RIOT ON SUNSET: Mark Bryson’s New Album Offers a Striking Mix Of Words and Music

One of the things I love about artists is their indefatigable drive to create art—no matter what age, how many setbacks, who and what got in the way, or which well-meaning professional tried to steer them differently. They are simply compelled to continue. And they do. They create. Over decades, through family dramas, health catastrophes, catering gigs, broken relationships, and all manner of distractions life throws onto the long and winding road.

One such artist is my pal, Mark Bryson.

I met Mark back in the late 70s, when he worked at one of those very trendy “waiters-sing-&-play” kind of places in Los Angeles called Hi-Pockets: The Great American Food & Beverage Company. The name was too long, parking could be a bitch, but the food was good, there were amazing ice cream concoctions, and many of the servers were extraordinary singers and songwriters. In fact, the fabulous Lowen & Navarro (whose “We Belong” became a mega-hit for Pat Benatar) originated there too. It was that kind of place. Mark fit right in.

But over time, Hi-Pockets closed, people moved on, and in the ensuing years I lost track of Mark. We’d occasionally see each other at Lowen & Navarro gigs or certain gatherings, and though I knew he was wrangling his own version of “life’s distractions,” I also knew he was still writing. Every once in a while he’d send something for me to listen to, to offer perspective; sometimes he’d get back to Los Angeles to perform, and what clearly stood out, despite the time and distance, was that “indefatigable drive” I mentioned up top: he never stopped dreaming that dream of his—to put together an album that honored his style and sensibilities as a songwriter, a lyricist, singer and interpreter of his own music. And he finally has. Strikingly, artfully, gorgeously.

Riot On Sunset, a 12-song (+coda) collection of lyrical story-oriented tunes, is not only the culmination of that long-held dream, it is a spectacular album, one dedicated to “the City of Angeles, the Creative & Imaginative, and to all of us with Hopes, Dreams, and the occasional nightmare.” Which certainly struck a chord for me…. but what artist who’s ever found themselves in the great city of Los Angeles pursuing a dream wouldn’t identify with that?

Beautifully arranged and produced by Bryson (along with the very talented team of Gregg Olson and Allison VonBuelow, who both play and sing on the tracks), the songs unfold in a variety of styles, with lush harmonies, gorgeous instrumentation, and the eclectic, passionate voice of the man in the middle. There are glimmers of influence—Springsteen, Coldplay, Dave Matthews, even the Beach Boys—but Bryson is solidly original, not only in what he says, but how he says it.

The title track, “Riot on Sunset,” is an evocative tale of yearning, one that locates us immediately in Bryson’s universe on the infamous Sunset Strip (the CD’s photos are shot there). And while “Abbot Kinney” takes us west to Santa Monica, it’s “Girls On the Run” that sprinkles a little Beatles/Beach Boys playfulness into the mix. “Shady Side” spins a dark, urban mood with cinematic imagery, “Into the Light” pulls us in the opposite direction with almost Peter & Gordonesque swing, and “Brave New World” evokes a Coldplay edge of earnestness. “Stranger In a Strange Land” blends a western vibe with what struck me as Jefferson Airplane backups—a mash-up that, oddly, works. “Easy To Fall” (“easy to fall, hard to land”), “End of the World” (“all my Facebook friends are fighting, I’m just not in the mood”), and “Dream Works” (“make our footprint smaller, fit it in a shoebox”), all blend clever, lyrical imagery with messages wherever Bryson can squeeze them in without losing the beat.

The standouts for me are “Johannesburg,” a touching, powerful narrative Bryson delivers with gritty, dramatic vocals, the story of a man whose life touches his own, and “Best I Can Tell,” a simply gorgeous track of deeply personal lyrics (“This is my life, I am the keeper of my dreams… there are no angels watching over me. Best I can tell, I’m still the boss of me.”). Its anthemic chorus (“there’s more we can do when we all pull together”) not only had me singing along, I could picture iPhones held high as audiences sway and sing that evocative line over and over.

Bryson describes his work as “New Age Space Cowboy Surf Poet”—clever, but don’t let his tongue-in-cheek description distract you from the depth of this work: artful, human, literary, with stories and musicality that reach deep to strike chords and touch hearts. It may have taken him a while to get here, but my friend has honored both his journey and lifelong dream with a defining piece of creativity, one whose timelessness will have me listening for years to come.

You can pick up Riot On Sunset (in either CD or digital formats) at markbryson.hearnow.com, which will get you to his CDBaby page. To follow his musical adventures with the album (and whatever else he stirs up!), head on over and “like” his page on Facebook: Mark Bryson Music.

Photo by permission of Mark Bryson

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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The Geeze and Me: Age Ain’t Nuthin’ But a Number…or 20!

The Geeze & Me” is a funny, irreverent, and poignant original musical. This timely show features a comedic troupe of eccentric players who team up to wrangle aspects of aging from an expert. An eclectic blend of songs ranging from pop to blues to corner street doo-wop, accompanied by innovative choreography. The perils and benefits of growing older are reflected in the concerns of this diverse group of people.

Think “Hair,” after it’s gone.

YEP. That’s me… one of those “eccentric players.” Back on the boards again after a decade or so off; singing, acting, dancing like the theater maven I used to be, inspiring the question: “Is it like getting back on the bike?”

It is. And isn’t. It’s better than that. It’s like getting back on the bike and discovering the bike became more precious in the interim.

I was always a dramatic child. From the moment my mouth opened and started expressing itself, my mother called me “Sarah Bernhardt,” her passive-aggressive way of telling me I was pushing the limits of emotive enthusiasm.

But when you’re one of eleven children, and every one of those is loud and unfettered, you have no choice but to be assertive getting your points across. And I was assertive, whether doing basement plays, church folk songs, college theater majoring, or kicking ass as a rock & roller.

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There’s just something about singing and acting that’s always been exhilarating to me. I know you other performers know exactly what I mean. That sense of channeling thought and feeling through your limbs and legs and vocal cords in ways that are physical and purging and yet can still convey fragility or love or anger. I remember moments of feeling so high (and with no enhancements involved) just standing in front of band or orchestra, singing my lungs out with soul-cleansing abandon. It’s a stunningly visceral experience and when I stopped doing it a while back, for reasons to do with lack of opportunity or heightened selectivity, it felt as if I had to adjust my breathing just to get enough air. Strange how that works.

Writing has been a lifetime Muse as well, as many of you are aware… a joyful one, a deeply satisfying one, but one of quieter comportment. More solitary and less collaborative. And I missed that collaboration, that madness particular to creating within a group. So as I’ve joyfully written, I’ve kept an eye out for opportunities. And one finally came my way… in the form of The Geeze and Me.

My pal, Nancy Locke Capers, my very first girlfriend made when I moved to Los Angeles as a toddler (okay… a young-twenty), has been living in La Jolla (near San Diego) for decades now, and, unbeknownst to me, was years into creating a musical with her very musical husband, Hedges Capers. Hedges, whose pedigree as a singer/songwriter is long and impressive (you can catch up with both their careers by clicking HERE and HERE), had an astonishing repertoire of songs—witty, clever, soulful, kickass, heartfelt songs—that literally oozed with narrative, and with those bones, he and Nancy created a witty, clever, soulful, kickass, heartfelt show analyzing, defining, debunking, and celebrating the “vicissitudes of aging.” They titled it, The Geeze and Me.

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We were sitting together at a friend’s wedding when I first heard about the show. Over, I believe, arugula salad with rosemary croutons, they asked if I’d be interested in getting involved. Interested? I felt old muscles perk up, dusty lights blink on; vocal cords vibrate with hopeful anticipation. Involved? OF COURSE! But it was reading the script, and, particularly, hearing Hedge’s songs, 20+ songs, that sealed the deal. The singer in me was tantalized, the storyteller impressed; the emoter wanted nothing more than to get out on whatever stage these two put together to sing those songs. I was in.

Now, Nancy and I have done many a production together, from collaborating on a feature screenplay (which was quite good, mind you), to working within the theater company at The Alliance Repertory in Burbank, to the premiere of an odd and hilarious play called Buried Together at Theater at the Improv in Hollywood (which Nancy directed). So our history as collaborators is long and storied. I trust her sensibilities, both artistically and personally, and know how great she is to work with. I also knew her years as a therapist would imbue her writing and directorial vision with deep understanding and wisdom. In fact, I love what she personally had to say on that topic:

As a writer, I was hoping to bring energy to the musical landscape with something fresh and new: a story with a post-modern structure, exploring the territory of intimate relationships as we age, personal loss, and the crossroads of adaptation and holding on. We plumb the ground of friendship, illness, sexuality, loneliness, personal dreams and anxieties. Oh…and make it funny!

I’ve tried to balance reality with a surreal quality of personal transformation, which I’ve witnessed during my many years as a psychotherapist. Working with a dream cast and the many collaborators who bring abundant creativity to the table is a thrill.

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As for Hedges… well, he’s all heart and soul: on his sleeve, in his words, woven throughout his music. A consummate artist, he’s put everything he’s got into this production, from creating the projections, to supervising set builds, to collaborating on the script, to designing the production, but, damn… it’s those songs! He seems to have a well of inspiration unlimited both in depth and breadth, the show’s repertoire evidence of that astonishing creative spectrum. Being able to perform songs that are everything from absurd, to funny, to provocative, to rip-your-heart-out tender is a gift for any performer. So I feel gifted to be there, to be working with them, with the incredible staff they’ve assembled, and certainly the amazing cast of actors and singers who impress and delight me daily.

Of course, I’d love for all of you to find a way to San Diego during the run: March 31st—April 29th. You can check the website for details, get connected to the show’s Facebook or Twitter pages for updates, and certainly you can contact me. Believe it or not, there are several nights that are already sold out, so if you’re planning to get there (and San Diego is a great place for a weekend field trip!):

Click HERE for available dates and ticket information.

So there you go… that’s my latest. Getting on with the act of creating during this strange and trying time in our country, and so grateful for the opportunity. Thanks for catching up, rehearsal’s in an hour; gotta go warm up the cords (damn, this is louder than writing books! 🙂 )

FOR Media and Press:

SUSAN J. FARESE
SJF Communications 408-398-5940
sjfcommunications@gmail.com
www.sjfcommunications.com

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Remember That Piece About Songwriting? Here’s The First Follow-Up: ‘You’re Still The One’

Remember that piece I wrote about songwriting, the one with the memorable title, I Write The Songs That Make The Whole World… Well, I Write The Songs I Love And We’ll Go From There? In it, I shared my particular creative process when it comes to songwriting, detailing a new collaboration with an old friend, Jason Brett, that held high hopes. I promised to follow-up on the adventure as we got deeper into it, so let’s launch the next chapter!

When we last left off, we’d just finished writing our first song together, “You’re Still The One.” We’d worked out the arrangement, found the right key, then I had to dash to the airport to return to Los Angeles from Chicago, leaving us to figure out how and when to get the song recorded. Which meant I happily returned to Chicago shortly after, for the third time in five months, and Jason and I headed into the studio with the amazing Elliott Delman, a wonderful guitarist/composer with a remarkable musical history (including a collaboration with Dan Fogelberg whose early records were a soundtrack to my life for many years!).

Elliott Delman

With Elliott mastering the recording process and much of the instrumentation, and Jason handling acoustic guitars and drum programming, we spend an entire day in the studio doing something I’ve spent thousands of hours doing: taking a basic idea and building it into a – full-blown, put it on your iPod, listen to it in your car – piece of recorded music. A record. An mp3. A file. A disc. Whatever the format, it’s the music that counts.

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Though, actually, I wasn’t able to be there for the full ‘birthing process” this time around. After the basic tracks and vocals were done, schedules demanded that I leave it to the guys to finish it up (damn those long-distance relationships!)… which I believe they did to stellar results.

With the music done, we now leap into the commerce side, getting it out to song publishers and music supervisors we know, looking for the right soundtrack, the right show, the right artist to fall in love with it. Certainly let us know if you have ideas on any of that… we’ve got more coming.

So, as promised, I’m sharing the finished song. We call it a “country slow-dance heartbreak song.” It’s not twang country (anyone who knows me knows that’s simply not possible!), but it has a country/pop feel and instrumentation. You’ll see… it will hopefully touch a heartstring or two and make you want to slow dance with the person of your choice!

I’ve included the lyrics below, as requested. Since I well remember laying on the floor of my living room with the inside sleeve of whatever album I was listening to, singing along with the lyrics in my hand, I’m happy to oblige!

Enjoy…

You’re Still The One 

Words & Music by Lorraine Devon Wilke & Jason Brett

We were young, we were dreamers
We had time on our side
We had life, we had love, we had hope, we had … everything

We set out, we surrendered
We held on for the ride
Till the road we were on left us weary and wandering

You say time got the best of us
Maybe love got the worst
Now you stand at the door with your sorrows
Your goodbyes all rehearsed

CHORUS:
But there’s still a spark that’s holding us together
And you’re still the man who promised me forever
So I’ll tell you once again so you remember
You’re still the one… you’re still the one for me

You say love it was easy
It was life that was hard
And we were foolish to think we’d have everything

Now you beg my forgiveness
While you’re breaking my heart
Finding words to deny any reason for lingering

Now you’re ready to walk away
No more room for the fight
Should I listen and learn to forget you
Or convince you I’m right?

CHORUS:
That there’s still a spark that’s holding us together
And you’re still the man who promised me forever
So I’ll tell you once again so you remember
You’re still the one… you’re still the one for me

Bridge:
Yes, some dreams have been stolen
I’ve lost a few of my own
So we cry and we try but we hold on
To the love we have known

CHORUS:
Yes, there’s still a spark that’s holding us together
And you’re still the man who promised me forever
So I’ll tell you once again so you remember
You’re still the one, you’re still the one for me
You’re still the one… you’re still the one

© 2013

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

I Write The Songs That Make The Whole World… Well, I Write The Songs I Love And We’ll Go From There

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I spent a weekend in Chicago recently with a group of old friends celebrating a birthday. This particular group embraces people from every era of my life – grade school, high school, college, and beyond – and every single one of them is supremely talented in one creative arena or several. Particularly music. Which meant the weekend, like all weekends with this group, was filled with music: the singing, playing and, this particular weekend, the writing of it.

Writing songs used to be a major part of my life. I wrote my first real song back in the 80s, a very era-centric pop ditty called The Ghost, which I co-wrote with the drummer and guitarist of my band, Tony Alexander and David Resnik, respectively. It had a boppy sing-along chorus and a great synth part and the words worked with the rhythm. That song, for some odd reason, became a popular tune in France and was one of the band’s top requested numbers at live gigs. And I was singing my words… I was hooked.

The process of songwriting was mentored for me by both players but mostly Tony, who, though a complex fellow I didn’t always understand, was a deeply creative musician who organically understood the flow, rhythm and meter of music. He taught me to listen to what the music communicated and trust what it told me. He taught me to trust my own skills as well, and gave me plenty of opportunities to practice them. I became a good songwriter, predominately a lyricist at that point, and we – Tony, David and I – wrote some great songs together. One of my favorites, one that also, strangely, made it to France, garnered us the attention of 80’s icon, Kim Fowley, who thought we “smelled like money,” as well as thought we had an 80s hit in “What Can I Do?While the song never fully blossomed into the commercial boon we hoped, it was one that remained emblematic of the mood and musical sensibilities of the era and our part in it. One of my dearest friends, Tina, knows she was the inspiration for the lyrics and to this day presumes most of my lyrics are about her. 🙂

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I eventually began writing melodies as well as lyrics, a process that relied on my ability to grab the “music in my head,” since my hands never learned to play an instrument well enough to properly assist me in the task. I’d listen to a recorded track over and over, locked in my “songwriting bubble” of focused, meditative concentration, and eventually the melody (and the words) would come to me. Sort of magical, always very exciting. As I was sorting out these various songwriting methods that worked for me, I discovered that the process is as personal and individual as any craft and, as my own confidence rose, I listened and learned where I could, but also came to understand that no one else’s process need be my own. When I’d read articles about that great writer who “wrote 5 songs a day” and all I could manage were one or two a week, I didn’t let it bother me. When friends from Nashville told me everyone there sits in a room together and hashes out lyrics line by line, it wasn’t hard for me to say I worked alone inside that “bubble” to find the story of a song. When others said you should do this or that or the other… well, I followed my own drummer and became my own songwriter. We each have our way.

My second prolific songwriting period was what I called “the English chapter.” A couple of longtime Rod Stewart vets, the inimitable Jim Cregan and Kevin Savigar, were looking to put their own side project together, looking for a singer/lyricist specifically, and mutual contacts “made the marriage.” We worked together under the moniker Third Person (ironic that in the only band photo we took, Jim couldn’t be there so our “third person” was a mannequin!) and together, as well as with other writers the guys knew, we created a catalogue of songs that are still some of my favorites.

It was with “Tender Mercy” that I stepped up in this particular incarnation to first contribute melody parts. Both Jim and Kevin welcomed my contributions (and were very fun guys!), so writing with them, as well as with the other writers they brought along, was always fabulous. Lots of laughing and wine. Our process was, typically, that they’d give me already recorded music tracks with some melody ideas hummed over them, and I’d come up with the words. As we continued, tracks started to come without melodies so I could find my own, and, eventually, we started songs from scratch, sitting around Kevin’s music room or Jim’s Sunset Strip vintage condo bashing out songs we’d later record in some stellar Hollywood studio. Notable was the opportunity I had to provide Rod Stewart, at his request, with lyrics for the song that would ultimately become “Forever Young.” He didn’t use my words, but just the asking was a heady experience at that stage of my career!

After that chapter came a few years of writing and recording songs for films (my favorite being one I wrote with my old guitarist, David Resnik, for the independent film, To Cross the Rubicon, a tune called “I Surrender”). But the next big foray had to be my most profound and satisfying as a songwriter. I’d always wanted to write and record my own album; it was, in fact, a life-long dream. But as the music business undulated in the changing, churning tides of the digital and internet revolution of the 90s and into the 2000s, things changed. When piracy and downloading shattered all previously known paradigms, leaving the bar for “rock star success” so high and down so long and winding a road that few know how to follow, it became, for me, simply about the music.

In the early 2000s I started working with a deeply talented guitarist and songwriter, Rick M. Hirsch, doing a blues/rock gig, which was incredibly fun but largely built on classics rather than originals. Two years in, it finally felt time to create our own music and so we did. The first song we wrote together was built on a guitar riff Rick had in his personal library, one so evocative and emotional that I was immediately drawn to the melody and words of Drowning.” Songwriters are often asked what compelled certain lyrics, if they’re fact or fiction, and this one was definitely inspired by an outside source. Mira Nair had directed an emotionally wrenching film called Hysterical Blindness about a floundering young woman struggling with the fallout of her father’s abandonment and her own inability to find meaningful love, and the ache of that script jumped out at me; “Drowning” ended up being an homage to that very heartbreaking story.

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Another of my favorites from our collection was hatched in its melodic and lyrical entirety in the “songwriting bubble” inside my head, assisted by no music track or chord progression. It was just a musical line that ran over and over in my mind, its melody slowly attaching, with lyrics to follow. I sang it into a boom-box recorder (yes, that’s what we used back in those days!), gave Rick the cassette, and he came up with the chords and arrangement that not only supported it, but built on the words and melody. The song, Richer For Rain became an anthem of sorts, a testimonial to the triumph of realizing that one’s hurts and heartaches only add to the richness of who we ultimately become. It also became the title track of Rick’s and my CD of 11 original songs which, later, after the incarnation of our project took some turns, I released as a single artist under the new title, Somewhere On The Way (a refrain from “Richer For Rain”). That CD, a true labor of love and one I will remain forever proud of, is up at CDBaby and iTunes, if you’re interested.

While I continued to dabble in the craft even after that album was done and out in the world, as anyone reading this likely knows, my creative focus shifted more predominantly to other writing arenas: fiction, non-fiction, journalistic, etc. But the music Muse was always there, always tickling my brain with snippets of melodies and lines of verse that begged be formed into something cohesive and melodic. But circumstances to collaborate were fewer and farther between and so I suggested the Muse sit down for a bit, relax, and wait until some new turn of events offered an invitation. That came with this glorious gathering of friends.

One in particular, Jason Brett, is a brilliant and accomplished producer (About Last Night), entrepreneur (founder and CEO of MashPlant.com, an emerging artistic and educational platform for school/student interaction), and all-around creative enthusiast, who also happens to think I’m one of the funniest people on earth (the feeling is mutual so you can imagine the time we spend falling to the floor in laughter, particularly if certain mutual friends – Pam and Louie, that’s you! – are there to egg us on!), and while I was visiting recently, he pulled out his guitar and we sat quietly for about 30 minutes banging through a chord progression he came up with, recording it on our iPhones to listen to later.

Later was back home in Los Angeles; I ran it over and over, inviting my Muse to sit with me and see if there was something to hear and translate from the music. We listened, again and then again, and there it was… slowly emerging from the tinny, muddled recording on my phone. First a melody idea, than a lyric or two; before long the whole song flowed out of that progression and I rushed to type up the story that was being told. I went back to Chicago a couple of weeks ago and we sat around Jason’s music room to work out the bridge, find the right key, come up with the feel and flow of the arrangement and, before I hopped back on the plane, we had our song. It’s ready to be recorded, but we’ve decided to accrue a few more before we go into a studio to experience something both long-distant and oh-so-familiar to me, as well as one of the most exhilarating experiences any singer/songwriter can possibly have: going into a good studio with excellent musicians and top-knotch technicians to record a song you wrote. Nothing much better than that in the spectrum of creative experiences.

I’m writing about this today because it reminded me of how powerful and energizing the creative process can be – whatever creative process – and how life can prove so circular and unpredictable. How things that once seemed to have disappeared can come back anew; how something we long ago abandoned or felt we had to put aside can suddenly move right into the forefront to bring us back to some part of ourselves we loved… and missed. My Muse is delighted to be back in the room. I’m delighted to have her there.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.