By Michael Hamad
11:00 AM EDT, June 12, 2013
Bronze Radio Return Album Release Show
w/Echo & Drake, Ladyhips, June 15, 7 p.m., $13-$15, The Great Hall in Union Station, 1 Union Place, Hartford, manicproductions.org
Bronze Radio Return is one of the more commercially successful acts ever to break out of Hartford. After 2011's Shake! Shake! Shake! came out, suddenly you could hear BRR all over the place: in spots for the new Nissan Leaf EV and hip-teen haberdashers American Eagle Outfitters, as interstitial music on American Idol, CW's Hart of Dixie and Anthony Bourdain's The Layover, on Pandora Internet Radio. Even before the their new album, Up, On & Over, was finished, corporate placements rolled in; "Further On," the first single, was the soundtrack to the PGA Tour's national campaign, featuring archival footage of some of the world's top golfers, including linksters Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
Even with the national-level attention, cross-country tours, remote recording and video-shoot locales, four of the six band members still live around Hartford. This Saturday, Bronze Radio Return will play an album release show at Hartford's Great Hall at Union Station, where attendees can buy the record a full week before anyone in the country. "Two guys live in New York, but four of us still live in the Hartford area," singer/guitarist Chris Henderson told the Advocate by phone. "Most of our rehearsals still happen out of there."
Up, On & Over was recorded last summer in Louisa, Va., outside of Charlottesville, where they holed up for six weeks on the first floor of a converted barn-studio. They chose the location, Henderson said, to get them out of their comfort zone. "With this we were aiming to show the progression of the band... It's an attempt to keep evolving our sounds but also to try to stay true to our roots. We went into it not to reinvent our sound but to try new textures and song formats." BRR hadn't performed the tracks before the process of recording them, which is when much of the writing and arranging happens. There's plenty to suggest they're sticking with Americana-based rock — a genre they settled into way before the crest of the current Mumford wave. In fact, they were early adopters. "I wonder if people think we jumped on the bandwagon," Henderson said, "but we've been doing it for awhile. But we love what's going on with Americana, and we think we'll continue to play it."
It seems likely you'll hear tracks from Up, On & Over in at least as many spots as Shake! Shake! Shake! cuts. I listened closely to an advance copy, and I remember thinking every track was a potential single, or commercial. The rootsier elements – harmonica, banjo, shuffling snare beats, acoustic guitars and twangy, homespun lyrics — are present but spread out across the album, clumped here and there. Struble's harp and banjo prop up "All In," where Henderson gets casual with language ("going all in, gonna figure it out..."), subverting the familiar with novel pronunciations of words ("kitchen" comes out "kitch-on") and world-music churn. "As Soon As I Fall" is riff-heavy and steady with the snare drum hits. Acoustic guitars open some tunes — "World Spin," for example" — before stepping back. "Thick and Thin" is a 6/8 acoustic ballad whose opening lyrics — "these bags are carry-on and filled with many things / Like songs you taught me on rusty guitar strings / and buried deep inside are the shirts off your back / you gave me the meal and you only ate the snack" — hint at the many debts payable to everyone who helped propel BRR to their current position. "One of the things we try to do is make the record diverse," Henderson said. "Every tune touches on something different, but one band is playing all the way through."
Not long ago, four BRR members — Henderson, drummer Rob Griffith, keyboard player Matthew Warner and bassist Bob Tannen — were Hartt students, soon to be joined by guitarist Patrick Fetkowitz and multi-instrumentalist Craig Struble. "It's a cool thing," Henderson said, referring to the Hartt connection. "[It gave us] a common language, whether or not we should change something, the little nuances that help us communicate... But we all strive for not playing the coolest thing we can play, but playing the right part."
With placement and licensing, Henderson said, they've been fortunate. "We use that as a vehicle to get the music out there," he said. "It's a great outlet for extending the name of the band. But we never sit in the studio and think about it. We just make music that we like to make, and hopefully more of that success will happen."
Henderson feels excited to have a new album out after two long years of hearing and playing the last one.
"It's been mixed and mastered and we've been sitting on it for awhile," Henderson said. "We are excited to release the record, and we're excited to play the hometown show, in the community where we started. We played in the smaller venues and worked our way up. It's a really supportive community."
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