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SUSAN WERNER composes skillful songs that effortlessly slide between folk, jazz, and pop, all delivered with sassy wit and classic Midwestern charm. Throughout her expansive career, boundless versatility has emerged as a hallmark of Werner’s talent, and has proven to be a quintessential ingredient of her engrossing musical persona.
After writing twelve albums of songs in styles ranging from folk/rock to Tin Pan Alley to gospel, country and chamber music, what might a woman deemed by National Public Radio as “The Empress of the Unexpected” try next?
Well, go to Cuba, of course!
Which is what Chicago-based (and native Iowan) singer-songwriter, Susan Werner, has done, resulting in the Cuban-influenced songs of “An American In Havana,” her new EP. The album features performances and arrangements by Cuban-born percussionist, Mayra Casales, (Dizzy Gillespie, Celia Cruz, Regina Carter), who will also accompany Werner on tour this fall.
And as audiences will testify again and again, Werner’s been reaching new heights in concert halls all around the US for twenty years. Renowned as a charismatic performer, she’s known above all for challenging herself to conquer new styles, almost like mountaintops, every few years. From her 1995 major label debut on BMG/Private Music, the folk/rock gem “Last of the Good Straight Girls,” to her 2004 Koch Records collection of Tin Pan Alley styled originals “I Can’t Be New,” to her 2007 “agnostic gospel” hymnal “The Gospel Truth,” to 2013’s tribute to agriculture and her Iowa farm roots “Hayseed,” Werner’s creative restlessness has become her defining characteristic. “I like concept albums, because they provide a place for the audience and the artist to meet. You may not know me and I may not know you, but we both know something about a farmer’s market, about what it is to sit in a pew at church and wonder what life means, we both know something about falling in love and maybe falling back out again. I like to have a starting point for an evening’s conversation with an audience – it’s a great icebreaker.”
She first arrived on the national stage when her 1995 BMG/Private Music debut earned her national concert tours with Joan Armatrading and Richard Thompson. In 1996 Werner was featured as part of the “next generation” in Peter Paul and Mary’s PBS special LifeLines. She has performed on NPR’s World Café three times, NPR’s Mountain Stage nine times, and in August 2016 Nebraska Educational Television will broadcast “The Land Will Outlive Us All,” a one hour special on Werner, agriculture, and her 2015 concert tour across the state.
Her songs have been recorded by Tom Jones and Michael Feinstein, Broadway stars Betty Buckley and Christine Ebersole, and countless individuals and ensembles. But Werner says she’s just getting started: “I’m at work finishing up an album of songs inspired by a trip to Cuba. And I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland – hey, maybe I could learn the bagpipes. It’s not impossible….is it?”
“One of the most innovative songwriters working today.”
— Chicago Tribune
“(Werner is) a songwriter and musician who is in such complete command of her gifts that it’s almost scary.”
— All Music Guide
“When it comes to crafting a song, Ms. Werner’s only peers are Jimmy Webb and Paul Simon.”
— No Depression
“Susan Werner, a clever songwriter and an engaging performer, brings literacy and wit back to popular song.”
— The New Yorker
“Vulnerability has rarely been so witty or concise in modern song.”
— Boston Herald
“Always an impressive songwriter, Werner continues to compose sharp, funny, compassionate lyrics, a gift rare enough to set her apart…”
— The Washington Post
“The classically trained and jazz inspired singer is redefining the genre and winning admirers around the country…”
— Phildelphia Inquirer
“Kicking The Beehive is evidence that Susan Werner has no trouble reinventing herself year after year; and she’s damn good at it.”
— Performer Magazine
“Werner has quietly risen to the elite of American songwriters.”
— Direct Current
“This woman is great. period.”
— Music Row (Nashville)