Bronze Radio Return strips "With Me All Along" down to great effect.
There are some records that manage to span multiple eras of time and various places, in essence creating a new sonic space. New Englanders Bronze Radio Return have done just that on their sophomore album, the gorgeous and varied SHAKE! SHAKE! SHAKE!. Contained within the space between notes and breaths are thousands of miles, and decades of history.
The roots of this travelogue-time capsule -- and the band that made it -- can be traced back to lead singer and guitarist Chris Henderson's childhood. Spending hours on end in his father's art studio, one of Henderson's clearest, dearest memories is the large bronze radio, and the joyful noises he learned of there. "When the band started, we were looking for our direction, to see what this was going to be," explains Henderson. "We came back to this idea of the return of the bronze radio, a return to some of those older, familiar sounds that all of us inherently grew up with." The result is a forward-thinking retrospective of the sounds we all love, curated and created by Henderson, Rob Griffith (drums/vocals), Bob Tanen (bass/vocals), Matt Warner (keys, vocals), Craig Struble (harmonica/guitar), and Patrick Fetkowitz (guitar).
To write this record, Bronze Radio Return credits a few productive weeks of bouncing between the self-imposed exile of a remote Maine town, and the frenetic energy of their Hartford, Connecticut homebase. Those polarities informed much of the content of the record, from the examination of interpersonal relationships, to an individual's interaction with the culture around them. "This album was a lot about working on what kind of process works best for us. When I write, I often write a melody and work on a progression in the form of a tune, which comes much more naturally when I'm doing my things here in Hartford. When it's time to write lyrics, which take the most focus, I found that it was most effective to work in Maine," says Henderson.
With an arsenal of song sketches in hand, Bronze Radio Return set to work to flesh out each of these songs. "Each member of BRR has a solid understanding of their instrument, and the role the instrument plays in the group," stresses Henderson. "Everyone contributes ideas." Formed in 2008, Bronze Radio Return's line-up took a few years to solidify, though most of the band's members were orbiting each other for years at the Hartt School, one of the country's best schools of music, located in Hartford, Connecticut. For debut Old Time Speaker, the band relocated to Nashville for a two-week period, to, as Henderson puts it "a place we'd never been with a producer we'd never met, and played a bunch of songs we'd never played before." For such an inauspicious set of circumstances, the band managed a solid and well-received debut, and forged a lasting bond with producer Chad Copelin. Old Time Speaker established the band's relentless touring schedule, including an invitation to represent the Connecticut music scene by performing for President Obama at an event in Bridgeport, CT in 2010. Fan favorites "Digital Love" and "Lo-Fi" have been picked up for advertising and television licensing and the album landed on CMJ's Top 200 Album Chart.
For SHAKE! SHAKE! SHAKE!, the band reunited with Copelin on his home turf in Norman, Oklahoma, a location Henderson credits with having a profound effect on the album. There, the band learned firsthand the truism of the Mid-Western friendliness. Local acquaintances would stop in daily with a kind word and a new instrument to lend. "Most of the instruments played on this record were lent to us from the community," says Henderson.
Indeed, the warmth of their environs makes its way onto the album. Lush harmonies are steeped in soulful vocals, and guitars that alternate between the blues age and the most interesting innovations of the modern. Album opener "Down There" has all the warmth and wisdom of a barroom sing-along, a slightly sepia-sounding portrait of the importance of good people. "Sell It To You" is a self-aware look at the culture of consumerism, which Henderson acknowledges as ironic. "Whether you're watching a movie that has product placement, or driving down a street and see 11 million billboards for something -- everybody's trying to sell something to you. And, so are we -- we're trying to sell our album to you. [This song is about] internalizing what all that means." The title track, "SHAKE! SHAKE! SHAKE!" builds from subtle handclaps and foot-stomps, and as crackling guitar lines spread out, Henderson illuminates the performer's perspective. "There's always this moment near the beginning of a set where everybody is standing around. It just takes one outgoing dude, or a tipsy couple, and they just start moving. You can see two or three more people going, and then as the set progresses, more and more people start to move."
The album's namesake is telling, as there's a transmission contained therein, as well as the mission of the band that's translated across time and space: "We like making music that makes people move."