2012 Best Singer Songwriter- Riverfront Times Music Award
"At this point, the "singer-songwriter" label has become just about as cliché as this St. Louisan is not. Wise beyond her years with range beyond her genre, the young, confident crooner has proven a formidable solo force through two EPs and a full-length, as well as stints pairing her light, lovely vocals with Old Lights and Cassie Morgan. Bombara's earnest and occasionally eerie blend of folk, country and blues provides a spot-on soundtrack to the city's summers and grocery stores, where her good nature and good tunes make for a solid, if unconventional show. Outside of her clear vocals, Bombara's subtle strengths lie in her backing instrumentation, which follows the same organic, unrushed pattern of arrangement as her intro and outrospective lyrics." -The Riverfront Times
A Grand Rapids, MI native and current St. Louis resident, Beth has developed her signature sound over the past decade, drawing inspiration from not only her favorite rock, blues, and folk musicians but also from the places she’s lived in and toured through over the years, first as a member of Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers and then as a solo artist.
*Live performance notes: She can perform solo, as a duo, trio, or 4 piece band, depending on the gig.
Beth Bombara - Guitar, Lead Vocals
Kit Hamon - Bass Guitar, Fiddle/Violin
David Beeman - Drums
Karl Eggers - Guitar, Banjo / Vocals
JJ Hamon - Trombone, Lap Steel Guitar
Wish I Were You, 2010 (LP)
2. Can't Win
5. Winter Blues
6. Pots and Pans
7. Not Fair
8. Abandon Ship
9. I'm Not Tired
10. Don't You Know
Beth Bombara and the Robotic Foundation, 2009 (CD)
2. Beautiful You
5. Not the World
Abandon Ship, 2007 (CD)
1. Abandon Ship
3. 'Til the Sun Goes Down
5. Making our Way
Spirit of St. Louis
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Songwriters are known as a restless lot. If they're not literal nomads, crisscrossing the country in...Songwriters are known as a restless lot. If they're not literal nomads, crisscrossing the country in search of an audience, they exist as spiritual ones whose curious minds and drifting hearts lead them to new threads and themes.
St. Louis singer-songwriter Beth Bombara is subtly subverting that notion. Although she has described herself as a "wanderer," Bombara's luminous songs reflect the spirit of an artist who can enjoy the room she has to roam all the more knowing she has four walls to call her own.
"Every day, St. Louis feels more and more like home to me," the 28-year-old Michigan native said in a recent email exchange. No doubt, Bombara's sense of belonging is directly tied to the ways in which she has enmeshed and endeared herself within the local music scene, collaborating regularly with the likes of area stalwarts Old Lights and members of The Dive Poets. St. Louis has returned the love — she recently won a Riverfront Times Music Award, voted on by the alt-weekly's readers, for best singer-songwriter.
In Bombara's hands, the time-honored tones of American roots music are further scuffed and stripped to their unvarnished core by the lo-fi spirit of '90s alt-rock — her Facebook page says she "sounds like Lucinda Williams and Natalie Merchant at a party." It's not surprising then to learn that Bombara's first band was an all-girl punk act or that her musical tastes have expanded and evolved over the years to include the college rock of Nada Surf, the Pixies and Weezer and an appreciation for Americana that has grown as she has grown up. Her sound makes room for desperate bluesy stomps, tender folk ballads, funereal New Orleans jazz and pedal steel-fired alt-country ala Uncle Tupelo.
While "writing the bare bones of a song is still" a "very solitary" act, Bombara hasn't had to go far to open her work to scrutiny and the shaping of others. Her closest collaborator lives in the same room — husband Kit Hamon amplifies the word "partner," serving as a songwriting critic and cohort. The two are "very different musical personalities," but that push-and-pull has been for their good. "Now I can't imagine what it would be like to not play music together in some capacity," she said. The pair also resides in St. Louis' Cherokee neighborhood, home to a "creative community" of artists that has opened Bombara's eyes and ears to "some pretty cool things."
Uniting her road-tested wanderings with wonderings forged in the fires of home, Bombara's songs work on a number of levels, calling listeners to enjoy both the freedom to explore and the freedom to embrace.
Singer-Songwriter: Meet the 2012 RFT Music Award Nominees
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At this point, the "singer-songwriter" label has become just about as cliché as this St. Louisan is ...At this point, the "singer-songwriter" label has become just about as cliché as this St. Louisan is not. Wise beyond her years with range beyond her genre, the young, confident crooner has proven a formidable solo force through two EPs and a full-length, as well as stints pairing her light, lovely vocals with Old Lights and Cassie Morgan. Bombara's earnest and occasionally eerie blend of folk, country and the softer side of rock provides a spot-on soundtrack to the city's summers and grocery stores, where her good nature and good tunes make for a solid, if unconventional show. Outside of her clear vocals, Bombara's subtle strengths lie in her backing instrumentation, which follows the same organic, unrushed pattern of arrangement as her intro and outrospective lyrics.
Wish I Were You- Beth Bombara
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Beth Bombara – Wish I Were You Beth Bombara has made some great strides forward since her last EP a...Beth Bombara – Wish I Were You
Beth Bombara has made some great strides forward since her last EP a year ago. Her new album "Wish I Were You" is a mature effort that highlights her honest voice, earnest songwriting, and intimate performance. This full-length shows Beth to be an extemely versatile artist who can ably handle blues, country, rock, and folk songs. She weaves all these different genres into one disc that flows seamlessly from one track to the next. Tracks are expertly embellished by slide steel guitar, fiddle, keys, and banjo.
Favorite Track: The slide steel glissando of "Rainbow"
Beth Bombara- Wish I Were You
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St. Louis songbird Beth Bombara continues to shift her musical sights on her first full-length album...St. Louis songbird Beth Bombara continues to shift her musical sights on her first full-length album under her own name, Wish I Were You. Infusing folk, Americana, blues and rock n roll in a restless but highly enjoyable song cycle; Bombara continues to remake herself as an artist and gets ever closer to the core of her talent as a songwriter.
Wish I Were You opens with "Rainbow" a gentle American number full of a melancholy born of experience but also infused with hope for something more. The subject here could either be romantic or just a friend; Bombara's complex subtlety evades discernment, but the depth of emotion is powerful either way. "Can't Win" is a catchy acoustic country/rocker with an unforgettable melody. Bombara reflects on the realities of the working artist, regretting the tendency for basic human needs to waylay such pursuits. This is among Bombara's best works to date, featuring a fresh sound and gorgeous vocal harmonies. "Direction" is a tuneful request for guidance from one who is tired of being directionless but doesn't know which way to go.
Bombara sidesteps on “Lately". The song has real potential, but is drawn with a melancholy wail that just doesn't entirely work. Bombara puts her rock n roll shoes on for "Winter Blues". Opening with a bluesy folk sound, the song quickly turns into an impudent and bleak but energetic rocker. "Pots & Pans" blends blues, rock and Americana in near-perfect fashion. Bombara is in great voice here, and this song will get stuck in your noggin. Don't be surprised if the licensers start lining up for this one. Bombara shows off her lyrical talents on "Not Fair", a contemplative song of heartbreak laid out over a wonderfully sparse arrangement that affects the mood of the song perfectly.
Bombara revitalizes "Abandon Ship" as an Americana/country number and may actually have improved on the original. This is one of Bombara's best songs, and was a standout on the EP of the same name, but takes on additional color and context in the current arrangement. The stunning vocal hook that drives the chorus carries over well in spite of the stylistic changes. Bombara details the classic human struggle for a sense of control in "I'm Not Tired". Anyone who has ever tried to convince a toddler that its bedtime will get it, and perhaps see some of themselves in that eternal struggle. Wish I Were You closes with "Don't You Know", a straight forward love song written without device of affectation. Bombara starts out with just her voice and banjo, eventually growing the song into an almost orchestral country arrangement that is highly appealing.
Beth Bombara never stands still. Every time something of hers comes across this desk it's a bit different than the last; and Bombara just keeps getting better and better. There is a quiet reserve to the songwriting on Wish I Were You, but within that reserve is a remarkably competent authorial voice, brought vibrantly to life in Bombara's singing voice and accompanying instrumentation. Wish I Were You is a must have album, and will convince a lot of listeners to find out more about Beth Bombara.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Beth Bombara In studio
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Blending indie rock, folk and country as effortlessly as a plow through fertile prairie, this Riverf...Blending indie rock, folk and country as effortlessly as a plow through fertile prairie, this Riverfront Times nominated ‘Best Female Singer Songwriter’ and ‘Best Female Vocalist’ has garnered an enthusiastic following thanks to her acclaimed solo album, “Wish I Were You.”
Homespun: Beth Bombara
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For her first full-length under her own name, Beth Bombara builds on the singer-songwriter folk styl...For her first full-length under her own name, Beth Bombara builds on the singer-songwriter folk stylings and more adventurous rock & roll of her previous two EPs. Wish I Were You culls the best attributes of those earlier releases and amplifies the strains of genteel country-rock and pensive, wizened balladry. Bombara recorded the record along with her husband, Kit Hamon, and his brother J.J. Hamon. The three multi-instrumentalists corral their talents in service of the songs: J.J.'s pedal steel provides a twangy, sweet-and-low flavor across several tracks, and the opening cut, "Rainbow," shimmers with his conventional, tasteful use of the instrument.
Bombara received financial contributions for the limited-edition vinyl pressing of Wish I Were You through the fan-funding site Kickstarter.com. The wax version of the album makes sense beyond the current trend of fetishizing vinyl, however. You has smart sequencing, and sonically, it's also the best-sounding of her three recordings, thanks to its warm, no-frills production. It also helps that Bombara's ever-strengthening vocals — which rarely falter across registers or emotional nuances — are pushed to the front, allowing her well-placed hiccups and proclamations to land with clarity.
The opening triptych highlights Bombara's folksier moments; "Can't Win" posits the songwriter's struggle with a sing-songy shuffle that is catchy but veers toward by-the-book Americana. The downtempo "Lately" is more successful, as disembodied guitar notes, grainy electric piano and spare drums facilitate a nice, slow-burning ebb and flow. This sweet spot between bare-bones folk and low-slung rock offers Bombara her most fertile ground and provides several standout moments. The austere, banjo-led "Don't You Know" proves how little cushion Bombara needs for her naked, heartfelt declarations, but Kit's double-tracked violin parts give a keening sweep to these lovers' vows. As a closing track, it all but guarantees another top-to-bottom spin of the LP.
Beth Bombara, Abandon Ship
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There's something about unobtrusively robust music that's very comforting. How often do you hear xyl...There's something about unobtrusively robust music that's very comforting. How often do you hear xylophone, piano and guitar tastefully intermingled? Well, maybe some people hear it more often than me, but within seconds of putting on Abandon Ship, I got an earful. When Beth Bombara's slightly pained alto put words to the pleasant shuffle of the title track, the slight sense of uplift the aforementioned elements provided was juxtaposed with sweetly sung resignation. In these complicated times, the bitter and the sweet's pairing resonates.
The crispness of her voice, its richness, conveys a strength that's been tempered in the kind of upset with which broken hearts are all too familiar. The breakup no one wants to go through with, but everybody knows is necessary? That mixed myriad of emotions is all over this EP. To complement said emotions are all the elements of classic folk, executed with modern sensibilities. Thanks to the arrangements' layers, melody and atmosphere, Abandon Ship has one foot in the bistro, the other in the winter cabin.
These are sentimental songs, but somber through and through. The arrangements lift them up, not weigh them down. That, paired with its brevity, is what makes Abandon Ship work so well. When the strings and kick drum cut in on "Worn," the closing and most foreboding track, the oppression you might expect is imbued with energy that, no pun intended, keeps the track afloat. In unskilled hands, the material on Abandon Ship could easily have become a song cycle of heart-sunk dirges; thankfully, Beth Bombara and everyone who supports didn't let that happen. B+ | Willie E. Smith
RIYL: Aimee Mann, Natalie Merchant, Bon Iver
"Abandon Ship" Beth Bombara
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The songs on Beth Bombara's Abandon Ship EP don't mess with the standard singer-songwriter fare — st...The songs on Beth Bombara's Abandon Ship EP don't mess with the standard singer-songwriter fare — stories of busted love, personal perseverance and romantic hopefulness pop up over these six songs. Lyrically and vocally, Bombara takes the middle road; nothing is overly bombastic or depressingly morose, and she opts for an even-keeled, coffee-house-friendly singing style instead of expressing the depths of her soul through vocal histrionics. This is a good thing.
Maybe it's because her name comes right before Beth Orton's in my iPod, but Bombara's sweetly ragged, potently hollow voice recalls some of the British singer's more naked moments. The first half of Abandon Ship puts her voice front and center, with mixed results. Simple acoustic guitar strums guide these plaintive, low-slung tunes, and muted, open piano chords give a nice, unobtrusive weight. On a song like "Together," though, her voice doesn't always fill the space left by the unadorned arrangements. The next track, "Making Our Way" is more successful at rounding off the corners, adding punchy electric piano, twinkly glockenspiel and brushed drums. Likewise, "Worn," the disc's final track, is led by a swooping fiddle line, suggesting that Bombara's songs work better with tasteful, organic arrangements.
Sonicbids Artists 2 Watch
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"In the heart of America, in St. Louis, music lovers have come to know Beth Bombara as a singer/song..."In the heart of America, in St. Louis, music lovers have come to know Beth Bombara as a singer/songwriter of note, along the lines of Brenda Weiler, the sweetheart of the college music circuit. Bombara started out fronting an all-girl punk band in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, but her later association with Jenny McIntyre and Samantha Crain soon had her writing heartfelt, more Americana-sounding tunes. Her voice is pure, ranging from plaintive to sweet, while her writing is anything but innocent. She is able to speak of failed relationships and the fear in new ones without ever dipping into sentimentality. She presents fresh, new images and has listeners’ ears perked for the next new phrase. You can catch Beth Bombara as a solo act or with her band, as well as with the David Beeman Band (on drums), or Circa (guitar and keys)."
A Foundation of Robots
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Beth Bombara: A Foundation of Robots Advanced music is one of the perks of music journalism, and ...Beth Bombara: A Foundation of Robots
Advanced music is one of the perks of music journalism, and in some cases the only return you get for your time and work. The catch is not every advance is worthy of the time and work a review necessitates. When an advance is actually worth the effort, you have honor and obligation of doing it justice. ...And the Robotic Foundation by Beth Bombara and the Robotic Foundation has earned its fair day in court.
The case for Bombara's artistic growth and creative expansion is evidenced by the staying power of the six songs that constitute what you could call it an EP. That classification doesn't do Robotic Foundation justice. These songs feel like a playlist that selfishly mines your favorites from a great full-length, totally robbing the artist of her creative control. The crime of being finicky and pinching only the best bits (skipping dinner and going straight to dessert) is indeed a guilty pleasure. In this case, the pleasure's completely innocent, like PB & J's made with that sliced bread with no crust so kids the world ‘round can munch unfettered.
Where her 2007 release Abandon Ship flowed like silica in an hourglass's uppermost to its base, ...and the Robotic Foundation creaks, coils and then springs at forward (in the span of one song), and then, having traveled to new ground, cools off and recoils with even more tension than before, poised for the next expansion. It's kinetic, it's engrossing, but above all it's pure. The addition of JJ and Kit Hamon (on bass and drums, respectively) has given Bombara's songs heft, and a propulsive force that's anything but robotic. As a band, the chemistry is there, and it's downright impressive.
With a couple helping hands from her bandmates, Bombara kindly submitted to a thorough round of questioning. Any reservations I had about giving Robotic Foundation an A have been acquitted. We may just be witnessing the humble beginnings of a graceful assent.
Musically, you seem to be able to play just about any instrument I've ever heard recorded on in pop music. What inspired you to pursue and develop your talents back when you were growing up, and since?
I started playing the piano in third grade, so I guess that was the start of it., Thanks Mom...you didn't let me quit until I was half decent, and by that time I had picked up your guitar and started plunking out chords. Even when I was little, I was always interested in learning new things. Along with piano, I played trombone for a couple years. I just really enjoyed making music. I also loved going to see live music throughout my high school years. I went to a lot of local shows, and had great times meeting bands and hanging out with old friends as well as discovering some great music. It was kind of a package deal, and that hasn't changed. Now, I intentionally try to surround myself with talented musicians and other creative people. I've found that it's stretching and inspiring, whether we are playing music or just hanging out.
What brought you to St. Louis, and how has that impacted your development as an artist?
I finished college across the river, in Greenville, Ill., so that is when I got my first taste of St. Louis. After graduating, I floated around the country for about two years (much of that time spent on tour) and decided my sanity might benefit from being in one place for a while. There's lots of places to play in St. Louis, cheap rent and a handful of good college friends. From a practical standpoint, the relatively low cost of living is invaluable because I don't have to spend all my time and energy on paying my bills, like a lot of musicians and artists I know do. That's given me more time to gain focus, and develop stylistically. There are also a lot of great musicians here that I feel lucky to be able to collaborate with, and be inspired by.
You're very generous with your talents. What were/are some of your favorite collaborations/collaborators and fondest memories? How did you contribute, and how has that manifest in your solo work?
I'll always remember the early collaborations with Samantha Crain. It was just the two of us, and we didn't really know what we were doing as a duo so we tried a lot of different things. The most memorable experimentation resulted in things like a junkyard drum set (more fondly referred to as the "franken-drum") and cellphone feedback loops. That was a few years back, and I've had people ask me if I still play the cellphones. Blows my mind. We were just having fun trying new things. My current collaboration with Cassie Morgan is similar in that respect. I find myself playing an assortment of things, some in ways I've never played them before. And what I'm playing on each song seems to constantly evolve. It most often involves playing at least two things at once, for example, melody and percussion. I think these collaborations have given me a freedom for experimentation in my own music that might not have been achieved otherwise.
On Abandon Ship, there was a restraint in your vocals that was very evocative given the timbre of that record, and on Robotic Foundation, you' display a wider range to great effect. Is the difference the product of a stylistic choice then versus now now, or a natural growth as a performer?
I would have to say it's both. When I started playing in a band, I never wanted to be a singer; holding down a rhythm instrument in the shadows seemed ideal to me. When no one else in the band wanted to step up to the mic, I did it out of necessity. I was 16. Since then, I've experienced a lot of growth vocally, and not until more recently have I felt comfortable as a vocalist. But I'm not there yet. The range of style on the new recording has enabled me to tap into my rock/punk roots, blending that with a more confident, mature sound developed by recent pop/folk experiences performing solo as well as singing harmonies with others.
When did you get a sense of how Robotic Foundation was going to sound and feel?
It was somewhere in one of our early practices while working on the song "Lights." After fumbling around with different stylistic ideas, the bass and drums locked in with a sort of sideways rhythm that just felt right. That somewhat happenstance, always-laborious process of feeling each song out for the best possible sound kind of defines our way of working as a band. That's why, in a live show, we'll go from a full-on raging rock band to the acoustic guitar, pedal steel and violin. We each have our own tastes, but are always trying to find our way as a band. Once we fine-tuned each song live, we went to the studio to flesh the songs out.
Working with Dan Mehrmann (engineer/co-producer) was a pleasure, because he has an ear for all things production, and the studio experience to capture the instruments in great detail. The basic sounds were top notch, but our real work and success in the studio came in the vocal production and other touches that (we think) takes this record to a level above the simple "band in a room" records (don't take that statement the wrong way, cause the right band in a room sounds better than we ever could...see also Muddy Waters, early Beatles records, Nirvana and plenty of other bands, some of whom are our friends, like Theodore or the now-defunct Bad Folk). When we started adding some of the more exciting layers, like background vocals, lead guitars and the occasional gang-handclap track, the songs themselves really started to jump at us. Each person that had a hand in the process of recording altered the original vision slightly without ever taking away from it.
There's an interesting thing going on in Robotic Foundation: three of its tracks, "Beautiful You," "Anonymous" and "Conversation," are both restless and melancholy all at once, a unique combination that really strikes a nerve. At the same time, those songs feel very intimate, at times sensual as far as the arrangements and tone. What's the genesis of that?
Without going into the gritty, bloody, personal details, those songs come from some really rough spots in life over the past few years. As much as we all like angry, "fuck you"-type songs, sometimes it's just not that simple. Those songs especially come from an honest assessment of relationship problems, feeling let down or alienated, or a host of other seemingly negative events/happenings. The reason for the tense, restless/melancholy feel is probably just a musical admission that, even in the situations where we're getting screwed over by someone or something, there's always another side to the story, and we likely don't know the whole of it. Even if we do, we probably can't understand it, but it's natural to try. Those songs are an attempt at understanding, with all the messy, blurry lines that come along with that attempt.
The other half of Robotic Foundation plays like a lesson in the connection/evolution of new wave, college, alternative and indie rock's most anthemic aspirations. What are some of your own personal anthems, or the music for your life?
Hmm... I might have to say that the band Nada Surf has pretty much written the soundtrack to my life. I've been connecting with their music ever since high school, and there always seems to be a song that goes with whatever I'm experiencing or feeling at the time. A couple theme songs/anthems to highlight would be "Popular" and "Always Love." "Popular" helped me come to terms with my place in the crazy social jungle high school, ultimately accepting myself for who I was and not trying to be something I wasn't. The song "Always Love" is a great reminder of what I think is one of the most important thing in life; it's what I strive for. Of course there are also anthems like "Praise Chorus" by Jimmy Eat World, and going back to my punk roots, "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash. These are also songs that I would sing at the top of my lungs with the windows down. I probably should add Weezer in general (Blue Album) to that list. Yeah.
What are the CD release show (April 10th at Off Broadway with Grace Basement) and subsequent performances going to be like?
Well, the release show should be lots of fun. We're working up a couple new songs as well as keeping some of our standards going. We're finally going to drag the Wurlitzer 200A out for "Beautiful You," and it might show up elsewhere in the set, too. We'll keep our regular stage setup, with the usual rock band stuff alongside pedal steel, violin and some acoustic guitars.
As for future shows, depending on the venue (and the band's availability), it can range from super loud and aggressive rock 'n' roll (like some of the heavier moments on ...and the Robotic Foundation) to much more quiet, folksy music. There have even been shows with just acoustic, Wurlitzer and violin. We usually try to give a good mix, though, often sandwiching the quiet songs between the louder stuff. You know, something for everyone, without straying from the music we write and enjoy.
We're always in flux as people, and the band is no different right now. JJ is the best brother/bass player/pedal steel player/budding sousaphonist, but he's going to be gone for the summer, and our good friend Ryan (from The Slightest Nod) is going to stand in and play some bass/other toys for us. And Kit seems to have developed an insatiable appetite for vintage electric pianos, so don't be surprised if more of them start finding their way on stage, too...speaking of which, anyone want to give away a Farfisa or Vox organ?
How can people best support you and your projects?
We're all inspired by our friends, many of whom are musicians and/or artists themselves. If you want to support us, get (or stay) involved with the arts in St. Louis. The creativity of this growing artistic community keeps many of our favorite spots open for business. Go out and see live music. Plant a garden. Write a story. Do some sweet graffiti art. Your creativity will feed ours. (Of course, you can also sign up for our mailing list at www.bethbombara.com or www.myspace.com/bethbombara. Sign up and score a free download.) | Willie E. Smith
Typical Set List is 45 minutes, can be longer upon request. For gigs over 90 minutes, covers will be mixed in with originals. Can play multiple sets in one evening.
1. Can't Win
2. Not Tired
3. Pots & Pans
5. It's Not Fair
7. Abandon Ship
8. Making our Way
10. Winter Blues
11. Don't You Know