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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

John Sieger’s Subcontinental Revue

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The Nashville that John Sieger experienced during the mid-’90s was just as many music lovers picture the city, a friendly haven for songwriting talent where hungry up-and-comers intermingle with established legends. During his time there, Sieger performed with Lucinda Williams and rubbed shoulders with Shelby Lynn. His friend lived next door to Emmylou Harris.

  Sieger, who has written songs for Dwight Yoakam and The BoDeans, had some success in Nashville—he hosted a weekly night at the city’s renowned Pub of Love—but, he explains, “I wasn’t making enough money to really say I had a career in music.” He moved back to Milwaukee at the turn of the century, but he still views Nashville fondly, and he returned to the city to record his latest solo album, The Shaming of the True.

  “It’s a different studio culture down there,” he explains. “In Milwaukee, there’s more emphasis on gadgets and lights and the expense of the place you’re working at. Down there, it’s just about the atmosphere. The studio I worked with didn’t even have a control room. I just recorded it right there with the engineer.”

  The timing of Sieger’s new album is delicate. It arrives as Sieger is dedicating much of his efforts to his new Milwaukee band, The Subcontinentals, which he co-fronts with Kelli Gonzales, a versatile singer he likens to Dusty Springfield. The Subcontinentals’ repertoire mostly eschews country in favor of Stax-styled soul and traditional swing music—they pepper their sets with Louis Prima songs and traditionals like “Mambo Italiano.”

  So instead of inaugurating The Shaming of the True with a typical CD release performance, Sieger has concocted something of a Texas-styled revue. Rather than go solo, he’ll be playing with The Subcontinentals, who will work a handful of his songs into their set. The show is already a family affair, since Sieger’s brother, Mike, plays bass in The Subcontinentals, but Sieger has made it even more so by putting his son’s high-school garage-rock band, The Calamities, on the bill.

  Singer Robin Pluer, best known locally for her repertoire of French ballads and her annual Bastille Days appearances, will join The Subcontinentals during their set, and Sieger’s friend Vince Bruce will emcee the evening.

  “He’s a British cowboy,” Sieger explains of Bruce. “He’s 6-feet, 6-inches tall and rail thin, a master of whips and rope tricks. He and his wife, Annie, do rodeos all over the country, and I’ve been trying to get him to perform here forever.”

  If all goes according to plan, this won’t be the only CD release party Sieger throws this year, since The Subcontinentals are wrapping up their own debut album.

  “I’m hoping to have a two-record year,” Sieger says.

  The Subcontinentals’ May 31 CD release party for Sieger’s album begins at 9 p.m. at Shank Hall.