Pittsburgh Calling: The Working Poor

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A capsule look at Pittsburgh bands making news.

The Working Poor

Band: Alan Lewandowski (guitar, vocals); Lee Smookler (vocals); Brian Dean Richmond (bass); Greg Pierce (guitar); Thad Kellstadt (drums).

Lee Smookler provides the vocals for The Working Poor.
Click photo for larger image.

Past resume: Tiny Little Help (flagship of the Rickety scene), The Feral Family, The Lesser Apes, The Cuff, Johnsons Big Band, Anita Fix, many more.

Sound: Oldtime country-folk with dual vocals and a hint of sour indie-rock turbulence. Think Hank Williams meets "Hallowed Ground"-era Violent Femmes.

New record: "Come Down for Your Silver" is the band's fourth release, following a live album in 1997, a 4-song EP in 2002 and the 7-song CD "New Wealth" in 2004.

Early influences: Lewandowski, who grew up in Fayette County, says "Country is what I grew up with," "The first music I grew up with was Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. My dad was a fanatic, just religious about country music. That's what my dad liked and I liked it and I didn't feel any need to rebel -- at least until I went to college."

Border music: During Lewandowski's stint in Albuquerque with his former band, Tiny Little Help, the singer-songwriter was intrigued by Mexican norteno music, sung in Spanish with a dry acoustic guitar. "That had a huge effect on me -- the simple sincere sound really lends itself to vocals."

Making "Silver": "We had an offer to come up to a studio in Erie to record and we knew we had one weekend to work with," says Lewandowski. "We picked out a batch of songs and wanted to record them just as we had as we had been playing them -- just wanted to get it close to industry standards, at least."

Mr. Cohen's stamp: Lewandowski, who writes the songs, with Smookler as his "filter," says he'd been listening a lot to "Recent Songs" by Leonard Cohen. "That stamped the lyrics on this album pretty clearly -- his way of making nature and the lover and his own twisted theology part of one subject to sing to."

Reaction to the Poor: On the band's unique sound, Lewandowski says that, from Louisville to New York City, "usually people are pretty surprised to hear what we're doing."

Release show: Saturday at 10 p.m. the Brillobox, Bloomfield, with Hem + Haw and My Niece Denise.

Pop music critic Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

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