He’s since toured the world, averaging close to 100 shows per year, until he was hospitalized with viral meningitis this past July. The illness kicked off a career shift; in 2018 he’ll release a live retrospective album and be performing locally with a back-up band consisting of David Siegel (Grass It Up), Mike Kimlicko (Burn the Maps) and John Standish (City Tracks). He’ll also be booking dates across the U.S. and Canada, focusing primarily on listening rooms and house concerts.
Following are some of his musical recommendations and confessions.
“Wish I’d written that” song: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It’s theatric, grandiose (like Elton) and you can feel the longing for simpler times. We all aspire to be somewhere else, to achieve, achieve, achieve in hopes it will fulfill us, while all the while true happiness is right here. And they put that into song form in a brilliant way.
First record I bought with my own money: It was a 45 of “Romeo” by Dino. I was 12 years old. Later that year I purchased the 12-inch single of M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This,” but after that it was all cassettes and CDs until I rebooted my vinyl collection while living in Boston in 2005. Neither of the above records are in my current library, and that’s okay.
Essential Saturday night song: I don’t have one song that comes to mind, but being an album appreciator, I love to throw on Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963. When I really dive into that recording, it can move me to tears. Sam’s my favorite singer of all time.
Essential Sunday morning song: “Riding on a Railroad” by James Taylor. It’s a church song, really. It’s a singer-songwriter spiritual for the entire human race. I wanna cover it with the band, just to have David Siegel play that bitchin’ violin solo at the end.
My latest online discovery: Podcasts for kids. Actually my wife discovered them, but I feel the need to share. It was really helpful on the recent long car ride through Kansas for Thanksgiving. It’s a great way to entertain the wee ones while avoiding “screen time.”
Artist more people should know about: Michael Penn. He’s known as sort of a one-hit wonder (“No Myth,” 1989) but his entire body of work is magnificent. Just very smart, wonderfully produced, brilliantly crafted folky pop-rock songs. His 1997 album Resigned was life-changing for me; it pulled me out of the grunge abyss and showed me it was okay to write songs with more than four barre chords and ask a little more of your audience.
Favorite song to cover live: “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon. I’ve made it my own, and I suppose that’s what makes it so fun to play. I relate to the role Paul plays in that song — sticking around in intimate relationships I had no business being in — so it lights me up that way as well.
Guilty Pleasure: Sometimes, when I’m all alone at home sitting at the piano, I’ll start playing “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles. It has a show-tune quality I can’t help but find endearing. I also like a lot of the stuff Phil Collins put out solo. But please don’t tell anybody, I’m already not very cool.