RosinePosted: June 2, 2017
New York City, NY. 1997 – 2004 or so. Reanimated 2017.
First, play this:
That’s my old friend Nick Hill, introducing this band, Rosine, on WFMU on October 28, 2000, broadcasting from the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City. The other radio voice is another old friend, Laura Cantrell. I wanted to start this post with that snippet, because Nick has been ill and on my mind a lot lately as he recovers; stumbling across this bit of his fine booming radio voice from so long ago sent me into a rabbit hole of nostalgia and emotion, just the sort of thing I hope this blog does best. I’ve been away from it (the blog) for a couple of years, but I’m back. Thank you for reading.
Nancy Lynn Howell – Vocals, guitar
Lianne Smith – Vocals
Tom Laverack – Vocals
Jonathan Feinberg – Drums
Mark Donato – Drums, Vocals
Reuben Radding – Mandolin, Mandola
Philippa Thompson – Fiddle, Accordion
Josh Neretin – Percussion
Kurt Hoffman – Clarinet
Brian Dewan – Organ
Bob Beimer – Concertina
Al Houghton – Guitar
Diane Stockwell – Fiddle
John Frisch – Oboe
David Goldfarb – Trombone
Chris Washburne – Trombone, Tuba
Mark Lerner – Bass, Vocals, Guitars, Melodica, Banjo, Dobro, Percussion, Dubs
That was on the record, which you can listen to here as you read on….
At live shows we were a good bit smaller, and Rob Meador joined us on guitar and mandolin.
Crawling from the Wreckage
Rosine was my next personal project after Flat Old World disbanded in 1996. Careful readers of this blog will recall that I was in the grips of a pretty hefty dose of depression, which led to that band’s demise. So, although the date above says Rosine began in 1997, not too much happened for a while. I was beginning to write instrumentals with actual notes on paper—a new skill for me—and I got together with former Flat Old World violinist Diane Stockwell and my friend David McLary, both of whom were very comfortable with written music, to try some stuff. I remember us slaughtering the theme from The Third Man, and me struggling to play some of David’s material. I was also really interested in combining Jamaican rhythms and old-time and bluegrass songs, and trying to do dub effects live, so at one point my friends John Neilson, a guitarist, and Lianne Smith, a singer, got together with me and my wife, Nancy Howell, and someone on drums, probably Mark Donato, a few times. We did “Willow Tree,” by Hortense Ellis. We may have done “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” (I have home demos of me doing that around then). I had a notion at one point to do an EP with those two songs and my own song “Under the Willow,” which dated from the last days of Flat Old World. It was a waltz, but I was going to force it into 4/4 and do it reggae-style. That idea pretty much says it all about the early days of Rosine: forcing ideas together (bluegrass + dub!) and hanging it all on a thin conceptual thread (they all have WILLOW in the title!). Luckily, I was still pretty nonfunctional (depression) and couldn’t get a band seriously underway for a while. But by 1999 I got myself well and decided to do… something.
A New Broom Sweeps Clean, But an Old Broom Knows Every Corner
Having a band still seemed daunting. I was kind of fragile and my kids were very young. My last band had played out a lot and recorded as a secondary thing. This time out, I wanted to make a record first, with whomever I thought would be right for each song, and then—maybe—do a few shows. In 1999, I started rounding up people to record the Rosine album (I had the band name quite early on. Rosine is Bill Monroe’s hometown in Kentucky, and I liked the sound of it).
I viewed the recording as a chance to collaborate with a real dream team, many of whom I’d never had a chance to play with. For the core group, I enlisted Jonathan Feinberg (insert a lengthy list of credits here, but Church of Betty was my main exposure to him) to play drums on all of the Jamaican-influenced stuff. For two songs that were more country-ish, I asked Mark Donato (from Flat Old World and the Oswalds) to play. Meanwhile at a job I’d met Philippa Thompson, fresh out of college and new to New York. She played violin and could fake it pretty well on banjo, guitar, and accordion. I was determined to put her to work before the rest of the bands in the city found out about her. Echo, an online bulletin board I am a longtime member of, connected me to David Goldfarb, a trombonist (and Slavic literature professor). I roped in the aforementioned Lianne Smith to sing one of her songs and to duet with Nancy on another. I had played with Tom Laverack in his band Just Desserts (about which more in another post) and on his solo material, and I love his voice, so I pulled him in, too. My old housemate, the multi-talented Brian Dewan, played organ. I’d long regretted that I was unable to play with bassist (and photographer) Reuben Radding (since I’m a bassist, too). Luckily, he had recently taken up mandolin, and had gotten really good really fast. Unfortunately, he was living in Seattle; fortunately, we were able to send tapes across the country and still collaborate. It seemed pretty exotic at the time, to me at least. Al Houghton, who was engineering the recordings at Dubway Studios, suggested his friend Josh Neretin as a percussionist. I’m a huge fan of Kurt Hoffman (Band of Weeds, The Ordinaires, Les Chauds Lapins) as a composer; he’s also a great clarinetist, so I put him to work on a few songs. When we played live, I enlisted Rob Meador from the Maudlins.
There are a few stories about the songs on the album’s liner notes, so I’ll just reproduce those here.
A few other memories spring to mind, though…
- While recording was underway, I bought myself a Dobro, and actually recorded the solo on “World Through My Window” on the day it arrived. (I’d been teaching myself dobro for a few weeks on a regular guitar with an extension nut, an instrument I referred to as a faux-bro in the album’s liner notes).
- I wanted a concertina on the song “Nancy,” and actually called some sort of Irish Arts Center (and yes, I know “Nancy” is a Scottish fiddle tune) to see if they could recommend anyone. The woman on the phone gave me a few names, but didn’t have numbers for most of them. She did tell me what bar I was likely to find them at, on which night of the week (for jam sessions). So I walked a block north of my apartment and found this guy Bob at Flannery’s bar and convinced him to come record with me.
- The song that opens the record, “Wheel and Come Again,” was a last minute addition, unrehearsed before the recording session began.
- The final song—”A New Broom Sweeps Clean, But an Old Broom Knows Every Corner”—had a new twist for me: written music. For that, I got Diane Stockwell (from Flat Old World); John Frisch, an oboist I’d known in college; and Chris Washburne on trombone and tuba. (Not sure how I ended up with Chris, but years later I did a book cover for him.) I also played a nylon string guitar with all the strings tuned to the same note (!), which was an interesting sound (the Monotar-Bro). This is probably my favorite track on the record.
A few more notes, lyrics, etc, that I came across while digging through the attic for this post (click each photo to enlarge):
I’ve always felt a little bad about the package I designed for A New Broom… I was eager to get the package done quickly, and hadn’t quite adjusted to not having my own print shop yet. It’s a bit undercooked and embarassing, but there a couple of things that make me laugh. The disc was sealed in its envelope with this stamp which, of course, you had to break to get at the disc:
I designed a typeface for the packaging. I didn’t know what I was doing and I kind of rushed the whole job. Rosine Oldstyle (an adaptation of a 1906 typeface called Strathmore Oldstyle) was the result. I’ve always liked the seemingly random phrases that end up used in type specimens to show off the characteristics of a given design. There’s some kind of funny stuff hidden in the small print.
Even though the record was not conceived as a live act, I wanted to do a few shows. We debuted with a record-release show at the dearly missed Fez. I only have a cruddy scan of the flyer.
(By the way, I made the weird lettering for the flyer by taking some letters from a Paul Klee painting called “Vocal Fabric of the Singer Rosa Silber.”)
If I’m not mistaken, we only did 5 shows. We ranged from a large band to a trio. I have (terrible) photographic evidence of one show, June 12, 2002 at CBGB Lounge, a particularly skanky branch of the CBGB empire (which is saying something). We were on a bill with Chris Rael’s Church of Betty, Life In A Blender, and Fake Brain. In these photos: Rob Meador (mandolin), Al Houghton (guitar), Mark Donato (singing), Philippa Thompson (violin), David Goldfarb (trombone), Jon Feinberg (drums), Nancy Howell (singing), and me on the bass.
Another show we did provided the audio clip that began this entry, a WFMU broadcast from the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City on October 28, 2000. That show gave me the only audio evidence I have of us live.
“Lullaby of the Leaves,” an old show tune from the 1930s, with a pretty stunning guitar solo by Al.
“The One I Love Is Gone.”
Wheel and Come Again
Rosine went over pretty well; we got a few nice reviews, placed a couple songs in films (Blue Car and The Dead Girl, both by Karen Moncreiff), even got played and praised by legendary British DJ John Peel. But we were never as active as my earlier band, and life and other musical projects began to intervene. We never broke up—especially since there was no consistent membership besides me and Nancy—but we fizzled out.
Flash forward to 2017, and I find myself living in the Catskills, working on a new record, the first record of my own material since A New Broom Sweeps Clean…. It’s about two-thirds recorded. I’ve decided to put it out as Rosine. Musically, I’m not sure how much relation it bears to the sound of my record from 17 years ago (no dub, not really any country), but it’s me, for better or for worse. I feel a tight connection to this new material and, now that I’ve gone back and listened to Rosine version 1.0, I feel a similar link to that band and that record, which I am still pretty proud of.
Thanks for reading, listening, and commenting.