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John Reno:

John Reno broadens sound, subject matter on new album - December 23, 2010

Published: Thursday, December 23, 2010, 6:23 AM
By Lawrence F. Specker, Mobile Press-Register

The first thing that jumps out at the listener, when coastal music-maker John Reno’s new album comes on, is the big production.
These songs might have started out as the work of one guy with sand between his toes, but here they appear in more fleshed-out form. Drums, electric guitars, keyboards, organ, mandolin and backup singers all help put wind in Reno’s sails.
The second impression, which takes a bit longer to sink in, is that Reno has also distanced himself from the most familiar topics of the beach-centric “trop rock” genre which has been his home territory until now.
“It’s pretty eclectic, unlike ‘Magic Chair,’ my previous one, where they pretty much all had that kind of Caribbean, Buffett-esque sound,” Reno said of the disc. “This is definitely not that.”
“There’s more to what I do,” he said. “There’s really no shortage of songs about margaritas and sand and palm trees right now. There’s a plethora of those out there. I mean, how much can you write about palm trees?”
It’s not that Reno has abandoned themes of coastal life. Far from it. He’s a sailor who has always thought of his music as “more nautical than tropical.”

One will find plenty of maritime references throughout the nine tracks on “Reno.” The opener, for example, is “Mayday,” which compares the risks of love to the peril of a ship trying to pass a rocky shore to reach safe harbor.
Like several of the songs on the album, “Mayday’” lyrics convey a strong sense of a writer going through a time of reflection. As on most, this potentially melancholy strain is tempered by buoyant music — in this case, energetic electric guitar work by area musician Brett Gambino.
It’s an interesting balance between meditative thoughts and upbeat tunes, one that Reno seems to have gotten to the hard way. “I don’t know if I’m wiser, I’m certainly older,” he said.
It’s unlikely a younger, more frivolous singer would have covered the Del Suggs-Pierce Pettis song “Billy,” based on Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd.” It’s a challenging composition, given its length, its literary faithfulness and the mixed emotion of its ending; but it’s also one of the album’s centerpieces.
Reno, long an admirer of folk singer Suggs, said he’d wanted to cover the song for years. It has a rare power, he said, and he’s always been affected by the lines, “And a rope stretched from the yardarm/ to a knot at Billy’s neck/ and innocence surrendered when his bare feet left the deck.”
“Reno” is available through and at shows. According to the site, Reno is scheduled to perform 5-9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 23, at LuLu’s in Gulf Shores and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 26, at Tacky Jack’s in Orange Beach.

Want to hear a sample? Listen to "Back at Least Two" by John Reno.
The seriousness of that song is nicely balanced by the silliness of “Heaven’s Little Corner Café.” It started with the whimsical hope that in the afterlife, we’ll still be able to enjoy certain earthly pleasures, particularly dining, without earthly consequences.
“All the things we enjoy on this planet, I’m assuming that we still have some of those pleasures,” he said. “If there’s no ramifications, you can eat whenever you want, whatever you want, no heartburn, no heart attack, no clogged arteries.”
Accordingly the song, co-written with Gambino and Beth Hanggeli, is a catalogue of diet-free delights, including a shout-out to Panini Pete’s in Fairhope.
Reno gives a lot of credit for the album to Gambino and producer Butch Johnson. Gambino introduced him to Johnson, a veteran studio engineer; he entrusted his basic songs to them, and they embellished them in the studio.
One payoff: Reno recently learned that the album has been accepted by programmers at Radio Margaritaville, who’ll begin playing its songs to trop-rock fans worldwide after Christmas.
“I’m very fortunate that I have some talented friends, like Brett,” Reno said. “They took the ball and ran with it.”

House Concerts - June 30, 2010

WHAT IS A HOUSE CONCERT? It is a seated concert that provides an opportunity to hear live music in a friendly, intimate, home setting. It is a gathering of guests, family, friends (and their friends) in which to share a casual, fun experience; a place to meet the artists, become acquainted with their music and hear some of the stories behind the songs. A house concert isn't a party, although there is normally a potluck before or between sets. Simply put, it's playing for a small, intimate audience who are "Ticketed, Seated and Listening"!

WHY AT A HOUSE? Hosts open their home to friends and neighbors because they like to share great music with them. Hosting house concerts affords them the opportunity to introduce musicians/songwriters that their guests may be unfamiliar with or reacquaint them with those they've heard at other house concerts. Additionally, it gives the songwriters a lot of pleasure to share their music and hopefully further their names in the music world and keep them doing what they do and love.

It should be noted that many hosts choose their backyard as the venue, which can provide a wonderful ambience. However, there should always be a plan for weather contingency.

WHAT DO THE HOSTS GET OUT OF THIS? They receive no economic benefit from the house concerts. The benefit they do receive is the joy the music and gatherings bring to their home. 100% of the suggested donation goes to the performers.

DOES IT COST THE HOSTS ANYTHING? Typically, the cost to the hosts is minimal. They may want to rent chairs (although guests are usually encouraged to bring their folding/camping style chairs), provide ice, water and some food, paper and plastic goods; not to mention their time. But the benefits of having a group of people who appreciate the same music they do far outweighs the money and other costs.

WHAT DOES IT COST THE GUESTS? There is a recommended cash donation of $15-$20 per person, depending on the distance the songwriter must travel.

HOW MANY PEOPLE COME? As many as the home can comfortably accommodate without becoming a fire hazard. Depending upon where the songwriter is traveling from, 30-35 people is usually the minimum it takes for it to be financially feasible.

HOW DO HOSTS PROMOTE THE HOUSE CONCERT? Many hosts have found websites like to be extremely effective in sending invitations and tracking the number of expected guests.

WHAT ABOUT THE NEIGHBORS? Hosts usually invite their neighbors and encourage them to attend. As a courtesy to them, they plan their gatherings on weekends only, either Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons or evenings or Sunday afternoon. No performance runs later than 10:30 p.m.

HOW CAN YOU BECOME OR FIND A HOUSE CONCERT VENUE? First, find someone with a home that could accommodate 35+ people. Then contact the entertainer you are interested in hearing … oh, like maybe, John Reno … and then determine a date for that performance. As you begin to promote the show to folks, ask them to be considerate and make a reservation only if they plan to attend.

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