Blessed with a great voice and great guitar and piano chops, the multi-talented Susan Werner put it all together and was on the cusp of success with ever-larger U.S., Canadian and European audiences. Her major-label debut, Last of the Good Straight Girls (1995), on Private Music, was being eaten up by adult alternative album radio stations around the U.S. But two years later, her record company was unceremoniously merged into Windham Hill, another subsidiary of BMG, in early 1997, sending her release out of print.
Werner grew up near Manchester, Iowa and made her first public performance at age five, playing guitar and singing in her church. At 11, she began playing piano. In high school, she played saxophone in jazz combos and sang in drama productions. Werner attended college at the University of Iowa, where she earned a degree in voice. She continued her studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she also studied opera. After she decided to end her budding opera career, Werner became inspired after seeing Texas folk singer Nanci Griffith. She was playing with a jazz trio when she began taking her guitar around to coffeehouses on the folk circuit in Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York City.
She recorded and self-released her first album, Midwestern Saturday Night, in 1993, and began to build a promising career as a contemporary folk singer. Her eclectic and offbeat set of influences made her a refreshing face in a sea of singer-songwriters on the Philadelphia coffeehouse circuit. Werner cites as influences people like Griffith, but also Jacques Brel, Thelonius Monk, Joni Mitchell, Sting and jazz diva Shirley Horn. After finding a manager in Philadelphia, Werner recorded a second album, 1994's Live at the Tin Angel. That album helped bring her to the attention of executives at Private Music/BMG.
Werner's strong but short-lived debut for Private, Last of the Good Straight Girls, was produced by former Lou Reed bassist Fernando Saunders. Guests include Mitchell Froom on keyboards (a great producer in his own right), as well as Zachary Richard and Marshall Crenshaw. The songs include social commentary, introspective personal diaries of relationship troubles, and even a brilliant reading of Paul Simon's "Something So Right." Time Between Trains followed in 1998. ~ Richard Skelly
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