FREEWHEELIN’ OLD-FI “We used to have a bass player who didn’t like Bob Dylan,” says Zebulon Krol(left, with Kate Smeal, Scott Nanos, and Jeff Price). “We don’t have a bass player anymore.”
Allston's Mornin' Old Sport play jazz-inspired country songs, brimming with three-part harmonies and a rare chemistry amongst the group's four members. Over PBRs at the OtherSide Café last Tuesday, names like Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, and Louis Armstrong were frequent in our conversation — influences that show in their songs, which play out like crackly old Billie Holiday or Hank Williams records. Singer-guitarists Zebulon Krol, Scott Nanos, and Kate Smeal alternate on lead vocals, harmonizing brilliantly on every track, with Jeff Price holding down the drums.
>> Mornin' Old Sport live in the Back Bay: PHOTOS | VIDEO | MP3s <<
The Berklee-trained quartet have an air of literary and historical sensibilities about them: their name is a reference to the 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby. The interaction between the shady millionaire main character and the quiet Minnesotan Nick Carraway is echoed in the band's sound, encompassing the novel's dueling personalities: a blend of Carraway's reflective, Midwestern twang with Gatsby's roaring-'20s East Coast jazz.
They repeatedly note the value of carefully-crafted lyrics, and they're eager to become well-versed in early-1900s standards. Nanos is a music therapy intern at Sherrill House in Jamaica Plain, working with elders and spending most of his time learning songs from the first half of the last century. Traditional folk influences play a big role as well: "We used to have a bass player who didn't like Bob Dylan," Krol says. "We don't have a bass player anymore." Smeal and Price have jazz backgrounds, and Krol majored in songwriting at Berklee.
On August 2 the group kicked off the Phoenix's new pop-up music video series, which hosts bands in unexpected and non-traditional locations for spontaneous, just-announced live shows. Our music section's Twitter, @BostonMusicBlog, tweeted out the location a few hours before the show, and all were welcome to attend while we captured audio, video, and photos for thePhoenix.com.
The idea is influenced by other pop-up video shows, like La Blogotheque's Take Away shows, and more specifically, State magazine's inspired "State Intervention" series, which produces guerilla video shoots around Dublin, Ireland.
One rainy afternoon last summer they produced a particularly beautiful episode with Mountain Man under a tree in Dublin's lush Iveagh Gardens. Last Tuesday, however, Boston's torrential downpour was more intense than Dublin's warm drizzle, ruining our original plans to set up in the Back Bay Fens. We quickly relocated to a pedestrian tunnel on Mass Ave near Berklee College of Music, where Mornin' Old Sport set up with battery-powered amps, playing for a handful of friends but mostly random folks who stopped in their tracks for the band's captivating three-part harmonies.
"Oh my sweet Clementine, won't you please be mine, the bars can't talk away my blues like you," the three sang together in harmony on "Miss Clementine's Valentine's Day Special," where Smeal croons vintage verses about ex-lovers turned into drunks and gamblers, and it all sounds straight out of a speakeasy. Krol took lead vocals on one of the more twangy tunes, "Put One Back," a drinking story-song that he later explained is about his uncle who lives in his native Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and works for a large industrial construction company.