At the solo concert that singer-songwriter Dayna Kurtz is presenting at the Gia Maione Prima Foundation Studio Theater at Ocean County College in Toms River, May 20, she will perform songs from the introspective solo albums she has been releasing since the ’90s. But also, at least some of the material will be from her most recent album: a self-titled band project, Lulu & the Broadsides, spotlighting her big, deep voice on a variety of rowdy blues-rock songs and torchy ballads (check out videos below).
Kurtz originally formed Lulu & the Broadsides to play at blues dance events in New Orleans. Most of the songs on the album are originals, though she also sings material by everyone from Big Maybelle (“That’s a Pretty Good Love”) to Nick Cave (“Into My Arms”).
“I’m really proud of those songs, whether I wrote them or I found them and nobody’s covered them since 1964,” says Kurtz, in a phone interview from her home in New Orleans. “I love those songs.”
She says she can’t make all of the Lulu material work without a band, though. “We do a version of Iggy Pop’s ‘I Need Somebody’; I can’t pull that off solo, or in a duo,” she says. “It just doesn’t doesn’t feel right without a whole lot of oomph behind me. But all of the ballads and even just … there’s a song I wrote called ‘A Grade’ that sounds like a goofy New Orleans street beat kind of tune. And it is. But as I was writing it, it felt like a John Prine love song. It’s sweet and light and tender and wry, and it works really well in a solo context.”
Kurtz is a New Jersey native who has lived in New Orleans for the last decade or so. She previously experimented with vintage music, and originals with a vintage feel, on several albums, including Secret Canon, Vol. 1-2, released in 2012 and 2013.
“The reason I moved to New Orleans is that I just kept on being inspired by music from down here — like, over the course of decades — and I really had been trying to move here forever,” she says. “I wanted to make music with the people that I saw playing here because there is such a deep ecosystem of artists that I’ve never experienced ever, anywhere else.
“It started long before I moved here. Moving here was when I was able to find the sort of players that played the shit that I heard in my head right. Like, the drums are so behind the beat here, and it’s really impossible to imitate.”
She mentions Carlo Nuccio, the Lulu & the Broadsides drummer and veteran New Orleans musician who died last year. “He was born and raised here. Very few people who aren’t raised at least in the Deep South, but New Orleans in particular, can pull it off, or at least pull it off super consistently. Like, it was in his bones.”
Kurtz says she doesn’t really become a character when she performs with Lulu & the Broadsides. The songs are “very much me,” she says. “Any time I’ve ever given myself intellectual assignments to write, the songs wind up being more honest than the songs that I’m kind of trying to bleed onto the page. It’s this very weird process that happens. They actually wind up being pretty honest songs. They’re just kind of supersize me. It just allows me to express a side of myself that was hard to express, doing solo singer-songwriter stuff.”
The two sides of her, though, are “merging” to some extent, she says.
“I’m doing a few shows with a band that’s like half of the Broadsides and half of my original band that I’ve been recording with forever in New York before I moved down to New Orleans, doing a combination of songs from both my solo career and the (Lulu) band. I can feel it already starting to merge. It’s just … it’s gonna be what it is. I don’t know what the hell it’s gonna be called. But it’s been a really interesting ride and I’ve grown a lot as a singer and a writer because of it.”
Lulu may not be a character, per se. But there was an actual Lulu who inspired the name — someone whom Kurtz knew, slightly, as a teenager.
“She was about my age,” Kurtz says, “and her given birth name was Lulu Savage. I was so jealous ’cause I already knew I wanted to be a performer when I was a teenager and I was like, ‘How awesome to be gifted with such a great stage name.’ And she was kind of cool. Like, I was a little intimidated by her. And in my head that was always my secret alter ego. I’d always try to inhabit the person that I thought Lulu Savage was. Somebody tough and savvy and sexy. Somebody a little intimidating.
“It stuck in my mind for a really long time and I kind of knew that when I formed a band down here, it would be Lulu & something. I had to go there.”
Dayna Kurtz will perform at the Gia Maione Prima Foundation Studio Theater at Ocean County College in Toms River, May 20 at 8 p.m. Visit grunincenter.org.
For more on Kurtz, visit daynakurtz.com.
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