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Susan Werner


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Contemporary folk with jazz influences

Status:

Most recent release, Hayseed (2013)

See also:

Susan Werner's site

Comparisons:

Patty Larkin, Dar Williams

Covers/own material:

Mainly writes her own material, with a few covers.

General comments:

Originally trained in classical and jazz singing, Susan Werner turned her focus to folk music after attending a Nanci Griffith concert. Today she is being hailed as one of "pop/folk's fastest rising new stars". She is tremendously talented, playing both the guitar and the piano, and possessed of a superb singing voice. Her songs sparkle with style and her own slightly cynical brand of humour. All in all, it adds up to a wonderful package—go see her live if you can! (Sherlyn.Koo)

She has a trained opera voice, apparently, though she does not sound operatic. I would place both her and Dar Williams solidly in the new folk vein (Shawn Colvin, Patty Larkin, Vance Gilbert). (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

singer/songwriter, faux-folk. typically not my cuppa, but her quick wit, brash performances, excellent musicianship and surprisingly engrossing songs/lyrics have completely charmed me. her ability to capture and convey the feeling of what inspires a song is remarkable. she is another one of those exceptions to my bias against pseudo-folk singer/songwriters. she is a strong, if straight-forward, guitarist and has a strong voice, but, surprisingly, the strength of her songs is what i like most about her. she's an ex-iowan turned philadelphian and most of her songs reflect a midwestern upbringing filtered through the bright city lights. four records. she's improved a lot since her first record, midwestern saturday night, and I recommend the last of the good straight girls. the first two to get are that and time between trains. her debut, midwestern saturday night is alright, but pretty obviously a debut. the other is a live record, recorded at philadelphia's tin angel (which inspired the album's imaginative title, live at the tin angel), is also a good starting point since it captures some of her live energy and style which, in my opinion, gets damped by the production on the last of the good straight girls and time between trains. a very strong songwriter and one of the few people i'd rather see without a band. (11/98, woj@smoe.org)

Comments on live performance:

Susan is an extraordinary performer and I would recommend you try to catch her live at all costs. Great guitarist (especially when she does jazz-y numbers), tons of energy, great stage personality, very exciting to watch and listen too, tremendous enthusiasm and quirky, funny face. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

I just saw Susan Werner for the fourth time. I thought that it would be a nice performance, but it was superb. She keeps surprising me with each new performance. My oh my. So witty and fun and talented with a beautiful voice. She did two encores, with the last one being the Carmen aria. She was training to be an opera singer before she got into popular music, and it showed :). Anyone who has an interest in a warm-voiced woman with smart touching lyrics and a folky, bluesy, jazzy turn with pop appeal, please check her out. Susan is great. Susan is wonderful. I think she's faboo. And a good pianist too. I've had the good fortune of being able to hear her noodle around on the piano before her shows and she just loves to rip into jazz standard-style tunes and she kicks ass at that...of the songs she writes on the piano, she can cover many different styles and deliver wonderful little solos in each one. (paul2k@aol.com)

Susan Werner is *fantastic* live—she has an acoustic guitar, an attitude, and charisma to go. Highly recommended. She always gives a great show, and I can't wait to see her again. (c. 1998)
     When she gave two shows in one night we went to both. Susan's early show was a pretty standard set, but the late show was, in her own words, "Sooze goes wacky". She closed the second set with the aria from Carmen, complete with unplugged guitar and a sort of flamenco dance into the crowd at the end, that was simply stunning and was pretty much representative of the entire show: jaw-droppingly incredible and fall-down hilarious all at once. She never ceases to amaze. Definitely worth getting home at 4:30 am. (10/99)
     Runner-up for best show of 1999: Susan Werner at the Bull Run Tavern, Shirley, MA. Susan was *on*, even more than usual, and she gave us two sets of great music and abject hilarity. I was in heaven. (11/99)
     We were in the Philadelphia suburbs to see Svetlana play at the gazebo behind the Upper Merion Township Building. It was a beautiful night and a beautiful venue. Susan did another of those great shows of hers—she just keeps cranking the memorable performances out. Her new songs are really, really good (she seems to be avoiding the usual songwriters curse of happiness = writer's block). (7/00)
     It was the second of two shows. It ended up being the best, most fun Susan Werner show I've seen in years. She was tired and kind of loopy, and the usual set list ended up going out the window. This meant we heard some songs she hasn't played in a long time, including "Got To See The Body" (with various audience members helping her when she forgot the words), as well as newer songs she doesn't do very much (she started things off with "Nefertiti's Dream", my favorite song from her new album New Non-Fiction). She talked a lot more between songs than she has done in a while—the Turning Point is so small (absolute legal capacity 63) that she was interacting with folks in the audience the whole time. When she went to the piano she did an impromptu revue of Oscar-winning songs that was absolutely hysterical, starting with the songs that are really really good (she did a wonderful version of "When You Wish Upon A Star"), then moving to the winning songs that totally suck (her Barbra Streisand impression has to be heard to be believed ;).
     Susan has standardized her set over the past year and cut down on the between-song banter, which is fine, but I'd almost forgotten just how entertaining she can be when she just lets go and loosens up. She could make a living in stand-up if (gods forbid) the music ever left her, and we just don't get to see that so much on stage any more. It was great fun to see her like that again. (12/01)
     On the official street date of her self-released new CD, New Non-Fiction, Susan appeared at a place in New York she'd never played before, with a brand-new band. woj and I had never seen her play with a band before, and I think I can speak for both of us when I say that I was blown away. The bass and drums added just the right touches to the new songs where they were used, and on the jazz piano stuff, they were perfect. Unfortunately they don't know all of the songs yet, so they were only on stage for part of the set. They're not accompanying her at many shows, but hopefully she can get them for more shows in the future. (02/02)
     As for Ms. Werner, she was in rare form. She was in a really goofy mood, which really showed through on stage. She even did a song she hadn't played in *years* ("Year Of The Bad President"), and that made me happy. It was a good show, one of the best solo shows I've seen her do in a while. (5/02,meth@smoe.org)

Live Susan Werner is very entertaining. I have a copy of Last Of The Good Straight Girls, which never made a huge impression, but I'm thinking perhaps I should listen to it again a bit more carefully. I thought a fair portion of her show was fairly generic folk, though consistently well-played. And Susan was always an engaging personality. But the other half of her set really worked for me. Every once in a while she'd pull out a song with a lot of depth and character, and I'd be completely drawn in. I was also impressed with how she performed in an entirely different style when she sat down at the piano. Those songs were more torchy/bluesy, and she turned out to be a fine piano player too. She played a very intriguing cover of "When Will I Be Loved", which turned the pop song I remembered into a wrenching jazz blues number. (c. 1996?)
     Susan played in a songwriters in the round showcase. Susan shone in this setting though. With a wry grin and a twinkle in her eye, she'd saunter up to the front of the room (no mic), and just wail. I've seen her a couple of times before and have found her to be reasonably entertaining, but I haven't been wowed like a lot of others here. I still wasn't that into some of what she was doing, but she definitely filled up the room with her voice and personality. (2/99, neal)

I'd like to thank everyone who's been recommending Susan Werner. I finally got to see her play this weekend (twice!) and was MUCH impressed. She's even more powerful live than on CD. Anyway to sum up Susan bowled me over with her vocal talent and guitar playing, her stage presence, and friendliness. It was such a pleasure to finally see her play. If I wasn't a total convert from her CD alone, I certainly was after seeing her live. (kamesan@geocities.com)

Just to toss in my own opinion, having seen Susan once live I can say that I liked it, and I'd see her again, but I wasn't blown away. Great voice, great sense of humor, great stage presence...but her songs do nothing for me. (mcurry@io.com)

Susan Werner played Stone Coast here in Portland ME tonight, a gig that was not announced till just five days ago. Not that it bothered Susan one bit—after introducing herself as "the current Wimbeldon champion from Philadelphia", she acknowledged the lack of advance notice and the subsequent small crowd of true believers, then spent the next 2+ hours wowing everyone with her devastating wit, her rapport with her audience, and most of all, her musicianship.
     Music seems to ooze out of every pore in Susan Werner's being. The only other performer I recall seeing recently who can singlehandedly fill a room or hall with his musicianship is Richard Thompson. Like Thompson, Susan's guitar work seems to project the feeling of a whole band by itself as does her keyboard playing—she is quite simply a wonderful instrumentalist (never mind the duct tape holding the edges of one of her acoustic guitars together; the musician's secret weapon...) who somehow manages to keep the essence of her studio arrangements intact using only six strings. And her voice is just SO natural and fluid; she is one of those rare performers who makes it all look so easy and so unforced.
     She is also one of the most naturally funny people I have seen perform—her range of facial expressions and contortions is a side show in itself, and she manages to be both self-deprecating and supremely self-confident. (rkonrad@ibm.net)

She did both her guitar music and jazzier/comic-cabaret piano songs—hilarious performer as well as great musician. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Recommended first album:

Live at Tin Angel (Sherlyn.Koo)

I would recommend Live at Tin Angel over Midwestern Saturday Night. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

Recordings:


Midwestern Saturday Night

Release info:

1993—independently released—SW001

Availability:

See website for availability

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Susan Werner fans

Group members:

Susan Werner—vocals, piano, keyboard, acoustic guitar

Guest artists:

Lou Abbott—percussion
Ari Eisinger—fingerpick guitar
Paul Gehman—upright bass, electric bass
Julia Haines—Celtic harp
Tim Hooper—vocals
Erik Johnson—drums
Richard Sleigh—harmonica

Produced by:

Grant MacAvoy

Comments:

In my opinion this album is rather overproduced, and really doesn't stand up to Susan's later albums; in fact, quite a few of these songs are also on "Live At Tin Angel" and I think they sound much better without all the instrumentation. Still, this album does contain a few of my favourites—"Midwestern Saturday Night", a lovely slow waltz, and "Born A Little Late (The Baby Boomer Song)". (Sherlyn.Koo)

Live At Tin Angel

Release info:

1993—independently released—SW002

Availability:

See website for availability

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for folk fans

Group members:

Susan Werner—vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, keyboard

Produced by:

Recorded and engineered by George Pierson
Mastered by Glenn Barratt

Comments:

A wonderful album, which does a very good job of capturing the energy, spirit and humour of Susan's live performance. Most of the songs here will (unfortunately) probably never be recorded for a studio album, but I think that this album really shows Susan's strength and versatility as a songwriter and performer. Songs range from the quietly beautiful "My Mother's Garden" to the uplifting "headbanger" "Attend The Sky", and the astonishing cover of Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" demonstrates Susan's classically-trained voice to great effect. Highly, highly recommended. (Sherlyn.Koo)

I liked the CD quite a lot. (kamesan@geocities.com)


Last Of The Good Straight Girls

Release info:

1995—Private Music—0100582126-2

Availability:

See website for availability

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for folk and pop/rock fans

Group members:

Susan Werner—vocals, acoustic guitar, piano

Guest artists:

Knox Chandler—electric guitar, cello
Marshall Crenshaw—electric guitar
Mitchell Froom—Wurlitzer piano, Hammond B-3 organ
Lauren Gibbs—piano
Mindy Jostyn—harmonica, violin
Greg Leisz—mandolin, Weissenborn slide guitar, pedal steel guitar
J.T. Lewis—drums
Shawn Pelton- drums, percussion
Zachary Richard—accordion
Brandon Ross—electric guitar, soprano acoustic guitar
Fernando Saunders—bass, electric guitar
John Shanks—electric guitar
Allan Smallwood—Hammond B-3 organ, keyboard, harmonica, piano
Carol Steele—percussion

Produced by:

Fernando Saunders

Comments:

Last Of The Good Straight Girls is an excellent album, Susan Werner's first major-label effort. Susan has again written some wonderful songs, and the slick instrumentation complements her voice and guitar very well. Once again we see her range as a performer—songs here range from ballads ("St Mary's Of Regret" and "Some Other Town") to pop-rock ("Through The Glass"), with a detour through funk ("Yes To You (Tappan Zee)") along the way. I recommend this album to any ecto fan. (Sherlyn.Koo)

Some real gems on this one, including "Some Other Town" (when you're on the road and you are in a town and you think—this is home for all these people but it is so foreign to me). (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

Excellent. One of my favorite discs of the year. (sspan)


Time Between Trains

Release info:

1998—The Bottom Line Record Company—63440-47305-2

Availability:

See website for availability

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan Werner—vocals, guitar, piano, vibraphone

Guest artists:

Gary Gazaway—trumpet
Steve Kahm—accordion, B3 organ
Viktor Krauss—acoustic bass
Hunter Lee—bagpipes
Kenny Malone—drums, percussion
Hank Medress—percussion
Greg Morrow—drums
Jelly Roll Morton—harmonica
Tom Rhoady—percussion
Michael Rhodes—electric bass
Bill Schleicher—whistling
Darrell Scott—guitar, resonator guitar, dobro, mandolin, bouzouki, electric guitar, keyboards, vocals
Antoine Silverman—violin

Produced by:

Darrell Scott

Comments:

This is probably her finest collection of songs, but as the album goes on I find I'm wanting more and more to shout "dammit, just SING!!!". Susan Werner has one of the most incredible voices going today, and she doesn't use it to even a fraction of its potential on this disc. That fact just ruins it for me, and makes it completely unlistenable. Which is a shame, because "Like Bonsai" is one of the most affecting songs ever written, and "Movie Of My Life" is an absolute scream in concert. (meth@smoe.org)

It's been a long wait for Susan Werner fans, with three years and a new record label (following the closure of Private Music) between albums. It's fitting that Werner's new album is titled Time Between Trains. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Darrell Scott, this is a far more acoustic affair than the pop-rock of Last of the Good Straight Girls. Time Between Trains spans genres with ease, with tracks ranging from the muted-trumpet-solo jazz of "Montgomery Street" to the wistful folk of "Courting the Muse" to the groove of "Bring 'Round the Boat". But then, that's nothing too surprising from opera-singer-turned-folky Susan Werner....
     Time Between Trains is an excellent album, although (as meth says), sometimes you do find yourself wishing that Werner would really open up and let the full power of her classically-trained voice rip. But there's plenty of expressiveness to go around even without that, amply displayed in tracks such as the cover of Don McLean's "Vincent" or the heartwrenching "Can't Let You In". In other tracks the delivery sometimes seems to belie the lyrics; good examples of this are "Sorry About Jesus" (a song which reads almost like a throwaway funny track but is retrieved by Werner's wistful delivery) or the title track, which seems like it should be sad but instead soars with a humour all its own. It's a demonstration of Werner's talent and versatility that she manages all this with ease.
     Although each track on this album is equally strong in its own way, some which stand out especially include "Like Bonsai", a song containing one of the most powerful metaphors I have ever heard; the groovy "Petaluma Afternoons"; the aforementioned "Can't Let You In"; and the title track. This album is sure to have something to impress everyone, from longtime Werner fans to those who've never heard her before. Highly recommended. (Sherlyn.Koo)

I really like it—I was never really impressed with Last of the Good Straight Girls, though I loved her voice. The new album is much more varied in its style, but the best track is the final hidden track. It finally sounds like Susan is really having fun while she sings! (jjhanson@att.net)

Merely a hint of just what a dynamic performer she is. (rkonrad@ibm.net)


New Non-Fiction

Release info:

2002—Susan Werner Records—6566134372

Availability:

See website for availability

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan Werner—lead and backing vocals, acoustic guitars, wurlitzer on "okay to feel good"

Guest artists:

colin linden—acoustic and electric guitar, baritone guitar, dobro, and nearly every other strummed thing on the planet ( :) that is what it says :)
dave roe—gut string bass
bryan owings—drums, percussion
richard bell—b-3 organ, wurlitzer
byron house—bass on "stationary", "shade of grey"
kenneth blevins—drums on "stationary", "shade of grey"
dennis taylor—sax on "okay to feel good", "big car"
tammy rogers—mandolin on "barbed wire boys"
jon randall—backing vocal on "little yellow house"

Produced by:

Colin Linden

Comments:

It's been way too long since Susan put out a new record, and longer still since she put out one that's worth listening to more than once. New Non-Fiction is, simply put, her best studio recording yet. Sure, you can quibble about the song selection (no "Year Of The Bad President", or "Brazil", or "Shot Tower"), but the songs that did make the cut are superlative, with just one exception ("It's OK To Feel Good" should have been dropped in favor of one of the omitted titles listed above). "Nefertiti's Dream" is one of the most addictive songs she's ever written. "Big Car" and "All Of The Above" are a hoot, and "Barbwire Boys" and "May I Suggest" are notable additions to her extensive catalog of songs in the "rip out your heart so subtly you don't notice until you keel over" category. (meth@smoe.org)

Even though I get stuck on "Stationary"—probably my favorite song of last year—I really enjoy the rest of the album when I get around to listening to it all the way through. (onealien@mo.himolde.no)


I Can't Be New

Release info:

2004—KOCH Entertainment—KOC-CD-9521

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of Susan Werner or jazz vocals

Group members:

Susan Werner—vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar, piano, nylon string guitar, wurlitzer, additional ukelele

Guest artists:

Billy Novick—musical arrangement (1), woodwinds, clarinet, tenor sax
Dave Mattacks—drums, percussion
John Lockwood—upright bass, upright bass w/bow
Brad Hatfield—piano, Rhodes, B3 organ, vibes
Steve Sadler—banjo, mandolin, octave mandolin, dobro, ukulele, baritone ukelele
Crit Harmon—additional percussion (3, 7, 9), hand claps and snaps (7)
Mike Rinquist—percussion
Eugene Friesen—cello
The Hatfield Five—string quartet
Duke Levine—guitar
Mike Turk—chromatic harmonica

Produced by:

Crit Harmon

Comments:

I'm not a fan of jazz vocals or standards, but I rather enjoy Susan's album of original standards, and it grows on me with each listen. It's amazing how musically and lyrically the songs sound like they might have been written 60 years ago. In fact I thought they were until I saw in the liner notes that Susan wrote them all. At any rate, it's a well-done album, and while I don't like all of it, there's a lot I really enjoy. It's especially good listening for late evenings.
     Favorites include "Let's Regret This in Advance," the flamenco-sounding "I'm Not Sure," and the old-timey piano sounds of "Seeing You Again" and "Don't I Know You." If you like the song "Much At All" (which appears here in a different version than the one on Last of the Good Straight Girls), you might find you like this album more than you think. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The Gospel Truth

Release info:

2007—Sleeve Dog Records

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Susan Werner

Guest artists:

Grant MacAvoy—drums
Corey Shipley—drums on "Forgiveness"
Chico Huff—acoustic bass
Jef Lee Johnson—acoustic, electric guitars, sitar, electric and acoustic bass
Joel Bryant—organ, piano, Wurlitzer, and backing vocals
Charles Fambrough—upright bass
Kurt Johnston—dobro
Mike Brenner—dobro, lap steel, cello
Glenn Barratt—acoustic guitar
John Conahan—piano, backing vocals
Michael Frank—piano
Diane Monroe—violin
Myra Cassales—percussion
Allen Plummer—percussion
The Lowlands—background vocals:
     Adrien Re'ju & Chris Kasper
Todd Barneson—background vocals
Lizanne Knott—background vocals
Darren Keith—background vocals
Charlene Halloway—background vocals
Chad Gilbert—background vocals
The High Heeled Red Boot Handclap/Footstomp Gang—intro to "Help Somebody"
     Jeannie Rowan Boyle
     Dave Gerhart
     Grant MacAvoy

Produced by:

Glenn Barratt with Susan Werner

Comments:

This album has been described as an "agnostic gospel album." How much you like it will probably depend on how much you like gospel music as a style and your tolerance for religious critiques. I like most of the folkier songs pretty well and am mixed on the lyrical content—there are some interesting explorations of religion but also some cheap shots. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Live at Passim

Release info:

2008—Sleeve Dog Records—SW-013

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan Werner—vocals, guitar, piano

Guest artists:

Greg Holt—upright bass
Trina Hamlin—vocals, percussion, harmonica
Colleen Sexton—vocals, percussion

Comments:

I've always heard good things about Susan's live shows, and this recording shows why. Good variety of songs, excellent musicianship (especially when Trina Hamlin is rocking the harmonica), and lots of fun. I only wish there were more banter to showcase Susan's wonderful sense of humor. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Classics

Release info:

2009—Sleeve Dog Records—SW-014

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Susan Werner—classical guitar

Guest artists:

Brad Hatfield—piano
Michael Rosenbloom—1st violin
Lisa Crockett—2nd violin
Sue Culpo—viola
Rob Lowry—cello
Eugene Friesen—cello
Marty Ballou—bass
Ian Greitzer—clarinet
Barbara LaFitte—oboe and English horn
Gus Sebrig—French horn
Mark Small—classical guitar
Steve Kirby—classical guitar

Produced by:

Crit Harmon with Susan Werner

Comments:

It could seem really cheesy or really arrogant to release an album marrying classic pop songs with classical music, but Susan pulls it off gracefully and beautifully. Often with covers albums I much prefer the songs whose originals I'm not familiar with. That's not the case here at all. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Further info:

Susan released a DVD, All Mapped Out, in 2002.

She has contributed songs to the following:

Compilations:

  • "Born a Little Late (The Baby Boomer Song)" on Christine Lavin Presents... Follow That Road: 2nd Annual Vineyard Retreat (1994)
  • "Man I Used to Love" on Candlelight Moments Vol. 5: Soft Voices (1997)
  • "Replaced" on Big League Babe: The Christine Lavin Tribute Album, Part 1 (1997)
  • "Why Is Your Heaven So Small" on A Benefit for Out in the Silence (2009)
Live compilations:
  • "St. Mary's of Regret" on 1995 Kerrville Highlights (1997), Best of the Kerrville Folk Festival, Vol. 1 (2003) and Kerrville Folk Festival Highlights (2003)
  • "Maybe If I Played Cole Porter" on Live at the Iron Horse, Vol. 1 (1997)
  • "St. Mary's of Regret" on Philadelphia Folk Festival: 40th Anniversary (2001)
  • "Much at All" on The Women of Kerrville (1996) and Kerrville Women (2003)
Collaborations include:
  • "Irene" with Jay Scott on Fast Folk Musical Magazine (Vol. 7, No. 6): Philadelphia Phast Pholks (1993)
  • "All the Way Home" with Jimmy Bennett and John Flynn on Fast Folk Musical Magazine (Vol. 7, No. 6): Philadelphia Phast Pholks (1993)
  • "Tru-Lov" with Michael Veitch on his album NY Journal (1998)
  • "Blue Guitar" with Lee Lessack on his album In Good Company (2005)
  • "Islands in the Stream" with Erin McKeown on her album Cabin Fever, Episode 3: Erin's River (live, 2009)


Thanks to Sherlyn Koo and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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