Upstate Manhattan Next Big Recording Mecca

If Harley Fine and Mike Petelka have their way, Northern Manhattan may one day become the next Motown or Nashville, or at least a firmly established regional recording mecca. Friends and business collaborators, the unlikely pair launched 207 Records and produced their first CD, Upstate Manhattan, a thirteen-song compilation of Inwood and Washington Heights recording artists in December of 2005.

The day I met them for lunch at the Garden CafÃ?© was unseasonably warm. Spring-like and sunny with just a few Maxfield Parish clouds accenting the gem-blue mid-winter sky, we talked over vegetable wraps, eggs and a round of tea in the Broadway eatery’s backyard porch enclosure.

The bright light and unseasonable temperature seemed fitting. Fine and Petelka are on fire with enthusiasm for their creative baby. Respectful of the other’s part in the project, they took turns filling me in on the venture’s evolution since Fine moved uptown from his former Gramercy Park digs two years ago.

Eager to discover the neighborhood’s music scene, Fine was drawn to one of Inwood’s few cultural havens, the 207 Street Art gallery.

Enter Mike Petelka, gallery director and lifelong Inwood resident, but an otherwise difficult to categorize man. The wild-eyed, indefatigable financier of the musical project is a schooled graphic artist, neighborhood landlord, proud-papa coach to Brooklyn Friends School’s class-C league champion basketball team, cultural commentator and aspiring local politician. He ran un-victoriously for City Council this past November.

Petelka generously compliments Fine. “I credit the whole project to his vision and talent,” he says.

Fine elaborates modestly, “Most people have ideas, but they don’t know how to follow through and execute. But I do.” He continues, “I didn’t need anybody to do anything for me-just to collaborate.” Fine continues, “I needed his [Patelka’s] funding and access to the neighborhood.”

Over the past two years Fine performed regularly at open mike events hosted by local singer-song writer Karen Hudson and the art gallery. Northern Manhattan’s musical scene began emerging from the shadows and a supportive community developed-just what Fine had been searching for.

No small feat, Fine has successfully navigated the competitive rock music scene for years. A former, in-demand studio session keyboardist, he effortlessly switched to playing guitar about ten years ago and has since launched a solo blues-y rock-and-roll recording career and plays in the Tuff Darts, a pretty well known punk band that, for those unfamiliar, recently opened for bands such as The Blue Oyster Cult and Berlin.

Fine is talented, and so are the artists he features on the c.d. Using ample arranging and producing skills he narrowed song submissions to what he calls on the inside flap, “a lucky 13 of some of the best of these neighborhoods.”

Fine arranged the tracks on Upstate Manhattan thoughtfully, so that even a lyric-driven, bluegrass-inspired ballad by The Dixie Beeliners seems logically sandwiched between P-Star’s electronic rap song, “I Rock” and an early-Beatles-esque love song by Jim Wacker.

Most of the songs are good, toe-tapping, hip-swaying rock-and-roll, but additional notable departures include Ruben Flaco Gonzales’ pretty, Spanish-lyric, guitar accompanied love ballad and DJ Arrington’s eclectically-sampled electronic instrumental, “Pop Up Blocker.”

Fine and Petelka have grand plans for 207 Records and the artists of Upstate Manhattan. They’ll soon distribute the CD. to local radio stations, including WFUV in the Bronx and will showcase the CD’s artists at donation-only performances at 207 Street Art gallery. They are also discussing producing more c.d.’s, possibly featuring a single artist at a time.

The CD is currently available for $10.00 at Scavengers (600 W. 218th Street), 207 Street Art (634 West 207th Street) and online at www.harleyfine.com, www.cdbaby.com and www.207records.com.

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