Music, ad nauseum

Originally published in The Daily Iowan 9/17/2009

A cross-country tour and credits on numerous television soundtracks have put singer/songwriter Tyrone Wells on many people’s radar. Those following Wells will find him in Iowa City tonight.

He will play at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., at 8 p.m. today as part of his Remain tour to promote his new album of the same name. Admission is $14. Chicago native Dick Prall and folk artist Matt Hires will open the show.

Wells said his new album’s title track sums up the record best. While recording in London, the LP took a more epic turn.

“It’s a more lush production,” he said. “I’ve been more sparse in the past.”

He doesn’t think about his fans or their expectations, he said, when tackling material different from what he’s done in the past.“I’m not that calculated,” he said. “I do try to be honest and write songs anybody can sing along to.

Wells is no stranger to Iowa City. He has played both the Picador and the Englert and has done some collaborative work with local musician Jason Reeves — which, he said, he’s always enjoyed. “I really love the process of collaboration,” he said. “It opens you up to write something you wouldn’t have on your own.”

However, the most important thing to him is people’s ability to hear and enjoy his music whether live, on iPods, or on television.
People can hear Wells’ songs on such hit shows as “Rescue Me,” “One Tree Hill,” and “Numb3rs.” One of his new songs, “Sink or Swim,” can be heard in a commercial for the new season of “Grey’s Anatomy.” It’s necessary for him to use these outlets, he said, because it’s hard to “break through the noise” of all the music around today.

More importantly, the tactic works.

“I can’t tell you how many times people come to my [concerts] because they heard my song on their favorite show,” Wells said.

He doesn’t seem to be worried about potential backlash from followers who might find the crossover off-putting. “If someone doesn’t like [my music on TV], there are probably 20 people who heard it on TV who do,” he said.

Opening act Dick Prall said he got some extra exposure through a Starbucks sampler CD, and he doesn’t fault Wells or any artist for using such promotion tactics. “Licensing deals are far more lucrative than trying to get a record deal,” he said.

He is quite familiar with Iowa City — he recorded his first record at Minstrel Recording Studio, 130 Lafayette St., and he remembers playing at the Picador when it was still called Gabe’s.

His set will feature a violinist and cellist. He has been experimenting with such stringed instruments, he said, and they will play a prominent role in his next EP. “They are something I’ve always loved since I was a kid,” Prall said.

The orchestral string sounds will have to mesh with the Mill’s cozy atmosphere. Wells said he likes smaller venues for his music because of the atmosphere. “I love intimate venues where there is almost something spiritual happening,” he said.

Break Up by Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson

Originally published on The Daily Iowan arts blog 9/15/2009

Break Up
Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson

Pete-Yorn-Scarlett-Johansson-Break-Up-2009

For those wondering what happened to the Pete Yorn from his debut album, Musicforthemorningafter, take a listen to his new album Break Up which he recorded with Scarlett Johansson back in 2006. While the title suggests the two are singing about a failed relationship, the majority of the songs are filled with the pop hooks that made him one of the top up and coming artists back in 2001.

The album sets its tone with the opening track, “Relator,” which opens with Yorn on the guitar, and some horns for good measure. It’s a simple song and will be on adult contemporary stations in no time.

However, it’s in the song “Blackie’s Dead,” where echos of Yorn’s first album are most evident. The song has the perfect combination Yorn’s voice with his skills on the acoustic guitar that made 2001’s “For Nancy (Cos It Already Is),” so damn infectious.

People looking for something to showcase any of Johansson’s vocal talents will be disappointed as she serves as back-up for a large part of the album. This is reversed in a psuedo acoustic cover of Chris Bell’s “I am the Cosmos.” This is the best of the tracks which Johansson is the lead singer, likely due to source material.

Johansson isn’t a terrible singer by any means and her deep voice certainly sustains th album but most of her songs (with the exception of “Cosmos”) are the records low points.

It’s great to see Yorn hasn’t forgotten the pop sensibilities that fans have been asking for ever since his songs became much more moody, hopefully he will stick around longer this time.

****/*****
Tyler’s Picks: “Relator,” “Blackie’s Dead,” “Wear and Tear,” “I Am the Cosmos”

— by Tyler Lyon