Introducing My Top 8

I’ve been procrastinating on writing another blog entry for awhile now.  I have several topics in mind, but haven’t had much luck figuring out where I want to start with any of them.  I think it’s a case of too many ideas without an obvious starting point, ending, or path from the former to the latter.

Thus, I thought I’d tackle one of the other ideas I’ve had for awhile now, which happens to come with a built-in roadmap.  All I have to do is figure out what I want to say at each “stop”.  I think I can handle that much!

In particular, I thought I’d take a few minutes to introduce you to the members of my MySpace Top 8 “friends” list.  Before I get to the individual members, though, it may be worth saying a few words about how I am planning to use the “friends” list, or at least how I’m using it at the moment — who knows if I’ll change my mind in the future?

My “friends” list isn’t a list of my drinking buddies. Though I’d be happy to have a beer, glass of wine, or latte, with any of them, and one particular entry would be happy to have a beer with just about anyone, I haven’t even met a few of these people in person.  Neither is it a list of people with whom I’ve written songs or who have recorded my songs, though I have written several songs with one member, and would be happy to work in some musical capacity with any of them.  Nor is it a list of my favorite people in the world — heck, my kids won’t even accept me as a MySpace friend because then I could read their pages, which are protected by private profiles.

So what is this list?  Quite simply, it is a list of some people who are doing something good and/or interesting in the realm of music and/or songwriting, and whom I believe warrant some attention.  You could say this is my feeble attempt to try to bring them a little of that attention.  Perhaps I should highlight the world “little” in the previous sentence since, as far as I know, this blog doesn’t exactly have a wide readership.

Without further ado, here are the members of my Top 8, in the order they’re listed (which isn’t totally random, but neither is there any obvious logic):

Mike Parker – Mike is an extremely creative, extremely talented, and pretty darn prolific, lyricist.  He also happens to be my most frequent co-writer of the last few years.  You’ll find the first song we wrote together, “My Kind of Cash”, on my MySpace page, and you can also hear several of our other collaborations on my main web site (check out “A Rainy Day” and “After Us”), though some of our newer material hasn’t been recorded yet.  I’ve actually known of Mike, and his lyric writing talent, for close to a decade now, though we didn’t write our first song together until September 2003.  In fact, Mike and I met for lunch back in late 1998 out in Nashville, and resolved to write something together sometime. So it took awhile — it was worth the wait!  Mike’s got some really dark material, like wife murder songs, as well as some semi-warped double entendre-type stuff (check out “Meet Willy” on his MySpace page). In general, there’s an edge to his lyrics that transcend the bland formula writing that tends to dominate the commercial country airwaves.  At the same time, though, he’s got the songwriting craft to write a radio-friendly country song — just not the bland kind.  While Mike can write in a number of genres, he seems to gravitate toward alternative country more often than not.  If that’s your genre, and you need to hook up with someone who can bring some strong lyrics to the table, Mike’s your guy.

Anna Marie – Anna Marie is a talented singer/songwriter (check out “Starting Over” on her MySpace page) with a lot of charisma, not to mention a real sweetheart of a person.  She is also one of the best friends of Southern California songwriters.  Somewhere around a year and a half or two years ago, Anna Marie started hosting a Nashville-style writers in the round show at Martini Blues in Huntington Beach (that’s in “the OC” for you non-SoCal types).  The idea is to have several rounds of three songwriters, taking turns singing their original songs and telling a bit of the story behind the songs.  Anna Marie picks the writers to try and put together solid shows with a talent bar that is high enough to please an audience, while still being highly inclusive in terms of involving the local songwriting community.  That all sounds good in theory, but the true test of this sort of thing is whether the writers and, especially, audience members keep coming back.  I played my first of Anna Marie’s shows in April 2005 and my most recent in earlier this month (June 2006), and have played a couple of others in between, and there is no doubt in my mind that Anna Marie has a big success on her hands.  Any writers I’ve talked with are eager to come back any time Anna Marie can fit them in, and the audiences seem to be getting larger and larger.  If you’re in SoCal on the second Friday of any month, do yourself a favor and head up to Martini Blues) to check out Anna Marie’s Writers in the Round Night (reservations recommended.  You’ll be glad you did.

John Tolley – John is a talented traditional country lyricist. Check out any of the songs on his MySpace page for evidence of that (I think my favorite is probably “The Silence Between Us”).  No, I haven’t written any songs with him (maybe one of these days, John?).  John is also a great friend to Orange County songwriters. For a number of years, Orange County has had a highly active chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), led by Bev and Cliff Nelson.  When Bev and Cliff decided to step down awhile back, John and his wife, Cathy, stepped up to the plate to try and fill their shoes — a daunting task.  Nevertheless, John and Cathy have done a great job with the group, not only keeping the monthly critique sessions going, but hooking up with a local venue for a monthly open mic.  John’s a guy Orange County songwriters, especially country songwriters, need to know. Check out the NSAI Orange County Workshop’s web site for local events.

Steven Cravis – Steven is a San Francisco-based new age pianist and composer. He has released a couple album-length solo piano CDs, The Sound of Light and True Reflections, along with Lavender Dreams, which features full production on most of the tracks. He also has a number of CD singles and digital downloads available, and sheet music is available for a number of his compositions — check out his MySpace page or main web site for more information. Steven has also scored video games and other multimedia projects. Steven’s music is perfect for relaxation or meditation — in fact, he has an extended length composition, available on CD or via download, called “Meditation Music”, that is geared specifically toward meditation. In addition to all that, Steven has been a real go-getter in learning and adopting modern music marketing methods, from his early days on MP3.com, where his tracks earned a huge number of unique listens, to making his music available through modern digital download stores such as iTunes.com. What’s more, Steven has been more than willing to share his knowledge with others, and he has been extremely helpful to me personally in my efforts to navigate this territory, even though we’ve only “known” each other (i.e. to the degree one can know someone through the Internet, without having met in person) for a few months now, and his strong words of encouragement were a contributing factor toward my getting off the dime and putting out my own first iTunes single, “The Lord’s Prayer”.

Joshua Rush – Josh is a local (Orange County, California) singer, songwriter, and guitar player whose style sits somewhere in the alternative country realm, with Southern rock and bluegrass leanings. I’ve seen Josh perform several times at local open mics and writer’s nights, and it was clear from the first time that he has the potential to go a long way. Listen to “Just As I Am” and my personal favorite, “Finally Find Forgiveness”, on his MySpace page, and, if you like your country music edgy, I think you’ll agree with me that he’s got the goods. I gather Josh is moving out to Nashville this Fall, and I expect lots more people will be hearing his music in the future. In the interim, anyone reading this who hasn’t heard Josh, or heard of him, before now has no excuse for not getting the inside track on this up-and-coming talent before country music fans everywhere know him and his songs.

Halie Loren – Halie is a singer, songwriter, and musician based up in Oregon. I first encountered her a number of years back, when she was still in high school. We traded a few demos, and I was blown away by her singing. What I heard didn’t sound like a high school singer at all, not even a really good one. Rather, it was like hearing a top professional song stylist, of the sort that only comes around occasionally. Don’t take my word for it, though. Have a listen to all the clips on Halie’s MySpace page, then go listen to “Blue Holiday” on Ande Rasmussen’s MySpace page and “Tennessee Rain” on Brainchild Music’s ballads page. Halie’s the kind of singer who can transcend genres, and could probably have success in country, pop, jazz, or adult contemporary. The success of a singer is often inextricably bound to the songs she chooses to let the public hear her sing, though. Thus, we’ll have to wait a few weeks to get a good reading on that side of things since, as of this writing, Halie’s independently released debut CD, Full Circle, is still a couple of weeks away. In the interim, Halie remains perhaps the most promising unsigned, largely undiscovered, singer I have encountered.

Zachary Provost – I first encountered Zachary a little over a year ago at one of Anna Marie’s Writers in the Round nights in Huntington Beach. However, by that time Zachary had already had some big league credits. Not only was he the musical director and pianist for Josh Groban, but he’d also arranged the “Star Spangled Banner” for Cher’s Super Bowl XXXIII performance, a job he was recommended for by multiple Grammy-winning producer David Foster (Chicago, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, and many more). In addition to his pianistic and arranging skills, Zachary’s got a very nice singing voice, sort of like a cross between James Taylor and Christopher Cross, and has written some killer ballads (check out “The Time I Have” on his MySpace page for a starter). Zachary has a couple of CDs available, including Alive (which features another of his killer ballads, “The Music of My Heart”, as well as an earlier piano/vocal version of “The Time I Have”) and his Heart of the Moment EP. His songs and voice definitely deserve to be heard. (He also seems to be a very nice guy.)

Losers Like Us – Losers Like Us is a local core of songwriters who write and perform together. The group is anchored by Cliff Nelson, Bill Storms, and Dave Smith, with occasional compadres like Joshua Rush and Dee Briggs. I have to admit that I hesitated slightly on including them here as their MySpace page isn’t all that representative of the reason I’m including them. In particular, the songs on their page are professional demos, not the Losers themselves, and dry studio recordings by professional Nashville studio types simply can’t convey the hops-driven, humor-infused, semi-in-tune experience of seeing the Losers live. Individually, the members of Losers Like Us are competent songwriters. Collectively, though, they’re a bunch of rowdy, beer-drinking, well, “losers”, who are a barrel of fun, delivered in bluegrass/alt-country form. If they don’t get you laughing, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “you just might not be a redneck.” Check them out live if you can!