Zach Friedhof’s muse must be perpetually exhausted.
The prolific, Akron-based artist has released 13 albums since his 1999 debut, Delusions, both solo and with his band the Bright Lights.
In late August, the guitar-playing, singer/songwriter, who goes by the simple moniker Zach, introduced the first of four albums he plans to release before the end of 2013. The album is called Provenance and features a collection of songs all written and quickly recorded with various area artists and friends with whom Zach has worked, toured and/or admired.
“I didn't just want to invite somebody to play guitar on one of my songs or something,” Zach said. “I really wanted to make it more interesting and more involving and engaging than that. So I thought it would be great to get to write with a lot of these folks.
“We’ve done some shows together, but writing has been something we haven’t had an opportunity to do much of. So, it was a great opportunity to get everybody together and get their input and perspective and unique talents we brought together to create something that is all of ours.”
Provenance features 16 collaborations with mostly area artists including Ryan Humbert, Emma Shepard, David Ullman, Rachel Roberts, Maurice Martin and Charlie Trenta of soul/rock/pop band Winslow, Colin John and one cover of a song written by the late Scott Fetterof — owner of Scott’s Folkatorium — that doubles as a tribute.
While no one who has heard his primarily acoustic-driven songs would put Zach in the headbanger category, Provenance is musically quite stripped down with most songs just featuring a guitar track or two, perhaps some light percussion or melodic ornamentation and the voices of the collaborators.
“I really wanted the songs to be able to shine on their own and just be about the community of coming together and writing music. I also wanted the process to be pretty quick,” he said, noting that Zach & the Bright Lights have been recording their next album for two years.
And while Provenance certainly falls under the “singer/songwriter” category, Zach and crew manage to travel through a few genres and styles.
Patron Saint featuring Brent Kirby, a Cleveland Scene 2013 Music Awards nominee for Best Male Vocal, is a simple catchy rootsy, Americana-flavored tune, while Roots, featuring local favorite Rachel Roberts, is a distorted guitar-laced rock tune led by Roberts’ strong vocals and a soulful chorus.
On Some Love, featuring Winslow guitarist Charlie Trenta, who also records with the Bright Lights, Zach sings a bluesy ballad lament.
Elsewhere on the album, Zach gets some slippery, Delta-slide blues guitar from Colin John on Be, poet/author/spoken word artist T.M. Gottl offers a humorous rhythmic spiel and emcee Cameron Jones drops a verse and some beat boxing on the funky, up-tempo Chiropractor.
As with all of Zach’s music, the overall vibe of the album’s tunes is uplifting.
“They’re definitely hopeful, trying to find the good in whatever’s around. That’s sort of the theme of it all; and in general, the record’s about community, bringing people together,” he said.
When Zach talks of community, he’s not just flapping his talented gums. He was named Humanitarian of the Year by Akron Life & Leisure Magazine, he is a yogi, and is also a nonviolence trainer and co-creator of the Akron Peace Project, which focuses on “promoting nonviolent thoughts, actions and interactions in our community.”
Zach plans to take the proceeds from the sales of Provenance and some future projects to create and maintain a fund in Akron that will help nonprofits to create programs to help educate and inspire nonviolence in the community.
Zach’s next gig will be on Friday at the Pufferbelly in Kent as part of the retooled Kent State ’Round Town Music Festival. On Oct. 12, during the Art in the Square festival in Highland Square, there will be a Provenance release concert featuring several of the collaborators performing their songs.
Blues on Broadway
So you like the blues and the elaborate staging of a Broadway show? Well, on Saturday night at the Canton Palace Theatre, you can get a fix for both of those musical joneses at the premiere of Ghost of the Blues, a “Broadway Review” that from the description appears to be a blues-focused jukebox musical.
There’s a cast of around 25 musicians and vocalists but instead of using actors, the parts of seminal blues artists will be performed by actual working blues artists. Among them are Akron’s own Howard “Sonny” Robertson, who worked with actual blues legends including Albert King and Koko Taylor and will take on the dual role of John Lee Hooker and Son House.
Highly influential guitarist/singer Robert Johnson will be played by Detroit-based guitarist Bobby Wilson while D.C.-based singer Stacy Brooks will perform as the late, great Etta James.
Songwriter/bassist Willie Dixon will be portrayed by Dave “Biscuit” Miller, who appropriately is from the southside of Chicago. He played with guitarist Lonnie Brooks, is a W.C. Handy blues bass player of the year award winner, went to school with Willie Dixon’s children and knows the legendary bassist’s family.
In addition to the legends, there will be an ersatz Stevie Ray Vaughan played by Damian Knapp, a Northeast Ohio-based blues-guitarist.
The talented cast will perform several blues favorites and bar band standards including Sweet Home Chicago; Boogie Chillen; One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer; Voodoo Child; and more.
A portion of the proceeds of Ghost of the Blues will go to Blues for a Cure, a nonprofit that raises money for cancer research and assists those with cancer and their families.