February 28, 2002

Home-Baked Beats

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Perhaps the greatest aspect of Ithaca’s vibrant music scene is the intense sense of community between artists. Bands share bass players, promotional resources, and diverse inspirations. Out of this spring numerous collaborations that border on the magical. One of these has been stunningly captured on Firestick, the new album from Kevin Kinsella and Ti Ti Chickapea.

Kinsella is the frontman of John Brown’s Body, Ithaca’s own roots reggae heroes. When the singer/songwriter takes a break from his bandmates, however, we are treated to a uniquely intimate side of Kinsella. This was first apparent on his solo debut, I-Town Revival, with its sincere and spiritual mix of folk, blues, reggae, and country. Kevin had performed many of these solo offerings alongside cellist Hank Roberts at the first annual MuseFest two autumns ago. The night served as one of those aforementioned magical collaborations, and the two artists must have noticed this themselves, for Roberts enters the story again a bit later.

There were other performances that followed, including an awe-inspiring set at the CD release party for the first I-Town Records compilation during which Hank sat in with JBB and proved that the cello has a place in dub-style reggae. Then, at this past summer’s Grassroots Festival, the Brooklyn hip-hop outfit Little Egypt was joined onstage by an unexpected cast of musicians. Kevin emerged with his acoustic guitar, Roberts with his cello, Eric Aceto with his violin, and Dan Merwin with his ecstatic djembe. And, before an audience of dropped jaws, Kevin joined the MCs in their freestyling, Hank let his soul out through his cello, and Eric wailed with his bow and strings. They even served up a stirring version of Bruce Sprinsteen’s ode to the working man, “Factory” (which appears on Firestick, which we’ll be coming to shortly).

It happens that Aceto and Roberts are two-thirds of the incredibly powerful string-trio, Ti Ti Chickapea. Richie Stearns rounds the group out on tenor guitar and banjo. At some point, a lightbulb lit and mental sparks flew as Kinsella realized that a combo of he and Ti Ti would be something which, although it sounds too good to be true, could happen. And so it did. Shows at Maxie’s and the ABC Caf