“… intuitive, wide-ranging and personal.” ~Jim Bessman

Singer-songwriter Sara Wasserman, whose new debut album Solid Ground is garnering glowing notice, is giving renowned bassist Rob Wasserman—her father—a job.

She’s employing him for two of the biggest gigs of her budding solo career—tomorrow night’s show in her native Bay Area at Yoshi’s San Francisco and again at New York’s showcase club Joe’s Pub on July 31.

The dates are billed as Sara Wasserman and Friends featuring Henry Butler (the New Orleans piano legend) and Rob Wasserman. They follow Sara’s several appearances with RatDog, the side band of the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir that also features her father.

Wasserman’s very first performance—10 years ago–was with RatDog. She sang two songs with the band, “Solid Ground” and “Hindsight.” Both grace her album, and both were written by her father (the titletrack in collaboration with Jim Capaldi, the late songwriter, singer and drummer of British Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Traffic).

Because Rob Wasserman played with so many musicians—Jerry Garcia, Dan Hicks, Maria Muldaur, Van Morrison and Lou Reed, just to name a few—Sara Wasserman “pretty much grew up on a tour bus,” she says. But rather than follow her father’s footsteps, she chose to “find my own thing” in acting.

She moved to New York from Mill Valley in Marin County, Cal. and studied acting, dance and musical theater at the Neighborhood Playhouse—having taken acting classes at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco since she was a kid. But while she had taken voice lessons since age 10, she seriously began studying voice 10 years ago after deciding to return to singing as her primary creative outlet.

Solid Ground had been in the works for seven years.

“I originally intended to make a demo,” she says. “I was thinking of shopping it for a record deal and then decided to do it on my own because of the creative freedom and not having [record company] people tell me what to do.”

The CD, then, is intuitive, wide-ranging and personal. The song “Leap of Faith,” for example, was written at “a time in my life when I needed to hold on to my own vision and have faith that I was on the right path.” It features ace turntablist DJ Logic and Soulive drummer Alan Evans—and her father. Other tracks involve notables including Weir, Reed, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins and jazz bassist Christian McBride.

The guests bring out the many aspects of Wasserman’s work, from the gospel of “Leap of Faith” to the bluesy “Little Bird” to the soul/r&b of “I Am a Song” to the poignant love ballad “Fly Away” and the pure pop of Hall & Oates’ classic “Sara Smile.”

Next to her father, legendary New Orleans vocalist Aaron Neville is the key contributor. She first met him when she was eight (he was taping a segment of NBC’s Night Music and she joined him in swiping every single candy bar from the dressing rooms), then met up with him again many years later at a pre-Katrina New Orleans JazzFest, where he gave her an unpublished book of poems and lyrics that he had written over the past 30 years.

“I was inspired by his words and turned two of them into songs,” says Wasserman. One of them, “Fly Away,” is now a Solid Ground showpiece duet for the two evenly matched vocalists.

The album, which eventually landed on the boutique jazz label Pacific Coast Jazz, is dedicated to the children of the Casa de Milagros orphanage in Cusco, Peru. Wasserman learned of the facility from her friends Woody Harrelson and his wife Laura Louie–who helped start it—and visited it in 2008. She was so inspired that she staged a benefit concert last year in Mill Valley with her father, Weir, Maria Muldaur, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek; she’ll commence working on a second benefit following the two shows with her father.

“It’s amazing playing with him,” says Rob Wasserman’s now 29 year-old daughter. “But he’s great to play with no matter if he’s my dad or not. But there is such a level of comfort, and it’s nice that we’re able to perform songs together that he wrote and I wrote with him.”

Rob Wasserman, incidentally, is about to embark on another tour with Reed, whose guitarist Mike Rathke will also back Sara Wasserman at Joe’s Pub.

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