Wide Angle Radio

Wide Angle Radio (Episode Seven): Those Nice Canadians

unruh I first met Canadian singer-songwriter Rick Unruh at the annual Cornerstone Music Festival, or maybe the Folk Alliance Convention in Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1999, but frankly, I have forgotten the exact place.  Rick is quiet-spoken and unassuming, as are many Canadians it seems.  In fact, my Silent Planet Records partner, Tony Shore, used to joke that Rick was so nice that we could tell him we’d put his record out, do nothing for him, and pay him nothing, and he’d say “no problem.”  (Well, come to think of it, that’s not far from reality for most record companies!)  Even Rick’s songs have a subtle way of sneaking up on you, powerfully understated in their approach.

In this episode of Wide Angle Radio, that well-intended but financially underwhelming project of so many years ago, John Fischer interviews Rick in an episode entitled “The Vulnerability of the Artist.”  (Funny, no one ever talks about the vulnerability of the record label or artist manager.  Can you imagine why?)  The acoustic music featured on Wide Angle Radio tends to manifest just that --- vulnerability --- in being stripped down (sometimes, painfully so to my ears today), honest, and often personal.  Listen to any song by Julie Miller, who is also featured on this episode, and you’ll sense the vulnerability immediately.  Sometimes it’s almost too much.  And yet with Rick’s music joy and hope tend to percolate up to the surface time and again.  And he’s just as intelligent and articulate and (yes) nice in his interview.  So, please check out this episode of Wide Angle Radio here.

Wide Angle Radio (Episode Six): Mark Heard's Dark Side

180px-DryBonesDance Although I circled all around the places where Mark Heard traveled while I was in the music business, I never met the man.  He died, tragically, of a heart attack before I had that pleasure.  I met all the people he produced --- Harrod and Funck, John Fischer, Pierce Pettis, and more, but never heard or met the man.  That's my loss.

It was on July 4, 1992 that Mark had a heart attack on stage while performing with Pierce Pettis and Kate Miner, at the Cornerstone Festival, near Chicago. Heard finished his set and went to the hospital immediately afterwards. Two weeks after being released from the hospital, he had a cardiac arrest and died on August 16th of 1992. Before Heard's death, he had released three albums, been included on the Legacy II sampler from Windham Hill's High Street label, and was nearly finalizing a mainstream contract with Bruce Cockburn's label, True North Records in Canada. There was also interest from Sony's Columbia Records label for distribution in the US.  But it was not to be. 

In this episode of Wide Angle, John Fischer, who knew Mark well, speaks of the "burden of the artist," meaning an artist's experience of reality more deeply than the average person --- a burden, whether pain or joy.  Mark was one who felt pain deeply, the weight of which may have contributed to his early death.  As John opines, unlike some, Mark would walk outside and not just see the fathomless beauty of the stars but hear the "groan of humanity and history screaming at him from the sky."  You wonder if life would have ultimately been too much for him.  The show kicks off with his great song, Satellite Sky," a testimony to what he heard in those night skies.

But the "burden of the artist" lives on after Mark.  On this show you hear it in the voice of Karen Peris, of The Innocence Mission, a wistful wondering.  Well, there's much more, including an interview with Bebo Norman, but hear it for yourself, right here.

Wide Angle Radio (Episode Six): Phil's Jagged Heart

WideAngle3On the cover of Phil Madeira's Off Kilter recording, there is a picture of Phil standing in his home studio, the floor positively littered with instruments --- drums, various electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, and much more.  It's a vivid reminder of the immense talent that Phil possesses.  In addition to his ubiquitous session work on the Hammond B3 Organ, a signature sound for him, he plays virtually everything else.  Oh, he also writes great songs and sings and produces!  It was a privilege for me to spend a few years with Phil on Silent Planet Records and to bring his Three Horse Shoes record to national distribution. (You can still buy Three Horse Shoes here.)

Life has been hard at times for Phil, and that shows in one of the songs featured on this edition of Wide Angle Radio, "Jagged Heart."  Listen:

madeiraperfsw Not like I had a plan
Not like I saw the goal
You got to whittle down to nothing
Before you'll ever be made whole

I've been carving
Stripping off the bark
Rounding off the edges
Of this jagged heart

When I listen to Phil's music, I always get the sense that he is very much a man under construction, a ragamuffin --- just like all of us.  Listening to him in the interview is like sitting by an old friend and finding something in common.  So, enjoy the music on this month's Wide Angle Radio, and meet Phil, right here.  (Oh, and while you're on the Wide Angle page, check out the new recorded introduction I've added!)

Wide Angle Radio (Episode Five)

skat Intense alternative folk rock.  That's how the website CD Baby refers to the music of Skatman Meredith.  I think it's accurate.  Skat (whose real name is David Meredith), was only the fourth artist I signed to Silent Planet Records and the first artist (make that person) I had ever met who lived in Delaware.  (Do you know anyone who lives in Delaware?)  Not only that, he lived in a tiny town called Hockessin, the name of which has stuck in my mind since I met him ten years ago. 

Skat is honest, generous (when I met him he was giving CDs away at concerts, something more practical in these times than in those times), funny, and laid back --- an extremely easy person to work with.  On this episode of Wide Angle, in an interview with John Fischer, you'll hear that honesty from a guy who has had struggles but remains hopeful.  We were hanging out with John Fischer and Skat in the high desert air of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in February 2000, where we had a blast doing the interview, visiting Folk Alliance, and hiking the countryside.  I haven't seen Skat in years, but I still regard it as a privilege to have known and worked with him on two fine records --- The Garden and Mercyside (both of which can be purchased in the Silent Planet store in the sidebar).

Skat, wherever you are, thanks.

[Listen to this month's Wide Angle radio here.]

Wide Angle Radio (Episode Four)

WideAngle3_thumb Singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen, embellishing the hallways, rooms, and doorways of the folk conventions, guitars in hand or strapped to their backs, eking out a subsistence living at times, living out of their cars.  Why do they do it?  Some because they can't do anything else, I guess. As Pierce Pettis once told me about himself, he did what he did "because he couldn't do anything else."  Pierce said he'd rather do something else, because he could make a better living, and he never counseled anyone to take up the "profession," and yet it's what he did.

So when I was in the music business, why, among the legion of troubadours out there, did I partner with the ones I did?  I'm not sure I can point to one factor.  Sovereign luck, deliberate choice, fortuitous circumstances, poor judgment --- all may have played a factor in my choices.  But I know why I chose Matt Auten:  because of his literary nature, because listening to his lyrically rich songs is trip through countless metaphors, and because Matt himself is articulate, poetic, and a good guitar player to boot.  Listening to his songs on this episode of Wide Angle Radio, I look for more instrumentation, a richer musical palette, but Matt wouldn't have it.  He likes it mellow.  And that's OK --- he's the one who dreamed up the songs in the first place.

Matt Auten, now by day a Black Mountain, North Carolina trim carpenter (he can do something else and, by all accounts, do it very well) is featured on this January 2000 episode of Wide Angle Radio.  You'll enjoy the sounds, the interview, as well as other music by Bruce Cockburn, Matt Jones, Rick Unruh, and Jane Kelly Williams.  Give it a listen here.