The New Song
(Redeye, 2003)

I was not too impressed with The New Song, the first studio album by Townhall, the first couple of times I heard it. The sound wasn't quite jazz, not really funk, perhaps a hint of music from previous generations, but decidedly contemporary. Throw in the occasional reggae rhythm and I really did not know what to think. It must be a Philly thing that my Texas brain just wasn't connecting with. But after giving the CD a chance, I think I'm starting to like it ... a little bit.

Townhall is five musicians who met as jazz majors at school in Philadelphia, Pa. The band is George Stanford (vocals, trombone, guitar, bass, percussion), Nate Skiles (vocals, guitar, bass, trumpet, percussion, clarinet, mandolin), Tim Sonnefeld (bass, guitar, vocals, percussion, banjo, double bass), Mark Smidt (trumpet, percussion, bass, flute, guitar, vocals, chromatic harmonica, accordion) and Kevin Pride (drums).

"Premonitions" starts off with a tame reggae beat. George sings about how his dreams consist of bad foretellings. The lyrics aren't very deep, but the simple melody has a hook to make the song worthwhile. The trumpet playing is the highlight of the song.

"Ellie Mae" starts out sounding like a folk song. The acoustic guitar complements George's vocals. The clarinet adds a touch of class to this ballad. As before, the lyrics don't make much of an impression, but the song as a whole is very pretty. In fact, this is arguably the best selection on The New Song.

"Chevy" is more typical of the 12 tracks on this CD. This jazz/funk tune is about a guy named Chevy who isn't treated so well by folks. I like the harmonica work. What I found amusing about this piece was that I thought that some guest backup vocalists were brought in to the mix. The singing is a little high pitched and sounds feminine. It works for the song, but it is the guys singing from high in their throats.

You can learn more about Townhall at the band's website. There are a couple of sound clips. They also list their first album Townhall: Live At The Point, which is a 2-disc offering. I think Townhall has potential. But as I said, I had to listen to The New Song a couple of times before I started to appreciate what the band had to offer. It definitely did not grab me right away.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 9 August 2003

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