Royal Potato Family is a “farm to table” record label founded in 2009 by musician Marco Benevento and his manager/publicist Kevin Calabro. What started as a means to put out Marco’s music has expanded to include other artists whose musical aesthetic they believe in, with over 30 artists now on the roster. “I’d like to think what makes us appealing to other artists as a home for their releases is that we’ve maintained our integrity over the years. We still honestly believe that music can make the world a better place. We want these records to be a soundtrack to people’s lives,” says Calabro.
Unlike labels that focus on a specific style, Royal Potato Family is eclectic - mixing jazz, jam, singer-songwriter, indie and more. The common thread seems to be touring performers who put the music first: integrity before fashionableness, self-expression before genre boundaries. Royal Potato Family has cultivated a growing audience that believes in the quality of the music they’re releasing (most of which is available on vinyl, CD and digital). Two of those new releases include An Epic Battle Between Light and Dark by American Babies and The Story of Fred Short by Marco Benevento. Both are available now.
On An Epic Battle Between Light and Dark American Babies bandleader Tom Hamilton and a supporting crew of musicians have crafted a cohesive album that covers a lot of musical ground over its 8 tracks. The songs flow from one to the next in a purposeful order like individual chapters in a book. Not to say that there aren’t standout cuts, but sonically the album functions as one complete listening experience rather than a bunch of individual songs.
The first track Synth Driver could pass for a U2 song with its indelible fade-in and vintage rock sound. That is, until it builds to a crescendo more reminiscent of something off of My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves. Oh Darling, My Darling begins with strong piano chords and brings synthesizer into the mix. This gives the track a modern feel at first, before it transitions into something more classic. Toward the end of the song it’s as if you are listening to Pink Floyd. The gospel-like Alone in the House would have fit perfectly on Jerry Garcia’s Cats Under the Stars album. It’s difficult to pull off such a simple, sweet song but Tom Hamilton does so with just a guitar and voice.
These comparisons to other artists are simply an attempt to place these vaguely familiar yet unexpected sounds. With enough listens the comparisons fade as you realize it simply sounds like American Babies.
What Does It Mean To Be? is the catchiest number on the album with a slinky groove that fits the vibe of this song. It’s the one you’ll be singing along with first but don’t isolate it. The songs on An Epic Battle Between Light and Dark are equals. Fever Dreams brings to mind the Americana image that American Babies has been known for. Featuring horns and steel guitar, Fever Dreams fluctuates between alt. country and contemporary folk.
The instrumental Not In A Million Years is an econo electronic sequence that serves as an archway toward the end of the album. It’s also a temporary moment of reflection and uncertainty. Is darkness winning the battle? Bring It In Close is a haunting ballad with a powerful ending chorus. These are real musicians playing real instruments. The title track An Epic Battle Between Light And Dark again features a familiar sound that can’t quite be identified. U2 once more? Bowie? This is the album closer but it’s really just a point in a circle that cycles right back around to the beginning as the disc plays again.
Those who associate Marco Benevento with the jamband world might be surprised at the pop-oriented sound of his new release The Story of Fred Short. Those who think of him as an instrumental performer might be surprised to know that he sings on every track here – quite well, actually. A listener wouldn’t be too far off base in thinking that the “Marco” that made The Story of Fred Short was indie multi-instrumentalist Mac DeMarco, not (experimental jazz) keyboardist Marco Benevento.
For someone known for his improvisational skills, the first four tracks on Marco Benevento’s The Story of Fred Short are remarkable for their brevity. Whatever complex understanding of music went into the creation of these songs is concealed by their apparent simplicity. A light-hearted, playfulness prevails. The track Heavy Metal Floating Upstream manages to combine an opening riff, cryptic lyrics, guitar solo and piano part; never sounding forced or rushed but still coming in at under three minutes.
The last half of the album is devoted to a suite of songs known as “The Story of Fred Short.” The seven tracks that make up this section flow together without much interruption. These pieces rely on a clubby, dancehall temperament to carry them through. The repetitiveness of this latter half of the album – as on I Can’t See the Light – may not work as well in all listening situations as the earlier, more accessible songs do. I wonder how this conceptual portion translates in a live setting?
Benevento has defied expectations with the music made on The Story of Fred Short. Even if I’m not with him all the way through, I respect the artistic vision that went into its creation.