R.E.M.: Life And How To Live It

September 21st, 2011

I'm pretty sure I'd never seen a man wearing eyeliner, let alone one stabbing, sweating and strutting his way shirtless across a stage back lit by 16mm film of fish swimming in slow-motion.

I was in the second row. Standing on my seat for two hours straight. Singing every word.

Indeed, R.E.M.'s 1988 Philadelphia Spectrum performance was mind blowing enough to derail everything that had come prior, and everything that would follow. The tale is well-worn. Heck, it's baked into my biography.

"My big brother brought R.E.M.'s ...

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Sunny On These Days

June 27th, 2011

Tonight's my first rock show in more than a year, and I'm a little bit freaked.

Other than "A Holiday Benefit, Vol. IV" in December (where I performed two Christmas standards), and the "Forever Young" Benefit in October (ten cover songs), my last show was March 2010.

To even call it a rock show is bit of a misnomer: The Backscratch Sessions (Rockwood Music Hall 9p) is nine artists doing three songs each, one of which is a cover of one of the other eight performers. Great idea. Totally psyched. But three songs? Solo acoustic? Not a ...

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Rachel Platten’s 53 Steps Into The Great Unknown

May 24th, 2011

Most major music careers begin on modest stages. Springsteen cut his teeth at Asbury Park's Stone Pony. Elton John made his stateside splash at LA's Troubadour. And Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta became Lady Gaga at Rockwood Music Hall.

Of course, Rockwood's been my home turf since founder Ken Rockwood (the Professor half of one-time Bar/None recording artists, Professor & Maryann) first swiched on the PA in 2005. The room's knows for Ken's careful curation, fierce intimacy, excellent sound, and well-considered wine list. Amongst ...

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My Sunshine

February 21st, 2011

Difficult to tell for sure, but I think today's the day it clicked for Maggie.

"Oh, that sound I keep hearing from the speakers is Daddy."

Maggie's a handfull. I mean, she's actually quite fun: short on tears, long on giggles and squeals. But she's super-curious and uber-wobbly. Maggie's primary passtime is unloading her bookshelf one-by-one, then moving on to her toy basket. There are a thousand potential bumps and bruises in-between. So if she's awake, she needs a spotter.

I was designated spotter all day; Abs was at work. Mags ...

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Top Ten Christmas Songs That Rock

December 25th, 2010

It's presumably little surprise that I love Christmas songs. Not, like, all Christmas songs. Christmas songs with a backbeat. Christmas songs that rock.

You, Dear Reader, may recall that it all began in the passenger seat of my brother's Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, nog in the belly, weed on the brain (sorry, mom), WYSP on the radio, and mind-blowing luminarium along the culdesac streets.

In fact, it may well have been rocking' Christmas music that got me through those years. Those experiences (Band Aid's "Do They Know ...

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Golden Slumbers: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” Track-By Track

November 28th, 2010

The hardest part about recording "Golden Slumbers" with Casey Shea was asking Casey Shea to record "Golden Slumbers."

I've known Mr. Shea pushing ten years now. Still, it didn't take ten minutes to discover his affinity for The Fab Four.

At his own wedding, Casey nailed "All My Loving." At my wedding (where the purvasive rumor was that he was John Lennon's Lost Son), he crushed "Twist & Shout."

Heck, one listen to his instant-classic "In Search of Seas," and you know this guy worships at the alter of Lennon & McCartney (with an ...

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You’ve Got A Friend: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” Track-By Track

November 22nd, 2010

I'd been angling to collaborate with Raining Jane's Mai Bloomfield for nearly three years. It took me that long to find the right song.

I first met Mai in 2008. Raining Jane was opening for The Nadas in Des Moines. I was opening for both. The ladies knocked my socks off with their three-part harmony. But it was at the following night's late-night, bandmate-swapping show that I was truly smitten.

Mai, Raining Jane drummer Mona Tavakoli, bassist Becky Gebhardt, and Nada frontman Jason Walsmith joined me for an impromptu performance of ...

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Sweet Baby James: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” Track-By Track

October 26th, 2010

Jeff Jacobson and Patrick Riley have never met, and are separated by a thousand miles of Heartland. Still, they helped me create one of the most-beautiful recordings of my life.

For nearly twenty years, I've described my brand of singer/songwriter fare as "Less James Taylor, More James Hetfield." It's a stretch for those who know my music, but a necessary recalibration for those who don't and expect softly-strumming guitars and a gentle tenor.

That is, until lately. More and more over the last few years, I've let the distortion slip away ...

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You Are My Sunshine: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” LP Track-By-Track

October 18th, 2010

Funny how things change.

Years ago now, I was in a country cover band called The Smith Family. Almost Home producer Kevin Anthony had tired of of his techno outfit, Electroland, so formed the band with a nod to his Galveston, TX, country roots. I eagerly signed on.

Kevin and I split front man duties evenly, though I enthusiastically saught out the mic for the rockers: "Honky Tonk Blues," "Whiskey River," "Wine Me Up." And "You Are My Sunshine."

See, The Smith Family closed most shows with a rousin', rockin', sing-a-long version of ...

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Mr. Tambourine Man: Benjamin Wagner’s “Forever Young” LP Track-By-Track

October 11th, 2010

It may not be immediately apparent, but the "Forever Young" track list is intended to reflect the arch of the day.

From from "Rainbow Connection" through "Moon River," the lyrics, instrumentation, and production start bigger and brighter, then transition to more somber and sleepy.

"Mr. Tambourine Man," then, is all about the transition to night.

"I know evening's empire has returned into sand," Dylan first sang on his 1965 LP, "Bringing It All Back Home." "Vanished from my hand, left me blindly here to stand but still not ...

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