Thursday, July 9, 2009

Songsmith mixes things up in 'Gowanus'

By Meredith Deliso

After putting out three albums in his band, Porter Block, Peter Block wanted to mix things up a bit.

So the musician recruited some of the songwriters he admires the most, both good friends and complete strangers, from the New York City Music scene to collaborate with him on his fourth album, “Gowanus Yacht Club.”

Collaborating with musicians like Wes Hutchinson, Casey Shea and Nate Campany, Block, despite the different personalities, created a cohesive album that offers a unique roundup of the local songwriting scene.

“Songwriters are a dime a dozen, but I think in this case every one of these songs and songwriters has so much to offer,” says Block.

Recorded in his Gowanus studio, Block needn’t look much farther than out his window to find the right name for the compilation.

“When we were trying to come up with album names, we thought of ‘Dirty Water Love Songs,’ what with the Gowanus and all that,” says Block.

He wound up ripping the name from a little outdoor beer joint he’s a fan of located that has the stamp of the canal on it.Block, a Manhattan resident, set up shop in the neighborhood a few years ago, looking for a space that over some peace and quiet, as well as the room to build a studio.

“I looked all over Brooklyn to find a space and chose here because it made the most sense,” says them musician. “It’s a little frenetic in lower Manhattan. There’s a lot of interference in the city, it seems a little bit easier here.”

Over the course of six months of writing and six days in his studio, the gang compiled a surprisingly cohesive work of yes, overwhelmingly, “dirty love songs.” There’s the breakup song “Walk Away,” a duet with the Brooklyn-based songwriter Terry Radigan, whom Block had seen perform at Bar 4 in Park Slope and just knew he wanted to work with. There’s “Your Heart is a Broken Thing” written with Luke Janklow, who also helped Block get in touch with Telepopmusik’s Angela McCluksey to do the vocals in another duet.

“That was the icing on the cake,” says Block of the collaboration.

Among the other standout offerings on the album are “Daylight Dreaming” with Wes Hutchinson, based on an idea of a walking daydreamer that had been in Block’s head for months that Hutchinson helped flesh out into a pop song, and “Everybody Knows” with Nat Campany, one of the last songs written that adds a bit of bounce to the album.

This month, Block has planned mini reunions of sorts, playing gigs around the city with the songwriters on the bill. Coming up in Brooklyn, there’s a listening party at the Bushwick Country Club on July 12, a gig at Spike Hill on July 16 with Bryan Dunn, and with Terry Radigan at, where else, Bar 4, on July 22.

Throughout the whole process, in addition to the new challenge of collaboration, for Block, it was about what he always strives to do as a musician: offer up solid tunes that don’t go stale with repeated listenings.

“Fresh songs are always needed, just like food,” says Block. “The idea of this was, let’s make it nice, classy food, like a nice bottle of Chardonnay. An experience that’s not a fast food kind of experience.”

Catch Porter Block live, with shows at Gowanus Yacht Club (618 Grand Street) on July 12 at 7 p.m., Spike Hill (184 Bedford Ave.) on July 16 at 9 p.m., and Bar 4 (444 Seventh Ave.) on July 22 at 9 p.m.


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