Rotary Downs recently rolled out its spanking new collection of songs, Cracked Maps & Blue Reports. After performing its 5th consecutive New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and a run over to the West Coast (San Francisco's Boom Boom Room) and East Coast (Williamsburg's Brooklyn Bowl), the Downs look forward to their appearance at Voodoo Fest this October!
The new album has been receiving positive reviews locally and nationally:
"Cracked Maps & Blue Reports . . . perfectly New Orleanian: both high and low, in and out, joyous and mournful." - Filter Magazine, March 2010
“Rotary Downs reside in a world where rock theatrics and over the top shenanigans are replaced with exquisite songcraft, lyrical dexterity, and a musical adventurousness that refuses to honor any conventional orthodoxy or stylistic barriers. Their tunes bounce, roll, and sneak along in fits of magic realism, backed by a mellow wizardry, that gives way to layers and layers of poly-woven subcontextual feasts. It’s facilitated with traditional rock instrumentation, but with something subtle and intriguing cloaked beneath it, like the chambers of an owl’s heart embedded within each element.”
“A propulsive, infectious urgency informs this latest bumptious, captivating offering from one of New Orleans' emerging rock joys . . . Each cut is lovingly layered, harmonically stretched and played with palpable affection.”
The album debuted at #153 on the CMJ charts, moving to #126 within a week and continuing to rise as the band’s ongoing national radio campaign continues.
Rotary Downs is James Marler (lead vocal/guitar), Chris Colombo (lead guitar), Jason Rhein (bass/vocal), Zack Smith (drums), Michael Girardot (trumpet/keys/guitar)
Jason Rhein - Vocals, Bass
James Marler - Guitar, Lead Vocals
Zack Smith - Drums
Chris Colombo - Lead Guitar
Michael Girardot - keys
Cracked Maps & Blue Reports 2010 (Rookery)
- Best Rock Album, Offbeat Magazine
Chained to the Chariot, 2006 (s/r)
- "**** 4 Stars!" Alternative Press
- CMJ Top 200
- Top 5 Adds, Top 10 in major college radio markets, XM Radio
- RollingStone.com/hennessy Top 3 Songs
Quitters EP, 2004 (s/r)
- "Vulgar Ways" on IndieFeed
Long After the Thrill, 2003 (s/r)
- CMJ Top 200
- "Bleeders" on IndieFeed
Rotary Downs, self-titled, 2001 (s/r)
Top 10 Great Unknown Artists of 2007
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It's a great time to be a musician. Anyone can have a home studio and record an album, and there ar... It's a great time to be a musician. Anyone can have a home studio and record an album, and there are more ways to distribute that album and get it heard than ever before. In Second Stage's year-end Top 10 list, All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton shares the best of the great unknowns. These are the year's best outsider artists: musicians whose remarkable recordings went largely overlooked in 2007.
Artist: Rotary Downs
Album: Chained to the Chariot
The New Orleans rock group Rotary Downs has released a stunning collection of psychedelic art-pop songs that play like brilliant mashups of Neutral Milk Hotel and Odelay-era Beck.
Song: "Sing Like the Sun"
Hear This By Carey Miller
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Remember in the early to mid-'90s - before every indie band decided they needed to be a mini-orchest...Remember in the early to mid-'90s - before every indie band decided they needed to be a mini-orchestra - when indie rock still, well, rocked?
New Orleans' Rotary Downs sure do. Obviously influenced by Pavement, Mellow Gold-era Beck and other '90s faves like Archers of Loaf and Built to Spill, Rotary Downs combine the left-field rock sensibilities of those acts with jazzy qualities and stellar musicianship of prime New Orleans music.
Formed in 1999, Rotary Downs self-released its debut self-titled album in 2001. The album was recorded at The Mermaid Lounge, the now-defunct club where the band was a live favorite.
Rotary Downs followed its debut with 2003's Long After the Thrill, which earned it a spot on CMJ's Top 200 of the year.
After issuing 2004's stopgap EP Quitters, the band began working on a new record, half of which was finished before Katrina hit. Miraculously, the master tapes for the new record survived the storm, and the band reconvened in Lafayette, La., later in 2005 to complete the album, armed with a new sense of purpose.
Members emerged with 2006's Chained to the Chariot, a diverse, challenging and stellar record that deserves to be heard by a wider audience. That's something that may soon become a reality as the record has gotten great press in Rolling Stone, CMJ and Alternative Press (who gave it four stars), as well as being featured on XM Radio.
Rotary Downs: Chained To The Chariot
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Big gun brigand the rumbling drum I'm going to come down to run the slums with a slicer Here I co...Big gun brigand the rumbling drum
I'm going to come down to run the slums with a slicer
Here I come in a crumbling chrysler
Shun the sun one thumb on the visor
These words open the new Rotary Downs album, Chained to the Chariot. What does it all mean? Does it really matter when you have "slicer" being rhymed with "chrysler" right out of the gates? Chained to the Chariot has way more than meets the ear. Although the words themselves do simply sound great together, this is not just a case of throwing together nonsensical language to create a flow of sounds with syllables. This becomes excruciatingly apparent when you hear the words "seven thirty-five in the morning / forty-five degrees in the heart / all the little kids on the corner / they're old enough to see in the dark."
I once read, "Words are blurred and bent by the music that swirls around them." The lyrics of Chained to the Chariot are presented in the liner notes with no punctuation, capital letters, or sentence structure. The words appear as a stream of consciousness, a dream that travels through your mind as you read. They are delivered in a similar fashion by the flat-toned vocals of resident genius, James Marler. Pavement and Malkmus fans are going to flip for Marler as his voice and his poetry are very reminiscent of the slacker-era indie-rock pioneers.
This flurry of vivid imagery is supported by simple yet strong melodies and riffs from the band. Many of the tunes remind me of nursery rhyme songs, but there are twangs and minor progressions that create an almost spooky vibe. It's as if Jack 'n' Jill were going up the hill, but it's not to fetch a pail of water. This hint at the macabre lends perfectly to their connection to their home of New Orleans, one of the most beautifully mysterious places on our planet. Oh yeah, did I mention Rotary Downs is a New Orleans band? While they do not sound anything like the signature brass and Zydeco bands of the area, there are striking lyrical images throughout the album that connect Rotary Downs to their home. Your mind travels to the Big Easy as Marler sings "the big parade is pretty in the broken sunken city" in "Big Parade." Your heart aches when you hear "voices and faces become displaced turn into strangers" in "A Feast in Squalor."
This album comes three years after their last EP, The Quitters. Needless to say, these songs needed to be released onto the public at large as they no doubt have been in their live show rotation for years. But the time passed could only have been a positive thing for Chained to the Chariot as the songs are carefully crafted and the sound is pristine. There are precious sing-along moments as in "Sing Like the Sun" ("awwww sing like the sun, sing like a billy goat, sing like a tiger") and "B/W" ("who keeps knocking off my halo?"). We've even got an instrumental interlude, "Ma Lion Races Ruin," that summons the Crooked Rain in its casual fierceness. "Old Museum" brings a tongue-in-cheek playfulness with more cowbell (YES!) and fun twisty lyrics like "raunchy laundry sundays in the country." An image of a freaky ghost-infested playground is conjured as Marler sings "olly olly olly olly oxen free / when the sun comes up they're gonna murder me" in "Body of an Outlaw." Eek.
As with any great album, each spin will reveal some new knowledge. Get your hands on Chained to the Chariot in whatever format you like best [rhapsody | band website] and I think you'll find that it doesn't leave rotation for a long time.
Rock and a Hard Place
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In spite of its place as a safe haven for many other forms of traditional American music, New Orlean...In spite of its place as a safe haven for many other forms of traditional American music, New Orleans has become saddled with the unfortunate reputation as an above-ground cemetery for rock 'n' roll.
Surely, James Marler knows this axiom as well as anyone. But when conversation turns to Rotary Downs, his now eight-year-old rock band, being considered among the Crescent City's scarce elite, Marler bristles at the notion. "I don't think that's true," he says. "If you look at the more widely popular bands in New Orleans -- Cowboy Mouth and Better Than Ezra -- we're nowhere near that. To me, we're still a very obscure band. I don't really care either way, but I think that's the reality of it."
Spoken with a slight shrug of his shoulders, Marler's objection is more self-effacing than obstinate. And while it's true the group doesn't draw crowds like Cowboy Mouth or chart hits like Better Than Ezra, the Downs' 2006 LP, Chained To The Chariot (Rookery), is all the evidence needed for an effective rebuttal. Emerging fully formed and ready for radio, Chariot's mix of ear-pleasing pop structures with a now to-be-expected experimental bent marks it as New Orleans' best rock record in recent memory. Sure enough, the fetching single "Sing Like The Sun" has found its way into regular rotation at XMU, the indie-rock station of the satellite provider XM Radio.
Coming under such fierce cross-examination, Marler finally starts to cave. "We definitely have a higher profile than we did three years ago," he concedes. "A lot of that is because of (drummer) Zack Smith and (bassist) Jason Rhein; they really stayed on top of [the publicity] side of things. But I could walk over to the store right now and they wouldn't have any idea who I am. People who are inclined to like our sort of music might. In New Orleans, there's not tons of that."
His last point is what makes 2007's Jazz Fest invitation so much more impressive. It's no secret that when it comes to categorizing Fest performers of years past, area rock acts are an overwhelming minority. Sandwiched between successive trips to New York City, where the band toured local clubs and played three songs on Kurt Anderson's public radio show Studio 360, the Fest will be the Downs' biggest gig to date. The magnitude of making this year's roster is not lost on Marler, who has invited Lafayette multi-instrumentalist (and Chariot engineer) Ivan Klisanin and New Orleans singer/songwriter Blair Gimma to augment the band's ranks on the Gentilly Stage.
"Eleven-fifteen in the morning," jokes Marler, "that's where all the biggest rock bands are, right?"
Touche Rotary Downs: 11:15 a.m. Saturday, May 5, Gentilly Stage
By Noah Bonaparte Pais
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Taking a page from pre-millennial, post-modern poppers like Beck and Soul Coughing, Rotary Downs ree...Taking a page from pre-millennial, post-modern poppers like Beck and Soul Coughing, Rotary Downs reels freely between quizzical and intellectual. Chained to the Chariot, the New Orleans quartet's third full-length, pivots pedal steel, trumpet and organ on top of grandly unpredictable arrangements; the fun is watching which way these songs fall. Singer James Marler sounds like has been taking double shots of thesaurus, unraveling densely packed rhymes in his abstracted lyrics. Too lo-fi to be baroque, too catchy to be experimental, songs like "G-7 Hit!" and "A Feast in Squalor" swerve into woozy grooves but don't stay for long.
- Jonathan Zwickel
Remix: Juggled band arrangements have resulted in new music and a reinvigorated live local music scene
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On the surface, Rotary Downs seems like almost the opposite of a new band, having played in New Orle...On the surface, Rotary Downs seems like almost the opposite of a new band, having played in New Orleans consistently since 1999. In those seven years, though, vocalist/guitarist James Marler and pedal steel guitarist Chris Colombo have seen a host of supporting members come and go. For the most part, says Marler, they were supporting rather than active members while he and Colombo wrote songs and herded the band. But with their new rhythm section -- bassist Jason Rhein and drummer Zack Smith -- the band is coming together as a genuine unit like never before.
"I had a pretty soft landing," says Marler, who teaches English composition at University of New Orleans. "If there was ever a time not to own property, this was it." After the storm, the band reconvened to mix its 2006 release Chained To a Chariot in Lafayette.
Chained To a Chariot shows that the new Rotary Downs is tighter, more organized and ready to rumble. The layered, psychedelic pop on the record is tighter, catchier and more fully realized musically than the band's previous releases -- one EP and one live recording. And Marler is excited about how the newest supporting cast members in the band have been working their way into leading roles. "Zack is very extroverted, and he has a lot of good connections," Marler says, noting that this is the most active period the band's had in its seven-year history. "We're going to New York in January to play Thursday-Friday-Saturday. There's been some interest from a management company, and a few small labels are checking out the record." Chained To a Chariot was also voted record of the week by the popular music Web site Jambase.com, and made it onto the CMJ college radio charts. The band plans to start recording an album of new material in the spring, material that for the first time has been written as a collaborative effort. "The new rhythm section is more involved in writing," Marler says. "It starts from the groove up now -- in the past, it always started from the guitars down. "This almost is, really, a new band. And this next record we make will truly be a group effort. I'm grateful to have this assortment of people."
Marler feels optimistic about the way the music scene in the city has diversified since Katrina. "It seems like people are not as locked into their respective scenes as they were, because there's less music and also less people," he says. "Anyone who had their lives rocked by Katrina in one way or another -- you realize you should just appreciate things as they're happening. I've been listening to a much greater variety of music than ever."
-Shorter set (45 minutes, 10 songs)
-Longer set (90 minutes, 20 songs)
-Set list varies with every gig to keep it interesting for us and our fans. We have roughly 40 original songs and 10 covers we throw in from time to time (including Velvet Underground "Who Loves the Sun," Joy Division "Transmission," Joe Walsh "Life of Illusion" and the Cars "Just What I Needed"
There are no upcoming dates at this time.