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Homegrown East Bay imprint 75orLess Records continues to crank out noteworthy product on a regular basis, including new records from two of the finest singer-songwriters Lil Rhody has to offer in Bob Kendall and Allysen Callery. Kendall follows up 2012’s Midnight Flower with a self-titled full-length, while Callery just released (by popular demand) a four-song session for Folk Radio UK, with production help from Kendall. To celebrate, the pair will team up at the Channing Memorial Church in Newport on Tuesday (the 29th), with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
Aquidneck resident Kendall has a long New England rock pedigree which dates back to the early ’80s. He was born in Huntsville, Alabama (aka “Rocket City”), where his father “somehow” scored a job at IBM working on NASA’s Apollo Rocket systems (Kendall: “He didn’t go to college and barely made it through high school, but clearly he was a smart bastard”). The family was transferred to Rhode Island during his teen years and Kendall moved to Boston following high school in 1981 with his brother Greg, and eventually became a staple of the city’s burgeoning indie/college rock scene with the bands Lifeboat and the Blood Oranges, opened for the likes of R.E.M., the Replacements, and Gang of Four (he also had a day job at the legendary Fort Apache studios in Cambridge). Kendall garnered acclaim with his 2002 solo debut Enough Is Enough and landed a spot the Newport Folk Fest that year, sharing the same stage as Bob Dylan.
Around that time, Kendall also became focused on his career, writing and developing curriculum for programs to prevent violence, and worked in various school districts throughout the state.
“I had been working with men and women who were arrested for domestic violence, as well as victims of domestic violence, and I began to focus on ways to get the word out to younger people so that they wouldn’t fall into the same patterns,” Kendall said when I dropped him a line earlier this week. “The work was sometimes pretty emotionally taxing and required an enormous amount of focus and energy.”
He had been jamming out material with longtime friend and Throwing Muses drummer Dave Narcizo, and brought some tracks to Kraig Jordan at his Plan of a Boy studio, which has developed into the go-to production homebase for 75orLess musicmakers. Kendall released Midnight Flower via 75orLess, an earnest display of Americana and roots-rock songwriting (listen up, fans of Wilco and Buffalo Tom). Tanya Donelly (who has been recording new stuff with Jordan at POAB) joined Kendall on the title track, and released her own rendition on her latest EP, Swan Songs III.
While gathering material for his next solo album, Kendall performed with Jordan as “Stan Sobczak,” a multi-media project that accompanied Jordan’s space-age, ambient music score Stanatron (get it at 75orlessrecords.com).
“Bob is probably best known for the Americana material, but that really is just one piece of what he does,” said Jordan. “He is truly a multi-dimensional artist and a master of textures.”
Kendall’s strong songwriting and penchant for slow-burning melodies are on full display across the new solo album. “New Day” addresses his father’s longtime bout with dementia. His vocals ride squelches of reverb on “WAISTD” and coasts into the standout, smoldering cut “Rage” (with Narcizo’s cymbals crashing through) where he croons, “If you’re bored with me, baby, just rest me up on the shelf/If you’re bored with, bored with me baby, I’m a good read for somebody else.” The band is in full swing on “Dazed” (“a true collaboration,” said Kendall), and the acoustic folk cuts “Dead End Dream” and “Pall Mall Days” are nice changes of pace. The album was produced by the revered Paul Kolderie (Radiohead, Pixies, Warren Zevon), and Kendall said they will also work together on his next album.
Kendall recently worked the boards for Bristol’s favorite songbird, Allysen Callery, who remains on the international radar following a few European tours. On her latest release we are treated to another stunning session for UK Folk Radio. The four songs include a traditional British Isles cover (“Blackwaterside”), a gorgeous unreleased track titled “All In the Morning” (Callery’s vocals and finger-picking guitar skills are second to none here), and two re-recorded songs, “The Huntsman” (originally found on her Summer Place EP) and the precious “Spare Parts” from Mumblin’ Sue. Callery’s subtle delivery is pure gold on lines here like “I’m pretty good with my hands, and I need a man who’ll whir and purr, stir at my command” and “I’ll build a man with a gold heart out of those spare parts.”
Kendall and Callery met last summer and the chemistry immediately clicked. They recorded the sessions in Kendall’s “shed” during one wintry evening (with help from Don Julio tequila, reportedly). The disc has sold out, but her Folk Radio UK Session 2014 download is still available at allysencallery.bandcamp.com. Kendall also worked the boards for a Callery cover of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “I Gave You” for a Will Oldham tribute compilation, and will produce Callery’s next album.
“Bob is able to produce exactly the sound I want, without me explaining or saying anything — I love it,” Callery gushed. “I feel like I discovered a hidden treasure over there in Middletown, but lots of people have known and loved him for a long time.”