Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dustin Douglas released one of the best local albums of 2014

Weekender music writer shares his thoughts on the year’s highlights


As some readers may know, I covered music extensively for both The Times Leader and The Weekender from 1992-2011. In 2011, when I left the company on excellent terms, I stayed on as a music correspondent and told our readers that I still might be contributing a few articles per year. And that’s what I did. From 2011 through most of 2014, I probably did about 10 stories in total.

This past fall, however, I came back into the fold on a more frequent basis. And the reasons were simple: 1) I still love to write about music, and 2) I continue to receive many records from local artists, who send them my way in hopes that we’ll give them some airplay on my weekly radio show. And since they’re often very good, and since I‘m already playing them, I wanted to write about them, too. Thus, since October, I've been back in The Weekender almost every week, and because of that, they've asked me to share my thoughts on some of the musical highlights of 2014.

One of the things I really like to see on the local music front is people trying new things. Sometimes, you need to take a chance. Last year, in 2013, the band Cabinet decided to take on the challenge of holding a musical festival at Montage Mountain. And this year, with the “Susquehanna Breakdown,” they were back with another such event. Major props to that group, and their manager, Bill Orner, for making that happen. It’s not easy, but they've got something good going, and they've already announced that they’ll be back again in May. Congratulations also to Will Beekman and The F.M. Kirby Center for its successful “Chandelier Lobby Series,” which recently hosted two sold-out shows with Cabinet. It’s another fine example of someone taking a chance on something new and then seeing the public respond in a positive way.

Along those same lines, you've got to love what Ken Norton and Joe Caviston pulled off in Scranton back in October with the inaugural “Electric City Music Conference” and the “Steamtown Music Awards.” This was a particularly ambitious undertaking and once again, it was well received by the local music community. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the people that I work with at 105 The River and at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. In June, we launched the new “Music On The Menu Live Original Music Series” at Breakers. Once a month, we select one of NEPA’s best original artists and we put them live on stage and, just as importantly, live on the radio, where they are given the opportunity to play their songs for a wide listening audience. There’s probably not anything quite like it being done by any other station in the country and I’m proud to be a part of it.   

As I said at the top of this article, one of the reasons you've seen my byline a bit more in The Weekender in recent months is because I wanted to write about some of the fine local albums that have come my way at the radio station. Some of this year’s highlights, which I did write about, were “Black Skies & Starlight” by Dustin Douglas, “Rhythm of Our Hearts” by Mike Dougherty, “Under The Covers: The Songs of Tom Flannery” by Tom Flannery,” “In The Aftermath” by Eddie Appnel, “Diary” by Jane Train and the self-titled release by the Phyllis Hopkins Trio. Other gems from late 2013 or 2014 were “Eleven” by Dani-elle, “Sound Makes Waves” by Nick Coyle, “Change.Adjust.Continue” by Graces Downfall and “Sounds From Thursday Evening” by Suze.  And just a few weeks ago, I received an album from Black Tie Stereo that also ranks among the year’s best local releases.

Sometimes people ask me, after more than 20 years of being involved with the NEPA music scene, what I still like about it the most. That’s it right there. It’s writing about records like those and playing them on the radio.

Other interesting items that I enjoyed writing about in 2014 were the 20th anniversary of longtime area favorites Flaxy Morgan and a book, “Counting Down Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs,” by Old Forge native Jim Beviglia.  If you’re a fan of The Boss, you should pick up a copy.

In the summer, we learned about a new all-star band, Gentleman East, featuring Bret Alexander, Paul Smith and Ron Simasek of The Badlees and Aaron Fink of Breaking Benjamin. I was surprised to see The Badlees implode only a few short months after the release of a fine double-disc album, but so far, I’m liking what I’m hearing from Gentleman East. The band’s debut CD should be one of the most highly anticipated records of 2015.

Gentleman East, a new all-star project, made its debut in 2014. 
As for Breaking Benjamin, just when it looked like the band might be done, it surprised fans with two club shows at Brews Brothers West, the former Voodoo Lounge, which was where the group first cut its teeth as a live band. I was there. And it was mobbed. These shows led to a mini-tour of the east coast and there should indeed be new music from Breaking Benjamin in 2015.

As for the national music scene, I don’t cover it nearly as much as I once did. Our own Brad Patton does a great job with that. But it was fun to dust off the old notebook and cover the Soul Asylum show at Mohegan Sun, and to interview Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Paul Katner of Jefferson Starship. And another big interview is what led to my personal favorite musical memory of 2014 …

Mary Ann Stout meets KISS at Montage Mountain
In August, I interviewed Paul Stanley of KISS. It was the sixth time that I’d interviewed him on the phone over the years, and I’d also met him in person several times. I am a big fan. And the band knows that I am a big fan. Thus, I was invited to go backstage for a brief hello with the group when the band came to Montage. What made this one special was that, for the first time, I took my seven year-old daughter with me. When Paul first saw her standing with me, he pointed to her, looked at me, and said “Is she yours?” When I said, “Yes,” he bent down to look at her at eye level and made a bit of a fuss over her. And later, during the show, he tossed a few guitar picks her way. Pretty cool stuff from the Starchild. And a great memory from 2014.

Looking forward to 2015 and making many more.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Friday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. This story also appears in the December 31, 2014 edition of The Weekender)


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

‘Diary’ an open book on growth and healing

Popular area singer finds artistic expression through new CD   

DECEMBER 17, 2014

Jane Train’s debut album, “Diary,” is just that. It’s a deeply personal record filled with songs that chronicle both pain and healing. And for the talented and charismatic vocalist - known best to area music fans for her work with the popular band M80 - there was a lot of healing needed. The album, she said, was mostly inspired by her marriage and divorce. Music, and writing about her experience, helped her move forward.

“I felt like I needed to do my art,” says Train. “And I felt like I needed to heal from investing in a relationship that failed and that put me through the most extreme emotions that I’d ever felt in my life.”

Though, with M80, Train has graced the stages of NEPA for nearly a decade, her resume also includes plenty of national work. From 1999-2000, she toured the country as a backup singer with Liz Phair, co-headlining shows with artists such as Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Dixie Chicks, Queen Latifah and Deborah Cox. With Phair she also toured as an opener for Alanis Morissette, and last year, as a solo artist, she opened for Motley Crue. Simply put, Train has befriended many musicians, which might explain why “Diary” not only features work by former Breaking Benjamin members Aaron Fink, Mark James Klepaski and Chad Szeliga, but also Nick Coyle (Lifer/The Drama Club/Stardog Champion), Tyler Grady (American Idol), Dale Stewart (Seether,) Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns ‘N Roses) and Clint Lowery (Sevendust), who co-wrote five songs.

Train says initially, she was not planning on an all-star album, but as the sessions began, the record took on a life of its own.

“At the very beginning, I didn’t think about getting all of the big players on it,” she says. “But as it developed, I just started thinking ‘Let me ask so and so, who I’ve known for X amount of years, and have never, ever asked for a favor.’ I guess once I got one person, and then two, I thought ‘I’m getting everybody.’ ”

She laughs.

“Diary” is a big-sounding album with booming production. Tracks include “Love & Hate,” “Time To Shine,” “Small Town,” “Tides” and “Beauty For Ashes.” There’s also an explosive cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow.” Train says writing the songs was cathartic and that the process became a bit of a journey.

“At first, the songwriting relied more heavily on lyrics,” she says. “I have one song that’s actually kind of poppy, but it’s a very sad song, and I don’t think it was until Clint from Sevendust entered the picture that some of the darker elements that I really craved were brought out. I don’t know why I didn’t go there on my own originally, but Clint brought it out. I touched on subjects that were not happy, because I definitely was not happy. With life in general, I was happy, but I was still healing and still wounded.”

She held nothing back.

“I needed to express all of this in a very honest way, like a musical diary,” she says. “I know I’m not the only one who has encountered loss, suffering and grief. I had a lot to say that people could relate to, and I needed to say it. Finally, my music was coming alive and my healing was well under way. I wrote about everything that I went through.”

In addition to penning songs about relationships, Train also tackled other topics.

“I included a song against bullying called ‘Breathe Out,’ ” she says. “I hang out with a lot of gay people and I’ve heard painful stories about what they’ve gone through. Although I’m straight, I was bullied in school because of my frizzy hair, and then when I was the new girl. It was horrible. I didn’t have many friends growing up. Kids are brutal.”

Such songs have already connected with people.

“Before my CD was finished, I had the opportunity to open for Motley Crue,” says Train. “I felt completely at home on that stage, and I received a lot of positive feedback on Facebook, including one mother that reached out to me and said she found my song ‘Time to Shine’ online. She then went on to say how her son was bullied in school and had mentioned suicide. They listened to my song and cried together. He said one day it would be his ‘time to shine.’ I cried when I read this. I wrote to her and offered to talk to him over Skype. She was so excited. I spoke to this amazingly smart, cute, and funny 12 year-old for two hours. We laughed, and he did mention the suicide thoughts to me. I said, ‘Why would you kill yourself and let them win? Stay alive just to piss them off!’ He laughed and agreed.”

Train says she then sent the boy the song “‘Breathe Out.” It too connected.

“They thanked me for reaching out by having the lyrics to my song printed on a canvas over a beautiful photograph of storm clouds the mother had taken,” she says. “I bawled when I received that gift. I’m still in touch with them. Over the summer, the young boy gained confidence from that talk and is hardly bothered at all by those bullies. I heard he even has his first girlfriend. “

Train credits her own faith in God in getting her through tough times. She says that the CD cover, which was shot in England and shows her leaning on a cross, is reflective of that. And through it all, she’s also maintained good humor. She says that her” “first post-divorce kiss” was with none other than Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gregg Allman, with whom she had a brief romance that turned into a steady friendship.

“I think Gregg Allman is the only person I didn’t get to play on the album,” she says with a laugh.

“Diary” is available at the Gallery of Sound as well as iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon and can be heard on Spotify. It is also available at M80’s shows and at Train says that after a few years of work, she is happy to finally get her music out there to her fans.

“This was a selfish effort,” she says. “I don’t mean it in a bad way. I wasn’t doing it for money or anything. It was selfish in that I really, really needed to get this out to help me heal and to feel accomplished. In all of the years I’ve been doing music, since I was 12, I never once put out a full CD. I’m excited that it’s done, and what’s making everything new for me is the people that are telling me what songs they love, and what they mean to them. That’s the part that’s pretty awesome.”

(This story first was first published as the cover story of The Weekender on December 17, 2014.  Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu” airs Sunday nights from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. His commentaries on music and concert reviews are now published by the Bold Gold Media Group.)