(OCTOBER 8, 2008 -- ASBURY PARK, NJ) -- Rick Barry's "Works in Progress" series has been a favorite of mine since it first launched several months ago, but I think recent shows have taken the series to a new level. This latest show continued that trend. The lineup included Keith Monacchio (formerly of The Commons), Justin Hillman, Glen Burtnick, Brett Mosely, Tommy Strazza, Kelly Carvin, and, of course, Rick Barry.
The idea between "Works in Progress" is a unique one. Instead of the traditional singer-songwriter nights, artists are supposed to perform songs which were created just for the show ? generally written in the days before the show, sometimes written on the day of the show, and a few songs have reportedly even been written on the way to the show or in the back room while warming up.
This was the first time "Works in Progress" actually reminded me of the old "Writers in the Raw" shows back in the days of Harry's Roadhouse. Not only was the lineup absolutely filled with great musicians, but the club was packed with at least twice as many people as in previous shows of the series and included tons of musicians who simply came to hang out and support the scene. That's what used to happen during WITR as well. It helped bring about the same kind of atmosphere and spirit that made me fall in love with those WITR shows and made it a must see date on my calendar each month.
Some of the artists found in the crowd included Mimi Cross, Joshua Van Ness, Frankie and Kelly McGrath (of Maybe Pete), Anthony Fiumano, Joe Harvard, Ken Shane, and Lindsey Miller.
Keith Monacchio kicked off the night with a strong set that included his coffeehouse song, which I think is one of the best tunes he's ever written. It was very cool to see Glen Burtnick as part of the show ? especially now since he's moved to the area. His daughters were on hand as well and performed backup singing duties on one tune. Glen performed some of his newly written songs as well as one or two written along with his usual songwriting partner Bob Burger. Seeing Glen perform so many new songs in one set reminded me of a show he performed once while I was in college. I remember coming back home for a holiday and catching Glen at a Caf? Bene show billed as "a night of all new Glen Burtnick music." It was great seeing something like that again.
Rick Barry was? well, Rick Barry. The man could write brilliant new songs in his sleep. I still think this series is one of the best things to happen to Rick and his career. While he floats back and forth between band gigs and solo shows, between writing new songs and revisiting his regular songs in new versions ? this show FORCES him to keep writing. And, it's led to many great new songs including the series theme song, which is a wonderful take of Rick's life, the efforts of his musician friends, and the redevelopment of Asbury Park.
Justin Miller was a nice surprise and something else that reminded me of Writers in the Raw. From Massachusetts (I believe), Miller was an artist Rick Barry met on the road. This reminded me of the artists Gordon Brown met during his days on the road ? songwriters that were wonderful but rarely household names. Miller had a strong set and even managed to have a Jersey connection through summering in Cape May while growing up. It was nice to see Rick branching out and bringing in an artist whose name wouldn't be familiar to regular music fans in the area.
Bret Mosely and Tommy Strazza have both become regulars to Asbury Park in recent years and each showed that their songwriting abilities continue to shine. Kelly Carvin closed things out with a nice set, but it was really getting late for a work night so I didn't get to see it all. The Works in Progress shows usually end a half hour or more earlier than they did tonight and I think they may have put one too many artists on the bill. Nevertheless, it was a tremendous night of music and Rick Barry deserves a lot of credit for maintaining this series and the quality of musicians he brings to the stage each time out. "Works in Progress" is not only a treat for the music fan, but provides a wonderful glimpse into the songwriting process as a whole.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at email@example.com.