"It's not a give or a take/ to make it or break it," sings Jon Check, in the opening line of "Whatever," the 4th track on his self-titled, self-produced debut album, which hits stores on November 11th. "Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches," he says. "No one moment or decision should make or break what you believe in. Basically, that song is about having the patience to persevere and not be deterred by obstacles. It's about understanding the middle-ground." For Check, a 22-year-old Pittsburgh-based Singer-songwriter, the past year seemed full of those types of make-or-break moments, as he self-produced his record in Pittsburgh while still finding time to tour through some of the Northeast's hottest clubs: Baltimore's 8x10, Philly's World Café Live and New York's Coda. Not too shabby for an artist without a record deal or an album. "Every time I'd get on stage, or make any type of choice regarding my career, or go into the [recording] booth I'd be telling myself 'this is it! This is your only chance to get it right!' But that's not a realistic way to look at things. Since then I've learned to relax a little bit and take it all one day at a time." Regardless of Check's inner struggle to chill out, the fruits of his labor reflect profound confidence, as well as musical and songwriting ability. The album's eight songs run the gamut in style, arrangement and approach. "If You Come With Me," the gospel-tinged number that opens the record, features screaming B-3 organ, uplifting lyrics and a standout background vocal performance by Rusted Root's Liz Berlin. "I'll Never Know" is a short and breezy rock tune propelled by smooth acoustic strumming and electric piano trills --- until the end, when it explodes into a soaring, exuberance fade. "Yeah, we did that one completely live," he adds. "What you hear is what we played once." Two slower songs, "Heroes" and "For The Life of Me" showcase Check's balladeer side, while "Prince Charming" and "Balconies and Bended Knees" are upbeat, party numbers featuring beautifully arranged horns. "Whatever" and the dramatic closer "Straight Talk" round out the album with a more modern-sounding pop approach. Featuring numerous guest appearances and credits including "speech pathologists" and "life coaches," the album is sort of a who's who of Pittsburgh's musical community, the city that welcomed him five years ago and refused to let him go. From the very first month he arrived, he says, he was playing in bands all over the city and eventually hitting the road with projects like Cornbred and Flowdown. Various connections within the community eventually got him in the Rolodex of Mr. Small's Funhouse, a studio and performance venue whose artistic outreach wing, Creative Life Support, funds qualifying musicians to make records. That was how the studio connection came up," he explains. "I just sort of made myself a familiar face up there, going in to record on session for different people. Then one day I mentioned that I wanted to do my album and they were into it." So he entered Small's newest studio in February, following a legacy that includes 50 Cent, Ryan Adams, the Darkness and Rusted Root. "Basically they said 'Go for it. We trust you and we believe in you. Record all you want and don't worry about the money. That was really encouraging to hear."
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