ERIK KOSKINEN February Residency
Erik Koskinen’s Burning the Deal (released June 28, 2019 on Real Phonic Records/Tone Tree Music) is steeped in American roots traditions. Born in Fort Collins, Colorado, raised in Northern Michigan and upper New York state, then living in urban Minneapolis and now, rural Minnesota, Koskinen grew up with the rhythms of weather, factory towns, and farmlands. Koskinen worked in construction for years as he developed his music career, and he now resides on a farm near where he owns a recording studio in Cleveland, Minnesota, population 717.
Of Burning the Deal, he says, “It’s not only Americana music. I learned how to play blues music. I learned how to play country music, and how to play folk, bluegrass, jazz, whatever. I learned how to play American music.” The nine songs share a stripped-down, almost naked quality, but complexities lie just under their skin. Part of that depth can be attributed to the top-notch players Koskinen recruited: Greg Leisz (Jackson Browne, Beck, Joni Mitchell) on lap and pedal steel and mandolin, plus the rhythm section of drummer Jay Bellerose (Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Willie Nelson) and bassist Jennifer Condos (Don Henley, Marc Cohn, Ray Lamontagne). As for how he managed to gather them together — twice — for recording sessions in Ojai, California, Koskinen quips, “In the music biz, you’re always one person away from knowing the president.”
Burning the Deal, his fifth album, follows Cruising Paradise (2018), Live at the Real Phonic Radio Hour (2016), America Theatre (2014), and Keep It to Yourself (2010).
Beth Bombara's album Evergreen began thousands of feet above sea level. Looking to step back and clear her head after a long bout of touring, the rock & roll-inﬂuenced Americana artist nestled herself in the Rocky Mountains in a remote cabin. The cabin’s name? Evergreen. She spent time wandering through acres and acres of untouched forest around the cabin, up and down craggy rocks that felt nothing like her native Michigan nor her adopted home of St. Louis. Almost by accident, songs for her sixth album began to take root.
“I wasn’t writing a new record -- at least, I didn’t think I was at the time,” she admits. “But I’m starting to realize, that’s just what I do. I write songs. You know how trees exhale oxygen? They don’t think too hard about oxygen...it’s just a byproduct of their existence. Well, songs are a byproduct of my existence. I’ve already exhaled these songs, but maybe they’re a needed breath for someone else. And the idea that even one other person needs them is what fulﬁlls me.”
Although based in Missouri, Bombara has spent much of her adulthood on the road, carving out her own award-winning mix of vintage folk and electric roots-rock. She’s been a solo artist, a bandleader, and an occasional side musician for other artists. With Evergreen, Bombara resumes her role as the leader of an ampliﬁed Americana band. These songs were largely written on the run -- in friend’s basements, during soundchecks, and on the road -- while Bombara and company toured the country in support of her 2017 release, Map and No Direction.
As a result, there’s a strong sense of movement here, from Samuel Gregg’s versatile guitar playing to the thump of the group’s rhythm section (featuring Mike Schurk on drums and Kit Hamon -- Bombara’s right-hand man and longtime collaborator -- on bass). Gluing the sound together are Bombara’s unforced vocals, sharp hooks, and optimistic lyrics, which ﬁnd her taking an honest look at life’s diﬃculties while continuing to move forward with positivity.
“Getting to work these songs out on the road was invigorating,” says the songwriter, who’d previously recorded Map and No Direction with a small, insu lar team consisting of Hamon and co-producer Karl Kling. “So I already feel invincible with my touring band, and then my friend John Calvin Abney joined in on keys (and production). The ﬁve of us just walked in to the studio, set up in one live room, and hammered out the whole album in less than a week. It was the most fun I’ve ever had making a record. Everyone’s doing what they do...it just felt eﬀortless.”
From Tom Petty’s heartland rock & roll to Aimee Mann’s quirky indie-folk, Evergreen sources its inspiration from iconic sources. Even so, this is the unmistakably unique work of Beth Bombara, a singer/songwriter who, over a half-dozen albums, has nodded to past traditions while always pushing ahead into new territory. Evergreen is her newest high-water mark: an album that matches her craft with the nuanced stomp of her strongest band to date.