Jesse Ruben & Caitlin Crosby

Jesse Ruben is a Philly-bred singer/songwriter currently living in Brooklyn, NY. He has independently sold over 10,000 albums, gotten song placements on TV shows such as "One Tree Hill," "Degrassi," and "Teen Mom" and toured with some amazing artists including Jewel, KT Tunstall, Rick Springfield, and Hanson. His song "We Can" is in regular rotation on the XM/Sirius Coffeehouse channel, which called him "the next generation of singer/songwriter."

Ruben has sold out venues across the US with deeply personal performances that combine well-crafted pop songs with the stories they came from. Most recently, he achieved one of his greatest life goals when he hit the 5,000 Facebook friend limit, because it makes him feel cooler than he actually is.

Beyond musical endeavors, Ruben is highly involved with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the largest non-profit focusing on spinal chord injury and paralysis. He is a co-chair of their Champions Committee, and has represented them three times in the NYC.

"I have a couple of breakup songs," singer-songwriter/actress Caitlin Crosby says of the material on her evocative new EP. "But the ones I'm most passionate about are about issues that could have an impact on someone's life, maybe make them feel less alone. And this record doesn't sound like anything I've ever done."

With its sophisticated, smoky sonic palette -- crafted by producer/co-writer Boots Ottestad (Robbie Williams, Macy Gray) -- Crosby's new seven-song set is a marked departure from her 2009 release, "Flawz." "While recording, Boots and I talked a lot about vintage artists and the warmth of their sound, I was then inspired to go in the direction of an artist like Dusty Springfield...I really wanted a departure from my previous work."

That meant velvety, Phil Spector-ish orchestration, grooves in the Memphis/Muscle Shoals mold, spy-movie guitars, swoony background vocals and more. Ottestad's approach made sense to Crosby, who'd fallen in love with the retro-soul vibe of Adele and the folk revivalism of Mumford & Sons.

The EP's diverse, cinematic musical backdrop adds edge and intrigue to Crosby's lyrics about women who give themselves to undeserving men (the soulfully sad "Save That Pillow"), the emptiness of L.A.'s party-hardy club scene (the strutting "Is This the Good Life?"), redemption in the midst of despair (the smoldering, syncopated "Gasoline"; the mountain gospel of "Cracked Me Open") and yes, a former flame (the spare, spooky "Boy in the Benz"; the vintage sounding buildup of "Consolation Prize"). It also showcases colors and nuances in her singing that will surprise even her longtime fans.

While she's proved her ability to navigate exciting new musical territory, Crosby -- who plays guitar and piano on the album in addition to handling vocals -- has stayed true to the themes she's explored throughout her work as a solo artist: loving yourself despite your flaws; the struggle to protect your soul from a predatory, materialistic world; the power of love and spirit to lift us out of even the direst circumstances.

As ever, for Crosby, these aren't just ideas to weave into lovely songs -- she has committed herself to providing uplift in other ways, notably with two websites, thegivingkeys.com (which uses jewelry made from vintage keys to help spread positive messages and has proved "key" to helping participants transition out of homelessness) and loveyourflawz.com (which encourages visitors to celebrate their flaws rather than trying to live up to impossible, unfair standards).

It's reasonable to say Crosby has showbiz in her genes. Her dad is a manager of actors, and her mom was a model and actress before becoming an agent. "Acting was just a natural thing to do," she recalls. "I did musical theater, played Sandy in Grease." She was in a production at Beverly Hills High when she auditioned, at the director's urging, for all-girl pop group Foxy Nova. She got the gig, and the group signed with producer-writer-star-label owner Babyface. At 17, she got an eyeful of the star-making machinery.

Crosby co-wrote material for the group from the outset, ultimately participating in some 150 tunes during her tenure. But the songs that meant the most to her -- ones urging self-esteem and self-empowerment -- didn't fit the pop-vixen pigeonhole. "The label was always, like, no! Write songs that are racy and sexy and push the envelope," she remembers. "I couldn't do it. It went against everything I stood for." After a few years of the "drama and scandal" that surrounded that world, she'd had her fill; having deferred attending Loyola Marymount once for the band's sake, she finally said her goodbyes and headed off to school. "I swore off the music business after that," she explains. "I quit and everyone was mad. I was just done." The portrait of frenzied but unfulfilling nightlife in her new song "Is This the Good Life?" echoes that period.

Alongside her studies she focused more on acting over the next few years, and appeared on an array of TV series, including Malcolm in the Middle, That '70s Show and Seventh Heaven. Without really consciously shifting gears, she found she'd changed her career's direction.

But she continued to write songs, mostly as a creative outlet. And when she got up and sang "Finding Feelings" (which, she notes, was inspired by a break-up) at a friend's club show, she drew the attention of producer Eric Robinson, who worked with Marshall Altman (Marc Broussard, William Fitzsimmons). Robinson and Altman asked to work with her, and she found herself back in the studio. "I thought, 'Oh, Lord, I can't believe I'm getting back into this,'" Crosby notes.

This time, though, all the material reflected her beliefs, emotions and priorities. "Finding Feelings" struck a chord with online listeners (it even earned MySpace props from Kelly Clarkson, who also turned up for one of Crosby's gigs), and "Flawz" was released in 2009.

"A lot of those songs I'd written so long ago that by the time I recorded them they were old to me, she relates. "It was more pop-rock. But the songs were about trying to be confident with our flaws, and that's what my website is about. I wanted to put out songs that would help people."

As she began to craft the material that would eventually form the new EP, Crosby met with producer Adam Anders and signed with his Deep Well Records. Adam hooked her up with Ottestad and their co-writing proved fruitful thus resulting in an exciting new creative partnership resulting in an EP that will be in the Summer of 2013.

Though she hasn't ruled out further TV and film work, Crosby is focused on her music now -- and on spreading the positive messages in her songs. With those themes placed in fresh musical settings, they're likely to resonate with a whole new listenership.

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Jesse Ruben & Caitlin Crosby with Taylor Taylor, Alex Mendenall

Friday, September 20 · 5:00 PM at Mac's Bar