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Featured in Motgomery Newspaper Ticket, March 16/17, 2005

So, if you think that two women releasing new CDs after a long layoff and that both play pianos is a night of boringly similar vibes, you would be dead wrong. These two pianists show the range of today's pop pianist songwriters and the steps they've taken to maintain their own sound and lines of demarcation.

Ellen Lerner has not recorded many songs for distribution to the general public since she released the cassette "Circle Song" in 1995, whereas the late 1990s CD by Laura Shay contained over a dozen tunes from sessions recorded in a home studio with all of the hurtful vulnerability a 16-year-old could muster. The main link between these artists is that they both used Morning Star Studio of Upper Dublin to get out the new product. Grammy award-winning producer Glenn Barrat produced, engineered or refurbished tracks, depending on the situation.

Shay is happy about the raw quality of her new album, entitled "To a Place." Shay didn't want the CD to become over produced; yet she also wanted her band involved on the recording. She states, "The best thing about getting the CD done is going out and playing again, which is something I obviously enjoy. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Recording is hard but Morning Star kept it my baby. It was very artists-centered. Glenn threw out good suggestions."

She adds, "We started it in July tracking live. When school started up again, along with two jobs [working as a graduate assistant and as a waitress], I didn't have much time." Shay graduated in three years with her undergraduate communications degree and is now researching social aggression in girls.

Originally a voice major at Temple, Ellen Lerner decided to go for a music career without the degree. She has since started studying gemology. "When I was pregnant I couldn't fit behind my instruments, so I studied geology and gemology and now I know the wholesale markets. I know the mark-up on diamonds. Did you know that they have found some amazing mines in Quebec?"

Like Laura Shay, Lerner has special reasons for releasing an album now. "I was driving in my car with Adam [Lerner's only child] and he was listening to the tape I made before he was born and he said that I sound different now, so I tried to explain how one's voice changes and how you learn to sing correctly from the diaphragm." Though Lerner does not consider herself a seasoned pianist, she believes that her playing is uniquely situated with her voice and songs. Along with a previously available single, and a couple of live tracks, the album was done quickly because Lerner wanted the other tunes to be just piano and voice. Listeners are still amazed as to how Lerner can get so many characters in her novel-like lyrics to come alive within such a simple delivery.

Meanwhile, the Laura Shay delivery has matured and has gained a sometimes-ferocious contralto blitz. Explaining "To a Place," she contends, "I don't want to change my songs for other people and I am willing to accept not getting to a higher level." Yet Shay concedes that in a band or on a job (she once interned at the Wilma Theater), one must wear a lot of hats and do whatever one can to make things better.

To maintain autonomy, she paid for the entire album herself, accepting no help. She still writes with her band in mind, which may be the greatest difference between this album and her debut. She explained the album title by stating, "'To a Place' is about the feeling of travel, both literal and emotional. The point is to get away. Some places mentioned in the lyrics I haven't been to yet, but the song 'Toronto' is fairly accurate."

Although Lerner refers to influences such as the Beatles and the Grateful Dead in her lyrics, she has a special relationship to her songs and audience. She explains, "What is really me is singing a story that is my own or that I can make my own. I know my strengths and weaknesses and I need a listening audience. That honesty comes across in my work. Sometimes there is a lyric that I don't want in there, but I cannot change it because that line is the truth."

Both women are discovering things about themselves through music. Shay is a young woman in pursuit of who and what she can be, projects she can undertake, guises she can wear, and places she can go. Lerner travels the distance between musical heroes and her own sound, from reflections on her own upbringing to raising a young son, and discovering anew what her message means in a different time and place. For both ladies it is a triumph of mastering a new stage of life upon the stage of music.

Correspondent David Wannop hosts two shows at the Tin Angel, 20 S. 2nd St., Philadelphia, on Thursday, March 17, 8 p.m., featuring Montgomery County's own Tim Butler and John Faye, with Derek Fuhrman and Chris Kasper, and on Wednesday, March 30, 8 p.m., with Montgomery County musicians Rich Rudin and Zann Gardner, with Bucks County blues woman Lisa Bouchelle and headliner Deb Callahan. Tickets for both shows: $8. Info: (215) 928-0770 or www.tinangel.com.

© Montgomery Newspapers 2005

 

 
 
 
 
 
     
         

 

           
  © Ellen Lerner 2008