When Larry Campbell, the GRAMMY winning producer and longtime collaborator of Levon Helm, says he wants to collaborate – you listen. Just ask Roger Street Friedman, the award-winning, NY-based singer-songwriter, whose “autobiographical, cinematic, blunt, and honest” songwriting has been compared to James Taylor, Randy Newman, and Jackson Browne (The Aquarian). With the release of Rise, the songwriter’s third studio album produced by Campbell, Friedman has crafted nothing less than a true expression – a statement of purpose that resonates as a career milestone – thanks in part to a partnership with Campbell that far exceeded Friedman’s expectations.
“One thing I know now, after working with Larry on this album, is how important the producer is,” Friedman explains, “how important the process is, the vibe — having the right players, how every element has a place and how one thing could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back if you’re not careful. And most of all, how important it is to serve the song.”
Recorded at his home studio in Sea Cliff, NY, Rise features the type of honest, vulnerable songwriting that has won Friedman praise everywhere from USA Today to No Depression – reflective vignettes recalling the singer-songwriter tradition of Marc Cohn and Robbie Robertson, set to a blend of folk-rock, progressive Americana, and soulful R&B. Co-written with a number of Nashville based songwriters, the album’s 12 tracks feature stories so vivid that we feel genuinely inside their characters — whether it’s the Vietnam veteran “takin’ fire from Uncle Sam” upon his return, or the housewife questioning her life in “Over and Over.” There’s an honesty, immediacy, and urgency to Friedman’s singing throughout the album, while the song arrangements are fat-free blends of Americana genre-splicing, from the twang of “Last Train to Babylon” to the rocking punch of “Outcasts of Love,” the Celtic anthemics of the title track and the Jimmy Buffett ebullience of “Tough Crowd.”
“I think I took a lot more risks with the songs on this album,” Friedman says. “Not everything has a happy ending. My voice is also way more out front than it’s been on the other records, which feels pretty vulnerable to me. I’m just trying to go deeper, really trying to get to the heart of the matter.”
It helps, of course, that music is indeed the heart of Friedman’s matter. Friedman was bitten by the music bug early, learning to write songs and even developing his studio engineering skills. It was an avocation, however, until a combination of events — the deaths of his father and mother, marriage and, later, the births of his two children — steered Friedman back to music, leading to the acclaimed 2014 debut The Waiting Sky and 2017’s Shoot The Moon, which reached #2 on the Roots Music Report Americana Country Album Chart and spent 25 weeks in the top 20. Friedman met Campbell when the latter played on The Waiting Sky and the two kept in touch. After sifting through more than 30 songs that Friedman sent him to consider, Campbell readily agreed to produce Rise.
Recorded with a crew led by Campbell, Rise features Friedman’s rhythm section of Jim Toscano and Matt Schneider, keyboard phenom Jason Crosby (Phil Lesh, John Mclaughlin), Campbell’s wife Teresa Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky on backing vocals. “I think the creative mission was really to take the songs as far as they could go, with some compelling arrangements that highlight the songwriting as much as possible.” The album was mixed by Justin Guip at Milan Hill Studios in Milan, NY.
A frequent performer on the music festival circuit, Friedman is looking forward to bringing the material from Rise on the road this winter, beginning with a performance at Nashville’s City Winery on March 5th.
Roger Street Friedman Tour Dates
Thursday, March 5th – City Winery – Nashville, TN
Saturday, March 7th – Blue Plate Special – Knoxville Visitors Center – Knoxville, TN
Saturday, March 7th – Down Home – Johnson City, TN
Sunday, March 8th – Flat Iron – Greensboro, NC
Wednesday, March 11th – New Deal Café – Greenbelt, MD
Friday, March 13th – The Living Room at 35 East – Ardmore, PA
Wednesday, April 22nd – My Father’s Place at The Roslyn Hotel – Roslyn, NY
Saturday, May 23rd – Philadelphia Folk Song Society – Philadelphia, PA
Friday, July 24th – Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center – Greenfield, MA
Saturday, July 25th – Sandisfield Art Center – Sandisfield, MA
Friday, September 25th – Grinder House Coffee Shop, LLC – Crossville, TN
Sunday, September 27th – Isis Music Hall – Asheville, NC
*Feature image Laura Crosta