Zelek to Celebrate Album Release
By J.W. JOHNSON JR.
The week of Thanksgiving is unofficially known for getting together with old friends and re-living good times from the past, while also taking a moment to reflect on one’s life and assess what is most cherished.
For Joe Zelek, that period of assessment and reflection has been ongoing for the better part of the past year, leading up to the October release of his most recent album, “Days of the Wild.” In celebration, he’ll get together with some old friends tonight at Generations Pub in Wheeling for the proper release of the 10-song effort.
On the surface, the album is a departure from the straight-forward country that fans around the tri-state area and beyond have come to expect from Zelek. The result of what Zelek calls a more “confident” and “mature” writing and recording process, the album is heavy on melody, harmony, big hooks and reflective lyrics.
“I didn’t make a conscious decision to do things differently,” he said. “I just want to be authentic and create with no preconceived notions and no fear and really try to put myself out there.”
When Zelek set out as a solo artist more than a decade ago, he was fresh off a career as a drummer, most notably for Pittsburgh-based The Gathering Field. The songs that came were more traditional country tunes, and their success came with some personal growing pains.
“Those songs were geared to be more fun, with some hints of something deeper,” he said. “I was a little self conscious and uncomfortable, but they became popular. It took a minute to have confidence and shake the awkwardness of really laying things out in the open.”
Though Zelek still speaks with pride about those efforts, he seemed ready for a reset.
“Not that the old stuff wasn’t a part of me … but I wasn’t really sure who I was as a person or an artist,” he said.
“You get a few years under your belt, and you start to feel more confident, and it takes more to satisfy you as a writer. … It was less of a challenge to myself and more of inevitability. I had to make this turn … because I was no longer inspired by what I was doing.”
That self-reflection is apparent in many of the songs on “Days of the Wild.” The themes range from the intricacies of relationships (“What If You Stay,” “Don’t Want You to Go”) to the trials of being a professional artist and songwriter (“All I Know How to Do”). There’s also “The Stranger,” a classic-country story song that tells of a mysterious troubadour making his way through Wheeling.
The album itself served as a reunion for the “classic” Joe Zelek Band lineup — Corey Congilio, Peter Wilson and Dan Bozek — along with “new guy” Joey Cataneo.
“Those guys had moved to Nashville and are doing great things,” Zelek said, adding when he reached out to discuss doing a “reunion” record, they jumped at the chance.
A four-day studio session resulted in six of the 10 songs, which will be the focus of tonight’s record-release show.
However, the show won’t focus solely on the present, as the original lineup — plus some special guests — will revisit Zelek’s catalog, displaying the growth and maturity he’s earned as a songwriter over the years.
“You start to realize as a songwriter that a really great song that’s worth playing works both ways,” he said.
“It should rock and work with the band, but if you can’t take that song and stand there with a guitar and have that song speak to somebody, I don’t know if its worth keeping around.”
Zelek and his band will take the Generations Pub stage at 9 p.m. tonight following an opening set by John Paul Von Arx.
The evening also will feature a “Ten Tap Takeover” by Brew Keepers of Wheeling.