lyme, I wanted to help people with Lyme disease. We’ve had more than 10,000 people participate in Meet-ups.”

Additionally, Ruben is the founder of The We Can Project, an initiative for young students designed to help them discover their passions and give back to their communities. To date, more than 800,000 young people have participated. To promote the program, he was personally invited by Hoda Kotb to perform live on The Today Show.

His single “We Can” from “Thoughts I’ve Never Had Before, Part 1” gained popularity due to its inspirational lyrics. After an elementary school reached out to him and told him that they had played the song to inspire their students, he started the We Can project to encourage students to make a difference in their communities.

“I started that project at an elementary school on Vancouver Island in 2013,” said Ruben. “I just did a 10th anniversary show there. The whole project is based on the song. It’s about kids learning new things and giving back to the community.”

Video link for Jesse Ruben — https://youtu.be/59Aj9E5lCn0.

The show at the World Café Live on May 12 will start at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $17.

Amy Ray

On May 11, another solo artist making music that is socially conscious will make an area visit when Amy Ray headlines a show at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

Ray is also another singer/songwriter whose plans were derailed by the pandemic. She is also one-half of the band Indigo Girls.

“We made an Indigo Girls’ record – ‘Look Long’ — in England,” said Ray, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from her home in rural Georgia.

“It came out in early 2020. Then, our summer 2020 tour got cancelled because of COVID. We put the album out in May even though there was no tour.

“I didn’t tour for 18 months. This year, I did a solo tour in the Southeast in February. Usually, May is the month to do solo stuff.”

Ray’s latest solo album is “If It All Goes South.”

“I released the album last year,” said Ray. “I recorded in Nashville at Sound Emporium.”

The album was recorded live in the studio on analog tape.

“I prefer recording on analog,” said Ray. “Choosing Sound Emporium was mostly about the tape machinery – mostly about the gear and the upkeep of it. If work is needed on the machines, Nashville has tech people who know how to do it and they get it done quickly.

“We had done a lot of pre-production during the pandemic from our home studios. We had a lot of arrangements ready for the recording of the album. The country stuff I do – all the stuff leads to Americana.”

Recorded live to tape at Sound Emporium and mainly produced by her frequent collaborator Brian Speiser, “If It All Goes South” owes much of its freewheeling vitality to the potent chemistry between Ray and her longtime bandmates, including guitarist Jeff Fielder (a Seattle-based musician known for his work with artists like Mark Lanegan and Duff McKagan), keyboardist Daniel Walker (Heart, Ann Wilson, John Fullbright), pedal-steel player Matt Smith (also a member of The Honeycutters), banjo player Alison Brown, fiddle player/guitarist Adrian Carter, bassist Kerry Brooks, and drummer Jim Brock.

“I always did analog with this band,” said Ray. “This band has been together for over 10 years. For us, it was that idea of being spontaneous. It was a really fun experience.”

The album was in many ways a product of the environment – an environment of a pandemic shutdown.

According to Ray, “Most of this album was written during the pandemic, so I wanted to write songs that were healing and hopefully offered some sort of comfort. At the same time, I was going to protests and watching what was happening in the world, and that all went into the music too. The whole time I kept telling myself, ‘You’ve got it really good, so just do what you can to bring some positivity to people and let them know they’re not alone.’”

As a gay liberal living in the South, Ray is always going to be exposed to a segment of the population that is racist, homophobic or both.

“I write a lot about the South,” said Ray. “The greatest mission for me was to try to be an anti-racist – having empathy even when you disagree. With my music, I want to provide a ray of hope amid all the political upheaval, activism and racism. It’s about healing and love.”

Video link for Amy Ray — https://youtu.be/F-Ybaw-GF2k.

The show at Sellersville Theater on May 11 will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $29.

Roomful of Blues

Back in November, Roomful of Blues returned to the area for a show at the Sellersville Theater. The Rhode Island-based band with a recording career that has lasted longer than 50 years and resulted in more than 20 albums, has played at the Sellersville Theater numerous times in the past including August 2021.

Finding it hard to resist the allure of the venue — great sound, nice management, gourmet food from the adjacent hotel, and, most importantly, dedicated fans — the band is coming back to play another gig in Sellersville.

On May 12, Roomful of Blues will headline another Friday show at the Sellersville Theater.

“We’re doing mostly weekends now,” said guitarist/bandleader Chris Vachon, during a phone interview from his New England home. “Weekday stuff isn’t there anymore. This weekend, we’re doing Philly (Sellersville) and New York

Roomful of Blues makes good records, but the band really thrives on stage. Thankfully, the road is opening up for the veteran musicians.

“Stuff is starting to come in,” said Vachon. “We got new management and gigs are trickling in. Still, with a large band – nine members – it’s really expensive to go out on tour.”

The band has toured worldwide and has treated fans around the world to its unique blend of a variety of music genres including rock and roll, swing, R&B, boogie-woogie, soul and a number of different blues styles.

Roomful of Blues has received five Grammy Award nominations and seven Blues Music Awards, including “Blues Band Of The Year” in 2005. The Down Beat International Critics Poll has twice selected Roomful of Blues as “Best Blues Band”.

Over the years, more than 50 different musicians have been part of Roomful of Blues’ line-up, including vocalist/guitarist Duke Robillard, vocalist Lou Ann Barton, keyboardist Junior Brantley and trumpeter Fred Jackson.

Roomful of Blues is currently a nine-piece unit featuring guitarist/bandleader Chris Vachon, Rich Lataille (tenor and alto sax player), Alek Razdan (baritone and tenor saxophone), Rusty Scott (piano, Hammond B-3 organ), Carl Gerhard (trumpet), John Turner (bass), Phil Pemberton (vocals) and Chris Anzalone (drums).

Roomful of Blues’ first album was an eponymous release in 1978 and the most recent is the “In A Roomful Of Blues” LP.

“Our last album was right when the pandemic started,” said Vachon.

“In A Roomful Of Blues,” the band’s sixth release on Alligator Records, features 13 wide-ranging songs, including 10 band-composed originals — more than on any previous Roomful album. Eight songs were written or co-written byVachon (including one authored with vocalist Phil Pemberton) plus one each by sax player Alek Razdan and keyboardist Rusty Scott.

The album features a definite variety of music styles — soaring blues, zydeco twists, late-night ballads, Latin-tinged funk and a touch of vintage, fifth-gear rock ‘n’ roll.

“The album came out on March 13, 2020– Friday the 13th – right when COVID hit,” said Vachon. “COVID was tough on us. Nobody in the band and its family got it but we were pretty much out of it for a year-and-a-half. We couldn’t have any gigs.

“We’ve always done a lot of weekend stuff – mainly because there’s not much going on during the week. Our shows are mostly Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“I don’t know how many we do a year. It’s a pretty good amount. Half the guys in the band are from Boston and half are from Rhode Island. It’s also hard to get together because people have families and other responsibilities.”

“We’re playing a lot of the new album in our current live show,” said Vachon. “We change it up every night. We always mix it up. We’ve got a lot of stuff from over the years. We’ve got so many albums, it’s hard to just pull one out. We try to keep some variety there with tempos and beats — trying to mix it up.

“What I like to do is have a variety of stuff, so people aren’t listening to the same beat repeatedly. It’s more of a journey instead of 10 shuffles in a row. And we do a fair number of covers — not familiar stuff but rather mostly obscure stuff that no-one knows.”

A new album might be on the horizon.

“We’re probably going to do another record soon,” said Vachon. “I have some songs written but we haven’t recorded any yet. I’ll do some in my own studio and the rest at a studio in Connecticut – Power Station Northeast in Waterford. I’m not sure when we’re going to finish.”

Not many bands stay together for more than 10-15 years. Very few make it past 25 and passing a 40th anniversary is almost unheard of. Roomful of Blues celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 and its roster has featured more than 55 members in 54 years. The current line-up is the most stable.

“The reason for our longevity is the music we like to play,” said Vachon. “We’ve had our ups and downs. Some years we’ve toured more than others. We currently play about 150 shows a year. The band keeps getting new fans and there are a lot of older people who have been listening to us for years. For young people, their only exposure to us has been at festivals.”

Video for Roomful of Blues — https://youtu.be/jx4Bd9FOrNc.

The show at the Sellersville Theater will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $29.50.

On May 11, the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, www.ardmoremusic.com) will host the Watson Twins for the first time.

The Watson Twins are an Americana band based in Nashville, formed by identical twin sisters Chandra and Leigh Watson.

They attended the University of Evansville then moved to the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1998, where they were founding members of Slydell. They also began writing their own music and performing with other local musicians.

In 2006, the Watson Twins released their debut EP, “Southern Manners,” simultaneously with “Rabbit Fur Coat,” their collaboration with singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis. Their album, “Fire Songs,” was released in June 2008. In February 2010, they released their sophomore album, “Talking To You, Talking To Me” on Vanguard Records.

In the last 12 years, they released the “Night Covers” EP in 2011, “Pioneer Lane” in 2013, “DUO” in 2018 and “Holler,” which will be released next month on June 23.

The Watson Twins grew up in the American South. They sang in the church choir. They listened to gospel classics and country standards. Those sounds became part of their musical foundation, connecting the siblings to their Kentucky hometown even after they relocated to Los Angeles and, years later, settled in Nashville.

“We came to Philly in 2009 when we were opening for Jenny Lewis,” said Chandra Watson, during a phone interview last week on their way to a tour stop in Washington, D.C.

“We were touring ‘DUO,’ which has just come out. We were fortunate to be opening for Jenny. She’s great – and she is a friend who has introduced us to a lot of audiences.”

Now, the Watson Twins are touring “Holler.”

“We’re playing some of the ‘Holler’ songs,” said Leigh Watson. “The band that was on the record will be out on the road with us. We’ve been playing together for more than four years.

“When we started writing the new music, we wanted to write something joyful —something to bring smiles to people’s faces.”

When it came time to record “Holler,” The Watson Twins found a natural partner in producer Butch Walker. Like them, Walker was a southern native who’d spent more than a decade in Los Angeles, blurring the lines between indie music, rock & roll, and more rootsy sounds. Weeks after Walker moved to Tennessee, the Watsons found themselves in his recording studio, surrounded by the musicians who had become their main bandmates.

With Walker joining the group on harmony vocals, acoustic guitar, and the occasional guitar solo, the band tracked each song live, capturing the spirit and spontaneity of The Watson Twins’ concerts in real time. Chandra and Leigh even recorded their vocals simultaneously, both singers standing within arm’s length of one another, matching their vowel sounds and mouth shapes while the tape rolled. “Holler” was finished quickly and exuberantly.

“We recorded it in five days with our band,” said Chandra. “We used Butch Walker’s studio, The Butcher Shop. The studio has a good mix of digital and analog gear. The space has its own energy.

“We recorded it live in the studio. We were all in the same room – able to let the music take over. The songs were written after the pandemic – March 2022 – and we recorded at the end of July.”

Living as twins for almost five decades, Chandra and Leigh are well accustomed to collaboration. Their last two albums took a different direction.

“Chandra and I used to write everything separately,” said Leigh. “For almost everything up to ‘DUO’,’ we’d write separately and then sing the song together. Sharing so much growing up, we wanted to something individual.

“With ‘DUO,’ we decided to write everything together. It made a difference. It made us stronger.”

Proof of that is in evidence in “Holler,” which is their most collaborative album ever – and their strongest.

Video link for the Watson Twins — https://youtu.be/K4oxI3Fg-8E.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall, which also features Heartless Bastards, will start at 8  p.m.

Tickets are $35.

If you’re looking to hear jazz or blues music live, then you need to look no further than Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com). The Delaware County venue is a prime destination to hear folk, jazz and blues music every Thursday through Sunday.

The “Jazz at Jamey’s” on Thursdays and the “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” are regular features on Jamey’s calendar while Friday and Saturday night shows feature national and regional acts.

The headline acts this weekend are The Dale Melton Trio on May 12 and a twin bill featuring The Lucky Losers and Emily Adams on May 13.

The show at Jamey’s on Friday will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

The show at Jamey’s on Saturday will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door.

The “Jazz at Jamey’s” show this week will feature Ella Gahnt.

Ella Gahnt is not only her (stage) name, but also a description of the music she plays and of her singing style.

Gahnt is a vocalist in the jazz/traditional pop style who has performed with some of the most talented musicians in the quad-state area of Philadelphia, New Jersey, Delaware and New York. She also has worked professionally as a studio vocalist/performer for many years.

“Ella Gahnt, which is my stage name, was given to me by my husband Leon Mitchell,” said Gahnt, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her home in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia.

“It comes from the persona I want when I perform – elegant. I wat to be like the performers back in the day who dressed to the nines – Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole. They put on a show. It’s all about entertaining.”

Mitchell is a sax player and a key figure in Philly area jazz support groups such as The Jazz Bridge Project. He is also the Musical Director of the Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra

“I sang in church choirs when I was little then glee clubs in junior high and choirs in high school,” said Gahnt, a graduate of West Philadelphia High School. “I was also in one of the last versions of the Orlons in the late 60s.”

The Orlons were an R&B group from Philadelphia. The group had nine Top 20 hits. “The Wah-Watusi,” “Don’t Hang Up,” and “South Street” each sold over one million copies and were awarded gold disc status.

“In the 1980s, I decided I wanted to be a jazz singer,” said Gahnt. “I started listening to old favorites – especially to learn the songs and find different versions of the songs I liked.

“I was a big fan of Chick Corea and Return to Forever. I learned his song ‘You’re Everything.’ A lot of people played it but no-one played it the way Chick Corea wrote it. I played it the way Chick Corea wrote it.”

“My first jazz show was at the Freedom Theater. I was the featured vocalist for the Mike Hill Trio.”

“In my live shows, I do mostly traditional jazz – including some originals. One original is the set opener ‘What You’ll Hear from Me’ and another is ‘Let It Be Yesterday.’ I also do a lot of jazz standards.

“I venture into the more challenging music. When I’m working with guys on a regular basis, they can handle music that’s more challenging.”

Gahnt has released several albums over the years including “Immaculate Union,” “Third Stage of Elegance,” and “By Request.”

“I’m working now on a new album,” said Gahnt. “It’s a new project for Aaron Graves and me. It’s pretty much all recorded.”

Video link for Ella Gahnt — https://youtu.be/1jQyZncKxZg.

The show at Jamey’s on Thursday will get underway at 7 p.m. There is a $10 cover charge.

On May 13, Kennett Symphony (kennettsymphony.org) will present a special Mother’s Day concert under the direction of Music Director, Michael Hall.

The “Mother’s Day Weekend Chamber Music Concert” is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Winterthur’s Copeland Lecture Hall (Winterthur Museum, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, Delaware).

In celebration of Mother’s Day and in tribute to Winterthur’s upcoming exhibit featuring Ann Cole Lowe, the Kennett Symphony is performing a concert that features the beauty and artistry of women composers of the 20th Century — women composers who created in musical form what Ms. Lowe created through her magnificent designs.

This special concert features chamber music performed by Kennett Symphony musicians interspersed with insightful commentary presented by Music Director Michael Hall.

The program will feature Amy Beach: String Quartet Op 89 and Florence B. Price: Piano Quintet in A minor.

Beach was an American composer and pianist. She was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. Her “Gaelic Symphony,” which was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman.

She was one of the first American composers to succeed without the benefit of European training, and one of the most respected and acclaimed American composers of her era. As a pianist, she was acclaimed for concerts she gave featuring her own music in the United States and in Germany.

Amy Beach’s String Quartet in One Movement, Op. 89 was created in 1921 and based on three Inuit songs. Beach’s composition is lyrical and dissonant simultaneously. The one-movement quartet is in modified arch form. The themes and the piece’s texture are based on three Inuit melodies.

Beach’s String Quartet in One Movement, Op. 89 has been lauded as “a successful integration of art and folk music, and a truly ‘American’ composition.”

Price was an American classical composer, pianist, organist and music teacher. Price was educated at the New England Conservatory of Music and was active in Chicago from 1927 until her death in 1953. Price is noted as the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.

She wrote four symphonies and other large-scale orchestral pieces; concertos for the piano and the violin; two string quartets, and other chamber and instrumental pieces, as well as large-scale choral works, songs and numerous solo organ and piano pieces — including her 1931 Piano Sonata that won the Rodman Wanamaker Contest in Musical Composition.

In 2009, a substantial collection of her works and papers was found in her abandoned summer home in Illinois. This collection of music included the Piano Quintet in A minor.

This piece by Price is in her typical late-Romantic style yet infused the sounds of spirituals and hymns from her life. Quintet in A Minor is performed in four movements.

Tickets, which are $25 ($10 for students), must be purchased directly from Winterthur (www.winterthur.org/calendar/mothers-day-concert). Ticket price includes the concert and general admission to visit and enjoy the garden and galleries after the concert.

In June, the Symphony will perform the third installment of its Masterworks Series. On June 25, “Masterworks 3: Symphony Under the Stars” will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Longwood Gardens’ Open Air Theatre.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present “Better Than Bacon Improv: Bacon Gives Back: Kennett Area Community Service and Chester County Food Bank” on May 11, Blank Pages with special guest Jac Conner om May 12, Kennett Metal Fest on May 13, and Moon Letters on May 17.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) will present “The Little Mermaid Jr.” musical from May 12-14 and the musical “Into the Woods” from May 19-21.

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