Selwyn Birchwood's e-mail signature doesn't note that his band took the top prize in the 2013 International Blues Challenge. It doesn't say that he won the Albert King award as the Memphis event's top guitarist. Instead, it says: "Selwyn Birchwood, MBA."

And, yes, that is a Master of Business Administration degree. Suffice to say that Birchwood - also a singer and songwriter - is not your father's (or grandfather's) bluesman.

"That's always been a big part of my life is the scholastic part of it," he said in a recent phone interview. "My family has always pushed me to do schoolwork and do well in school. ... A lot of people say that you don't need school because you're playing music. I looked at it the other way: I think if you're playing music, you need it even more, because if, Lord forbid, gigs dried up and you have to get a job in a pinch, it's a lot easier to get a job if you've got a degree or a graduate degree ... . I always saw it as a challenge as well. I always wanted to see if I could do it."

So he got his undergraduate degree in business marketing, and in December earned his MBA. "I was ... kind of seeing how it can apply to my music," he said.

John Primer grew up loving the guitar, but it took a while for him to have his own.

An uncle made one on the side of the house in Mississippi with nails and wire when Primer was two or three years old, in the late 1940s. "I liked the sound," he said in a recent phone interview. "I loved it." He'd lie on the floor, looking at guitars in catalogs.

By the time he was five, he said, he was playing the side-of-the-home guitar, "when they go to the field or something."

At about that time, he said, he ordered one for $7 or so, but "I never did get it." It was at the post office, cash on delivery, and "I didn't have no money. My mom, she was out of town, working ... . She didn't come back in time to get it, so they sent it back. That broke my heart."

The Portland Cello Project. Photo by Tarina Westlund.

For its June 27 performance at the Redstone Room, the Portland Cello Project will be featuring the music of Beck (Hanson), (Dave) Brubeck, and (Johann Sebastian) Bach. Alliteration aside, the grouping of a contemporary rock artist, a jazz icon, and a Baroque composer is relatively natural for an ensemble known for aggressively omnivorous appetites.

"It really started with the Beck," said Doug Jenkins, the Portland Cello Project's artistic director, in a recent phone interview. "When we heard last August that he was going to put out an album of sheet music rather than actually recording an album, we got really excited, because it just seemed like it was right up our alley - to grab that and play with it and adapt it to our larger orchestral ensemble. And so we booked the show immediately. ... It was coming out December 7, so we booked the shows on December 13 [and] 14 - even having no idea what we were going to get. ... We got the music, and we basically camped out 24/7 to learn all 20 songs and get them all ready to go for the performances. ... They're wonderful songs. ... We recorded them right away, too, a week later, and then put out that CD.

"That was a month or two after Dave Brubeck passed away. [He actually died December 5.] We did kind of a tribute to Dave Brubeck at the same time. And Brubeck and Beck, they actually went together really well. The kind of old-timey feel of the Beck songs from the Song Reader, and of course Brubeck is just wonderful, timeless stuff. ... And then the Bach just seemed like, as a cellist, a logical thing to throw onto it."

Brubeck channeled Bach in his "Brandenburg Gate," and one instrumental piece from Song Reader has a classical vibe, Jenkins said. So "there's already this reaching among the composers who obviously had no idea what we were ever going to do with it. We can find a lot of middle ground, a lot of places to connect things together."

The Multiple Cat

The Return of the Multiple Cat represents the first set of new material from Pat Stolley's band The Multiple Cat in a dozen years, but the man has hardly been slothful.

As a founder and a member of bands, Stolley was intimately involved in the Quad Cities-based Future Appletree label - active for half a decade starting in 2002. And from Daytrotter.com's beginning in 2006 to summer 2008, he was the Web site's primary recording engineer; he estimated he's logged roughly 800 Daytrotter sessions and still typically records between 12 and 24 a month.

That experience, he said last week, took a toll. "For a while there, I was so depressed about music in general because of having worked for Daytrotter and seeing the amazing amount of bands and stuff out there - how much noise there is out there. It makes you just want to pick up your toys and go home.

"But then there's this other thing: I don't really have a choice. I'm going to keep writing songs and recording them, whether anyone is going to listen to it or not."

The Sumner Brothers

Several reviews of the Sumner Brothers' second studio album, I'll Be There Tomorrow, start similarly. No Depression's begins: "There's no reasonable explanation why I have not heard the Sumner Brothers before ... ."

Actually, there is a reasonable explanation. The Vancouver duo - playing Rozz-Tox on June 11 and recording a Daytrotter.com session while in the Quad Cities - has built a following in western Canada and the U.S. west coast over the past seven years; but it has never played "out east," in Brian Sumner's words. I didn't ask, but I think "out east" likely includes the Midwest.

"We're the turtle in the race, where we just kind of slowly grow every year," he said in a phone interview last week.

But I'll Be There Tomorrow is bringing a lot of new ears to the group following a self-titled studio album and two collections of home recordings. "It's just careful planning on our part," Brian said of the positive attention the 2012 release has received. The brothers have conscientiously cultivated media relationships, he said, which paid off when the record came out in September.

The Trishas

The members of the band that became the Trishas - playing June 6 at the Redstone Room - knew almost immediately that they had something special. But it took some prodding for them to pursue it.

The country quartet - Jamie Wilson, Liz Foster, Kelley Mickwee, and Savannah Welch - was assembled to perform at a 2009 tribute to country singer/songwriter Kevin Welch, Savannah's father. Foster explained in a recent phone interview that Savannah was hesitant to participate but willing to as part of a larger group. The women weren't friends - most of them knew one of the others, Foster said - so their initial rehearsal was their first time spending any time together.

"You can put four people together and have them all sing the right harmony notes, but it still doesn't blend," Foster said. "You have to really learn each other's voices to really click right."

But during that first rehearsal, on "Satan's Paradise" (written by Kevin Welch and Claudia Scott), the clicking was evident. "We just hit the note, and it was ridiculous," she said. "Of course, we're girls, so we're all jumping around, screaming."

John Fullbright. Photo by Vicki Farmer.

When John Fullbright plays at Rozz-Tox on May 30, expect a certain amount of ambivalence from the songwriter and musician.

I asked him in a recent phone interview whether he considers himself a good performer. "I think sometimes I am," he said plainly.

It's not that the 25-year-old Oklahoma native and resident doubts his chops, which earned him a Grammy nomination for his debut album, From the Ground Up. Rather, he's not particularly comfortable in front of an audience.

"I don't like getting on stage and saying the same jokes and doing the same thing and having a show," he explained. "But at the same time ... that's what people are paying for."

Brett Newski & the Corruption. Photo by Sweet Chucky B.

Brett Newski & the Corruption bills itself as "a band from Saigon, Vietnam," but before you imagine some sort of Eastern-Western mash-up, know that Newski comes from the exotic environs of ... Milwaukee.

It's true that the band lived and recorded its album Tiny Victories in Saigon, and that Newski and his collaborators are an international cast - albeit entirely from North America and Europe. But when the band plays Rozz-Tox on May 28, don't expect any divergence from poppy Western guitar rock. Outside of lyrics based on travels and life abroad, the influence of southeast Asia, Newski said in a phone interview last week, is limited to the invigorating hullabaloo of the city.

"It's indie rock," Newski said. "We're not rocking any sitars or anything. But the energy that the city brings that we're constantly surrounded with I thought translated well into the energy of the album."

Rachel BrookeRachel Brooke grew up with bluegrass and country standards and in high school played them in her father's band. Her album A Killer's Dream (from late last year) puts that experience and her voice in a blues context.

All three of those genres share simplicity. Yet Brooke's dream is to record her equivalent of the Beach Boys' famously dense and unconventional Pet Sounds.

She'll be performing with her band on May 23 at RIBCO, and you'll hear a little bit of both aspects in her live show.

Keith Lynch

When I last wrote about Unknown Component, the one-man DIY project of the prolific Keith Lynch, I focused on one song and compared his voice favorably to Kurt Cobain's.

Five years - and at least five recordings - later, I'm faced with his 2012 album Blood V. Electricity, and his growth is impressive and, frankly, startling. The Iowa-based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer will be performing at Circle Tap on May 11, and the talent I saw before is now mature, the potential is realized, and the flashes of brilliance have been transformed into a consistently alluring and engaging whole. (And while his singing still has a whine, the edge has been sanded off, banishing all thoughts of Cobain.)

The album is on the one hand atmospheric and spacious and on the other concrete and tangible, finding a happy balance between misty textures and solid frames, and forging a successful, alchemical marriage of synthetic and organic instrumental sounds.

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