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New Music Worth Listening To: Colleen Rennison – ‘See the Sky About to Rain’

Colleen_CDColleen Rennison – See the Sky About to Rain
***½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Black Hen Music

Ahhh. The voice. It stirs up heartfelt emotions at the same time that it soothes the soul. It is obviously a commanding instrument, yet with these songs, there is even more power in the restraint that is shown. Sometimes only a force that is nearly unstoppable can display the true potency of control. This voice can and does.

I am talking about the comfy and clear tones of Colleen Rennison, whose latest album, See the Sky About to Rain, is a nearly perfect showcase for her powerful instrument. What is most remarkable is that the 25-year-old Rennison never sings in a manner that calls attention to her vocal technique. For her, it’s clearly all about conveying the story and emotion of the song… and that’s why I have shared that she is 25 years old. It is hard to listen to these songs and believe that she is still so young; her approach to the material is wise and worn with experience in the best way.

The album is produced by Steve Dawson, who also contributes some dynamic guitar-playing. Throughout, Rennison is backed by a lively horn section featuring Jim Hoke (sax), Steve Herrman (trumpet) and Bill Huber trombone), as well as some fine banjo, fiddle and mandolin work by Tim O’brien.

The album offers a collection of sublime material that fits together in a seamless musical journey, from some of the strongest composers around: “Stage Fright” (Robbie Robertson), “White Freightliner” (Townes Van Zandt), “Why Don’t You Try” (Leonard Cohen), “Coyote” (Joni Mitchell), and “See the Sky About to Rain” (Neil Young). These are songs for the ambitious and, along with Dawson’s deft guidance, Rennison achieves remarkable effect with each and every track.

Anyone who attempts her own cover version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy” is a friend of mine; it’s a story-song that I never tire hearing… especially when it’s sung in a full-throated blaze of glory, like this version by Ms. Rennison. The percussive arrangement of the song gives it an edge that keeps it from getting self-indulgent. It compares favorably with every other solid version out there.

Essential Downloads: “All La Glory,” “Oleander,” “Why Don’t You Try,” “My Crew.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Wimbledon champs Jack Sock & Vasek Pospisil to play doubles in Atlanta

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 11.18.04 PMWimbledon doubles champs American Jack Sock and Canadian Vasek Pospisil are scheduled to partner in the BB&T Atlanta Open doubles draw.

The BB&T Atlanta Open is their second event playing doubles together after a successful debut in England. The duo defeated Mike and Bob Bryan, the 2013 Wimbledon titlists, in the Wimbledon final (7-6(5), 6-7(3), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

Pospisil and Sock are also competing in the singles draw as well. Pospisil is a newcomer to Atlanta while Sock is returning for his third time. Sock was a quarterfinalist in 2012.

“Our tournament continues to break new ground with the exciting news that two reigning Grand Slam players will debut in the United States here in Atlanta,” Tournament Director and Chief Development Officer Eddie Gonzalez said.

The doubles draw will also include top Americans Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson, who are playing doubles and singles. Querrey and Johnson reached the finals of the 2011 Tiburon Challenger.

University of Alabama teammates and qualifying wild cards Korey Lovett and Becker O’Shaughnessey, of Macon, were added to the draw. Kennesaw’s Robby Ginepri and Ryan Harrison, who have wild cards in the main draw, were also in the doubles draw.

In other news, defending champion John Isner will be the top seed in the main draw singles. The former Georgia Bulldog NCAA champion also is a two-time finalist here. The second seed is Kevin Anderson, who lost to Isner in last year’s three-set final.

Other seeds include No. 3 Gael Monfils of France, No. 4 Pospisil, No. 6 Denis Istomin, No. 7 Yen-Hsun Lu, No. 8 Marinko Matosevic and No. 9 Sam Querrey. There will be no No. 5 seed. Richard Gasquet has withdrawn from singles for a non-medical reason. Radek Stepanek has withdrawn with a left hamstring injury.

University of Georgia’s Nathan Pasha has accepted a main draw singles wild card after his teammate, Austin Smith, withdrew today. Pasha, of Atlanta, was named an All-American in 2014. He is also a two-time All-SEC player and has been ranked No. 30 in the country by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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A Must-Have Summer Album: Davina and the Vagabonds’ ‘Sunshine’

Davina_CDDavina and the Vagabonds – Sunshine
**** (out of 4 stars)
Label: Roustabout Records

Here is one of the most exciting albums to come along so far this year. Davina and the Vagabonds’ latest release, Sunshine, is indeed a ray of sunshine. Each song is a musical roadmap that will transport you to a time and place, real and imaginary, from which you will never want to return.

Davina and the Vagabonds are a clever acoustic quintet led by honey-voiced Davina Sowers (Vocals/Piano/Ukulele), also featuring Dan Eikmeier (Trumpet/Vocals), Ben Link (Trombone/Vocals), Connor McRae (Drums/Vocals) and Andrew Burns (Sousaphone/Upright Bass). Recorded in superb analog, Sunshine is as refreshing as a lawn sprinkler on a hot August day.

The album is mostly original music (including three superb covers — “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” “You Must Be Losing Your Mind” and “Heavenly Day”) that will make every part of you happy. It is an album of almost uncontainable optimism and occasional heartache. The songs are deceptively simple. They find their power in the notes, as they tumble — as if leaves falling from a brightly-colored tree in autumn, arranging themselves into piles begging to be kicked as you walk by, just so you can watch them sail through the air again and again. This is music so listenable that it, quite frankly, should never end.

What Davina and the Vagabonds deserve is a brave and brilliant major film director to ask her to provide the soundtrack for a big old hit movie (a charming romantic comedy, perhaps?). Once audiences get the opportunity to “discover” her, they will have armfuls of Grammys and legions of lifelong loyal fans. Harry Connick, Jr. got the sort of break that Davina and the Vagabonds (and today’s music-starved audiences) deserve as well.

In the meantime, enjoy the soulful music they are making now… and the satisfaction that you get to share this mix of Tin Pan Alley ditties, Vaudeville jazz riffs, and late night dressing room improv blues with all of your friends who aren’t as in the know about modern takes on classic forms of brilliant music.

Essential Downloads: “Sunshine,” “Away From Me,” “You Better Start Praying,” “Heavenly Day.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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A Last Look At The 2014 Hall Of Fame Tennis Championships

logo_bannerGiving tennis fans something to look forward to immediately following Wimbledon each year, the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport attracts some of the top ATP tour players… and some of the most tennis-savvy spectators around.

The tournament, held on grass courts, is the first stop of the summer swing for pro tennis in the United States, and it offers the only opportunity to see professional men’s tennis in the Northeast prior to the US Open.

Enjoy some of the photographs taken by Parcbench last week at the perfect tennis event…

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(2014 Singles Champion, Lleyton Hewitt)

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(Lleyton Hewitt)

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(Jack Sock)

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(Samuel Groth greets a fan)

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(Ryan Harrison)

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(John Isner)

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(Lleyton Hewitt and son)

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(Rajeev Ram)

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(2014 Doubles Champions, Chris Guccione and Lleyton Hewitt)

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(Jack Sock)

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Lleyton Hewitt Is The ATP Hall of Fame Champion (In Singles And Doubles)

LH_TuesWell, the third time was the charm for good ol’ Lleyton Hewitt. The former world number one defeated second seeded six-foot-eleven Ivo Karlovic 6-3, 6-7(4/7), 7-6 (7/3) to win the ATP Hall of Fame Championships. Hewitt finally captured the title on Sunday, although it took two-and-a-half hours. Hewitt earned $81,500 for the title and Karlovic earned $42,900 for being the runner-up.

As if that weren’t enough, the 33-year-old, alongside partner and fellow Australian Chris Guccione, defeated Jonathan Erlich (ISR) and Rajeev Ram (USA) in the doubles championship 7-5, 6-4.

In very windy conditions, the third-seeded Hewitt won his 30th career ATP title. It is his second of the season (after a January victory at Brisbane) and an eighth career ATP grass-court championship. After falling to John Isner (USA) in the 2012 Newport final and to Nicolas Mahut (FRA) last year, this week’s successful run was all the more satisfying, especially considering that Hewitt has undergone five surgeries in the past five years.

For Hewitt, the 2001 US Open and 2002 Wimbledon champion, it was his second win in six meetings with Karlovic. “It was a tough match. I was really happy to get through,” said Hewitt afterward, adding that “it was nice to get rewarded today.”

When it was finally over, Hewitt fell to his knees and pumped his fists toward the sky. Within seconds, he was joined on the grass court by his three young children.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Dwight Yoakam’s New Version Of “Who’ll Stop The Rain”

dwight_CDDwight Yoakam – “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” (single)
*** ½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Reprise Records

Everything Dwight Yoakam sings is cool and effortless, and his latest single, a remake of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” is no exception.

The Grammy-winning singer’s version of the CCR hit begins with a few guitar strums, followed by Yoakam’s instantly identifiable vocals. Eventually things kick off and the song expresses itself with a Rolling Stones groove. It’s a cover version that pays homage to the original by keeping things respectfully country-rock. At the same, Yoakam allows just enough of a yodel to finish off a note or two to make it all his own. Even better news: the song will appear on an album scheduled for release later this year on Reprise Records.

The single’s release is something of a return to the record label where Dwight Yoakam’s recording success began. Yoakam has recorded 28 albums under the Warner Bros. label umbrella, with his last being 2012′s critically-acclaimed 3 Pears, which spent eight weeks at the top of the Americana albums chart.

Yoakam (who had his first hit in 1986 with a remake of Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man”) has built a solid career out of making quality music on a consistent basis. He’ll join Eric Church’s ‘The Outsiders’ World Tour as a special guest this fall. That tour kicks off Sept. 11 in Bossier City, La. That tour will crisscross the U.S. and Canada through December, with 32 arena dates in the fall.

To preview or purchase this song on iTunes, click here.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Garth Brooks performs at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Suppose Garth Brooks Attempted A Comeback… And No One Came?

Garth Brooks performs at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Garth Brooks performs at “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial” January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Five comeback concerts by Garth “I Love President Obama To Death” Brooks, were canceled recently in Dublin after authorities denied permits because local residents objected to the disruption so many successive concerts would bring. City policy says only three “special events” per year can be played at the stadium, and One Direction had already played three concerts at the venue this year. Brooks responded by saying he would play five of the concerts or none, presumably banking on the notion that he still somehow mattered in the 21st century. Nice try.

Now, possibly stinging from the sudden realization of his irrelevance, he is moving forward to try to renew his time capsule fame. Garth “I Love President Obama To Death” Brooks announced details of yet another return at a press conference recently. Expect a new album on RCA Nashville, due out in time for Black Friday, and a three-year world tour to follow. And why not? Nowadays, country music is the most popular genre around and Garth needs the attention. For country music fans who still think the 52-year-old, “aww shucks,” slightly insincere hat act has anything new to say, it is kind of a big deal. Heck, after all these years, they might even get an AARP discount on the concert tickets.

Brooks also announced a first: he’ll be making his music available digitally for the first time, but only via his own website. He still won’t be on iTunes. Or Spotify. Or Pandora. Or Beats. Or iHeartRadio. Talk about self-sabotaging a “comeback.” Hey Garth — whether your ‘80s mentality likes it or not — streaming isn’t just the future of music, it’s actually the present. If you want an audience to discover your music, you have to make it available to them in the places where they seek it.

But that’s not saying a lot. The music industry is still rolling along on flat tires, getting nowhere, slowly. The only album to even sell a million copies so far this year is the Frozen soundtrack, which sold 2.7 million units. Back when Brooks was making the video for “We Shall Be Free,” featuring cameo appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy, Martina Navratilova, General Colin Powell and Elizabeth Taylor, many top artists’s albums went platinum in their opening week.

Let’s hope we can expect some sort of artistic growth from Brooks as a result of his being away for the past decade. If anything, he should consider returning to the sound of his early albums. His last album, Scarecrow, released in 2001, was one of his worst.

Perhaps he’ll try broadening his fan base in other ways. Hey Garth — I hear George Strait might be free in the future. I bet he could sell some concert tickets.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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It’s Lleyton Hewitt Finals Day Here in Newport

12Welcome to Lleyton Hewitt Day at the ATP Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. The former world number one will appear in both the singles and doubles finals today (in that order). It’s his third consecutive singles final, and the crowd is likely going to be very supportive of the third seed as he faces second seed Ivo Karlovic. Alongside partner Chris Guccione (AUS), Hewitt (AUS) will face Jonathan Erlich (ISR) and Rajeev Ram (USA) in the doubles final.

If you’ve been lucky enough to attend the most rarified and elegant tennis event in the United States over the past few years, you’ve probably enjoyed watching Hewitt win a few matches. He has lasted in the draw to the end of the week for the past several years. You might have also have had the chance to watch his tennis-loving kids grow from babyhood to potential practice partner; Hewitt and his beautiful wife, Bec, always bring the kids to Newport. It is a sure sign that summer is in full swing when the Aussies turn the Casino veranda into a kid’s summer day camp. Kids, toys, new cans of tennis balls, new growth and freshly mowed grass… all bringing to mind the words of F Scott Fitzgerald: “That familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

And this year is no different. Enjoy this brief clip of Lleyton on the practice court earlier in the week, with his son (a future tennis star? — note that the kid wins the point)

Hewitt advanced to the final of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships by defeating US seventh seed Jack Sock, 6-1 6-2, on Saturday. That match was Sock’s first semifinal — quite an impressive showing for a player who, a week ago, won the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Doubles title (alongside Vasek Pospisil). Sock hung around Wimbledon just long enough to attend the Champions Ball, then he boarded a flight for Boston and came directly to Newport. After the 21-year-old Sock won match after match after match (including routing John Isner in the quarterfinal), the ever-energetic 33-year-old Hewitt proved too much of a challenge. Ivo Karlovic beat Australian Samuel Groth 6-4 6-4 in the other semi-final.

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Hewitt, who lost to John Isner in the 2012 final and to Nicolas Mahut in last year’s title match, will try for a third time today at the $474,000 (US) grass court tournament. Hewitt is seeking his 30th career ATP title… and his second of the season after a Brisbane victory at the beginning of the year.

Although Karlovic is 4-1 in career meetings with Hewitt (including eliminating the Aussie defending champion in a Wimbledon first round match in 2003), Hewitt beat Karlovic in the first round of the 2009 French Open. So here’s to Hewitt, who may just take home two more trophies today, proving that within a champion always lies just more invincible summer.

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(All photos © Greg Victor, Parcbench.com)

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Jack Sock Defeats John Isner In Newport’s Quarterfinals

Q26Well, there’s a first time for everything. And when you’re checking off accomplishments with the rapidity of American tennis player Jack Sock, it seems like there’s an achievement every week.

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21-year-old Sock logged his first victory over his friend (and tournament top seed) John Isner in Newport’s Tennis Hall of Fame quarterfinals on Friday. (They two players have had four previous ATP meetings.) The two players have been spotted practicing with each other throughout the week, which could explain why there was such camaraderie on the court, especially at a match this deep into the draw. Tennis fans were delighted to see that when Isner was introduced before the match, Jack Sock made a point to applaud him.

On the green grass courts, Sock displayed a relaxed style that reflected his having won the Gentlemen’s Doubles championship at Wimbledon last week (along with partner Vasek Pospisil). It’s amazing what having to figure out how to ship a Wimbledon trophy home will do for one’s confidence.

Sock took the match over the top-seeded Isner in straight sets, with a score of 6-4, 7-6(4) in just 88 minutes. Seventh-seeded Sock saved each of the three break points he faced against Isner, and he won 33 of 42 first-serve points.

But what made the match such a pleasure for the Newport crowd was that the high level of play was matched by an equally high level of sportsmanship. At one point, when Isner disputed a line call in Sock’s favor, Sock agreed with Isner and ceded the point. A wave of enthusiasm for the act of sportsmanship swirled around the wooden, horseshoe-shaped stadium. In Newport, a moment like that is highly regarded.

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Within a few games, the situation was reversed, with Sock disputing a call in Isner’s favor. Sure enough, Isner agreed with Sock and ceded that point. Now, they were even; it was something like “love-all” and it made for a swell atmosphere.

This didn’t mean that each player wasn’t trying hard to win, of course. Isner was hoping for a third Newport trophy, having won the title in 2011 (d. Rochus) and 2012 (d. Hewitt). But Sock has been on a tear this whole week. Clearly he is raring to get to the hard-court season, where expectations are high for Sock to perform well at next month’s U.S. Open in New York City.

And why not? Winning means being able to call Newport home for another day. It’s a perfect spot for lawn tennis in July. The venue is a well-run, attractive place to watch quality tennis (with every seat as close to the action as any tennis fan could dream of). The crowds are extremely tennis-savvy and there is much to do in town after the day’s matches end. As Sock said after the match, “This is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. I love the city. I love the tournament.”

Sock will face former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt (who is making his third consecutive appearance in the final here) in the quarterfinal.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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A Pay Raise At The U.S. Open

1Let’s face it. For some players it’s all about the ranking. For others, it’s all about the titles and the trophy. And no doubt, for some (including more than a few tennis agents), it’s all about the check that comes with the ranking points and the trophy. For those players who don’t mind paying taxes, the 2014 U.S. Open is providing even more motivation than usual.

Last year, Rafael Nadal earned $2.6 million for winning the U.S. Open title. But that’s so 2013. This year, whoever wins the men’s and women’s singles title will take home a record $3 million.

The U.S. Tennis Association also announced that the total purse for the tournament will be $38.3 million. That is an increase of 11.7 percent from $34.3 million last year. Runners-up will get $1.45 million, an increase from $1.3 million.

Both the men’s and women’s doubles champions will earn $520,000, the highest in U.S. Open history. And — talk about motivation to make it into the tournament — any player who loses in the first round of singles at Flushing Meadows will make $35,750, an increase of $3,750.

The U.S. Open starts on Aug. 25. To visit the U.S. Open website, click here.

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Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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