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Kevin Riordan: New CD is 'Healthy Food for Thought' for Moorestown musician

Willing to put his mouth where the money is, singer-songwriter Tim Gleeson will perform selections from his solo CD, No Sad Songs, at your place.

Tim Gleeson plays on a Grammy-nominated CD and has a solo album: "No Sad Songs." (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)
Tim Gleeson plays on a Grammy-nominated CD and has a solo album: "No Sad Songs." (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)Read more

Willing to put his mouth where the money is, singer-songwriter Tim Gleeson will perform selections from his solo CD, No Sad Songs, at your place.

"They're called house concerts . . . there's lots of stuff about them on Google," Gleeson says in his Moorestown home studio, a pleasant, orderly space full of guitars and recording equipment. "I've done a couple so far."

Such is the low-fi yet high-tech life of a working American roots musician, even an established local performer whose work appears on other artists' recordings - including a disc recently nominated for a Grammy.

That would be Healthy Food for Thought: Good Enough to Eat, a compilation for which Gleeson cowrote one song ("Mother Earth's Song") and performs on another ("Garden Green"). The double disc includes contributions from Moby, Julian Lennon, and Camden's own Yocantalie Jackson, and is one of five "Best Spoken Word Album for Children" nominees.

Gleeson, a recently divorced father of two, is accustomed to multitasking, musically and otherwise: He teaches guitar part-time at Moorestown Friends, was one half of the bluesy Philly duo the Luck Brothers, and played lead guitar and keyboards with the pop-soul-disco hitmakers Sister Sledge.

"Yes, I can definitely play 'We Are Family,' " Gleeson, 54, says, referring to the group's immortal dance-floor anthem. "I never considered myself a disco sort of player. I don't know that I ever looked the part.

"But I toured with Sister Sledge for 15 years. It was exciting, and I felt honored that I was doing it. It was a great experience."

Via e-mail, lead singer Kathy Sledge calls Gleeson "an amazing musician and songwriter." I resist the urge to tell her how many thousands of times I danced to "We Are Family"; she goes on to praise Gleeson's gifts for "all genres of music."

That artistic eclecticism is rooted in Gleeson's childhood in Palmyra. At 6, he had his first piano teacher, and around seventh grade he started studying guitar with Bill Johnson, now deceased.

Soon Gleeson was playing bass guitar - everything from jazz to swing to folk songs - in Johnson's band, the Generation Gap. He knocked around in some rock bands during high school at Holy Cross in Delran; studied music at Rutgers-New Brunswick; and got into the Philly music scene of the late 1970s.

That's where he landed the Sister Sledge gig, which lasted from about 1980 through the mid-1990s. During and since, he's made music with and for other artists, including Kathy Sledge.

Until No Sad Songs, however, Gleeson hadn't recorded something of his own, on his own.

"Instead of doing blues music or producing music for other people or doing what I usually do to make money, I wanted to do my own record," he says. "I wanted to do my own songs, and see what I could do with [them]."

Gleeson started working on what became No Sad Songs in 2008. He wrote most of the material and plays all but two of the instruments heard on the CD, which he released - on his own label, naturally - last June.

It's an honest, heartfelt collection of melodic, mid-tempo acoustic tunes - more energetic and less mopey than typical singer-songwriter stuff. Gleeson's voice is seasoned, unadorned, and convincing; it's music for folks who, like the singer (and this listener), have been around for a bit. One song is called "The Train That Never Comes."

"Technology has made a lot of things easier in the studio," Gleeson says. "But sometimes I wonder if it's more of a hindrance, because it's so easy to change stuff around. It kind of takes away from the purity of it a little bit."

But while he used state-of-the-art technology to make the recording, the music itself sounds honest, not processed. It's down to earth, just like Gleeson.

He never stops working: Whether humming inspiration into his cell phone during a walk, or performing at venues such as Library IV in Williamstown, or updating his Facebook page, the man is trying to get heard.

"I got into music because I wanted to make music, but now I'm finding I should probably have some kind of business degree."

Perhaps the Grammy connection will help.

"I'm trying to crack the door of college radio," particularly WXPN-FM (88.5) at the University of Pennsylvania, Gleeson says.

"I've never had a steady paycheck or any benefits, but I manage to get by. I make my living as a musician, and that's what everybody tells me is pretty cool. And I think it's cool, too."