Robert Schwartzman Article

Robert Schwartzman

“The Music Man”

By Emily J Ramey

Written for BMI: MusicWorld

Robert Schwartzman is a man refreshingly fanatical about the art of making music. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, having seen rapid success with his California retro rock band Rooney, the 28-year-old singer/songwriter is absolutely bursting with new ideas, projects, and overall zeal for the industry, which is more than evident in the way he talks about his songwriting process: “I get excited by chords; I get excited by melody; I get excited by lyrics… something has to spark excitement, and you just run with it. It’s a domino effect either way, but the process is specific to whatever’s occurring in that moment.”

“Learning by ear inspired me to start writing music, taking feelings and stories from my life and turning them into a song,” he explains of his early penchant for songwriting. “It was the thrill of having something in my hands that didn’t exist before.”

As for influences, Robert cites “oldies but goodies” as his inspiration, then and now. “You know late fifties, early sixties, cruising with your friends with the top down and milkshakes,” he says. “I’ve always thought – and still do – that that music is really simple and so… right; the innocence of that music has always inspired me.”

These threads are discernible in Rooney’s distinctive flashy guitars, chunky rhythms, and summery melodies, but Schwartzman, ever the opportunist, is on the verge of expanding his repertoire with a solo venture as well. “The band has been a big part of my life and it’s important to me, but there’s still a need to be able to take chances and try other things. I played all the instruments, they’re all my songs; on every level, it’s my record.”

Schwartzman’s debut will be released this fall, with plans for a tour following closely behind. After all, the live show is what it’s all about, Robert claims. “I like the feeling of playing music to people. Playing a live show sort of helped me understand how people are affected by music. When you perform something, you feel it in a different way; you feel like you’re putting it all on the line.”

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Adele’s “21” Review

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Adele

“21”

February 2011; Columbia Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

So, full disclosure: I love Adele. She’s beautiful and sharp and unbelievably talented. The girl won two Grammys for an album that she recorded while still a teenager. “Chasing Pavements” and her debut album 19 led Adele into international recognition as an authentic young voice expressing the bittersweet turbulence of adolescence awakening into adulthood.

But that was then. Sophomore release 21 speaks to new worlds opening at her feet, genre wise, shifting from R&B tinged with jazz to a full-blown amalgamation of blues, pop, and soul while remaining true to the British singer/songwriter’s signature style – that boldly ardent, wrenching voice of hers.

Thematically, 21 addresses a young woman’s mercurial ventures in love, darkly resonating and coolly evocative. The album permits tiny glimpses into the singer’s own heavy heart, forcing us to feel something – to relive ancient heartbreaks, to summon up past wrongs – pleading with us to wade back through our common woes. Adele writes from a more mature place and sings more passionately her own stories.

From the first moments, we hear might and confidence swelling in those lusty alto notes. Single “Rolling in the Deep” is a powerful and magnetic kick off to 21 that has Adele wailing about betrayal: “Think of me in the depths of your despair.” “Rumour Has It” maintains Adele’s robust new sound with sleek harmonies and swanky beats. The yearning, symphonic “Turning Tables” ebbs and surges like a midnight tide, silvery strings sweeping across an arcane melody.

The elegantly bleak imagery of “Set Fire to the Rain” allows the tune to billow and tumble, the music itself calling to mind a reckless downpour. “He Won’t Go” struts musically, recalling 70s-style R&B; Adele’s loose rhythm and casual vocals prove just how easy it is for the young singer/songwriter to croon her way through any heartbreak. “Take It All” blends jazzy piano with gospel flair, Adele’s vocals taking on a brisk quality, exuding chilly poise.

Brassy horns on “I’ll Be Waiting” stir in a dynamic beat that heats up like a fever. The richly dulcet “One and Only” is full-bodied and golden, a tune brimming with sweet, sweet soul. And Adele’s acoustic cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” soothes like a slow, velvety, almost sensual ballad.

Adele’s 21 is her musical and emotional pièce de résistance and therefore should not be taken lightly. Where 19 was a tentative step into the spotlight, 21 is a voluptuous, retro-inspired collection of “look-at-me!” moments. Do not pass this one up.

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The Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow” Review

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The Civil Wars

“Barton Hollow”

February 2011; Sensibility Music LLC

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

The Civil Wars have sprouted from the ground like a slender vine, winding slowly at first and then shooting into the sunny mainstream through a series of fortunate accidents. Young duo though they may be, Joy Williams and John Paul White make a remarkable pair. Their dynamics are poised and expressive, and their voices meld exquisitely, as one might have thought only siblings’ might.

The duo’s customary guitar and violin instrumentation is occasionally accompanied by ethereal piano tones that act as lingering sprigs of fresh greenery among the folksy brambles that preoccupy the rest of the album. On the whole, Barton Hollow is a sinuous tribute to centuries past and melodies forgotten, saturated with captivating turns of phrase.

Opener “20 Years” billows and lopes, beginning the album with an almost whimsical guitar lick. “C’est la Mort” is a delicate, pleading tune, the American folk cousin to the tentative, graceful chords of European duo The Swell Season (of Once fame). The Civil Wars’ breakout hit “Poison and Wine” exudes desperation and heartache, wading through the melancholy with one recurring phrase: “Oh, I don’t love you, but I always will.”

“My Father’s Father” trots lightly, beads of sadness clinging to the tune like dew, manifested in an echoing slide guitar. Then, the title track roars in, blazing and flaring like an old-world forest fire; harmonies glow hotly as blistering strings flicker alongside their voices. The album’s lone instrumental, “The Violet Hour,” directly follows “Barton Hollow,” acting as water splashed across the flames, elegant and haunting.

“Girl with the Red Balloon” is a refreshingly minor track, an elegiac tale of love lost and a girl who is “always and never alone.” “Forget Me Not” washes over the listener like a summer rain – warm, gentle, cleansing; the tune is reminiscent of traditional country duets, steady and broad, made modern by a twinkling mandolin.

The Civil Wars can be proud of their extraordinarily rich debut. Barton Hollow musters the beginnings of a long, lovely road, and speaking personally, I’ll “walk miles and miles in my bare feet” if I have to.

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The Decemberists’ “The King is Dead” Review

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The Decemberists

“The King is Dead”

January 2011; Capitol Records

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

I’m pretty proud to be able to say I’ve been following The Decemberists and their musical endeavors for the majority of the band’s existence. Of the now six full-length albums they’ve produced, I’ve watched and waited for and loved five of them, discovering the Seattle sextet in my junior year of high school. The Decemberists’ efforts since then – the epic Picaresque in 2005, the major label debut The Crane Wife in 2006, 2009’s rock opera The Hazards of Love – have each been valiantly ambitious and wholly unique while keeping true to the band’s organic sound and colorful flair for the dramatic.

And the band’s most recent work is no exception. The King is Dead is a bold, tightly knit collection of smoothly woven, rustic tales of love and guilty consciences. This time though, The Decemberists are folksier and more effortless than ever, straying from their characteristically extravagant stylings for subtler, sleeker tunes. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and singer/songwriter Gillian Welch, both of whom are featured prominently throughout, seem to keep Colin Meloy and company tethered without stifling the band’s sensational themes or erudite prose.

Rollicking opener “Don’t Carry It All” maintains a familiar swagger, wild with harmonica and brazen violins, but “Calamity Song” settles into an easy, upbeat melody with something almost countrified lingering about the chorus. The sea shanty-ish “Rox in the Box” boasts a blustery, minor tonality, complete with a saucy accordion and darkly esoteric lines like, “Of dirt you’re made and to dirt you will return.”

The single, “Down By the Water,” is well chosen; The Decemberists have never been so radio-friendly as on this balmy, churning melody. And “This is Why We Fight” is a brawny and cavernous track, spinning brooding words into bravado: “And when we die, we will die/With our arms unbound/And this is why/This is why we fight.”

Today, The Decemberists are well seasoned and comfortable without sacrificing charisma or radiance. The King is Dead is perhaps little less fanfare than we have come to expect but remains well contrived, expertly accomplished, and stunningly felt. Bravo, Meloy; bravo.

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Mumford & Sons Review

“Devils with Strings: Mumford & Sons at War Memorial”

By Emily J Ramey

Click Here to See the Published Version on American Music Channel

War Memorial, ablaze

It seems like the majority of the English-speaking world could at least tap a foot along to “Little Lion Man” these days. Beyond that, I’d be willing to wager that the majority of that majority’s opinion is that Mumford & Sons are some fierce musicians, the melancholy heroes of the British folk world. And how could they not be? Their lyrics are simple and poetic, their music rollicking and complex. I like to think of them as a sort of 2nd cousin to The Avett Brothers, trading the raw bluegrass overtones that makes the Avetts so compelling to listen to for the fuller, heavier feel of Celtic banjo and folk mandolin.

The young quartet put out their major label debut Sigh No More in February of this year and have since been accumulating some serious industry chops. They were the talk of Bonnaroo over the summer, and their US tour has grown organically into sold out show after sold out show. The band’s passionate energy and collective musical virtuoso is driving and contagious. Frankly, they overwhelm me. But after finally experiencing one of the most powerful live shows of the year, I’m convinced that Mumford & Sons are possessed: only demons can blaze as they did that night – radiating brilliance and passion without consequence, instruments or not.

Banjo extraordinaire

Their show at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville was a highly anticipated one anyway: tickets sold out in a matter of weeks, a rare occurrence in Music City. November 1st also marked the band’s second performance in Tennessee ever. Mumford & Sons later added a limited performance (set for just hours before the concert) at Grimey’s, the old record store. It sold out before it was even officially announced. Nashville’s Internet presence dubbed the day “Mumford Monday,” in honor.

King Charles opened the show with a husky foreign accent and conductor’s jacket. The crowd’s initial reaction was one of mild confusion mixed with stout curiosity and rightfully so. It takes a certain amount of bravado to stand onstage alone, sporting curls longer than any girl’s and wearing naught but a pink unitard (an outfit that belonged in the Nutcracker ballet rather than a folk rock opener). However, for all his ridiculousness, King Charles’ lyrics were subtle but earnest, his guitar muted but intricate, his voice throaty but clear, and he had won us over by the end.

The only thing I knew about the next act was that the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced their album, which is build up enough. All the same, you’d think maybe the band officially on tour with Mumford & Sons might be a little bit nervous about playing the same stage, but for Cadillac Sky, it was just another day they got to play their instruments and miraculously get paid to do so. Highlights of the C-Sky set included “Human Cannonball” and “Insomniac Blues,” both alive with fervor, lightning fast fingers, and coarse harmonies. The band itself was clever without being gimmicky, sharp without being overly technical.

After the openers, the audience is positively buzzing with the knowledge that there are now mere moments between them and Mumford & Sons. With time to stretch, jot down a few notes, and eavesdrop, I finally take a look around and notice my place among the masses. I have somehow managed to squeeze myself into the exact middle of this tightly packed, flannel-clad crowd: Nashville represented itself well.

Mumford himself

At long last, Mumford & Sons takes the stage to raucous applause. Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane are casually dressed in jeans and white cotton shirts, crumpled button-ups and old vests, exuding effortlessness and humility mingled with raw talent. One of them murmurs a low “Good evening” into the mic, and all goes quiet. They start off like the album, playing “Sigh No More,” “The Cave,” and “Winter Winds” in succession, with hardly a moment in between. Already we are beginning to sink into the world they have created for us – gentle, churning, acoustic, and unbridled. The set continues with “White Blank Page,” a fan favorite. Half the audience is singing every word, the other half stomping the tune’s hastening beat.

The band steps back from the gathering maelstrom, letting the energy gather and eddy through the crowd. Mumford himself introduces the next song as a new one called “Keep the Earth Beneath My Feet,” which was followed by sweet, symphonic “Timshel.” Next, “I Gave You All,” a rapturous and stirring tempest, builds into a gilded fury. Incandescent bulbs electrify the stage as the band begins their infamous “Little Lion Man.” Blazing and crackling, the lights strung across the space below the ceiling recall an ancient Italian restaurant; those lighting them from behind create old-fashioned silhouettes reminiscent of 20s Broadway.

By this time, Mumford & Sons fingers are moving at a blistering rate; the audience itself is roiling. People are cheering before, during, and after each tune. The band is now changing instruments here and there – Marshall adding dobro and slide guitar to the mix, Mumford switching to drums for a song or two, Dwane alternating between string and electric bass. The next few songs are a vehement, glowing blur. New “Lover of the Light,” stormy “Thistle and Weeds,” smoldering “After the Storm,” and dynamic “Awake My Soul.”

As for the last song, a scorching “Dustbowl Dance,” Mumford practically snarls the lyrics. The ground is shaking; the lights are flashing; Lovett and Winston are bellowing the chorus; and the crowd is roaring back. The four Brits – sweaty, wide-eyed, and beaming – bow together and leave the stage, but the crowd is practically riotous, chanting and cheering and stomping wildly.

A few teeming minutes pass, the crowd anxiously eying the backstage. Then with a deafening rise in applause, Mumford & Sons reappear with the boys of Cadillac Sky close on their heels. Each of the bands takes a moment to thank the fans, then nine guys on nine instruments start in on a fiery rendition of “Try to Turn the Tide.” Halfway through the number, the people around me are pointing excitedly; whispers ripple through the crowd: there are more figures with instruments in the backstage doorway. “No way,” I overhear, “DUDE, it’s Old Crow!”

And so it is. Nashville’s own Old Crow Medicine Show emerges, instruments in hand, making a total of 22 people on stage. This is a story that audience will be telling for some time to come. Together, Mumford & Sons, Cadillac Sky, and OCMS play Old Crow’s “Cocaine Habit” and all-time favorite “Wagon Wheel.” They finish with a sweltering performance of “Roll Away Your Stone” – a show for the books, from beginning to swelling, tumultuous end.

EVERYONE

Mumford & Sons is the kind of show that gets in your blood and heats you up until you’re feverish and delirious, raucous and mad for all the world. The music infects you like a sickness, takes over until you give in to it. It’s fearsome and extraordinary, and I wouldn’t dare miss it.

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Rooney’s “Eureka” Review

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Rooney

“Eureka”

June 2010; Rooney Records

By Emily J Ramey

The first time I heard of Rooney, my college roommate was dragging me to a concert in Manhattan in 2006.  They were still touring on their debut album, and their live show blew me away.  There’s just something about that California rock that captures and ignites universally.  It’s possible that with Rooney the magnetism has something to do with gorgeous indie frontman Robert Schwartzman, but it also may have something to do with their tight retro guitars and powerfully catchy tunes.

I wouldn’t call Rooney revolutionary, but they’ve always been glowing and strong.  Their self-titled debut was all the best of solid 90s style Cali-punk with cult favorites like “Blue Side,” “I’m Shakin’,” and “Sorry Sorry.”  2008’s Calling the World was totally 80s with its sunny harmonies and robust synth work.  Highlights included “When Did Your Heart Go Missing?,” “I Should’ve Been After You,” “Don’t Come Around Again,” and “Paralyzed,” channeling greats like ELO, Queen, and Toto.

On Eureka, Rooney continues to time travel, attributing their first independently produced album to the chunky rhythms and summery melodies of 70s AM rock.  The band’s characteristic flashy guitars, funky keys, and resonant drums are all present on their most recent work, but the songwriting is more sophisticated, the album as a whole a bit more subdued.

The single “I Can’t Get Enough” is bright and choppy with breezy lyrics:“I tell you yes; you tell me no./I ask you why; you never let me know/You close your eyes; I hold you tight/But it’s no surprise, I got no where to go.”  The melancholy piano chords and raw vocals present a subtler effort on “Into the Blue.”  “All or Nothing” is a perfect bridge from Rooney’s past albums to Eureka.  The track’s throbbing drums, blazing keys, and sharp lines (“I’m a’changing every day, changing every single way/I can’t stop this train I’m on when it’s still in motion/I don’t want to fail you now, but it’s a’coming somehow.”) are all reminiscent of “If It Were Up To Me” and “Believe in Me” while remaining congruent with the new tunes.

“The Hunch” is a refreshing and lively song made memorable by drummer Ned Brower on lead vocals.  And “Not in My House” is raging and dirty with its groovy blues bass and seething lyrics: “I know what you’re after/I know why you came her/You got the devil in you seeping out your pores.”

I’ve been a big fan of Rooney since their live show heated up that cool November Friday for me.  Although Eureka feels a little different than their previous albums, I think we can definitely label it as “progress,” and turn it up louder.

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Creativity as an Entity

Wow.  I don’t normally use my portfolio to share something like this, but to be honest, Elizabeth Gilbert’s words are too uplifting and enlightening not to share with as many creative minds as possible.  I am humbled and affected and inspired.  – EJR


TED Talk for Writers, Musicians, Actors, Artists.

Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius.