Elephant RevivalChadwick Stokes
Thursday Apr 28|doors 7:00 pm|all ages
9:30 club|get directions »
815 V Street NW
Washington DC|p: (202) 265-0930
Elephant Revivalofficial band site »
A haunting sound, at once evocative and mysterious, ushers in Petals, the latest album by Elephant Revival. Notes rise and suffuse the silence; are joined by a deep bass drone, a quiet pulse of cello and a percussive tick: daybreak made music.
That first sound on the lead track, “Hello You Who,” is a steel guitar, and its cinematic swell foreshadows the exploration of new territory by this beloved Rocky Mountain ensemble. A new band member and the introduction of instruments like the pedal steel and the cello into their already impressive treasure trove of strings and percussion are just the beginning. Petals embodies a deepening, as the quintet dives into themes of loss and rebirth, time and memory, love unbound by body or farewell. “Hello you who moves with me in a dance/Hello you who moves me like the sea/…Who loves me Love loves me just to be.” This hello is both a celebration of unconditional love and an invitation to join Elephant Revival in its wayfaring.
The death of a close friend having left its indelible mark on the band, many of the songs on Petals represent what guitarist Daniel Rodriguez calls “an honoring and a coping.” But this is not an album about despair or darkness; it’s a thanksgiving and a prayer for what endures and returns. “She thanks the sky, and she walks the earth/…To the broken-hearted, to the burdened, too/To everyone, peace tonight” (“Peace Tonight”). This idea is embodied in the very name Elephant Revival: moved by the separation and subsequent death of three elephants at the Chicago zoo, bass and mandolin player Dango Rose was inspired to busk in front of what was once their enclosure. Not just a gesture, but a true endeavor to create meaning and grace from loss. Petals, the band’s fourth album, is, in fact, a revival.
As ever, Nature is both a real and metaphorical touchstone in Elephant Revival’s work, from the petals pressed into the book of memory in the title track (“These petals intended for giving release”), to the seasons spinning through death and rebirth in “Season Song.” There are intimations too, of the ominous vulnerability of Nature to our darker impulses. In “Raindrops,” Bonnie Paine sings, “Raindrops on the rooftops he said/Just stop and listen/Constant as the earthquakes.” She is both warning of the real effects of fracking and reminding us that a remedy may lie in deep listening—to each other and to the earth itself. The band’s commitment to community and the environment remains at the core of their music.
Elephant Revival’s music maintains its roots in American and Celtic songcraft, but on Petals, they achieve a compositional maturity that in moments can evoke the modern classical ensemble. Spare, almost conversational strings punctuate the rhythmic momentum in songs like the title track and the almost archetypically stark Celtic narrative, “Furthest Shore,” a continuation of the story told in the song “Currach” from their first 2008 self-titled release. The icy drama of the North Sea inhabits those percussive strings and resounding drums. This kind of intensity recurs in other songs, like “When I Fall,” a Dango Rose-penned shout-out for transcendence through trial, whose unison power chorus brings to mind Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Passion arises from compassion on this album; tenderness and wildness go hand in hand. Dan Rodriguez’ voice on wholehearted folk songs like “On and On” and “Home In Your Heart” is a gentle counterpoint to Paine’s vocal intensity, and the songwriting overall describes a wide arc. Just follow Bridget Law’s expressive fiddle through the course of the album to hear the moan of the blues, the lyricism of the folk ballad, the elegant bones of the chamber piece, the bluegrass punch. All the earthy rhythms, eclectic influences and the rich instrumental brew that Elephant Revival fans cherish are here. But eclecticism, though a key feature of their sound, has never been the point. For these multi-instrumentalists, these singers and writers, sound and song serve one another: the play between instrumentation, composition, emotion and restraint is an organic unfolding. Paine, for example, has never recorded or performed on the cello before this album, but she’s written songs on it for years, so if her throaty cello somehow sounds like a deep extension of her voice, it is. And if new band member Charlie Rose’s magnetic pedal steel conjures ghosts—of love, of landscapes—it’s because Petals is haunted by those things.
Elephant Revival’s is the music of connection—kin-folk—and the message of Petals, their most intimate album to date, is not how life is about loss, but rather how much life there is in loss, how much potency, how much love. The ghost of the beloved in the final track “Close As Can Be” is not, after all, far away. “…I feel you near/You’re lifting the leaves/Saying to me/We’ll be close as can be.” The hello of the first song has gone on a musical odyssey and found in the end, in goodbye, its mirror image: the promise once more of unending and unconditional love.
Chadwick Stokesofficial band site »
It takes a certain type of musician to hop freight trains and barrel across the vastness of North America with his brother and cousin. Especially for an artist who, just years before, sold out Madison Square Garden for three consecutive nights. CHAD “CHADWICK” STOKES is anything but a typical rock star. So, there he was, wading across a river to escape the chasing railroad bulls and hanging in the different down and out jungles with other traveling folks. And in the end, after the three had finally reached the West Coast and were laying face down in the dirt at gunpoint care of the NSA, he says it was all well worth it.
“I had ridden the trains a little bit in the past for a day or two but I had never done it for weeks at a time,” Stokes says. “I discovered an America that I knew was out there but had limited experience with. There's all kinds of people out on the rails: people simply trying to get from point A to B, people running from whatever they left behind, people with nowhere else to go. You get to see a part of America that only the trains go through -- remote stretches without any sign of mankind." It was out on these long isolated stretches and in the inner city train yards that Stokes found the inspiration for his solo debut, titled SIMMERKANE II.
While riding the rails, Stokes made a designated stop so his band, State Radio, could play an anti-war concert at the Denver Coliseum with Rage Against The Machine. It is a DIY social consciousness that Stokes came to early in life - growing up as a pacifist, working in Zimbabwe after high school and eventually co-founding the Elias Fund, the Dispatch Foundation, and now Calling All Crows. In 2008, Stokes was honored as Humanitarian of the Year at the Boston Music Awards.
Simmerkane II, a proper follow-up to the State Radio EP (Simmerkane I), is a marked evolution in the musician-songwriter’s creative journey. Produced by John Dragonetti (of The Submarines), the album features background vocals from Carly Simon, Matt Embree (Rx Bandits), The White Buffalo, Blake Hazard (The Submarines), and Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars. The sound is an engaging mix of Americana, country, folk and rock in the service of some undeniably evocative lyrics. The songs tell a loose narrative of travel, love and loss, like some re-imagined rock-n-roll odyssey.
The journey begins with “Adelaide,” a fuzzed-out melodic folk rocker containing the prophetic line, “We left Worcester with our boots and our bags - and America undressed herself in front of our eyes.” Next, listeners venture into the “Crowbar Hotel” to discover an underground world populated by hard luck outsiders: “We are sold to the highest bidder, we are down to our very last crumb - May we invite ourselves to dinner, ‘cause we might just have to make a run.” The song “Back To The Races,” has Stokes reflecting on past mistakes and longing for the childhood farm while still seduced by the excitement of the journey and a new love. The symphonic rock-n-roll charges ahead before dropping down for the intimate lyrical refrain “Back to the races - and on with the day.”
The two-disc deluxe package includes three bonus tracks with Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, a musical ensemble of refugees from Sierra Leone’s 1991 civil war. Stokes, who did humanitarian work in Zimbabwe as a youth, has been a longtime fan of the All Stars. The tracks include a lilting African-tinged folk song called “Coffee And Wine,” a reflective reggae track titled, “All My Possessions (Ode To Troy)” and “Don’t Have You” – a heartfelt ballad that eventually erupts in celebration with the All Stars’ backing vocals and percussions carrying the weight of their troubled history and eventual transcendence. “It was such an honor to work with the All Stars,” Stokes explains. “The songs we did were kind of folk songs and one reggae song, so they were a bit out of their element trying to adapt to the folky farm kid and his songs. But you can hear their history in their singing and playing and it adds this amazing power to the songs.”
Simmerkane II is an ambitious album about discovery, loss and moving on. What begun as a journey across an unseen America becomes a moving musical tribute to the resilience of the human heart. “The album was initially inspired by the freight train trip with my brother and that vast underworld that exists out there,” Stokes explains. “But then it’s also about growing up on the farm and losing loved ones; a young man learning about life.” In his spare time, Stokes can still be found hopping trains with his beloved travel companion, Lefty.