The "When We Shine" compilation celebrates Pittsburgh's 250th.
By Scott Mervis
With the celebration of Pittsburgh 250, there has been talk about definitive Pittsburgh songs. Now, a group of local musicians adds to the conversation with "When We Shine: 15 Songs About Pittsburgh" under the umbrella of a Calliope Songwriting Project.
The CD of new songs features contributions from Tom Breiding and Rick Malis, along with a handful of Calliope School graduates. Written and recorded earlier this year and funded by an Allegheny Regional Asset District Renaissance Grant, it will be issued with a CD release party Saturday at Cefalo's in Carnegie.
The accompanying booklet notes of Pittsburgh, "When we shine in this city, we really do shine -- whether it's helping our country to win a war with manpower and steel, inventing the air brake, curing polio or winning a sports championship. When the chips are down, this city always seems to rise to the challenge and brings out the best qualities that make Pittsburghers a unique, hardworking, humble, passionate, brilliant and compassionate people."
The musicians proceed to evoke that spirit with a range of folk, blues and jazz styles and a variety of familiar themes and landscapes.
Breiding, who dealt with the mining industry so powerfully on "The Unbroken Circle," is back with more gritty blue-collar folk-rock on songs like "Conrail Line" and "Workshop of America," which celebrates Pittsburgh's labor history, as well as the more chugging rocker "Summer Drive," about the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, where he proposed to his wife.
Malis, with a more old-school folk delivery, croons about the city shining "like a million dollar diamond" on the slow, mellow title track and dips into Delta blues on "The River Worksong." The Mavens get their strings in gear for a rollicking bluegrass take on "Rust Belt Blues" and Pat Loughlin channels Springsteen's "Nebraska," complete with lonely harmonica, on the immigrant song "In Their Footsteps."
Other tunes celebrate more specific and beloved institutions in Pittsburgh. Malis and Mick Martin honor the Josh Gibson and the Negro League with the breezy, bluesy "Josh Feels Good Tonight." Jim Large opts for the humorous double-entendre of "Kennywood's Open" on a little swing tune about the park, and the voice of Bob Prince turns up on Breiding's ditty "Chicken on the Hill." (Somehow, they got through this without a single "Here we go, Steelers," but they do touch on the late Joe Chiodo.)
Rodgers breaks up the male-dominated collection beautifully with hauntingly detached vocal on "The Women of Arsenal," a song about an explosion in 1862 that took nearly 100 lives. For "Lime Hill," writer Sam Donovan and Breiding enlist the familiar voice of WDVE disc jockey Sean McDowell, who might have people thinking of Wall of Voodoo.
Breiding brings it all around with the 15th song, an earnest folk ballad simply called "Pittsburgh," that sums up a lot of people's feelings when it says, "I carry her with me wherever I go."
The release show is at 8 p.m. Saturday at Cefalo's, 428 Washington Ave., Carnegie. Admission is $8.