Crossing over years and the north-south freeways of this fair state, a group of young musicians managed to find one another among the bricks and burnt-umber fall leaves of Athens. That was awhile back by this point, and, as an homage to Northeast Ohio's infamous Cuyahoga, they called themselves the Burning River Ramblers.
They began gigging at places like the Union and Jackie O's, mainstays among the music scene ensconcing Ohio University. A self-titled debut further established the Ramblers as a band fully capable of bringing listeners on a wonderful journey.
Cheekily dubbed "Your friendly neighborhood alt/rock/funk/reggae/folk band," the band carved out a welcoming niche in Athens and soon brought the music north. These days, the guys in the band — singer-guitarist Conor Standish, drummer Jesse Catania, singer-guitarist Zach Catania, bassist Chris Rush and keyboard player Dave Young — are all holed up in and around Lakewood.
The band will officially release their sophomore outing, To Color a Fool, during an Aug. 15 concert at Vosh in Lakewood.
The band really took its present form after the first album was recorded, lending a sense of completion to To Color A Fool. Throughout the writing process, which the band explains takes place both in various houses and onstage, collaboration is always the key. Often enough, songs start out as seedlings brought in by one member. With the ethos of an improv-friendly jam band, the Ramblers riff on the ideas coming and going throughout rehearsal.
"So we would take these songs and everyone would help each other out," Standish says, describing how the new material consistently builds on itself. The new songs ire full-bodied and confident. "Growth" is a pretty spot-on term that comes to mind.
"It's not so much a change as an expansion," guitarist Catania said around the time some of the new songs were taking shape. This time around, he takes on a wide balance of the vocal duties. Check out "Undertow" for the best example of this action (complete with a brief raging solo from Catania and greased-lightning lyrical raps). He complements Standish's role really well throughout the album. For evidence, check out the album's next track, "I Come Back," which pursues a softer tone overall (rounded out with violin work by James Farley).
The band has always emphasized a devotion to roots rock and the spirit of Americana music. That much is still very evident on the new album, though there's an openness to everything. Rather than, say, gathering 'round a fire amid Midwest shadows, the band's sound now calls to mind hanging out on the rooftop of some major American city — Cleveland, perhaps? — and casting eager eyes toward outstretched land and memories. There's a feeling of sublime flight throughout the music, buoying the listener ever higher.
And sonically, the band demonstrates more than a handful of tricks up their sleeves. Tucked among the guitar riffs and steady rhythms are all sorts of overdubs — brilliant little flourishes that accentuate the foundation beneath.
"It's Dave Young's kind of genius," Standish says. "[Bringing him on] was a huge step for us." The man behind the keyboards joined the band in 2011.
The album culminates with "Where We Were At," a gentle reflection on life and love, which melts nicely into "I'm No Ghost," a sure highlight from the band's entire catalog. Both songs are tremendous. On the latter, Standish's vocals build around a swell of melodies (look out for those Young-inspired overdubs too). The final dash to the top of the mountain is a thrilling climax following the near-hour of music that came before it. Drummer Catania and keys man Young positively shine as they guide the other guys toward the peak, leading to a massive shredfest from Zach. The build to the last three minutes of this tune is incredible stuff.
Along those lines, this album does a really great job of offering at the very least a glimpse of what the band's live show is like. When the Ramblers hit the stage, energy levels soar and the crowd gets primed for a night of awesome rock 'n' roll. Their self-ascribed nickname, calling to mind genres like alt-rock, funk, reggae, folk, really does speak to the spectrum of any particular set list.
To complete the circle of altruism that begins with the guys' music and personalities, they'll direct portions of the album's proceeds to the Alisa B. Smith Memorial Fund for Breast Cancer Research. The move follows the band's work with the Suicide Prevention Education Alliance of Northeast Ohio, toward which proceeds from downloads of the song "Redwood" were sent.
"We want to make it a tradition," Standish says of the Ramblers' philanthropic efforts.
Similarly, the unspoken tradition of writing and performing stunning music is gonna stick around for awhile too.