"I'm big on the melody."
Rich Lenz, WDSU-TV sportscaster is talking music. "When I was a kid, I hated the Beach Boys and loved the Beatles, and then a light bulb went off about eight years ago hearing Pet Sounds. Now I'm a huge Brian Wilson fan."
Lenz is discussing his influences because he has recorded "The Healing House," a song about Children's Hospital of New Orleans. A video of the song will appear during the Children's Miracle Network Telethon, which he hosts, and CDs of the song will be provided as premium gifts for pledges.
"I've been writing songs since I was 15," Lenz recalls. While recording some of his own songs at Airlift Studios, producer Micheal Ziants challenged him to write something different. "He said, 'Why don't you think about writing something that goes beyond boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, girl-loses-boy songs and do something that might make a difference and be something you care about?' I went home and began thinking about what's important to me. I have two kids and I do the Children's Telethon every year, so I said let's go there, and it came really quickly and really easily. I felt it was one of those special projects that filters through you, and you're on the receiving end of it."
The song has a light, psychedelic edge and features Theresa Andersson on violin and backing vocals. Though it's the first of Lenz's songs to receive a public airing, it's not his first time performing music. During his teenage years in Lake Forest, Ill., he played in a band. "I never sang, but I played guitar," he says. "I was this Yankee playing Southern rock, but then we branched out and were doing 'Reeling in the Years,' all this Steely Dan stuff, Grateful Dead stuff like 'Big Bertha' and 'Casey Jones' a strange mix, I guess." During his college years at the University of Georgia, he took a year off just to play music.
Lenz was influenced by the Beatles and Steely Dan. "Then I went to Georgia and was right there for the very beginning of R.E.M." he says. "I was right there in the 40 Watt Club. They're a big influence. I love their minor chord, Southern rock sensibility. Nowadays, I love Wilco. I think they're great." Still, the band that made him start playing was the Allman Brothers. "When I was 16, I had older brothers and they had buddies who were in an Allman Brothers band," he says. "I started taking guitar (lessons) from their guitar player."
As much fun as it has been to record and play a song again, Lenz doesn't lose sight of the reason for the song in the first place. "I hope people call in and try and get copies of it because all that money is going to Children's (Hospital)."
Loretta Lynn -- Van Lear Rose (Interscope): Conceptually, this album recalls Johnny Cash's American Recordings albums, but rather than presenting a caricature of Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose shows just how distinctive a talent Lynn is. The album initially seems to be more about producer Jack White of the White Stripes, with his scraping, non-Nashville guitar too prominent. The CD doesn't sound like that a second time, though, because Lynn's voice and vision are too strong to be obscured for long. Far more than Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, Lynn dramatizes domestic struggle with the ease of someone who's won enough battles to undersell how hard some of the fights were. White never entirely moves away from center stage, singing a duet and giving "Have Mercy" a big-rock, loud-guitar treatment, but at each turn, Lynn's up to any demands made of her.
Otis Taylor -- Double V (Telarc): Taylor is obsessive, taking a single musical and lyrical thought and repeating it, as if somehow a resolution will be reached if a thought is pursued long enough. His riffs are spare and hypnotic, played on banjo, mandolin or guitar and backed by cellos, which takes some of the edge off songs such as "Mama's Selling Heroin" and "Sounds of Attica." Songs like those are intense, but not melodramatic, a function of the stripped-down lyrics. They're also balanced by touches like Taylor's highlife guitar on the caring "Please Come Home Before it Rains." Chris Stamey -- Travels in the South (Yep Roc): Stamey, once a partner of Peter Holsapple in the dBs, is back with his first solo album since 1991. In 1978, a young Stamey belonged to Alex Chilton's band in New York City, and he may be the truest inheritor of the Big Star pop tradition. The songs are lush and smart, and though Stamey's voice has some of the vulnerability Chilton had at the time, he doesn't sound like a puzzled young man contemplating girls. Now he sounds like a puzzled adult contemplating his existence, and contemplating it in the most melodic way possible. "Kierkegaard" makes a chorus, "if there's no God" as lovely and singable in the car as the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows."