Ebin-Rose Trio: Americana Outliers Connecting Dots
Four years ago on this site, I posted an interview I had with a woman from Boston by the name of Marissa Nadler. She had been described somewhere on the web by various somebodies as both “the indie-folk pinup girl and mistress of the murder ballad” and “a damsel who has tumbled from a frayed tapestry in search of her unicorn, a crystal doll who has escaped from her vitrine, or a tubercular maid who has slipped out of her Victorian deathbed photograph to traipse this earthly plane.”
While most of Nadler’s music and striking visual image screamed goth-girl-fairy-princess, it turned out she was a No Depression reader in high school, loved Americana music, and recorded several albums of covers that she sold on Etsy, including the songs of Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt. She has a track on the Karen Dalton tribute album, Remembering Mountains, that’s been getting a lot of press lately, and has been recording a new album that’s due out later this year.
From Nadler’s music, I began to connect the dots with the sort of electric ethereal psych-folk music that she was doing, along with fellow travelers like the Philadelphia band Espers, the solo recordings of their vocalist Meg Baird, and Maine-based Buck and Shanti Curran who perform and record as Arborea. Buck is a fine guitar maker and excellent musician, and Shanti sings and plays something called a Banjimer (a type of banjo-dulcimer made by Tennessee luthier Gwen Forrester), harmonium, ukulele, sawing fiddle, and hammered dulcimer.
Over the years I’ve kept in “Facebook-touch” with all of the above, and last November I got a message from a person with a suspiciously long name who told me Buck Curran had thought I might be someone that he should reach out to in regards to the music he was making with his trio.
It was a good call. One particularly haunting song has pushed me back down into the Americana rabbit hole, where we bust genre stereotypes by melding various styles with new traditions. After dozens of listens, it’s become my adult version of “It’s a Small World,” and is now looped inside my brain.
Brian Ebin Parker Wolfe is a guitarist and mandolin player. His wife, Rose, does the vocals, and Bobo Lavorgna plays upright bass.
Based in Southeastern Connecticut, the trio made their debut in 2013, although they have each been performing in various configurations, in and beyond New England, for quite some time. Last May, they put out a five-track EP called Bare Wires, followed three months later by a live version of those same five songs, aptly titled Live Wires. Their newest EP, Wind Pictures, was released May 9. All are available on their Bandcamp page, and the 1998 album credited to just Ebin-Rose (sans Lavorgna), Through the Wires, can be found on Spotify and the iTunes store.
For the past six months or so, Brian and I have been exchanging emails, and in a new-age-y, dot-com-era way, it feels like we’ve developed a friendship over common musical tastes and interests. Like many artists I’ve come to know, he has aspirations to expand the band’s reach but also seems much more comfortable talking about the music rather than marketing and self-promotion. Some of you musician types might know of him through his day job at AcousticMusic.org, the shop halfway between Boston and New York that specializes in handmade guitars, mandolins, and banjos. Others might remember reading about him and Rose in Dirty Linen, a great roots music magazine that sprouted from the Fairport Fanatics and had a 27-year run before folding in 2010.
Rose and Brian met when she came into the store to buy a Martin guitar, and she joined the band he was in at the time, which was called Pottery. “[She] grew up in a family filled with music,” he says. “Her father played guitar and harmonica and sang, her mother sang, and other family members played mandolin and banjo. We would call it Americana; they called it music.”
Rose also credits her family and some close friends for inspiring her to sing, and says her style of singing evolved from the music that she and Brian have created together over the past 20-plus years.
(You might have noticed that the trio looked extra large in that video. Matthew Bruns was the other guitarist in Pottery, 30 years ago, and he is also the composer and second guitarist in the video.)
Lavorgna is a journeyman bassist, associated for many years with the late New Haven blues musician Robert Crotty. He’s also played for a number of other groups. In addition to his work with the trio, he proudly proclaims himself to be the 48th member of the great ‘60s band Jake and the Family Jewels, going on his 38th year with them. His work with Brian and Rose, he says, has “given me the opportunity, the freedom, to create a foundation, a color, and a depth to some of the most beautiful and moving music I have ever heard and been privileged enough to play. It is a gift I do not take lightly, and [I] treasure every time we come together to perform and record.”
When Brian and I got around to talking about influences, it wasn’t surprising that we had similar tastes and touchstones: Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Lovin’ Spoonful, Moby Grape, Fairport Convention, Byrds, Blues Project, Pentangle, Fahey, Dead, Joni, CSNY … all the usual suspects of FM radio back in the day. They were all “guitar-driven,” he says, “with a player who had their own style and we were like sponges. Then came Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, Pierre Bensusan … and by the late ’70s, I started to feel my music was at a point where I was becoming more focused on what was in my own head and what I wanted to say through it.”
Like everybody else who plays or writes inside the “big tent” of Americana, Brian now is struggling with what label might be best used to describe the trio’s music. When I recently heard a song on the radio that featured Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, and Ella Fitzgerald and realized it reminded me of ERT, I thought, “jazz – there it is.” Brian has a different perspective:
“Strangely enough I think that Celtic Americana is close, even though I thought it odd at first. I guess if Richard Thompson can be acknowledged by the AMA as Americana Artist of the Year, it is a fairly wide-open field. Anglican folk rock comes to mind as a label, but I doubt there is ever going to be a drop-down box for that. Appalachian music is certainly at its heart Celtic, and how could there be Americana without Appalachian music? When people ask what our band sounds like, I sometimes say we are like Pentangle, only not from the UK, knowing most of them will not have a clue as to how Pentangle sounds.”
Whatever you call it, Wind Pictures is a four-track EP that pays homage to Brian’s old band Pottery by including a song of the same name. Recently the track was included in a compilation from Good Sponge Records, and I like their motto: “Your brain is a sponge. Be good to it. Absorb what’s of quality, and wring out the rest.”
Ebin-Rose Trio … glad they landed in my stream of connectivity.