STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Lizanne Knott will be celebrating the release of her latest CD “Excellent Day” (Proper Music) at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on March 6. The album is the follow up to her award-winning “Standing in the English Rain” (2013).
Knott is a talented singer/songwriter/musician as well as managing partner of Morningstar Studios in East Norriton. That puts her in close contact with the cream of the crop of musicians from the Philadelphia area and beyond, and her CD boasts many talented contributors.
Among those featured on the CD who will perform with her at the release party are guitarist Ross Bellenoit, upright bassist Ken Pendergast, pianist Walter Runge, trumpet player Josh Lawrence and drummer Erik Johnson.
Perhaps the most significant musical contribution to the album is from the late Jef Lee Johnson. The album gets its title from the song “Excellent Day,” which was penned by her close friend and longtime musical collaborator who lost his life in 2013. In a phone interview from her studio, Knott discussed the new album and how Johnson was a constant supporter of hers.
“He was an incredibly talented musician (and a) very close friend,” said Knott. “He was so supportive of my music. He was a constant in my life to give a push when I needed it. He taught me so much without even trying to. He changed the way I write. He changed the way I thought about music.
“I used to struggle with writing. I (always wanted) my songs to be perfect … He said, ‘Life isn’t perfect, so why do you want a song to be perfect?’ He (also) gave me a freedom to know that what I was writing was my voice and the understated way that I play the guitar was … not only good enough but was right where it should be with what I was doing.”
Knott added: “Before I met him I didn’t feel good enough as a musician to go out and perform by myself.” He said, “‘You are good enough and you don’t have to play all these fancy notes, and you don’t have to know all these jazz chords. You can go out there and play it your own way and do it.’ He made me the kind of person that I am musically today.”
The song “Excellent Day” features Johnson.
“We actually used his guitar solo in it and his vocals,” said Knott. “He always wanted me to record the song. He would tell me to just use his stuff. So we used part of it.”
Of the 12 songs on the album nine are originals. “Rainbow Crow” is her dedication to Johnson. Rainbow Crow is the pseudonym under which he released two albums. The cover art for “Excellent Day” also features a crow as a nod to him.
Another standout on the album is the song “Sometimes,” which was written by Janis Ian.
Knott recalled that Ian said, “‘I really hear your voice on this and I’d like for you to record it.’ She gave me exclusivity to it. She said, ‘I won’t give it to anybody else if you’ll record it.’”
The third cover is a version of the classic George and Ira Gershwin song “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” from their opera “Porgy and Bess.” Inclusion of this song indicates Knott branching out from the Americana style that she has focused on of late and including more elements of blues and jazz into her music.
“I’ve always, always loved jazz,” she said. “Growing up, the kind of music that I gravitated to was always old blues and jazz; (it’s) just what I love.
“The first record that I ever did actually had… more jazz in it. Then, when I got signed to Proper Records in London, they kind of typecast me as Americana and they were looking for more of that flavor of music, so I gravitated towards that. Initially I thought Americana was just country music. It’s not; it’s a roots-based music. I was able to navigate back to what I like to do and still stay in (the Americana) genre.”
Ironically, Knott has a large fan base in England. Though she has gotten airplay on AAA radio in the U.S. she doesn’t yet have the widespread following that she has in England. Her success there all started with an unlikely connection to BBC disc jockey Bob Harris.
“I had this little CD … ‘Limited Edition’ (2003),” explained Knott. “Somebody wrote to me and told me Bob Harris had played it and made a comment on it.”
At the time Knott was unaware of Harris’s renown. The two began a correspondence and she sent him her subsequent CD “Under the Burning Sky” (2006). Harris played the CD, and Knott’s popularity in England grew. That led to the record deal with Proper Music.
As of now Knott doesn’t have a distribution deal in the U.S.
“This is the first (album) that I’m actually promoting in the states,” said Knott. “My last one I did a little bit of promotion. I have a following in the U.K. They’ve actually … extended my distribution throughout Europe. They’re hoping that I can do more tours over there. I love my tours overseas and I like to come back here and do what I’m doing.”
Though Knott acknowledges that she would love to have as much success in the U.S. as she has overseas, she is very happy about where her career is.
“I’m very happy and centered with what I’m doing. I don’t have any visions of grandeur. Just that I have an audience and that people enjoy my record — I’m very happy with that and I’m content. If more people pick it up and it gets more places, then that’s exciting. It’s my art. It’s my life’s work. I’m not gonna say I don’t want that — that I don’t want people to hear it and to get more places (but) it’s not what drives my being.”
She added: “I’m very grateful for everything I have in my life and I’m grateful for the people that have helped me and (for those who) enjoy my music and (for) the things that I’ve gotten to do and the places I’ve gotten to go. I would never have imagined that I would tour in Spain, and be touring England and Scotland and Ireland, (that I’d) get to do these big festivals. I’m ecstatic and extremely grateful of what I have. Anything after that is an incredible gift.”
You can get “Excellent Day” at the CD release event at World Cafe Live as well as her subsequent performances. The official release date is April 8. You can also pre-order the CD on Amazon.com.
What: Lizanne Knott CD Release Brunch
When: Concert is 1 p.m.; doors are noon on Sunday, March 6.
Where: World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Tickets: $15. Tickets are General Admission. Purchasing tickets in advance does not guarantee seating. You may call to make a table reservation.
Ages: All Ages.
Info.: Call 215-222-1400 or visit www.philly.worldcafelive.com.
Artist’s website: www.lizanneknott.com.