I was provided with the unique opportunity to listen to the pre-release of Cole Quest and The City Pickers' debut self-titled record just days before its release scheduled for July 29th, 2016 at American Beauty. Written July 28th, 2016, Edited September 5th, 2016.
Perhaps one of Cole Quest's biggest strengths is in his unique ability to pull together such an eclectic mix of talent in support of his storytelling, and this album seems to have been recorded with the intention of highlighting this diversity; despite being the leader of the album, four of the eleven tracks feature other singers in the band, namely powerhouse vocalist and guitarist Christian Apuzzo (the principal harmony singer who also sings lead on "Bluest Man in Town" and "Last Old Shovel"). Also prominent is the masterful artistry of harmonica player Matheus Verardino, whose solos stand out among the most impactful as well as Doug 'DOUGMORE' Goldstein, whose focal points as a soloist were seldom but always tasteful and well-considered.
However, it cannot be denied that in many ways, the act of recording this group also serves as an incredible compromise; having seen and even worked with this band for years, I fully attest that there is nothing quite like their live dynamic. The chemistry here is incredibly potent as musical ideas and gestures shared across the ensemble prove a unique familiarity. Simply put, these are musicians who developed this language together and throughout this project this beautiful friendship is evident. We see semblance of this live energy through the group's background harmonies whose slight "imperfections" add to the sense of rawness that permeates portions of the record and vocal responses acting as the hallmarks of a CQCP performance. Thankfully the group also includes many of the band staples including Margaret Mug's swooning take of the traditional "Wayfaring Stranger", Sam Merwin's booming bass harmonies, and Ethan Joseph's rendition of the Keith Allison & Mark Lindsay tune "Freeborn Man", noted in particular by Ethan's high-and-lonesome introduction vocals.
Though out the record, Cole Quest and the City Pickers also feature a number Coles original songs. In the lineage of his grandfather, the late Woody Guthrie, his songs feel incredibly personal in a way that is often forgotten in contemporary songwriting; specifically using the perspective of the writer as cataloguing as a more collective narrator, where personal sentiments and high metaphor always stand secondary to the lyricisms more tangible value. Cole offers us a range of story lines from the feel good "Lady Jane" (despite it's more complex story plot), to urban-county "Mister Grey", a depressed, spoken-word anthem or the alcohol-ridden "Drowsy Dreamer".
My final thoughts: This motley cast of characters places heart behind every note. A worthwhile listen to a number of New York's "up-and-coming" folk personalities. You can find out more about the band as well as listen to or purchase the recording here.
Cole Quest and the City Pickers
Buy Me Back Barry - Cole Quest Rotante © Cole Quest Publishing (ASCAP)
Bluest Man in Town - Bill Monroe © Bill Monroe Music (BMI)
Lady Jane - Cole Quest Rotante © Cole Quest Publishing (ASCAP)
Wayfaring Stranger - Traditional, Arrangement by Margaret Desiree Mug © Cole Quest Publishing (ASCAP)
Drowsy Dreamer - Cole Quest Rotante © Cole Quest Publishing (ASCAP)
Freeborn Man - Keith Allison & Mark Lindsay © Boom Music (BMI)
Last Old Shovel - Jim Scott © Vidor Publications Inc (BMI)
My Name is New York - Words and Music by Woody Guthrie, Arrangement by Cole Quest Rotante, Christian Apuzzo, and Steve Rosenthal © Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. & TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc. (BMI)
Mister Grey - Cole Quest Rotante © Cole Quest Publishing (ASCAP)
Crippled Inside - John Lennon © Northern Songs Limited/Maclan Music (ASCAP)
Uncle Jeff - Arlo Guthrie © Arloco Music Inc. (ASCAP)
Cole Quest Rotante - Resonator Guitars, Acoustic Guitar (3,5,8), Electric Guitar, Washboard, Vocals (1,3,5,8,9,10,11), Harmony Vocals (2,4)
Christian Apuzzo - Acoustic Guitar (1,2,4,6,7,8,10,11), Vocals (2,7), Harmony Vocals (1,3,4,5,6,8,10,11)
Margaret Desiree Mug - Bass, Vocals (4), Harmony Vocals (7,10)
Sam Merwin - Mandolin, Harmony Vocals (1,2,4)
Ethan Joseph - Fiddle, Vocals (6)
Douglas Jay Goldstein - Banjo, Harmony Vocals (4)
Matheus Verardino - Harmonica
Jimi Zhivago - Hammond Organ / Tack Piano (3,8,10)
Graham Watson - Drums / Percussion
Recorded live at The Magic Shop Studios
In New York, NY, Dec 15-19, 2014
Produced by Steve Rosenthal
Engineered by Kabir Hermon
Mastered by Matt Boynton
Album design by Debbie Tobias
Cover Photography by Justin Camerer