Situated cozily amidst gorges and other natural wonders, Ithaca is certainly no metropolis. However, this knuckle of one the Finger Lakes happens to be a musical mecca, a town that produces more than just two institutions of higher learning and a lot of stress. Ithaca is a hidden spring, pouring forth an extraordinary amount of original music.
Few, if any, of those fortunate beatniks in that coffee shop in the Village in 1960 were at all aware that the shaggy songwriter strumming his guitar in the corner, some guy named Bob Dylan, was to become a legend. I’m sure they don’t hesitate to tell their grandchildren about it now, though. It has always been one of the greatest of all bragging rights be able to say “I knew that band way back when…” Sharing this town with so many superb musicians, we will have the opportunity to do a lot of bragging in a few years.
Five of these musicians happen to make their incredible sounds together. Almost two years ago, a young and vibrant group of optimistic artists hit the local scene with their interesting brew of danceable, folky world music. They call themselves the Sim Redmond Band.
Two of the band members have played together for as long as they can remember. Brothers Sim and Asa Redmond first began playing music in their teens. After dipping their toes in the local scene with bands including Ginger and the Ducktape Band, fate brought the current lineup together. Bassist and percussionist Dan Merwin and guitarist Jordan Aceto were in place and beginning to feel something special happening. When Sim met fellow singer-songwriter Uniit Carruyo at an open mic night at Collegetown Bagels, the final ingredient fell into the stew.
In early 1999, the band ran with this energy, entering the studio to record their first album, The Things We Keep. The songs have a spontaneous feel to them, introducing a fresh new sound and a band prepared to plunge into the local scene and beyond. The band’s identity began to develop during those studio sessions, with Aceto’s innovative, melodic styings on his self-built guitar (complete with a fork for a vibrato bar) floating on top of the tribal grooves of Merwin and Asa Redmond. The harmonies provided by Carruyo combine beautifully with Sim’s melodies. Songs like “Me and Juge” and “Runaway Train,” with its high-energy percussion break, exemplify the danceable grooves and thoughtful lyrics and are still part of the band’s live repertoire.
Their second CD, Good Thoughts, benefits from its more polished production and a more mature band, even after only about a year of playing. Tunes like “Two Holes in the Ground” showcasing Carruyo’s seemingly effortless approach to singing, and “Glide,” with its upbeat flow and plaintive lyrics, testify to this growth and present some catchy hooks and sing-along lyrics. Renowned cellist Hank Roberts guests on a few songs, along with a number of other local artists on everything from horns to violin.
The Sim Redmond Band channels the diverse influences of its members, creating an original sound difficult to describe in a paragraph, let alone a concise category. With rhythms reminiscent of Paul Simon’s Graceland under the guitar melodies influenced by the Zimbabwean songs of Thomas Mapfumo, the band creates a sound unlike the packaged pop heard on modern radio. Carruyo provided the most accurate description of their sound, summing it up as “everything-is-going-to-be-ok music.” Good Thoughts is certainly an apt title for the band’s CD, with the songs evoking images of the now seemingly distant summer.
Preparing for the release of their third CD this summer, the band has already laid the basic tracks for eight new songs. Sim describes the new songs as “more of a group effort” and more groove-oriented. There will also be more from Carruyo, which is certainly something to look forward to. Each member continues to find a more comfortable voice within the band. Carruyo has a more active role, contributing more of her songs and her hauntingly beautiful voice. (Look out for a solo CD from her in the near future.) From the early focus on Sim’s songwriting to a more collective approach, their sound is best appreciated in the live setting, where the band’s warmth and contagious happiness comes through in Sim’s consistently genuine smile.
They will be playing at local club Castaways on March 9, at the Rongovian Embassy on March 24, and at a monumental event on March 31 at the Odyssey celebrating I-Town Records (an independent label founded by John Brown’s body frontman Kevin Kinsella) and featuring the cream of the Ithaca crop.
Stay tuned for updates by visiting their newly revamped website at www.simredmondband.com.