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Orange County Register

POP MUSIC: Song Shop, You never know what you'll find - Monday night at Long Beach's Blue Cafe is a time for surprises


  Mike Martt, the front man for Los Angeles' Low and Sweet Orchestra and the host of Mike Martt's Song Shop, wants to make sure people know the evening isn't an open-mike night. It seems there has been some confusion at prior shows, where Martt gathers Southern California songwriters on the third Monday of every month for a round table performance of their material.

  Open mike or not, Martt said the Song Shop is full of suprises, Whether it's leftover barflies from the Blue Cafe's preceding happy hour or a rare glimpse at a song's genesis, anything can happen, he said.

  There was the time, at the inaugural Song Shop, when David Baerwald and Bill Botrell, who both assisted Sheryl Crow in writing and producing her 1993 debut album "Tuesday Night Music Club" wound up performing an impromptu version of "Leaving Las Vegas"

  "It was awesome" Martt recalled. "It was raw and to the bone. We got to hear how a song was born, to hear how it sounded in its infancy."

"Thats why I wanted to do the Song Shop" he continued. "To work on songs and create something new or different for the Song Shop."

  While the monthly series round-table format has been widely used on the folk festival circuit for years, Martt picked up the idea after playing similar shows hosted by The Plimsouls' Peter Case in Los Angeles. He approached Blue Cafe booker Steve Zepeda with a plan late last year and received the green light.

  "I've always liked and respected Mike, and its an interesting format." Zepeda commented. "Its not a folk thing per-se, its more like a songwriter showcase. I don't think anyone is doing this, at least not around here. And what can I say, Mike has some really good friends."

  Some of those are old friends, Martt's former Thelonious Monster band mate Bob Forrest played at last month's Song Shop, and some are new, such as Johnny Jones, whom Martt met at his favorite Long Beach hangout, Mambo Studios. Martt met Rolling Thunder-era Bob Dylan sideman Bob Neuwirth, who also played last month, while the two worked on an independent film in Seattle. "We were kind of like roommates put up in the same house together," Martt recalled. "We wrote a song in the kitchen one morning over coffee."

  Tonight's group of songwriters includes famed punk producer Geza X (Grammy nominated last year for his studio work with Meredith Brooks), former Suburban Lawns member Billy Ranson, and Jula Bell, ex- Bobsled guitarist. To keep things lively, Martt will try a question and answer session at the show. As usual, the audience should expect the unexpected.

  "Jula Bell does this thing on the autoharp that's really fantastic, and Billy's been playing just acoustic stuff for a while now."Martt said. "Geza, we're pulling him out of his element. I don't think he's played in front of an audience for a long time. And once you get him talking, he's funny as heck. So it should be quite interesting.


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