Manhattan’s swanky Soho ignites the most blasé imagination with its world class photography exhibits, must-have heels and painstakingly sculpted fashions, which stretch for blocks, but tonight on Prince Street one man’s vision trumps those urban sky lines.

A decade ago, musician/producer Blake Morgan dug his heels into a desktop and whistled up a business plan; a lofty plan that could have gone bust - after all, sombre stats reveal that most businesses fail within five years. But Morgan’s bout with major labels left him feeling thwarted and burned, and so he ran an idea by a few like-minded artists. Fueled by feelings of frustration and hope, he longed to start his own label, one that would endorse genuine talent, while turning a profit.

Tonight’s launch commemorates that decade of work. Morgan is said to be more a maverick than a mogul; more a facilitator than a boss. In the spacious great room where the party is being held, larger than life portraits line the walls. Legends like Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger and Neil Young command such curious curb appeal that you can almost hear their instruments pounding, yet it’s the one of the late John Lennon that particularly registers tonight: a lyric from 'Imagine' sounds truly relevant: “You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one…

And that is because the artisans in the room are filled with exuberance and a beguiling sense of purpose. What was elusive is now concrete, yet fluid. Engine Company Records is rebranded as ECR Music Group. The label has grown so much that it has triggered multiple subsidiaries. Pull a genre out of a hat and you might find that it’s been codified. There’s pop, alternative rock, singer-songwriter and, if you don’t see it now, hang on tight.

Evergreene Music, for example, focuses on world music. Mark Roberts, label manager/operations, describes his working relationship with ECR: “Blake/ECR is pretty much a consultant to us and our label’s distributor. I’m on the phone with him twice a week to discuss everything Evergreene is doing. He’s a professional mentor to me personally, and has had a significant hand in rebranding our label, crafting our artistic vision, helping with A & R, and offering professional advice whenever I need it.”

Essentially there seems to be lots of room for growth, for emerging and established artisans. ECR’s roster includes legends like Lesley Gore, who as a savvy, sixteen-year-old singer impressed Quincy Jones and went on to record hits like the pre-feminist 'You Don’t Own Me', and the empowering pop anthem, ‘It’s My Party.’

Gore still remains dedicated to much of her earlier material, though she has grown enormously as an interpreter of more contemporary genres. She and her brother, Michael, cowrote ‘On My Own,’ sung by Irene Cara, who portrayed the coming-of-age performer in the film, 'Fame'. On Gore’s newest CD, 'Ever Since', she reintroduces the evocative ballad, coating it with jazzy embers. She also reimagines 1963’s ‘It’s My Party’ with smooth insouciance.

Not all ECR artists have careers that go back as far as Gore’s, and some even double as administrators. For example, David Cloyd is not only an active singer-songwriter on the label, but also serves as the Executive Vice President of Creative Operations. When later in the evening Morgan addresses the crowd and reminds them that “art comes before business,” Cloyd takes it in stride.

Oddly there is no sense of hierarchy in the room, just an overall commitment to music. As Morgan will later state, all have come together to “renew our vows.” Artists, friends and producers stay well past the appointed bewitching hour. Some wear bowling shirts with other peoples’ names inscribed, while others are covered in ink and piercings or stylish dresses. Unlike a typical business function, executives and artists blend rank. Introductions reveal that relationships go way, way back – Morgan has picked up a creative entourage over the years - and a surprising number of staff reveal that even they once paid their dues as band members.

Cloyd could talk production for aeons. When describing his cover of Paul McCartney’s ‘Dear Boy’ (from 'Ram'), he smiles like a kid catching a fly ball at Yankee Stadium. At first listen, it is astounding how much his clear tone and boyish inflection resemble the British songwriter’s early style, yet Cloyd’s subtle, yet melodic swagger gives this cover version an organic and unique sheen. He recalls, though, that keeping the song’s flow required a great deal of futzing and analysis. Like much of Paul McCartney’s work, a chord progression, which sounds so simple, is harmonically complex.

Cloyd’s originals just keep on coming. His quirky sense of humour was evident back in 2009 when he recorded 'Unhand Me, You Fiend!' His dynamic repertoire defies categorization, edging towards pop, but often shedding an industrial skin. The thrashing percussion on his records juxtaposes vocally pure tones. But don’t think you’ve got him pegged. Pigeonhole David Cloyd and you’re a dog chasing her tail. He’s got some range: there’s the enchanting innocence of ‘She Asks Me’ and the cloak and daggered ‘Never Run’ for starters.

But though he generates a great deal of enthusiasm for life, the earnest artist doesn’t necessarily write “happy” songs. He elaborates: “Well, I’ve found emotion to be a rather well-rounded fellow, and he doesn’t take kindly to pigeon-holing. Personally I feel the same way about “happiness” as I do about immortality. It sounds good at the moment, but the reality of human nature swiftly turns us all into Benjamin Braddock sitting on the back of that bus at the end of 'The Graduate' – 'Okay, I win, so now what?'"

“All of the new songs I’m recording for my next album tackle this moment that I’ve been going through over the past couple of years, this moment of becoming a father. I’ve experienced an enormous amount of happiness on a daily basis, but there’s a whole spectrum of emotion that’s ebbing and flowing all the time. To focus on that one aspect and ignore the rest just wouldn’t be the truth.”

Dressed in a classic tux, the statuesque singer Janita, who bravely relocated to Brooklyn after enjoying a career as a pop star in her native Finland (Janita is a polyglot who sounds equally convincing singing in her native language or English), sounds excited about her recent album, 'Haunted', which she co-produced with Tomi Sachary, a long time collaborator. Discussing her seventh studio album, and Blake Morgan’s impermeable influence, she glistens. I tell myself not to be fooled by her soft-spoken demeanor – Janita, with her cyclone of a voice, can interpret mature and evocative music as well as any classic R & B royal.

James McCartney, the only son of Paul McCartney, is also planning another album after receiving rave reviews from the New York Times about his debut, 'The Complete EP Collection: James McCartney'. He is an emotional songwriter who doubles on piano and guitar - and he recently ended a rigorous American tour with his band. This year he charmed audiences with his primal vocals on ‘Fallen Angels,’ which starts with a gorgeous Baroque piano intro and then drifts into a cascading progression. Dressed in earth tones, and sipping beer in a corner, he discusses an upcoming acoustic performance at the intimate Rockwood, where he’ll play over the weekend and unveil several originals, like the dreamlike ‘Snow’ and the uplifting ‘As Strong As You.’

Towards the dusk of the evening – though drinks still flow and no one moves towards the door - Morgan addresses the throng. He is clearly proud of his achievements and grateful for the hard work his colleagues have contributed. His friends know as much about his life, as he does about theirs. But is there more to the story? An acclaimed entertainment attorney once stated that everyone needs “a believer.” Who was Blake’s believer?

Single parent, Robin Morgan, an acclaimed poet, feminist, activist and author of 'Sisterhood is Powerful', raised Blake Morgan, right here in New York City. Fighting chauvinism and gender inequality was one of her many causes, but Blake’s generation has had commanding work to do, as well. Given another decade, maybe ECR can transcend the glass ceiling, keep art in the hands of the creators, and configure loyalty whilst promoting. After all, breaking tradition runs in the family.

A fluid definition of family stretches this remarkably sonic envelope. That said, Morgan’s connections run deep and he seems to enjoy batting ideas off friends. He can sing, play multiple instruments and produce, but he’s still keen to collaborate. 'Anger Candy', for example, included the work of Lenny Kravitz. On that album, Morgan expressed his feelings unabashedly; exposing raw nerve after raw nerve. But, according to several colleagues, he typically pushes the limits, instrumentally and thematically, balancing the tangy with the bittersweet, the contemporary with the set-in-stone. Songs on his upcoming album are already creating a buzz.

But what will happen to ECR over the next decade? “Build it and they will come,” whispered a mysterious voice in the baseball themed movie, 'Field of Dreams'. It sure looks like “they” have arrived, all right; and that the ECR Music Group can score hits that embrace the spirit of all its players.















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