E-trail of Two Cities
Album notes for J Catz: Survival Stew
J Catz is a virtual band, a hodgepodge of musical friends, a folk-rock experiment, and a brainstorm concocted out of a post-run pitcher of brew shared by my niece Jordan Cherry and me a few years ago at NYC’s Dive Bar 96.
There we knocked about ideas about creating an album with friends, and soon we came up with the name J Catz (a play-on-words with our initials) and an album concept — “Can’t We All Just Go Dutch?” with a Simsonsied painting of Van Gogh backed with an ear to match — and we recruited my daughter Julia, who shares the JC pedigree, for visual art and vocals. (It was a tall pitcher. Maybe two.)
It all sounded like fun but we did have geographic challenges, as Jordan lives and works in Austin, TX, while I’m an UWS New Yorker. About the time we got going, the Covid lockdown set in. So we did lots of music by email — with help from GarageBand and YouSendIt — and private recordings (e.g., tricky sessions in a basement known as Beer Stax Studio). As a lot of us learned in lockdown, isolation can be good for art.
We stretched out the virtual net to a slew of musical friends, and pulled together our online debut album — J Catz: Can’t We All Just Go Dutch? — as the outer world raged on. Teeming with pandemic angst and bluesy what-the-hellism, the album was released three days before January 6, 2021 — an event that promptly blew it out of the water.
Still, many reactions were thumbs-up, we kept the creative wheels spinning, and soon we were weaving together this followup collection. This time the Zeitgeist seems to be veering away from global doom-&-gloom. (Or is it?)
Enter Donovan Sigerfoos, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and Jordan’s new partner in music and life. The two of them have become Almost Grateful — an Austin-based duo blending their writing, singing, and instrumental talents — and they contributed several tracks to this Stew, including the lead-off video single “Mr. Meany’s.” Julia Crager created the video and cover art as a founding J Catz alum.
This album is a dialog between two cities: The rootsy, bluesy vibe of Austin meets the denser, layered cacophony of NYC. It’s a segue between YouSendIt methods and music as it should be — people in a room together. It’s a time capsule, a summation, and a new beginning. Stew’s a brewin’.
Deets on the Tracks
1 Could Be the Time (Jack Crager)
This is a shower song about current times: Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Company always helps — including Jordan Cherry & Donovan Sigerfoos (gospel vocals and handclaps) + Vivian Gill, Melissa Welsh, Kevin Daly & Eric Gotthelf (background vocals, percussion).
2 Something Like That (Jack Crager)
I started this lyric a couple of decades ago when I saw a bum scrounging in trash cans. The tune gathered ideas along the way — based on true tales about folks teetering between desperation and hope — and came alive with Eric Gotthelf on lead guitar, Kevin Daly on talking-blues vocals, and Jed Kronfeld on bass.
3 Soul on the Run (Jordan Cherry & Donovan Sigerfoos)
Jordan penned this piano ballad about leaving an old way of life and starting a new. Joining her on vocals and guitar is Donovan, her Almost Grateful partner. The duo sent it signed, sealed & delivered from Austin.
4 Triple Reg Blues (Jack Crager)
This is a folk song about a certain retail establishment and POE, based mainly on true tales. The guitar intro and lead are by Eric Gotthelf, while Katherine McLaughlin chimes in from the customer POV.
5 Mr. Meany’s (Jordan Cherry & Donovan Sigerfoos)
Here Jordan and Donovan describe a market in their hood in Austin. Donovan sings and plays lead guitar, bass, and stomp-box, with Jordan on vocals, rhythm guitar and percussion.
6 The Only Living Boy in New York (Paul Simon)
I’ve long loved this Simon & Garfunkel tune, with its lonesome vibe; the pandemic and lockdown gave it new resonance. Background vocals are by Julia Crager and Jordan, behind Jordan’s keys.
7 Velvet Rut (Jordan Cherry & Donovan Sigerfoos)
Here the Almost Grateful duo trade blues licks about angst in River City. Donovan sings and plays lead & bass guitars while Jordan duets on vocals and piano.
8 Solace (Marty Kuhlman, Jordan Cherry, Jack Crager)
These lyrics are by childhood pal Marty Kuhlman. “This is kind of the personification of justice: ‘Why are you late?’” Marty says. Jordan and I put the words to her finger-picking guitar tune. Childhood pal Patrick Murray adds guitar fills through a Leslie speaker.
9 Medley for the Mutts (Jordan Cherry, Gary Smith, Jack Crager, Lauren Gill)
What better subject for J Catz than dogs? This suite has four parts:
- What’s Up Doc: Jordan sang this for newbie Doc after the passing of Blue
- Bro’s Gone to Brooklyn: Gary Smith wrote this for my pooch Bro after he moved to NYC from Texas; Jordan duets on keys
- Out of the Blue: Jordan wrote this for Blue — it features the namesake’s cameo barking, Ben Sarowitz on guitar, and Jed Kronfeld on bass
- Tail-Waggin’ Dog: Lauren Gill created this for tail-waggers including her Watson, our Bella, etc.— with vocals by J Catz & the Fire Island Singers
10 The Narcissong (Look at Me) (Jack Crager)
This novelty number is part confessional, part commentary on all the narcissists among us (some might even know who they are). Fellow players include Kevin Daly on keyboards, Jed Kronfeld on bass, and Eric Gotthelf on the look-at-me guitar solo.
11 Contemplation (Jordan Cherry & Teddi Cherry)
This instrumental is what Jordan calls “the little jazz piece I did with my mom.” That would be Teddi Cherry, who duets on flute with Jordan’s piano. (As co-writers and performers, they blend together like blood kin.)
12 Love Song a la Joe (Jack Crager)
I wrote this eons ago, after a certain politician had to bow out of a White House race over plagiarism. It’s a conflicted love song — partly a goof on lifting ideas and partly a bittersweet farewell. Colin Higgins adds guitar lines while Maxx Kaplan rounds it out with conga.
13 I Will Survive (Freddie Kerren & Dino Fekaris)
Guitar mentor Douglas DaSilva and I recorded this cover tune back when we collaborated on children’s music while raising kids. It’s the starting point of this Stew. Mr. Doug plays nylon lead guitar, Kevin Daly chimes in on keyboards, and Julia & Jordan sing it all back home…whoo whoo!