It’s funny that as things seemingly progress they seem to come around full-circle. Musical trends cycle, groups come and go, reform in various new constellations, drifting about and then coming back together. Just as curious is how refreshing familiar musical constructs can sound when they come back into fashion. The singer/songwriter, that confessional breed of individuality so often associated with acoustic guitars and a genre that defines the word mellow, has never really gone out of fashion. The new wave of deft acoustic artists that are dominating both college and mainstream charts these days don’t break new ground as much as they update the form.
Mike Droho and Scott Lamps go back to the early days of the new century with the Profits and probably further than that. I’m sure they would agree they are like brothers. Ida Jo joined their forces when the Profits went kablooey and Mike Droho and the Compass Rose ascended like a phoenix from its ashes with a more modern take; voice box artist Anthony Lamarr (an accomplished artist in his own right) adding hip-hop and soul sensibilities.
Now these three have come together to produce an album of astonishing lushness that lives up to the name, Bello being an Italian word for beauty. It may be plaguing to refer to Bello as a supergroup but that is essentially what it is, as humble as all of these fine individuals are. This, my friends, is Madison’s own CSN. It takes about three seconds into the first track, “Show me the Way” to draw this conclusion.
With little more than acoustic guitars, Ida Jo’s sweet violin and an occasional percussion instrument, Bello creates a tropical rainforest of sound. When sounds, especially voices, are resonating in perfect harmonious pitch they create ghostly overtones. These fill in the spaces that these sparsely arranged compositions leave open, creating a powerful and moving sound that can only be described as tickling of the aural nervous system.
Singing is a special language of musical communication. There is a mental release, somewhat inexplicable, that happens when the joy of singing is fully realized. As a seeker who’s attempted to find nirvana through these methods, I can assure you that this is a therapy that is sorely missed. It can be therapeutic for the listener as well, as there is something about harmony that releases mysterious endorphins of order in a fiercely contaminated reality. Take a look at this video for the first single “Long Way Home”and tell me you don’t see evidence of this joy:
Lamps’ production skills have sharpened considerably over the last few years. He’s been involved with so many fine offerings of late: Ida Jo’s recordings, Brandon Beebe’s outstanding In This Place, the hip electronic artistry of Chants, Anthony Lamarr’s pair of ambitious outings, and, of course, his own recordings and numerous compositions for stage and film which have garnered him regional recognition and awards. His touch here is both everything and invisible. He’s soaked the sounds in just the right amount of reverb to create huge landscapes out of the barest essentials, while retaining the “pluck” that makes the rhythm happen where there are no typical percussion instruments.
Ida Jo has made a name for herself and there’s little doubt that the directorship of Midnight Voices, the a capella, all-female vocal group made up of high school students from around the city, has had an impact on her vocal abilities. Her violin on “More Than That to Me” and her vocal on “Don’t Tell me You Love Me” are highlights on two of the recording’s most moving tracks. Her recent solo recording, Singer in the Band, is a strong second effort that establishes her as a welcome musical force.
Then there’s Mike Droho. Without knowing with certainty, Droho is the common denominator in all of the aforementioned projects and undertakings. There is something uncannily positive about the man and his admirable steadfastness to his own charted course is inspiring. Droho is nearly tireless in his quest for self-discovery and expression, a trait that should be trumpeted. It’s likely that Droho’s spirit has fueled the creative fire of everyone he’s worked with. He’s also an assiduous pragmatist; he gets things done and makes things happen. Every band, and every success, needs one.
Whether these artists know or care, they are involved in building a rich legacy for Madison’s arts – Bello being a strong ingredient – one that the city should be proud of. Beauty is something that time cannot tarnish.
The release party for Bello is May 16th at the High Noon Saloon 8 PM.