Mobtown Moon studio CD (released May 2013) is a new interpretation of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon album, co-produced by me and ellen cherry with the participation of 40 outstanding Baltimore-based musicians in rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop and other styles of music.
Our genre-defying version of this classic album highlights the lyrical and melodic beauty of the original, by taking the songs out of their stadium-rock context and reconsidering them from a grown-up, singer-focused perspective. Baltimore CityPaper called it "wildly eclectic yet consistently absorbing," while both CityPaper and Baltimore Magazine awarded it their respective "Best of Baltimore" honors. The CD has received coverage in many music blogs and we’ve been interviewed by several Internet and terrestrial radio stations around the nation. So far, we have been overwhelmed and grateful for the positive response to our venture.
We're especially proud that we were able to create a beautiful, unique, meaningful music product showcasing the tremendous talents of our friends and colleagues here in Charm City. Already, this project has spawned all sorts of new partnerships and creative ideas.
I conceived the project in 2009 while listening to the original Floyd recording, which remains very moving and relevant four decades after its release. 2009 was a dark time in the country: we were reeling from the aftershocks of a global market meltdown and the beginning of an endless recession; we were still at war, still paranoid, still so at odds with each other politically, still in denial about things like growing income inequality and potentially catastrophic global climate change.
Personally, I was feeling the weight of unhappy current events, and also suffering my own private confusions. Listening at this time to Dark Side was a source of comfort and connection. It reminded me that every era of human history has been dark, has been filled with war and want, one way or another.
As a jazz person, my inclination was to take this beautiful, sometimes sad, sometimes angry music and respond to it with meaning, in the same way that master jazz composers responded to Tin Pan Alley favorites or great European classical composers responded to the folk songs of their childhood: by revisiting, reinterpreting, and reinventing.
What I also wanted to do was avoid the traditional “tribute” album that simply recreates the original songs in the same form but with different players. There are already way too many Pink Floyd cover bands in existence and I have no interest in that kind of shallow mimicry.
I had a demonstrated knack for making interesting arrangements, but this kind of project was significantly more ambitious and potentially tricky. After all, many millions of people love the original album, which is still a perennial bestseller. To "mess" with these beloved songs was to take some amount of personal and professional risk, for sure--especially because it represented a fairly great leap compared with my earlier work.
In 2010 I spoke about the project with my friend, award-winning singer-songwriter ellen cherry, who immediately loved the idea and met it with a vision of her own: to make a true Baltimore collaboration that demonstrated the depth and breadth of musical talent we have in this town. We created a partnership to make this dual vision happen, and then set to work: making two demo song recordings, fundraising through individual donors and grantmakers, partnering with local nonprofit collaborators (especially the Hearing and Speech Agency and MammoJam), developing a production and promotional timeline (we were determined to release the record in spring 2013, close to the 40th anniversary of the original recording’s release), recruiting and scheduling many busy musicians (which occasionally felt like herding cats), and doing all the executive work required to put together such a massive collaboration.
As the chief arranger, I was directly responsible for the arrangement/instrumentation/sonic details of 10 of our 12 tracks, and indirectly for 2 more done in collaboration with the instrumentalists who played on them. (ellen took over the arranging for one track entirely, and she is also fully responsible for art-directing our beautiful album cover and for our entire project “look.”)
MUSICIANS ON THE ALBUM
Andrew Grimm (banjo)
Ben Frock (trumpet)
Brian Gundersdorf (vocals)
Brian Simms (piano, organ, accordion, vocals)
Bryan Young (bassoon)
Christian Stengle (drums)
Craig Alston (saxophone)
Cris Jacobs (vocals, guitar)
Dave Hadley (pedal steel)
David Ross (spoken word)
ellen cherry (vocals, cello, synths)
Eric Kennedy (drums)
Femi the DriFish (spoken word)
Frank Russo (drums)
Jake Leckie (bass)
Jeff Reed (bass)
Jen Smith (cello)
John Thomakos (drums)
Kate Zahradnik (viola)
Katie Graybeal (vocals)
Lea Gilmore (vocals)
Matt Everhart (bass)
Mike Gambone (drums)
Nick Currie (violin)
OrchKids choir (10 students with director Dion Cunningham)
Patrick Klink (vocals)
Russsell Kirk (saxophone)
Sandy Asirvatham (vocals, piano, synth keyboards)
Tim Anderson (cello)
Todd Marcus (clarinet)
Scott Smith (guitars, percussion, recording engineer)
Vincent Stringer (vocals)
Warren Boes (guitar)
CD RELEASE PARTY
We were thrilled to present our premiere performance of MOBTOWN MOON at the Kraushaar Auditorium in front of more than 800 fans. We had an incredible cast--not everyone from the album, but close. Thirty of Baltimore's finest musicians in rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop, gospel, bluegrass, and opera/choral music were crowded on that stage together, making music and listening to each other as the audience of 700+ watched in wonderment. By the time the Baltimore Choral Arts Society came on for the last two songs, there were 50 of us on that stage. The communal feeling of the event was palpable. People cried at some of their favorite old Pink Floyd songs, reinterpreted here and presented by some of their favorite local artists. It was a thrilling and moving evening for all of us.
ellen has been in many big shows, but this was a personal milestone for her in terms of the size, ambition, and authority she had over the performance details. I handled pre-show stuff like press and finances. By the time we started actually playing music, most of our hardest work was well behind us, and while we had some musical duties, we also had the opportunity to relax a bit and enjoy our incredible musical friends doing their thing.
I would have to rank 9/28/13 as one of the best days of my life, along with marrying my husband and adopting our son.
Getting to sing my version of "The Great Gig In the Sky" was also simply a 30-year dream-come-true.
But really the most satisfying thing was this: After the show, so many of our stellar musicians--Jen and Scott Smith of Naked Blue, Jonathan Gilmore, Brian Simms, Warren Boes, Andrew Grimm and Dave Hadley of June Star, Dave and Femi of the 5th L, Jake Leckie--so many of these fine and highly experienced performers said to us:
"That was one of the best shows I've ever been in, in my life."
"When can we do it again?"
That was the REAL dream come true: the joy and respect of peers.