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THEY WRITE THE SONGS
A PLACE FOR CREATIVITY TO FLOURISH

BUFFALO SONG PROJECT

Everyone knows Ani. Rick James is familiar, too. Throw the interesting mix of Eric Anderson, Harold Arlen and Irving Berlin into the equation and it's the making of a long-standing history of great songwriters in Buffalo.

If it's up to Michael Meldrum and the Buffalo Song Project, add Alison Pipitone, Jim Whitford, Alex Lynne and Mike Sheffield to the prolific list of Buffalo composers.

"The level of songwriting in Buffalo is as high now as it has ever been in history, and that's going back to the start of the century," Meldrum says. "And it's as high here as any place I've ever been -- any place."

Back in the 1970s, Meldrum was traveling quite a bit to Greenwich Village, where he performed in a scene that was fostering the growing talents of the likes of Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin. To bring recognition and a forum to the singer-songwriters, Meldrum created what was then the Buffalo-Greenwich Village Song Project in 1979.

"It's been mainly a production company focused on those dedicated to making a living as songwriters, whether they are from Buffalo or elsewhere," says Meldrum, who for 20 years has done everything from book the shows to pound the pavement and hang posters.

But his main job is recognizing talent and providing that talent a showcase opportunity. It was Meldrum who discovered the very young Ani DiFranco and helped nurture her talents through the years. And there have been many others.

Meldrum has been the host of open mike sessions since the mid-'70s, at venues including the Tralfamadore, Father's and currently Nietzsche's. He uses the sessions much like a scout for a sports team. "It places me in a position to see new talent. It was the first place Tom Stahl and Alison Pipitone played, and I immediately signed them to shows," Meldrum says.

His efforts have been appreciated.

"In a small city like Buffalo, people can make a difference, and Michael Meldrum is one of these people. He has made huge contributions to my career," says Pipitone, who has released her third CD, "Like Being Born," and has music heard on more than 400 radio stations nationwide.

In recent years, the Buffalo Song Project has added weekly "Songwriter Showcases" at Nietzsche's, and there is now a Buffalo Song Project band featuring Meldrum, Pipitone, Cathy Carfagna, Tom Fenton, Jim Iarocci, Dave Meinzer, Jim Whitford and Mark Winsick, among others.

The artists are drawn together as they work on their own material and music written by the others.

"In a town where you don't get too much reward for being a songwriter, the Buffalo Song Project is a nice community. The musicians take the time to learn your music. And people have the opportunity to support each other, and that solidifies the scene for me," says Jim Whitford of the Fibs. "It's our own reward to be with everyone. It's inspiring and encouraging."

Upcoming: The "Songwriter Showcase" continues at 8:30 p.m. Mondays at Nietzsche's, 248 Allen St. Shows include Brenda Kahn, Monday and Jim Whitford, Dec. 7.

LOCAL RECORD PICK

Lewis & Klark, "In the Cut." The debut disc by acoustic duo Lewis & Klark (Bob Luterek and Rick Kallay) is richly layered with lovely guitar work. There are some long, lovely song introduction and bridges, especially the lyrical "If You'd Only Believe," "Where Do We Go From Here" and the opening track, "Chris-Teen," that make me want the songs to continue as instrumentals. Luterek and Kallay, however, obviously place an importance on the lyrics, filling the songs with many personal touches. "Chris-Teen," for example, is about a teen's maturity that may be written from a father's point of view.

-- Toni Ruberto

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