Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bern and the Brights - Swing Shift Maises - EP Review

Being genreless is similar being stateless. Skipping over boarders, and bouncing over boundaries, can indeed, have a profound effect on the senses and give freedom to the way in which the world is perceived. The latest release from Bern and the Brights – Swing Shift Maises EP, does just that.


Hailing from New Jersey, and playing the local circuit, where they’ve honed their considerable skills as a formidable live talent, Bern and the Brights have taken their collective musical ability into the studio. Primarily described as an acoustic EP, the band has given the light touch to an EP which could have easily been over bearing if over produced. That’s not the case here.

A lightness and a deftness of touch, contrasted with strong structure and subtle layering, ( especially in regard to violinist Nicole Scorsone) provide solidity and depth to a musical style which is both unique, and yet vaguely familiar.

All four tracks, sit alone independently, yet are easily mixed and matched to follow one another in no particular order. The yearning of the opening track Boo, with sublime vocals by Bernadette Malavarca, develops and builds, and is well constrained, giving tension and release in equal measures. A deeply soulful track, Boo could easily be turned on it’s head, but instead has a constrained subtlety that doesn’t divert from the rise and fall of it’s natural progression. It would be all too easy to let this track rip, and ruin it completely.

Leading into the following track, Sangria Peaches , the instrumentation of acoustic and electric guitar, bass, drums, and violin doesn’t change, but is used in a totally different way. With the addition of castanets, and a staccato violin, a quirkiness is added, without being too much misplaced. Likewise the next tune, Sleepless Aristotle , is similar in tone and texture, yet defies the unwritten rules of conformity. And finally, It Goes Like That, with a different take on a hillbilly beat, and an unusual nod to Twang Town, round off the four tracks on offer.

There is nothing predictable here. A progression which may be heard next, is simply not there, and a surprising good use of referenced cliches, is used sparingly with a tonge firmly planted in both cheeks, if that's at all possible. Frontwomen Bernadette Malavarca and Catherine McGowan take up the story......

NS - The band has a very organic sound, for want of a better word. Is this intentional ? or perhaps a byproduct of the live show ? There's no synthetic instrumentation for example.

B - It's just what feels right for now. We have no firm stance for or against synthetic instrumentation, and it's likely that at some point, we would introduce something like that. But, I do think that unless you are careful with synthetic sounds and so forth, the usage can easily date.... and, I think in general, the intention with Bernie and the Brights is to strive for timelessness whenever we can.... fingers crossed that we achieve it.

NS -That live acoustic sound has translated well into a studio setting. Are you happy wth the overall feel ?

C - We’re definitely pleased with the overall feel of the EP. We recorded live, all 5 of us, and just overdubbed the final vocals, additional violins, guitars and percussion, specifically because we were trying to capture our live sound. We started a few recording projects and recording live with all 5 of us was the final method that worked for us.

B - Yes, it has translated. We had some time to marinate with each other and develop together before tracking the EP, and it's a good thing, I think, though we were always anxious to get something out...ASAP.

NS -Marinating has certainly worked. Why an Ep then ? Not a single, for example, or a fuller album ?

C -We primarily did an EP to finally get a recording out there. It was long over-due for us and a full length was going to take a lot longer than we wanted to wait.

B - Yeah. Time was a factor in the decision. We did not want to rush a full-length, but we did want to get something out there. In terms of choosing the songs that were ultimately included, these four are ones that fans really like, as well as a survey, or snap shot of what we are like as a band.

NS - Track selection is always important ? Why these tracks, specifically, out of the many you have ?

C -We have about 30 songs, with a few babies still growing. These 4 songs are some of our more staple, fan favorite tracks, but they also display a bit of our diversity, so they seemed to be the best to select for putting them out first.

NS - They're certainly diverse, but when the Ep is put on random play, each track is unique, ......yet fits, or compliments the others, They could be in any order. Usually, tracks are ordered for overall flow and effect, but with this Ep, it doesn't matter. Is it by design, or just an overall feel, in how you write and perform ?

B - I don't know why this happens, but I'm glad you say that. I think it's a happy accident if they work in random order, but we tried to be conscious of flow when we ordered the songs.

NS - It's been well recieved. More gigs, and travelling further afield ?, or back into the studio for more recording ?

B - Recording and travel are certainly in the forefront of our goals. We would like to release a full length, and ....expand, grow, however we can.

NS - And that growth also involves other artistic persuits as well ? From your website, it's all hand done, a hands on approach by the band. Is it important to retain a certain level of creative and managerial control ?

B: I'm not sure the need to control the content to that extent is so conscious; I think much of it does boil down to resources, as a practical reason, but also it is true that we enjoy doing some of the aspects beyond music ... art, writing, etc.

C: Yeah. The creative aspects beyond just the music can be fun to think about, but it's almost a full time job that requires just as much time and effort as writing and performing our music. And we did create the artwork for Swing Shift Maisies on our own, which was a lot of fun, but a ton of work. But, like Bernadette said, it's all a matter of resources, .......financial resources.

NS -I've described this Ep as genreless. It's not that it's floating around, looking for a genre, it just doesn't need to. It's just unique in it's perception and presentation, and appears to have evolved natually. Your thoughts ?

B - I can see that. I just think it is what it is...we kind of just write songs that feel honest. I think, by default, songwriters are like stew bowls .... if the influences are all over, what's likely to come out will reflect that. The hope is that that mix feels fresh.... like some hybrid product of all that's ever gone into your consciousness.

NS- So with all the options available, what's next on the agenda ?

B: Work. Work. Work. Writing. Recording. Becoming better musicians. Expanding our touring radius and releasing more content. Growing however we can. And definitely, working hard is important. In the end, we love it. We had a pretty great weekend that just passed. We got to open for Fishbone down at the House of Blues in Atlantic City Friday night and then Saturday afternoon we were in the Union County Music Fest. We were on the 101.9RXP stage, but the main stage acts included Spoon, Train, OK GO, Soul Asylum, The Zombies and others. It was a really awesome experience, to say the least. More literally though, a full-length album is in the plan for 2011.

So, with the Ep done, a line of touring dates being drawn up, and a new album planned for 2011, Bern and the Brights, have all the happenings of a promising, and hard working future. If you get the chance to catch them live, ( gig dates here ) then do it now, before it's standing room only.

Swing Shift Maises is out now, and is available via CD Baby , iTunes and Amazon . This is one EP, where it's well worth buying the hard copy.

Title : Swing Shift Maisies

Genre : Undefined, but Altrenative Indie Folk may fit, so may Chamber Orchestra meets Dolly Parton, ..............or any combination which may be dreamt up

Artist : Bern and the Brights

Bernadette Malavarca – lead guitar/vocals/percussion
Catherine McGowan – acoustic guitar/vocals
Nicole Scorsone – violin
Shawn Fafara – bass
Jose Ulloa – drums

Rating ; 4/5

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Joanne Lurgio - 'Nothing Remains the Same" - Album Review

Joanne Lurgio's album "Nothing Remains the Same" was released December 13th 2009. Following on from the succesful 2005 debut album, "Find A Dream -catch it if you dare", it's been awhile between drinks, but indeed, nothing does remain the same, except for the heart warming voice and the presence of a valuable songwriting talent.

"Nothing Remains the Same" is written and performed in it's near entirity by former Mofit Magazines' Singer Songwriter of the Year ( 2007 ) , Joanne Lurgio. An album of 12 diverse, but interlinked songs, it meanders it's way from country rock, to gospel, to tired and lonely ballads, and to simple stories of life itself. What started out as a couple of demo tracks at the infamous Pineyfest Demo Derby, ended up to be a complete round trip musical journey. Joanne takes up the story.....

JL - Through luck and friendship I had a wonderful opportunity to record some of my songs in Nashville, TN. It started out as a demo project, but the more I listened to my recordings, the more I was loving what was happening to my songs and realized I wanted them for myself, not simply demowork. I called my friend Mike Dunbar, who was engineering & producing the demo projects and asked to change direction. to start working on a full length CD. Without hesitation, Mike gathered up some of the best Nashville musicians and we set out to finish the album we'd only just started.

A Rhode Island native, Joanne made the long treck to StringHouse Studios in Nashville to work with long time resident music producer, Mike Dunbar, and as Dunbar puts it, ......

MD - "Joanne was just a pleasure to work with. Although we had some of the best session musicians contributing their talent, it was Joanne herself who provided the backbone of each track, both lyrically and musically, and who required only the lightest of musical intrpretation. Sure, the backing is there, but it is secondary to the strength of vocal lines, and the depth of the songriting as a whole".

Stylistically diverse, yet with a strong sense of continuity, all the tracks on this album take the listener both on a well travelled path, and also down the less travelled side alleys of personal feeling. The deceptively simple blues of "True Love" ( with great alto sax from John Heinrich ), to the elequant delivery and Southern gospel approach of "Walking on Sacred Ground" to the vivid imagery of the title track "Nothing Remains the Same", are all in some ways the same approach, yet with a slight shift in mood, tempo and texture.

With a putity of voice, and an honest no frills approach to production, "Nothing Remains the Same" is not a "perfectly" recorded album. On the converse, being largely recorded "live to tape" with minimal overdubs, and an almost lack of interrupting wizardry, a live studio feel is maintained whilst bringing expression, musicianship and depth of feeling to the forefront. What you see ( or, rather hear ) is what you get.

There are not many vocalists, let alone singer songwriters who can pull off an entire album of listenable and memorable songs.

If you like your music similar to a home cooked 12 course dinner with a warming mulled wine, each track with an everchanging flavour but a strong sense of direction, each with that sense of familiarity yet a subtle but profound difference, then "Nothing Remains the Same" is a must listen. Yes, it has been a long while between drinks, so it's well worth the time to sit back and absorb the atmosphere of a well crafted album. Available from CD Baby, and digitally available eveywhere.

Title : Nothing Remains the Same
Genre : Singer Songwriter

Artist : Joanne Lurgio
Producer : Mike Dunbar

Joanne Lurgio - acoustic guitar & vocals
Mike Baker – guitar
Mike Dunbar – bass, mandolin & guitar
John Heinrich – steel guitar, tenor saxophones & soprano, dobro
Willie Rainsford – keyboard
Fred Satterfield - drums

Recorded at StringHouse Studio, Hendersonville TN and Mike Dunbar Productions, Nashville TN

Produced by Mike Dunbar, Mike Dunbar Productions, Nashville TN

Engineered by Mike Dunbar & Rick Otts

Rating : 4/5