Disc jockeys. You’ve heard our voices for years. For the most part, we only talk about the music that others make. Veteran Philadelphia DJ Michael Tearson is changing the game by releasing his first record, Stuff That Works. You might’ve seen him onstage here and there, singing along at a Hooters or Robert Hazard show. In fact, this project was directly inspired by Tearson’s close friendship with Robert Hazard—and what a shame that Hazard didn’t live to see it come to life. It was Hazard’s intention to do a slowed-down version of “I Want You” on his next album (per Tearson’s suggestion), but there never was a next album. So this record’s about fixing unfinished business.
Although Tearson sang a bit in a pre-radio folkie incarnation, his eloquence has been exercised most rigorously in an illustrious radio career spanning six decades. From WMMR to WXPN, to WMGK, to SiriusXM, to his online radio outfit radiothatdoesntsuck.com, Tearson’s superior music knowledge and succinct presentation style have endeared him to audiences who understand that he’s a breed apart. However, no matter how diligent his efforts, he has never been able to translate his command of language into songwriting. Consequently, Stuff That Works, which was named after a Guy Clark song, features works that resonate personally with Tearson.
Among the 13 tracks, there are several songs penned by Bob Dylan, including the aforementioned “I Want You,” which opens the record. Tearson is quite the Dylan authority, having written and produced a Dylan show on SiriusXM for many years. Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” closes the album, and it’s great to see Steve Noonan’s “lost” classic, “Buy for Me the Rain.”
Fran Smith, Jr. and Rob Hyman of the Hooters add their personal magic to several songs. And, yes, you get their signature melodica (the hooter itself!) as Hyman’s accordion squeeze. Sideman extraordinaire Jay Davidson is featured on keyboards, and the angelic “Voice of the Flyers” Lauren Hart is a lovely addition to the mix. Veteran producer/engineer and Grammy winner Andy Kravitz twiddled the knobs on this one and was a huge encourager of keeping the project active. In the album’s “Guidance From Beyond” notes, Tearson credits Hazard, dear friend and DylanCover.com founder Dave Plentus, plus his late wife Lynne Pedersen, who is still a spiritual force behind his drive.
With Philadelphia multi-instrumentalist Tom Hampton at Tearson’s side, accompanying on just about every stringed and fretted instrument available, this album is truly a locally collaborative effort. What’s Hampton’s take on the effort, which has been a major part of his own life for the past year or so?
“Michael sounds like Michael,” says Hampton. “Whether he’s singing to us or schooling us on the radio, he’s that familiar voice that we all know by now. From the time we started talking about this record in the wake of Robert’s passing, though, the one thread that started to emerge that’s still present through the finished product is this portrait of a haunted man. MT’s ghosts are right in your face on this album, and he’s not shy about that in the least. It ain’t party music, by any definition, but bring a copy with you on a late-night drive through the country—and if you’re meant to ‘get it,’ you’ll get it.”
Aug. 17: 7:30 p.m. Featuring Chris Smither. Haddon Lake Park, Haddon Heights, N.J. Tickets: Free.
Sept. 1: 8:30 p.m. World Cafe Live, Wilmington, Del. Tickets: $10.
Sept. 15: 7:30 p.m. Featuring Iain Matthews. The Record Collector, Bordentown, N.J. Tickets: $20 in advance; $25 at the door.
Sept. 16: 8:30 p.m. Steel City Coffee House, Phoenixville.