Rosedale Junction’s Toby Soriero Preserves the Idea of the Album Format

"The theme of 'Stompin’ on the Front Porch' relates to how blues started out with folks gathered around the front porch of a house listening to a guitar player strumming or playing bottle neck and singing a story."

Rosedale Junction is the eclectic brainchild of Boston-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Toby Soriero. The band wends its way down country roads flanked by blues, R&B, and old-fashioned rock and roll. Their debut album, Stompin’ on the Front Porch, is the sound of promise — the promise of more greatness to come from this band, and a refreshing reprise on material worthy of being played from the first song to the last, which happens to be a Rodney Crowell classic.

The 13 roots-based tracks that comprise Stompin’ on the Front Porch include seven originals, four distinctive covers, and two outtakes. Guest musicians featured are John Lee Sanders (solo artist),  Joel Jorgensen (solo artist), Rachel Gavaletz (solo artist), Roger Smith (Tower of Power), Jim Riley (Rascal Flatts), Vito Gutilla (solo artist) and others. 

Soriero began playing guitar at the age of nine, under the tutelage of Connecticut-based jazz guitarist Ron Stebbins. He cites Eric Clapton and the Three Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie) as most influential on his playing. In 2019 he represented the Massachusetts Blues Society as a member of acoustic blues duo the Screwtop Sommeliers at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. In 2020 he left corporate America to focus solely on a career in music. 

Below is the video for “The Blizzard of ’73,” animated by Scuba Steve. Based on a real snowstorm that hit the southeast United States stranding thousands of winter vacation travelers, Soriero describes the song as “a little bit country, a little bit bluegrass and a whole lotta foot tappin’ Western swing.” That it certainly is, with Toby providing the guitar, bass, resonator, banjo, mandolin, and handclaps. 

 

Lauren for ABS:

I was pleasantly surprised that you chose a Rodney Crowell song from one of my favorite albums of all time, Ain’t Living Long Like This. “Song For The Life” was also covered by Alan Jackson. Like Alan, you’ve arranged it beautifully with the violin. I was also surprised by your choice of Bill Withers song, as “Grandma’s Hands” is probably my favorite of his. I’ve never heard a Bill Withers song as a slow-burning bluesy ballad. 

With that said, it seems like this album is the product of your eclectic taste and the sounds that inspired you and ultimately defined your sound. In your words, how do you describe you and your band’s sound? 

Toby Soriero:

 The genesis of Rosedale Junction was to create a vehicle that would represent the sound of what many call Blues Americana, that is, foundational blues as well as related genres that grew out of it (or at least that’s how I define Blues Americana). The band’s name is derived from the famous legend surrounding Robert Johnson. When I think about that story, I see the crossroads not just as a metaphor for Johnson being at a decision point with his choice to sell his soul or not, but also as a junction point of the roads where all the music that is derived from the blues merge. Americana, rock ‘n’ roll, country, folk, bluegrass, etc.

While my own taste in music and development as a musician was heavily influenced by the obvious blues icons like the three Kings (BB, Freddie and Albert) and Clapton, I also grew up listening to great country and R&B artists like Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, James Burton and Billy Preston. And with respect to bands, I’d say groups like The Band, The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin and of course the Rolling Stones all influenced my style of playing. Those are the sounds I tried to incorporate into this project by way of song selection, arranging and instrumentation.

 How do you feel about this debut?

 I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of listeners I saw on Spotify when it was released. A very international audience. Several cuts were picked up by private playlist curators and streaming DJs from Canada and Scotland starting playing songs on their broadcasts. Also, for a debut band with no previous followers, I’m pleased with that level of growing interest in our first music video for “Prison Yard Blues.”

 What do these songs mean to you?

Well, the original songs on the album were written to reflect what I mentioned earlier, a cross section of Blues Americana, both musically and lyrically. And to your earlier point, I think they also reflect the musical influences I experienced growing up. More significantly, they are story songs, which I think is another aspect of the Blues Americana genre. If you think about historical blues musicians, they told the stories of what they experienced in life, good or bad, through their music.

 I think what we did with a song like “Bourbon Man” reflects what I just described. It’s a straight up old fashioned acoustic Delta Blues song about a man wronged by his woman – how’s that for a storyline in a blues song?  When you hear it, you can imagine the guy playing a resonator on his front porch singing about his woes. The alternate take of the song we recorded, which features hard driving dueling guitar leads and a Jerry Lee Lewis style piano part, was inspired by the Black Crowes’ live recording with Jimmy Page of Jimmy Rogers, “Sloppy Drunk.” In fact, we even incorporated a verse of those lyrics since they seemed to fit the story so well. So, that’s a song that was born as a Delta Blues song but also works perfectly as a rock ‘n’ roll tune.

I selected and arranged the covers with a bent toward making them unique enough to warrant someone wanting to check them out. I never want to record covers that mirror the original versions. So, for example, “Baby Come on Home” is a Led Zeppelin tune that has never been covered. If you hear the original version, it’s a straight up British Blues number with Page’s overdriven telecaster through a Leslie cabinet and Plant’s soulful vocals. But if you break it down and really listen to it, it could have just as easily been recorded by Etta James, which was the sound we were going for with Rachel Gavaletz on lead vocals. I believe the original song stemmed from an old Brill Building tune based on the additional writing credit they gave Bert Berns. So we brought that song back to its roots and gave listeners a taste of what it might have sounded like pre-Zeppelin.

I thought “Song for the Life” was a great way to put a bow around the whole Blues Americana concept and conclude the Album with it. James Burton’s original two part solo was done with an acoustic guitar and a resonator. I wanted to record a blues/country fusion version of the song which to my knowledge hasn’t been done before. So, we recorded the two part solo with a clean Strat through a Fender vibrato amp and a violin. To give it that blues feel, we incorporated a Hammond organ which starts out very softly and dynamically builds to a crescendo with the multi-harmony background vocals at the end. And given the song’s first recording by the Seldom Scene and its creation by Rodney Crowell, the godfather of Americana, I thought it would be a great way to conclude the album as if we were bringing all that music together.

Are their favorites, and what are the reasons why? 

Sure. From a personal standpoint, “The Blizzard of ’73″ is based on my experience as a kid when my family headed to Disney World in an RV over February school vacation. I took a little artistic license to make the lyrics work and changed my older brother into my old dog Big Joe (which I’m sure he appreciated), but most of the events and characters referenced were real.  Although, unlike the last scene in the video, I didn’t go AWOL on my family in South Beach as part of a mid-life crisis. (Laughs)

I wanted to write a bluesy acoustic ballad with a haunting violin melody and that’s what you hear in “The Ballad of the Leatherman French.” It’s a song that while inspired by the life of a famous 19th century vagabond who traveled the northeast countryside (Google The Leatherman), could just as well reflect what it’s like for anyone who travels through life feeling lost and that the cards are stacked against them.

 “Walk Me Home Tonight” is a slow driving electric blues number that I wrote based on a lifetime influence listening to bands like the Allman Brothers. I’ll leave interpreting the lyrics to the listener, but suffice it to say, I don’t think it is a song I could’ve written when I was younger. I was very happy how the guitar leads turned out as well as Joel’s vocals. I think they play off each other and really blend together nicely.

Roger’s Hammond solo on “Brass City Blues” and Tyra’s background vocals on “Prison Yard Blues” are two of my most favorite highlights on the album. Roger told me he tried to imagine how he would play the solo if he was on stage with Tower of Power (his main gig). Having seen those guys live countless times, when I heard what he recorded, I completely agreed with his assessment. I am thrilled and frankly incredibly humbled to be able to include that solo on the album.

Can you walk me through the recording process during a pandemic? 

Pretty much like everything else these days, a lot of it came together by collaborating with folks remotely. I worked out of a studio in Boston, The Bridge Sound and Stage, which was our command center and most of the session musicians I engaged recorded in their home studios. While there are certainly pros and cons to working that way, I was happy how it call came together in the end.

 I understand there are guest artists. Can you talk about them individually as far as what they brought to the table?

Sort of piggy backing off your last question, one aspect of recording during a pandemic was the ability to work with some incredibly talented musicians that might not otherwise have been available as they all were scheduled to be on tour. Jim Riley, drummer and musical director for Rascal Flatts, is one of the top drummers in country music. To have someone of his talent anchoring the rhythm section is priceless.

Roger Smith, who has been with Tower of Power for over twenty years, contributed Hammond, piano and Wurlitzer parts. Combining his R&B background with Jim’s country background is a gift when your goal is a Blues Americana sound.

Vito Gutilla is an up and coming violinist who graduated from Southern Methodist University with a degree in classical music. He was perfect for parts that ranged from down home fiddle playing to haunting violin melodies. His outro of Orange Blossom Special on “The Blizzard of ’73” is absolute lightning.

In the tradition of many guitar players who focus on playing vs. singing—(Carlos Santana, Derek Trucks, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore and until recently Kenny Wayne Shepherd) and let me be clear, I am not putting myself in their league but say this to make the point—I’d rather front a band as a non-singing guitar player and invite great vocalists to interpret and vocalize my lyrics. I think singing is like playing any other instrument. Each singer has their own unique sound and style and matched correctly can elevate a song to a whole other level. And that’s why I collaborated with the vocalists I did on this project.

 Joel Jorgensen, a well-established Nashville based Americana singer songwriter, contributed vocals to many of the tracks. Having previously fronted the rock band, Angels Fall, his ability to add warm gritty vocals to either a ballad or an edgy blues song really comes through. 

 John Lee Sanders, a veteran blues man with a mile long resume, had the perfect southern drawl for the three songs he sang lead on. His background vocals on Song for the Life helped create that country/blues fusion sound I mentioned earlier and built out a wonderful harmony along with Tyra, Taylor Marshall (A Nashville based vocalist), Joel and yours truly (Yes, I do sing when I want to J). John also played organ and piano on several songs.  

 Rachel Gavaletz is an amazing talent and sang “Baby Come on Home” that I talked about earlier and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” While the latter song has been covered extensively, I wanted to present a version that combined the power of Warren Haynes’ interpretation with the soulfulness and sound of Etta James. I was thrilled with Rachel’s performance especially the note she holds in the last verse. 

Dgiovahni Denizevahni, who typically works in Hip Hop and Rap, was the perfect choice for the edgy lyrics of “Brass City Blues.” It was such a pleasure working with him as he considered it a stretch opportunity and was so appreciative of me taking a chance on him with a blues song. I thought he did a fantastic job. His emotion and the character’s anger really come through. 

Tyra Juliet is another industry veteran who has sang back up for artists such as Kid Rock, Keith Urban and Demi Lovato. With that kind of background, her soulful harmonies were perfect for that Blues Americana  formula and were the ideal complement in a duet of Grandma’s Hands with Joel. I think her background vocals elevated “Prison Yard Blues” to a whole different level.

 Trent Williamson’s harmonica throughout “Prison Yard Blues” conjures up an image of a desperate prisoner sitting in the yard playing his harp yearning for a life beyond the walls.

 Obviously, I’m biased, but my favorite guest artists were my oldest son, Joe, who added the soap bar pick up lead to “Bourbon Man – Alternate Take” that trades off mine and my younger son, Matt, who put down the horn parts on “Brass City Blues.”

And what is your history with this current personnel?

This is my first project with all the folks I just mentioned, but it won’t be the last. The concept of Rosedale Junction started out as a studio project, so for all intents and purposes, I’m really the key driving force behind the concept of a band. While I played multiple instruments across the album, I chose to leverage session musicians where I thought they could add a lot more to the sound.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the video for “The Blizzard of ‘73”! One of my best friends, a guitar teacher, would call that a shitkicker! What are some bluegrass and country influences that you feel may have seeped into that track? 

Your friend is spot on and I consider that a huge compliment in the greatest sense of the word. Growing up, I absolutely loved Charlie Daniels’ “Uneasy Rider” and “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash. Those songs were the goal I was reaching for. Like many people of my generation, I was a weekly viewer of ‘Hee Haw,’ where songs like that were spit out on a whim.  More currently, I’m a big fan of Old Crow Medicine Show. But what truly inspired me to write and arrange that song the way I did, was a pre-pandemic visit to the weekly Saturday night bluegrass jam at Sunny’s Bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn. My son, Joe brought me there one night and I was blown away.

If there is an album concept on Stompin’ On The Front Porch, what would you say it is?

First and foremost it is to preserve the idea of the album format and what it represents. I grew up in a time when you could drop a needle on an LP and listen to it from beginning to end. Each song was unique in its own way but they all come together in a way that tied back to the overall theme of the album. The theme of ‘Stompin’ on the Front Porch’ relates to what I described earlier of how blues started out with folks gathered around the front porch of a house listening to a guitar player strumming or playing bottle neck and singing a story. In many cases, the music and social interaction (likely with the assistance of some adult beverages) would lead to dancing or as some might call it, stompin’.

  What’s on the horizon for Rosedale Junction? 

 There are a few other videos we have slated for release over the coming months and doing some planning for a follow-up album.

 Any touring planned in support of this album?

 While Rosedale Junction began as a studio based project, once the current environment stabilizes, I certainly plan on considering some options. Perhaps turn “The Blizzard of ’73″ into a Broadway show? (Laughs)

 Anything else you’d like to add about the album?

A big thanks to my engineer, Alex Allison. Given some of the challenges with working with so many folks remotely, he was a huge asset.

 

Rosedale Junction – Stompin’ on the Front Porch

 

 

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