Blues singer Deb Callahan ‘Tells It Like It Is’ | Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Written by: Erica Moser
Blues-soul singer Deb Callahan will be appearing at Chaplin’s: The Music Café and at the PSALM Salon over the next two weeks to promote her fourth and most recent CD, “Tell It Like It Is.” The album features nine original songs as well as covers of “Cold Irons Bound” by Bob Dylan and “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter,” written by her sister and originally performed by Tina Turner.
“I’m definitely influenced by the sound of gospel music, but [in] this one probably a little more of it came out,” says Callahan of the increased spirituality of this CD. “Spirituality is probably part of who we all are, but I think I addressed it a little more … what moves me, and my thoughts and feelings about it.”
Callahan grew up outside of Boston but has been living in Philadelphia for most of her adult life and cites it as her “adopted home.”
She says of her interest in the blues, “It’s just a part of who I am. … I’ve always liked that kind of music.” She sang in her first blues band in college and has been touring with her current band for the past four or five years. This includes guitarist Allen James, bass player Garry Lee and drummer Tom Walling, with special guests Jason Crosby on keyboards/violin and Matt Cappy on trumpet.
“If the Blues Had Wings,” Callahan’s debut album, premiered in 2002 and was featured as the hot debut album in the October/November 2004 issue of Blues Revue Magazine, which referred to her as the next Bonnie Raitt. She followed this with 2005’s “The Blue Pearl” and 2008’s “Grace & Grit.”
Jazzreview.com says of the latter, “on the grace/grit scale, she weighs in heavily alongside the finest female blues belters ever. In fact, the potent force of her vocals should secure her presence on the national blues scene for years.”
Callahan says of her style, “I would say the music is a combination of blues, soul, rock, gospel, with a little jazz. I guess it’s hard to say. Thematically, it’s coming from a lot of different things … life experiences, life observations …”
For instance, much of her inspiration comes from her background in social work. Currently, she works part-time as a counselor for troubled youth at a drop-in center, where she says “a lot of the youth don’t have a lot of family support; they’re living on the street.”
Callahan says one of her songs on the new CD, “Throwaway Child,” is directly influenced by her thoughts and observations from that. Similarly, she wrote “Food on the Table” as a commentary on single mothers, continuing with the social observation that threads its way through her music.
She balances tackling serious subjects with songs that are more fun and playful, such as “No Taxi Driver,” a song about receiving calls from people looking for a taxi, on “Grace & Grit.” Whether her tone is solemn or upbeat, Callahan takes an optimistic approach to life: “I look for the positive energy,” she says. “It’s going to work out somewhere.”
This is contrary to some unfortunate stereotypes about the blues. While a lot of people view blues as “‘sad, depressing music,’ to me that’s not the case at all,” explains Callahan. “It can be very funny, very tongue in cheek, very provocative … it can be kind of right in your face. It can be clever, with a lot of double entendres.”
As of late, Callahan has been touring with her band.
“We’ve expanded; we did a lot of traveling this summer, up and down the East Coast, from Florida to Maine,” she says. “This summer, we went out to Fargo, N.D.; Wisconsin; [and] Michigan.”
When asked about her favorite part of touring, she says, “I love getting the opportunity to see different parts of the country and meeting different people.” As the only girl in the band, Callahan says that “just driving for hours and hours, sometimes you get a little loopy. You get there and get an hour to get ready and get onstage. You meet a lot of characters, characters from all corners of the country.”
She describes blues as a “niche genre,” citing blues societies that would sponsor events, shows and festivals.
At the upcoming CD release party, Callahan says listeners can expect hearing both new material from “Tell It Like It Is” as well as old favorites from her three prior albums. Concertgoers can look forward, she says, to “a really fun show that’s celebrating music, that’s honoring all the people who were involved in the production. I think there’ll be a range. …You can dance to a lot of music, or you can just sit and listen.”