In the December 11, 1997, edition of this column, those of you who've mastered the art of reading may have stumbled upon an item concerning Denver-based singer-songwriter Celeste Krenz and her imminent signing to Bohemia Beat, a nationally distributed indie run by local boy Mark Shumate. The piece found Shumate and producer/tunesmith Bob Tyler, Krenz's partner in art, life and crime, talking up the forthcoming CD, which was scheduled to include contributions from, among others, John Magnie, a former member of the Subdudes. "We're shooting for a spring release," Tyler said at the time, "and we think it's going to push Celeste to another level."
Well, Krenz's new album, Wishin', was indeed completed prior to the onset of summer; she's celebrating its release with a performance on Thursday, June 4, at the Bluebird Theater. However, the disc is not on Bohemia Beat. Krenz and Tyler put it out themselves on their own imprint, EMR (formerly Emergency) Records. Why? Because mega-firm Curb Records, a company that's been topping charts regularly of late because of its business relationship with teenager-turned-country-phenom LeAnn Rimes, has offered Krenz a contract. The agreement hasn't been finalized yet, but as soon as the lawyers get done with the paperwork, it will be. As a result, Krenz is only weeks away from becoming the first Colorado country artist in recent memory to land on the roster of a major label--although you won't catch Tyler putting it quite that way. "All I know is that there's ink being reviewed," he says. "And that's a good sign."
As Tyler tells it, a lot of other things have happened over the course of the past few months, too. "Our deal with Mark was going to be a joint venture," he reveals. "We were going to record the album, and he was going to distribute and promote it. It was a shared thing, and there wasn't going to be any exchange of money at all until the record was done. But a week or so after we shook hands on it, we got a call from the Curb people. And Mark was really cool about it. He said, 'Let's put everything on hold until such and such a time.'" When the date in question came and went, Krenz and Tyler remained in conversation with Curb executives. In order to facilitate their discussions, Shumate graciously stepped out of the picture. "We're still great friends with Mark," Tyler points out. "And he wants what's best for Celeste."
Unfortunately for Krenz and Tyler, Curb is notorious in Nashville for doing things at a deliberate pace. "They have one full-time attorney and one part-time assistant who drafts things for them," Tyler reports. "And if LeAnn Rimes gets a Pepsi contract, nothing else gets done until it's finished." With Wishin' nearing completion, Tyler didn't want it to get lost in the shuffle. "We told them, 'We know this process will take some time, but this is how we make a living, and we want to continue making a living.'
"Anything to avoid having to get a day job," he adds. "I haven't had one of those in years, and I don't miss them at all. And I'd also like to hold on to as many masters as we can, just in case everyone in the world wants them someday."
The solution was a simple one: Curb gave permission for EMR Records to issue Wishin', a disc that's as clear-eyed and pristine as any Krenz has made. Tyler says that ex-Subdude Magnie is "a total presence" on the recording, and he's not exaggerating; the multi-instrumentalist has five songwriting credits and plays on the vast majority of the cuts. He's joined by a stellar collection of associates (including bassist Rich Moore, cellist Jim Todd and another Subdudes veteran, percussionist Steve Amedee) on an array of tunes that exist in the realm where country meets folk. The mood throughout is quiet and occasionally mournful: "I Had a Dream About You (Charmaine's Song)" recounts the death of Krenz's sixteen-year-old sister in a car accident, but "A Thousand Years Ago" and "Dakota Wind" are almost impossibly pretty; "Too Young to Marry" eases along like a lost Sam Cooke ditty; "Rosie" mates a tale about alcoholism with Tyler's trademark snappy lyrics (it begins, "Rosie's got a time bomb in her head"); and "Fall Asleep With Me" caps the proceedings on a lovely note. Krenz is no belter--she caresses words rather than muscling them around--but the recording wouldn't be nearly as charming if she had a brassier voice. And thanks to the subtlety and sensitivity of her singing, charming is precisely what Wishin' is.
To launch the new offering in style, Krenz will appear at her Bluebird CD-release party, as well as at a second bash on June 11 at the Boulder Theater. Tyler, Magnie, Amedee, Moore and Todd will join her at both events. "It was hard to pull it together, what with John getting ready to do a tour of his own and the Subdudes playing a reunion show at the Jazz and Heritage festival in New Orleans," Tyler concedes. "But I'm glad we were able to do it, because they're all wonderful players. It's going to sound great." As for the contract with Curb, Tyler expects it to be wrapped up soon. "It's a real thing," he says, "and everything's really positive. But it's also really scary."
A recent Backbeat story about the collapse of many prominent local bands ("Breaking Up Is Easy to Do," April 30) included a quote from Alley Records' David Fox in which he expressed amazement that area groups eagerly compete to perform at the CHUN Capitol Hill People's Fair, an event for which they aren't paid. But what seems ludicrous to Fox likely strikes the hundred or so acts scheduled to play at this year's fair (Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7, at Civic Center Park) as a tremendous marketing opportunity. Participants for the 27th annual gathering include Brethren Fast and the Vermicious Knids--and since they're working for free, please tip generously.
Bassist Kai Eckhardt, harmonica player Howard Levy and percussionist/tabla player Ty Burhoe team up for a pair of concerts this week. See them on Saturday, June 6, at Cameron Church, and Sunday, June 7, at the Boulder High School Theater, 1604 Arapahoe. For information call 543-1547.
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While digging through several piles of flotsam in my office, I stumbled upon an article a friend of mine sent me a while back about Crispin Sartwell, a professor at Penn State University who has come up with a logic-based, empirical system intended to determine the quality of rock bands. According to the piece, which ran on the Reuters news service, Sartwell's first law claims that "the quality of a rock band is inversely proportional to its pretentiousness." Under his methodology, the Rolling Stones, who wound up with a pretentiousness-to-quality ratio of 1 to 8, were far superior to the Sergeant Pepper's-era Beatles, at 8 to 2. Likewise, Nirvana, with a 3 to 9 ratio, was the positive yin to the negative yang of Pearl Jam, which clocked in at a miserable 9 to 3. I was prepared to ridicule these conclusions by making a crack about slide rules, but since I find myself generally agreeing with the professor's conclusions, I'll simply zip my lips.
That's quite a change, isn't it? On Thursday, June 4, Slayer kills at the Ogden Theatre, and the B-Movie Rats infest the 15th Street Tavern, with the LaDonnas and the Snatchers. On Friday, June 5, Chicago Skinny slims down at Brendan's, and Westword scribe Marty Jones brings his Pork Boilin' Po' Boys to the Lion's Lair. On Saturday, June 6, Vonda Shepherd, whose claim to fame consists of warbling on Fox TV's Ally McBeal, spends some of her fifteen minutes at the Bluebird; Burn Version cooks at the 15th Street Tavern; Jubilant Bridge pipes up at Stella's; and Class Act, featuring Bronwyn Shafer and Sarah Marie Lowenstein, learns a valuable lesson at the Swallow Hill Music Hall. And on Sunday, June 7, the Dirty 3 clean up at the Bluebird, and singing cabbie Mem Shannon drives to the Boulder Theater for a taping of E-Town. Hurry up, because the meter's running.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com.