You know you’re doing something right when Bruce Springsteen’s right-hand man decides your track is the coolest song in the world. That’s exactly what Steve Van Zandt’s listeners did–picking ‘Trip Into The Light’ for that very accolade on his Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show. It’s easy to hear why – the opening song from Jeremy & The Harlequins’ debut full-length, American Dreamer, sparkles and shimmers with the glamor of rock ’n roll’s past while simultaneously forging forward into the future with confidence. Channeling the influences of 1950s and ’60s rock’n’roll through the (cell phone) camera lens of 2015, Jeremy & The Harlequins – Jeremy Fury (vocals), Craig Bonich and Patrick Meyer (guitars), Stevie Fury (drums) and Bobby Ever (bass) – have managed to capture the sound of New York both in the here and now and the there and then.
Million dollar smiles, lattes & police brutality.
Excess and fiscal ambiguity.
Media violence & Lamborghini dreams, all under one surveillance video texture.
The desert landscape, like tupperware housing digital smog.
K9’s and glistening acid rain, wash away the sentient blood that stains the palm tree city.
An Escalade® burns on the freeway. The drone of helicopters hum above head, in a desert backdrop commuters in traffic requite aspeed of 20 mph pass the gleaming semiotic debris. The sushi elite & the poor all anonymous in an unforgiving freeway fatality,
an undiscerning system.
Man on the highway, through a walkie talkie speaker, barefoot on the slick asphalt.
As the sunsets, the sky burns a fusion of metal and silhouetted palms.
and a hyper real civilization is rendered by it’s idealism, at war with the gravity of reality..
Rendered by it’s traffic culture, it’s culture of police brutality and gang violence, media saturation
and racism, it’s glamorization and solipsism, rendered by the tabloid of it self.
” Skid Row started as a collection of poems, it came first as words, then grew into becoming the lyrics of Skid Row.. I was writing about the state of the world around me, living on what feels likethe brink of societal collapse while also seeing high excess everywhere.. all the sounds of thestreets crept in, the blood and tears on the street, the echoing sirens in the early morning fog,
soaked into the poetry and it became evident that LA is a hyper America. a place where violence(media and real life), excess and poverty, police exceptionalism & brutality, racism interact daily.. racism is a war on reason, so in my state of animosity I wrote Skid Row, I’m a disciple of the streets my spoken word and music on Skid Row mirror these conflicts that spill out over thewestern landscape like a painting of America frozen in a state of hyper real war “
For ambitious young NYC-based producer/musician Nick Koenig (a.k.a. Hot Sugar), the frontier lies in a style he’s coined as “Associative Music”. While still firmly rooted in the pop format of solid melodies and undeniable dance beats, it’s a cerebral approach deeply rooted in an acknowledgment and interest of Pavlovian response. Koenig is keenly aware of the emotional resonance in specific non-musical sounds.
Early songs were constructed with the comforting thump of a mammalian heartbeat, the cold sterility of television static, or the whimsy of a rat stumbling across a piano keyboard. Koenig heard both emotional implication and the timbre of an instrument in mundane, everyday auditory detritus.
Koenig’s current mission with Associative Music is to capture sounds that have never been heard before. Using state-of-the-art technology, he is able to record the resonant frequencies in specific locations. Whereas sampling tools of the past were unable to boost the volumes of nearly silent environments without also amplifying tape hiss or the whirring sounds of the recording gear, modern innovations allow Koenig to tap into the virtually unnoticeable oscillations and reverberations of symbolic spaces: an empty church, an abandoned warehouse, a condemned house.
There are resonant frequencies in every space—aural ghosts, sonic specters. Koenig uses these as his primary sound sources. While so much modern music is based on the du jour textures and timbres of the latest software plug-ins, synth presets, Fractal amplifier settings, Koenig strives for a kind of musical timelessness based on crafting songs out of the hum of life, employing subconsciously loaded sounds existing entirely outside of the music industry’s current sonic palette.
But the strength of Hot Sugar ultimately resides in his music, not his manifesto or process. Sure, understanding how his beguiling electronic and instrumental hip-hop passages were constructed can make them all the more intriguing, but the back-story wouldn’t amount to much if Koenig didn’t have a knack for melody and beats. This commitment to the unorthodox hook explains why The Roots lifted one of his compositions for their Grammy-nominated album Undun or why his production skills have been employed by Das Racist-affiliate Big Baby Gandhi. You don’t need to read the artist statement to be drawn into Hot Sugar’s clever compositions. (WC: 368)
It all started with a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame, where an innocent afternoon wandering the exhibits led acclaimed LA singer and songwriter Eleni Mandell on an unexpected journey of profound musical and personal self-discovery culminating in ‘Dark Lights Up,’ her tenth and most captivating album yet.
Touring the world with her two young children in tow, Mandell has always tried to work educational and entertaining stops into her routing: national parks, museums, trains, waterslides. So during a tour stop in Nashville last winter, she brought the kids to the CMHOF to learn about some of her heroes like Hank Williams, George Jones, Buck Owens, and Tammy Wynette. Instead, she learned something about herself.
“It was a profound experience for me,” says Mandell, who’s earned raves everywhere from The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly to SPIN and the Associated Press for an eclectic catalog that spans nearly two decades and evokes everything from Tom Waits and X to Chan Marshall and Patsy Cline. “Seeing all their lyrics and guitars on display made me reflect on just how deeply I’d been influenced by classic country.”
Mandell’s kids fell in love with Roger Miller and refused to let her take his music out of the car’s CD player for the rest of the year.
“I was really struck by how simple his production was, and how central his voice and how open the sound on the record was,” Mandell remembers. “It was really organic. There aren’t a lot of layers, and the melody and his voice and the words—whether they’re some of the sillier songs or more poignant ones—I thought they were more beautiful for it. It made me want to de-clutter and strip away and make something simple that still sounded full and beautiful.”
So that’s exactly what Mandell did. Co-producing the new album herself with longtime friend and collaborator Sheldon Gomberg in his Silver Lake studio, Mandell distilled her songs down to their purest cores, assembling all of the musicians together in a single room with only acoustic instruments to cut the record live in just four days.
“I like working quickly,” explains Mandell, “so I decided to do it this way, which is probably how Roger Miller recorded, too. They tended to work quickly and not be too precious in those days. It was so fun and fresh and different.”
The result is an utterly charming, beguiling album, drawing on elements of folk, jazz, and standards with an infectious charisma, as Mandell’s voice melts over the stripped-down arrangements to create a lush, sensuous intimacy. It all kicks off with the wry humor of “I’m Old Fashioned,” which showcases Mandell’s trademark blend of sharp wit and heartfelt sincerity, while at the same time giving a nod to the throwback approach she and her band took in the studio.
“I wrote this after the first Sunday that I had The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times delivered to my door for the first time in years,” she remembers. “I was so excited to start reading the newspaper the old fashioned way; to hold it in my hands; to have my kids see me reading it the way I used to see my parents read it on Sunday mornings. I’m trying to get away from looking at screens in our home, and it made me think about all the things that might be silly but I still like to do, like walking into the post office or the bank when there are more convenient ways to go through life. I’m not perfect in this regard, but I’m doing what I can to get back to a simpler way of life.”
The simple things hold the most tantalizing appeal in Mandell’s music, and moments of transcendence can be found in the most mundane and unexpected places. In “China Garden Buffet,” she recounts a head-spinning kiss after an unremarkable dinner at the eponymous restaurant, while “Magic Pair of Shoes” imagines a world of success and riches that’s just one set of stilettos away, and “What Love Can Do” tells the story of a dark time in her life unwittingly brightened by a passing stranger.
“Years ago I was trying to immerse myself in the French language by spending time in Paris by myself,” she remembers. “It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done and I was completely miserable (yet, I would do it again). On my last night there I was walking to meet friends and was standing at the corner waiting for the light to change. At that moment, a man on a bicycle pulled up. Our eyes met. I shivered. His light turned green and he rode away. I was watching him and he turned to look back at me and we smiled. It was my first truly happy moment in Paris. I love those times in life where for a millisecond you feel love, even in a passing way.”
While romantic desire may be a fleeting notion in Mandell’s songs, she finds a much more permanent love in her relationship with her twins, who proved to be a fount of inspiration for her 2014 album ‘Let’s Fly A Kite.’ The LA Times called that release “a lovely record about the heart, children, commitment, joy and other Saturday afternoon-style pleasures,” raving that Mandell was “at her lyrically precise best.” Writing with her children in mind once again brings out Mandell’s poetic and playful side on ‘Dark Lights Up,’ as she paints a vivid family portrait in “Butter Blonde and Chocolate Brown.”
“I used to tell my daughter that her hair was the color of toast with butter melted in it because she had been a yellowish blonde but her hair was turning to brown,” Mandell says of the track’s inspiration. “I have no idea what color eyes she has, so I tell her they’re ‘ocean colored,’ sometimes green, sometimes blue and sometimes gray. My son is such a boy, always taking things apart and asking how they work.”
That ‘Dark Lights Up’ is her tenth solo album is a milestone not lost on Mandell. Looking back on the arc of her remarkable career—which began with 1999’s ‘Wishbone,’ recorded with Jon Brion and Ethan Johns—Mandel describes her evolution as one of finding her true self as both an artist and a woman.
“I like what I’m doing now because I’m so much more comfortable in my own skin, with my own way of writing,” she says. “I fully enjoy every aspect of being a musician, from when you feel really good about something you write alone in your living room to playing it with other people to performing it onstage. All of it is so fun and such a joy and an incredible way to connect with other humans and understand yourself better.”
One need only press play on ‘Dark Lights Up’ to understand exactly what Mandell means. It’s the sound of a smile from a passing stranger in a lonely city, of an unexpected first kiss after a dinner at a Chinese restaurant, of an idyllic afternoon strolling through country music history. ‘Dark Lights Up’ is an ode to simplicity, a welcome reminder of the rewards that await those who travel through life with open eyes and an open heart.
Jonah Tolchin’s Yep Roc debut album Clover Lane will be released this summer, and
Tolchin will be back on the road, touring with Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin, Joseph Arthur,
Christopher Paul Stelling, and other artists. This follows recent appearances with Tom
Paxton, Chris Smither, Rickie Lee Jones, Deer Tick, Burton Cummings, and Tony Joe
White. Tolchin has also appeared at SXSW Music Festival, Folk Alliance International,
Newport Folk Festival, and Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.
The album, produced by Marvin Etzioni (Lone Justice) and engineered by Anderson
East in Nashville, includes Chris Scruggs, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), John McCauley
(Deer Tick), Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson), and more. It was mixed in Silverlake,
California with Sheldon Gomberg (Charlie Musselwhite, Ben Harper) and mastered by
Bernie Grundman. Previously, Tolchin independently released Criminal Man, recorded at
Dirt Floor with Eric Lichter along with the help of musicians Ben Knox Miller of Low
Anthem and Brown Bird's MorganEve Swain and the late, great David Lamb. His album
5 Dollar EP, also produced by Etzioni, came out in 2013.
Clover Lane gets its name from an astonishing coincidence. Tolchin grew up in New
Jersey on Clover Lane. As he tells it, “My parents bought the Clover Lane house in
1996. Fast forward to 2012. At the suggestion of a friend, record producer Marvin Etzioni
came out to a show of mine in Los Angeles (Room 5). After an inspired conversation, a
few weeks later Marvin and I were recording an album together in Nashville.” The pivotal
phone call to Etzioni that night had come from Jonah’s friend, singer-songwriter Alex
Wright. He and his wife Chris had met Marvin through their friend and neighbor in LA,
Anna Serridge. When Jonah met Anna at the Wrights, he discovered, quite by chance,
that she had lived in the very same house on Clover Lane and had sold it to Tolchin’s
parents sixteen years earlier.
Tolchin says, “I am a believer in a deeper meaning behind life. This record is a
passionate manifestation of the cosmos in perfect harmony. The house I grew up in on
Clover Lane is the center of the spider’s web from which the interconnected strands
have been woven into these songs and recordings.”
In his younger days, a self-described "rebellious child," Tolchin ended up dropping out of
his local public high school, running afoul of the law, and lapsing into depression. He
spent a year being homeschooled on Clover Lane while honing his guitar skills. "I
realized that I needed an outlet for this energy I had," he says, looking back. "It was then
that I found out that my dad had lived in Mississippi for a time. He introduced me to the
blues. I really felt a connection with that way of expressing myself and dealing with these
pent up feelings and problems that we all have."
Tolchin's interest in electric blues grew to encompass its acoustic predecessors, which in
turn lead to him discover and embrace other traditional folk forms. From Guthrie's talking
blues to the unyielding pulse of old time stringband music, Tolchin absorbed it,
attempted to play it, and in the process found his own voice as a songwriter and a
singer. His style, illustrated so convincingly on his Yep Roc debut Clover Lane, bridges
the gap between classic folk self-sufficiency and punk's DIY defiance with a uniquely
poetic, openhearted sensibility at its core.
Clover Lane is available on Yep Roc Records July 1, 2014.
After the breakout critical success of Mandolin Orange’s Yep Roc debut, ‘This Side of Jordan,’ you’d expect the relentless onslaught of touring that accompanied it to seep into the writing of the North Carolina duo’s follow-up. You’d expect the sound to reflect long days on the road, long nights onstage, unfamiliar cities, countless miles. You’d expect the classic “road record.” But you’d be wrong.
“All of these songs are definitely a product of being on the road,” says multi-instrumentalist/singer Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange’s gorgeous new album, ‘Such Jubilee,’ “but they’re not about the road.”
“They’re about home,” explains songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/singer Andrew Marlin. “Not because we were missing it, but because when you’re gone so much, you start realizing what you have and what’s waiting for you. You realize there’s this place to come back to at the end of the journey, and that’s where a lot of these songs come from.”
The road has been good to Mandolin Orange since the 2013 release of ‘This Side of Jordan.’ NPR called the album “effortless and beautiful,” naming it one of the year’s best folk/Americana releases, while Magnet dubbed it “magnificent,” and American Songwriter said it was “honest music, shot through with coed harmonies, sweeping fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar and the sort of unfakeable intimacy that bonds simpatico musicians like Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.”
Their performances have taken them everywhere from the iconic Newport Folk Festival to Pickathon, Merlefest, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and Austin City Limits, as well as tours with Willie Watson, Gregory Alan Isakov, The Wood Brothers, and more. The ‘Such Jubliee’ record release tour included sold-out shows in New York, ,Boston, Chicago and Seattle.
“When you play these festivals, you start meeting all these other people doing what you’re doing,” says Marlin. “There are so many musicians together in one place and you become part of this community. We got to hang out with Tim O’Brien and Peter Rowan and Norman Blake. Sitting down and talking to them and playing with them, you get to see the personal side of them rather than the hero side.”
“With all the touring and festivals, you look around and realize, ‘OK we’re actually doing this now,'” adds Frantz. “We’re not just trying to do it, it’s what we do, and that ties into a lot of the themes on the record.”
It’s at the heart of album opener ‘Old Ties and Companions,’ which takes stock of such rewarding moments.
“A good friend of mine and I were talking about this time in our lives – we’ve got all these friends playing music and everybody’s playing with everybody and trading songs and it’s really special,” explains Marlin. “But you don’t know how long that’s going to be around, so we don’t take this time for granted.”
“Old man give me endless time,” he and Frantz sing in stirring harmony. “Never let these ties sever / Cause heaven knows in all this foolin’ round these times won’t last forever.”
To make the most of such magical, ephemeral moments, the duo set up facing each other with just a vocal and instrumental mic each in Asheville’s Echo Mountain studio for the ‘Such Jubilee’ sessions. It proved to be the perfect setup to capture the undeniable chemistry of their live performances.
“I think a lot of times when people set out to layer tracks on a recording, they want the rhythm or a click track first,” says Frantz, who initially met Marlin at a 2009 bluegrass jam in Carrboro, North Carolina. “But we’ve just played together for so long that subconsciously we know where all the spaces need to be and what’s going to fill in afterwards. When it’s just the two of us in there, we don’t have to orchestrate as much ahead of time because it all just falls into place so naturally.”
On “Settled Down,” Marlin looks at what it takes to find that level of comfort in a relationship, singing, “Moments, just fleeting times with little wings of gold / remind us of how real we find true love in every sign of getting older.” “Daylight” looks for peace in long-term companionship and trust, “That Wrecking Ball” meditates on the sometimes ravaging passage of time, and album closer “Of Which There Is No Like” is a delicate, wistful duet about coming home, literally and metaphorically.
Not all of the songs are purely introspective, though. “Jump Mountain Blues” takes its name from a town in Virginia where Marlin spent weekends growing up. According to local folklore, a Native American girl threw herself off of the mountain rather than give up her true love to marry the man of her father’s choosing. Marlin conjures up a haunting vision of the father, forced to watch her ghost rise and fall again every night when he looks at the peak. “Rounder” is written in the cowboy tradition and can be heard as a statement against capital punishment, while “Blue Ruin” was penned in response to the horrific violence at Sandy Hook.
“I was thinking about all those kids who wouldn’t be there on Christmas morning,” says Marlin. “People can get so heated and so serious about change and addressing gun violence when something that traumatic happens, but a month or two afterwards, they’ve all cooled down and it’s not in the forefront of their thoughts anymore. But two years later, those kids still aren’t around on Christmas morning and their parents are still dealing with that.”
It’s a weighty moment on an album that doesn’t shy away from grappling with difficult topics: intimacy, death, distance, regret. ‘Such Jubilee’ is a record about home, both the place and the idea. Some days it’s a safe, warm, loving refuge from the world outside. Other days it’s cold and empty and too quiet. Either way, it’s always waiting for you at the end of the road.
Tammy Ealom – vocals/guitar
John Hill – guitar
Craig Gilbert – drums
Marcus Renninger – bass
“We never broke up,” Dressy Bessy singer/guitarist Tammy Ealom
says on the occasion of the release of KINGSIZED, her band’s first
new album in seven years. “It was never our intention to drop out, it
just sort of happened. We were dealing with life, but we never
stopped making music.” Continue reading Dressy Bessy (Tammy Ealom)
Chris Collingwood, the lead singer of Fountains of Wayne, will release his debut album, LOOK PARK, on Yep Roc Records. LOOK PARK is Chris Collingwood’s first album outside of Fountains of Wayne and was recorded in collaboration with legendary producer Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Crowded House, Suzanne Vega). Shot through with earnest emotion and restless energy, LOOK PARK is unlike anything in Collingwood’s already extraordinary canon, a fact affirmed by his decision to dub both the album and overall project as “Look Park,” the name borrowed from a favorite green space in his hometown of Northampton, MA. Continue reading Chris Collingwood/Look Park
Back To Birth
“We live in such a fast-paced, hectic environment, I wanted to make a record that would invite people to step back and take their time to listen,” Jackie Greene says of Back To Birth, his first album in five years. “I wanted to make a record that would reward people who are willing to sit down and give it a couple of serious listens.” Continue reading JACKIE GREENE
In the quiet moments found between touring her first solo album and collaborating
with mainstay folk and bluegrass peers, Aoife O’Donovan found the inspiration to
write her sophomore album “In the Magic Hour” — out Jan. 22, 2016 on Yep Roc
Records. Continue reading AOIFE O’DONOVAN