Ron Scalzo at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC

Better B# - TAM Logo 2
Ron Scalzo, the artist formerly known as Q*Ball, as well as frontman of the metal band Return To Earth, celebrated his birthday last weekend, Nov. 12, at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. But unlike the traditional birthday party, Scalzo decided the best way to throw this bash was with a little less cake and a little more music. Sitting down at a Steinway & Sons piano, he was joined by the local three-piece Bandits On The Run, as well as a few more friends, to spread the joy he felt that night. I was in attendance as well, as a friend and photographer, to capture as much of this joy as I could manage. His set list consisted of a number of original tunes, such as “I’m Really Super,” which received a standing ovation (well, it was general admission, so everyone was standing); as well as a few covers ranging from Faith No More’s “Midlife Crisis,” to his encore of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All.” Needless to say, by the end of the night many were surprised, and all were impressed.

 
More on Ron Scalzo: Official Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Music by Ron Scalzo at: iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby
Music by Q*Ball at: iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby
Music by Return To Earth at: iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby

Here are some photos of the occasion:

CD Review: ‘The Laboratory Sessions’ by SHEL

Better B# - TAM Logo 2

The Holbrook sisters are back with SHEL’s second musical offering, entitled The Laboratory Sessions.  After a period of braving the road on tireless tours in support of their first album, these four talented ladies from Fort Collins, Colorado have presented us with a new batch of concoctions.  Somehow they managed to find time to write music in between their gigs and rigorous workout competitions, at times being forces to compose while taking shifts behind the wheel.  But now the new release is upon us and I must say, it’s quite tasty!

Warning: Side effects may include extreme musical addiction and enjoyment.

It was sheer happenstance that I stumbled upon SHEL (Sarah, Hannah, Eva, and Liza), but I’m quite happy that I did.  Within two weeks of discovering their music I was watching them perform in Washington D.C. and didn’t even own their debut album until after the concert had wrapped up.  Since then I’ve had the honor of interviewing Hannah about the band and her own solo release, become even more of a fan, and thus have eagerly awaited this follow-up album since its announcement.  The ladies used PledgeMusic.com to crowd-fund the LP, and provided a great number of rewards for supporting the effort.  What I especially liked was that they offered various release packages, ranging from the bare-bones digital album & commentary bundle, an all instrumental version of the album, as well as early demos and cell-phone recorded tastes of the songs as they were just coming into being.  From bud to blossom, and from digital to the kitchen sink, the ability to get inside this album and look around was vast.

 

The Laboratory Sessions, when compared to the self-titled debut, feels very organic.  While the previous release was fantastic and built one strong song upon the next, the new album feels like a more united, focused effort.  The quartet haven’t abandoned the folk-rock-pop amalgamated roots that they established from their outset, so no worries there.  But Eva said something that struck me in the commentary released alongside the work, saying that as she writes more and more music, she does so “to move people.  Not to be like, ‘Look what I can do,’ but ‘Look what you can feel.’”  And this album does that, backing away from some of the showier aspects of the debut, but brimming with emotion and experience.  Take for example “You Could Be My Baby,” which sounds like a near, dear relative of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” sung with a confidence previously unheard from the girls.  On the other end of the spectrum we have “I’m Just A Shadow,” as bleak and haunting as any dirge I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.  Of course, we can’t leave without a good ole fashioned drinking song, and “Moonshine Hill” comes to our rescue.  It’s a personal favorite, I must confess.

Some of you might say, “How can the album be a united, focused effort if it goes from confident to bleak to songs about drinking?”  Well, firstly, it’s one song about drinking.  Secondly, you should go listen to the first album.  Great release, but its songs range from the circus to owls to a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle Of Evermore” and then some, whereas this one focuses more on personal relationships, overcoming fears, and homesickness.  And alcohol, but that’s one song!  The only song which feels a little detached is “Lost Without You,” and this is because it features singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop in a duet with Eva, as opposed to the four-piece Holbrook harmonies that we’ve come to know throughout the rest of the release.  But it’s a good song, so I can’t blame them for including it.

 

The Holbrook sisters have been busy in the last few years.  Not only have they done a ton of touring, but Hannah has released a solo piano EP, Eva has co-written several songs with the aforementioned Gareth Dunlop (the song “Hold On” made it into the movie The Best Of Me), and they have continued to write and create their own music videos for existing and new songs!  It’s amazing that they even had time to write this new album, but I suppose that’s why they sometimes chose to compose while driving from town to town.  I wouldn’t recommend trying that, kids.  The Laboratory Sessions is a welcome addition to SHEL’s growing catalog and that’s coming from a well-satisfied customer and fan.  Now is the perfect time for you to do a little experimenting of your own and see if a dash of SHEL cures your musical ills.  I’m not selling snake oil, I swear.

 

Buy the song, “I Was Born A Dreamer,” to help an animal in need: iTunes | Amazon
Buy the song, “You Could Be My Baby” at: iTunes
Buy the song, “When The Sky Fell” at: iTunes


For more on SHEL, visit:
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Soundcloud
Youtube

Interview with Hannah Holbrook of SHEL

Image above used with permission.  © Taylor Ballantyne.

 

Better B# - TAM Banner

 

Last year, after becoming infatuated with learning the mandolin, I stumbled upon a young woman’s Youtube video in which she played Bach on an octave mandolin. Her name was Eva Holbrook, a member of the all-sister four-piece called SHEL from Fort Collins, Colorado. Shortly thereafter, I discovered that the group was playing at a venue just up the road in Washington D.C. I didn’t need to think very hard about attending, as I’d already been impressed by each of them via their homemade music videos which were posted online. Though the venue itself was questionable, they still put on an astounding show and all of them were very down to Earth when I approached them after the performance. We tossed around the idea of doing an interview and, after a few scheduling issues, I was finally able to ask the eldest Holbrook, Hannah, a few questions about the band and her new solo piano EP, Late Bloomer.

 Interview with Hannah Holbrook of SHEL on February 18, 2014.

All of you are accomplished players, but I know Liza was originally learning the harp before discovering her love for percussion. Did the rest of you immediately know the instruments you wanted to play, or was it more of a trial and error of love?

We all tried to start with guitar, but it didn’t really stick. Sarah and Eva play it now, along with bass and Eva plays cello. I picked piano and fell in love. I can’t seem to put that kind of time and energy into any other instrument.

Originally you four were a back-up band for your father’s music. You’ve also played with your brother, Isaac. Was it because of this upbringing that it was obvious you’d form a band with each other, or did some of you test the waters with other musicians before “coming back home”?

We had and still do have solo projects and little side projects here and there, but SHEL is a full time gig and we’ve been thinking about it that way for about 10 years.

Who came up with the idea to use each of your initials to form the band name? Were there any other band names thrown out there before “SHEL” was settled on?

I’m not sure who to give credit on this one. We were sitting around the kitchen table brainstorming a band name and someone, maybe mom, took all our initials and wrote them out in random order on a sheet of paper. We had HESL (in order of age), we had SEHL… meh… we had LESH… we had SHEL. Well, that makes the most sense.

All of you are, deservingly, endorsed by various instrument companies. How did you arrive at using the brands who sponsor you?

I think it all starts with word of mouth. I had been hearing about Kurzweil keyboards from a very young age. I tried out some other brands when I first started, but, being a pianist and a purist, I wasn’t satisfied with the fake piano patches. Nothing sounded remotely real until I tried out a Kurzweil 12 years ago at the recommendation of my father. I’ve been hooked ever since.

As you told me you’d be going by plane during this interview, I was wondering about instrument travel. I’ve heard horror stories about musicians who have their instruments mishandled by airline staff. Do you have any horror stories of your own in this matter, or tips for those musicians who are worried about keeping the tools of their trade safe?

No horror stories. We fly SouthWest 😉

And my advise for the worried traveler is pretty obvious: if your instrument is to big for the overhead bin, a flight case is always a good idea, or do what I often do as a keyboard player, back-line/rent your instrument and have it delivered to the venue.

How does the writing process work in SHEL? You mentioned on social media that you’re starting to write more songs together, so I take it that the dynamic is evolving?

Historically, Eva would write a song and bring the chords and lyrics to us. Then we’d each arrange our parts and go out and perform it. Now we all find ourselves sitting down and writing out the chords and lyrics together. It’s a different sound, a different style, and it’s been great learning to collaborate together with way.

You recently released a solo EP of piano compositions called Late Bloomer. The title is interesting because you’re the oldest sister. Can you tell us more about that release? What separates that music from the rest of SHEL’s writing?

This is a collection of pieces I’ve been working on for a couple years. Some of them I started in college, a couple of them I actually just finished days before recording. I played one of the compositions for one of my former piano teachers and she said: “Wow, Hannah! I didn’t know you had that in you. You really are a late bloomer.” She used to tell me that from time to time in high school… and when she said it that last time, I thought it was a fitting title for an EP that I would have liked to have released a few years ago, but I wasn’t quite ready. This is a very different style from SHEL’s writing. It’s influenced primarily by classical, jazz, and contemporary composers like Mozart, Rachmaninov, Chopin, Gershwin, and Ennio Morricone. The solo piano element also sets it apart.

SHEL - Hannah Holbrook - Late Bloomer

Whose idea was it to include “The Battle Of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin on the full-length album? Obviously it’s one of the greatest mandolin rock songs ever, so it makes sense, but was there a particular moment where you all decided it needed to be on the record?

Our dad kept telling us to learn it. Then a couple fans told us. Finally, Scott Borchetta with Big Machine suggested it. After we learned it, it felt like a natural fit.

What do you find yourselves doing as of late, alone or together, in between concerts to keep yourselves entertained?

There isn’t a lot of downtime these days. Music is very much our lives during the day and at night. But occasionally, we’ll sneak out for a movie. If the weather is nice – a hike, a run, some Ultimate Frisbee. And if we get a day off, we’ll be spending it with family or close friends catching up.

Why does Liza punch people when she sees a Dunkin Doughnuts?

It’s kinda like that Punch Buggy game where you punch someone when you see a Volkswagen Beetle.

As always, each of us is faced with the large, blank canvas of the future. What’s next for the ladies of SHEL?

We’re working on our second full length album right now. We’ll be in Nashville writing and recording that until June, then we’ll hit the road!

I want to take a moment to thank each of you, Hannah, for taking the time to answer these questions. To close, what one piece of advice would you give to yourself if you could go back and speak to yourself ten years ago?

I would have told myself to keep writing what I loved and not worry quite so much about trying to write what other people might want to hear. When you have something on your heart, it’s worth putting it out there.

 

For more on Hannah and SHEL, visit:
SHEL Official Website
Buy SHEL’s debut album: iTunes | Amazon | From The Band
Buy Hannah Holbrook’s Late Bloomer EP: iTunes | Amazon | From Hannah
SHEL on Facebook
SHEL on Twitter
SHEL on Youtube