When Larry Campbell, the GRAMMY-winning producer and longtime collaborator of Levon Helm, says he wants to collaborate – you listen. Just ask Roger Street Friedman, the award-winning, NY-based singer-songwriter, whose “autobiographical, cinematic, blunt, and honest” songwriting has been compared to James Taylor, Randy Newman, and Jackson Browne (The Aquarian). With the release of Rise, the songwriter’s third studio album produced by Campbell, Friedman has crafted nothing less than a true expression – a statement of purpose that resonates as a career milestone – thanks in part to a partnership with Campbell that far exceeded Friedman’s expectations.
Recorded at his home studio in Sea Cliff, NY, Rise features the type of honest, vulnerable songwriting that has won Friedman praise everywhere from USA Today to No Depression – reflective vignettes recalling the singer-songwriter tradition of Marc Cohn and Robbie Robertson, set to a blend of folk-rock, progressive Americana, and soulful R&B. Co-written with a number of Nashville based songwriters, the album’s 12 tracks feature stories so vivid that we feel genuinely inside their characters — whether it’s the Vietnam veteran “takin’ fire from Uncle Sam” upon his return, or the housewife questioning her life in “Over and Over.” There’s an honesty, immediacy, and urgency to Friedman’s singing throughout the album, while the song arrangements are fat-free blends of Americana genre-splicing, from the twang of “Last Train to Babylon” to the rocking punch of “Outcasts of Love,” the Celtic anthemics of the title track and the Jimmy Buffett ebullience of “Tough Crowd.”
When Roger Street Friedman afforded us the opportunity to premiere 3 live videos from the upcoming release, we jumped at it. Originally, these premieres were to be accompanied by “tour diaries” from Friedman. We all know that with touring on hold, that couldn’t be possible. Instead, he’s offering “diaries” about his current experience as it relates to his music and album release.
My last tour from Nashville up to NYC was happening at the beginning of March while the Coronavirus crisis was just coming into the public consciousness. At each date there were still some people shaking hands, although most were beginning to do the elbow bump. Social distancing was not yet in full force, so most of the conversations were within the usual 1-2 feet of personal space! I wasn’t too concerned because the number of reported infections down south was still pretty low, and the gigs were not being cancelled yet, so all was good and the shows at the beginning of the tour were well attended. On the road I was being very careful, opening doors with my sleeve instead of touching surfaces, incessantly washing my hands at the rest areas, and hand sanitizing when I got back into the car. It wasn’t until the second week of the tour, when authorities started to talk about cancelling large gatherings, that I noticed the attendance dwindling, and by the end of the second week that a show was cancelled and it became apparent that live shows were going to be cancelled for at least two weeks… which as we now know, has turned into more like at least 6 months. It will probably be longer, until things start to get back to “normal”. All of our April shows are cancelled, including the record release show on my birthday at “My Father’s Place” that featured special guests Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams! I was really looking forward to that one for my local friends and fans and am incredibly sad that we can’t have that special album release celebration. We are currently looking at rescheduling in the summer but it’s anybody’s guess if shows will be happening by then.
My family and I were aware early on that this was a dangerous virus that would spread exponentially if the country didn’t get on board to stay at home and help “stop the spread.” So we’ve been home, with our two young children, for the last 3 weeks, hunkered down, home schooling, and watching the news with growing horror while the number of cases, and deaths, seem to be exploding, while trying to establish some form of a “normal” routine. It is an emotional roller coaster for all of us… The kids are doing well, although there are frequent, stir-crazy-driven melt-downs. My wife is scared and sad and I’ve gone through the full spectrum, from anger at the slow governmental response and the people who are seemingly oblivious to how serious this situation is (Florida’s beaches come to mind), to sadness for our country and the world as the magnitude of what, and who, we will lose becomes apparent. Our music community has already been impacted dramatically, Jackson Browne reportedly has a mild case while, legendary songwriter John Prine was in critical condition and legendary sideman and producer Larry Campbell, who produced my new album ‘Rise,’ was sick for weeks. We also lost Alan Merrill who wrote “I love Rock And Roll.” He died alone at the hospital while waiting for the test results to come back. In just the past few days we’ve lost Ellis Marsalis, Adam Schlesinger, and Bucky Pizzarelli.
I had very little energy for music for the first few weeks, with trying to balance family time, self-care, and figuring out our financial situation, but in the last few days I have found myself in my studio with new music emerging… I can only hope that this catastrophic and cataclysmic event will lead to us coming together as a country, and a world, to create a better future. That is the message of the new album… That we will “Rise” above our petty differences and make choices that lead to peace instead of war, and to environmental sustainability instead of human induced environmental degradation and climate catastrophe. I hope everyone is safe and sound when we get to the other side of this crisis.
Recorded on February 10th in preparation for going out on tour in March, my band – consisting of Jim Toscano (drums and percussion), Matt Schneider (Bass and Vocals) and Steve Uh (Fiddle, Keyboards, Harmonium and Vocals) and I – performed a show/live rehearsal at The Woodshed, a local music school and venue in our home town of Sea Cliff, New York. “Carry Me” is about trying to maintain the connection to home even when you’re far away and features the tasty fiddle chops of Steve Uh.
“Carry Me,” the first single from the forthcoming album Rise out April 24, via Rock Ridge Music, performed live at The Woodshed in Sea Cliff, NY.
Roger Street Friedman
*Feature image photo credit: Drew Reynolds