Tuesday, October 15, 2013



It was February of 1996, and as the music columnist at The Times Leader at the time, I was off to cover another event. At that point in my career, I'd already been reviewing shows for about four years, and even prior to that, going back to my early teens, I'd been to a lot of concerts. I enjoyed it, but it seemed pretty rare at that point to experience something at a show that really surprised me.

This night, however, would not be typical. On tap on this particular winter evening was Natalie Merchant at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre. I showed up, as always, with a notebook and pen and a deadline to file my story. And it was to be one of those special nights when the unexpected happened.

It was one of those nights when the opening act - an artist that I had never heard of before - left me awestruck.

Her name was Soraya. She was on Island Records. And obviously by landing a spot on the Natalie Merchant tour, things were starting to go her way. Her songs were captivating. Her voice was beautiful. She was charismatic, yet in a subtle way, and her entire performance was completely engaging.

The next day, I was on the phone with Island Records, asking that they send me a copy of her CD, "On Nights Like This," and her bio. I wanted to write about the record and, hopefully, turn some more people on to an up and coming artist that I felt deserved to be heard. And that's exactly what I did.

The album, like her set at The Kirby, was fabulous. I gave it one of the most positive reviews I'd ever written. I thought, for sure, that she would soon become a star, especially considering this was around the time of the "Lilith Fair" and what was really a golden era of music for female singer/songwriters.

From my review:

"A dazzling-yet-grounded performer with a smile that could stop rush-hour traffic, Soraya's performance was refreshing, inspiring and utterly captivating ... The album is a breezy collection of romantic, acoustic-based ballads that celebrate life's joys, questions its dilemmas and mourns it sorrows .... Her stirring music deserves even more attention."  

Though she did later have some commercial success, most of you have probably never heard of Soraya. Adding to her many talents, she was also a bilingual artist, and thus most of her success came on the Latin charts. She also later won a Latin Grammy for "Best Album by a Singer-Songwriter."

I admit I didn't know any of that until recently. Back in '96, I simply loved her show at The Kirby, loved her album, told the readers of the newspaper that I wrote for about her music and - like people often do when they think they've found something special - I played it for some friends. I also remember talking to a colleague who was the program director of an adult contemporary radio station, and him telling me how he too was pretty blown away by her performance in Wilkes-Barre, and that he too thought we'd be hearing a lot more from her in years to come.

Again, however, that never really happened. And, believe it or not, that doesn't surprise me. Big record labels often seem to have a knack for signing great artists, but then never really helping them break through to a wider audience. She was also signed around the time of the Polygram/Seagrams sale, when what is now Universal Music gobbled up most of the music industry and, unfortunately, didn't properly develop some of their best talent. But again, in fairness, she did later go on to do very well in other parts of the world.

As the years went by, I lost track of Soraya. But I always kept that wonderful CD of hers, and one day recently, I decided to Google her to see what she was up to. And I was stunned at what I learned.

Soraya died in 2006 of breast cancer. She was 37 years old.

The same illness had also claimed her mother, grandmother and aunt.

Being that this is national "Breast Cancer Awareness Month," I thought I would honor her memory by sharing her story and posting my favorite song from that fine album that I wrote about 16 years ago. Breast cancer has also touched my family, and it has touched the lives of my friends and co-workers. Some have survived it. Some have not.

This blog is my pink ribbon for all of them, and to Soraya. Please listen to this piece of music that I've posted here and know that the artist that wrote it and sang it - like so many of the people that you may have known in your own lives - should still be with us. Please support agencies that fund breast cancer research, and please remind the women in your lives to go for their yearly exams.

Soraya left us with the gift of her songs. And though she's now gone, we can still, in a way, give her something back. We can still listen to those songs, and while doing so, remain dedicated to curing the illness that took her life.

What a voice she had. What a beautiful voice.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


October 9, 2013
Swagger. Sentimentality. Bravado. Thoughtfulness. Continued artistic growth. After more than 23 years of making records, that’s what you’ll find on “Epiphones & Empty Rooms,” the latest release from The Badlees. The reigning kings of Pennsylvania roots-rock are back with style and grace on this stirring 21-track, double disc-set, and as it has done with every album, it is a band that again shows an uncanny ability to remain true to its core sound yet also break new ground.
The first disc features songs sung by the band’s frontman, Pete Palladino. And while some of the tracks have a bit of the power-pop flair that Palladino loves, these tunes also have teeth. “World In The Way” is a melodic yet also forceful gem, while “Wanderlust” is a gritty roadhouse stomper that sounds as if it were written to be blasted in the car while speeding down the interstate.

(Has there ever been a greater car band than The Badlees?)
“Waiting On A Memory” also comes with plenty of hefty hooks and groove, with guitarist Dustin Drevitch adding to the bite. The chorus and the melody to “All At One Time” is so damn catchy you’ll likely find them running through your head all day after just a few listens, and disc one closes with one of the finest tracks on the album: “The Man Who Went Away (John Galt’s Blues.)” It’s a crafty and moody treasure that’s both breezy and thumpy, and with a pounding rhythm section, violinist Nyke Van Wyk’s tasteful touch and some blistering guitars helping bring the song to its conclusion, it’s the perfect way to end the Palladino side of the record, who has never sung better.
All of the songs on the album were written and produced by Bret Alexander, who also played seven instruments on the tracks. And when he steps up to the microphone to take lead vocals on disc two, he also delivers. “Vigilante For The Golden Rule” is an edgy, hell-raising, steamroller of a tune, while “Nothing Like The Real Thing” is one of the coolest tracks on the record yet also sounds unlike anything The Badlees have done before. Like “Vigilante,” it’s got tons of groove and bounce.

The band embraces its Pennsylvania roots with the soaring “Appalachian Blues,” and both “The Poet”and “Your Alamo” are perfectly simple yet also grand and poignant. The second disc closes with the masterful, “A Place To Call Home,” which ranks as one of the most beautiful songs the band has ever recorded. It begins with the story of an early 20th century immigrant, then spans several generations, ranging from a World War II veteran to a man struggling to support his family in modern times. Here, there's also a bit of a regional feel, yet with its gorgeous melody and thought-provoking storyline, it should appeal to anyone who has ever tried to empathize with a challenging journey. Some may see their grandfathers in the song. Some may see their fathers. Some may see themselves.

 “Epiphones & Empty Rooms,” in theory, shouldn’t work. Double-disc sets usually have too much material for even the biggest of fans to easily digest, and the concept of having one vocalist on one disc on another on a second disc is highly unusual. But here, with the mighty Badlees, it not only works, but it makes perfect sense. All that it has done is allow more room for more creativity and more fine songs. All that it is has done is make way for an epic triumph. 

This review also appears in the Oct. 9 issue of The Weekender:

MUSIC ON THE MENU – LIVE ON THE RIVER” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 104.9-FM (105, The River). You can also listen online at: www.105theriver.net 

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Sunday, October 6, 2013



 Radio gives music life. It gives it an audience. It gives it a place where emotions and sentiments from both the past and the present can be heard. And that, more than anything, is why I enjoy presenting the “Music On The Menu Live” radio show every Sunday night.

There are songs – many, many songs – that are considered classics. And when we hear them on the radio, everything that went into making them comes to life. When you’re driving in your car and you hear “Layla,” from Eric Clapton, you hear more than just a great song. You revisit just how madly in love Clapton was with George Harrison's wife at that time. And in addition to hearing the guitar work of a man who would go on to become one of the most accomplished musicians of all-time, you also hear the playing of the late Duane Allman, a musical icon now frozen in time. When you hear John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” you are taken back to another era. Yet you can still feel the passion of the moment. When you hear Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run,” you can feel the energy of a young man looking to stake his claim in life – a young man looking for something better. Anything better. When you hear “Alive” from Pearl Jam, you can imagine a young Eddie Vedder out on a surfboard – which is where he was when he wrote the lyrics – feeling invigorated and inspired by the power and beauty of the ocean.

So many great artists. Some many great songs. So many moments captured in time. And with just one spin on the radio, when you are least expecting it, that voice is again heard. The initial inspiration for the song. The crafting of the song. The hours spent in the studio recording the song. It was not all for naught. It mattered. With radio, those feelings and those moments live on.

With “Music On The Menu Live,” I am able to help make that happen for artists whose songs are not played on the radio hundreds of times per week on stations across the country. They don’t get that nice ASCAP royalty check in the mail a few times a year, nor are they in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But the songs that I play from regional artists - and I mean this wholeheartedly – are often just as good. Some are even better. And the emotions that went into writing them were no different than those of anyone else that has ever sat on their couch with their guitar in their hands, or behind their piano, and wrote a song. They too were greatly inspired. They too put a lot of care into crafting their music. They too may have spent many hours in a recording studio. And when their songs are played on the radio – whether it is a song recorded 20 years ago or a song recorded 20 days ago - it is given life. It given it an audience. It is given a place where its emotions and sentiments can be heard.

 I’ve been writing about music for newspapers and magazines for more than two decades. I don’t do it as often as I used to, but when I do, I still enjoy it. I like talking to artists about their music. I enjoy talking with them about their influences and their inspirations, and for the reader, I have always enjoyed the challenge of describing sound on paper. But I really love radio. I love being able to just play the music for people.  My old newspaper column, which ran in The Times Leader and The Weekender for 17 years, was called “Music On The Menu.” When I started my radio show 10 years ago, I decided to call it “Music On The Menu Live.” And that was simply because I was taking the music that I had tried to describe on paper and was now putting it right in your ears.  It was, in some ways, coming alive on the radio. And I feel privileged to be able to do that not only for the artists, but for the listeners.  

“Music On The Menu Live” comes to 105 The River tonight, and that same approach will continue. All regional music – both old and new – will have a home. If we play Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and The Police all the time, why can’t I play an old Strawberry Jam or Mere Mortals or Mighty Fine Wine tune on Sunday night? Good is good. And good will always be good. And so if you are a band that did a good record 10, 15 or even 20 or 25 years ago, and it came my way at some point over the years, you just might hear it on some Sunday evening. That inspiration that you once felt, and that time that you put into your music, was not all for naught. It mattered. Not only did you get incredible creative fulfillment from writing that music, but that music will still be heard. And if you’re a new artist or a veteran artist that has recently recorded some new material, and you get it my way, it will be heard. It is always very exciting to premier some new songs on the show, and over the course of the year, it happens almost every single week.

That’s what “Music On The Menu Live” has always been all about and will always be about. That’s what we'll be doing every Sunday night from 9-10 p.m. on 105, The River.

Thanks for listening.

I really do think you'll like the songs.

“MUSIC ON THE MENU – LIVE ON THE RIVER” will air every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 104.9-FM (105, The River). You can also listen online at www.boldgoldradionepa.com. To download the station's phone app, search "radio bold." Artists interested in submitting material for the show can contact me at musiconthemenu@comcast.net

To follow my postings about regional music on Facebook, please visit and "like" my page at www.facebook.com/musiconthemenu