Over the past few years, Passerine has become a favorite at festivals and events all over the region. This year, teh group won Songwriters Showcase of America "Band of the Year" at the Deland Original Music Festival, following up on their win for "Song of the Year" in 2011.
Passerine’s distinctive sound combines 3 and 4 part vocal harmonies, the crisp rhythms of an acoustic guitar, the haunting voices of the fiddle and dobro (resonator slide guitar), and the resonant lows of an upright acoustic bass. With this unusual arrangement of voices and instruments, Passerine offers a fresh take on traditional folk and bluegrass music as well as a repertoire of original songs that range from sweet ballads to the edgier side of contemporary Americana.
Carmela Pedicini and Tanya Radtke are both established singer/songwriters who have each been leading successful bands in recent years, both developing a substantial following with their own bands. “Radio-Free Carmela and the Transmitters” was recently profiled in Creative Loafing and released their CD, “Americana Tourister,” in 2007. (You can find them at http://www.radiofreecarmela.com.) Tanya Radtke released her solo CD, “Begin,” in 2008. Passerine was formed in order to play more acoustic music, and because Carmela and Tanya love to sing together. Apart, they have distinctive and powerful voices. Together, their harmonies have been described as “magical.” Their harmonies are inventive and compelling.
In Passerine, Tanya and Carmela trade off singing the lead and harmony parts on different songs, and each has an extraordinary ability to find harmonies that complement and reinforce the power of the other’s voice. They have added David Brain's dobro, for accents that can go from sweet and melodic to a bluesy moan, from the old time mountain sound to more contemporary urban folk and rock. Sara Stovall plays the fiddle in a style that reflects both her formal training in music with her roots in the musical traditions of western Kentucky. She also adds a third voice to the inventive vocal harmonies. David Baker provides a solid foundation with his tasteful and creative approach to the bass, and still another vocal harmony. Altogether, the members of Passerine have joined their talents in search of an acoustic sound that is simple and compelling, that has both purity and depth, and that adds new musical layers to the tradition of the singer/songwriter.
‘Passerine’ is the common name for any of the perching birds, an order that includes not only songbirds known for the sweetness of their songs but the raven, a bird known in myth as the companion of deities, as a courier who inspires laughter and reveals truth, and as a trickster whose appetite for life brings wisdom, healing and great acts of creativity.
Carmela Pedicini - (Vocals and Acoustic Guitar)
Tanya Radtke - (Vocals and Acoustic Guitar)
Sara Moone - Violin and vocals
David Baker - Upright Bass and Vocals
David Brain - Pedal Steel, Lap Steel, Dobro
Passerine (EP, 2011)
Noise Ordinance (compilation CD, 2010)
Noise Ordinance 2 (compilation CD, 2011)
Noise Ordinance 3 (compilation CD, 2012)
Another Song About A Bird (2012)
Free as a bird: Passerine takes flight while remaining grounded in American roots music
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The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes and The Decemberists are critically acclaimed, high-profile indie rock acts that expose younger listeners to the rich traditions of American music by using acoustic instruments and homespun vocal harmonies, and by expanding the acceptable palette of alternative rock sounds.
Still, some cringe at the terms “folk music” or “Americana,” bristling at what they view as a preference for tradition over originality. Others simply tune out to any sounds they perceive as belonging to their parents’ — or even their grandparents’ — generation.
For Passerine, a Sarasota-based quartet, Americana encompasses all of this country’s musical traditions without exception. Folk, bluegrass, rock and roll, soul, country and even pop have a place at the table. Rather than limiting what is allowable, Americana embraces every style under the sun.
“You wouldn’t believe the diversity of stuff that falls under that heading,” explains dobro player David Brain during a phone call to Creative Loafing. “What it has in common is some sort of association with roots music, a story or message that’s rooted in American tradition. You could have everything from rock bands playing at the Americana Music Festival [in Nashville], or singer-songwriters who you would say, ‘He’s a folk musician.’ It really covers a huge range of things. I like it as a label because it doesn’t pigeonhole you.”
The quartet rehearses around singer/guitarist Tanya Radtke’s kitchen table with their instruments every Tuesday night. “The dobro, the upright bass, the acoustic guitars and the harmony vocals going in the kitchen, it’s really fun,” Radtke says. “We’ll play in different rooms, and we’ll always end up in the kitchen.”
Fans of the movie A Mighty Wind may chuckle at the thought of an acoustic group jamming beside a Frigidaire, but Passerine’s co-founder Carmela Pedicini (well-known in music circles as Radio-Free Carmela) relishes the intimacy of the kitchen rehearsals.
“Tanya and I both have situations where we have to always fit over a large sound vocally,” she explained. “In this setting we can just hear each other. We can hear all the dynamics of the beautiful instruments. We can just focus on the resonance of our voices and the harmonies. … I really love my other band, and we are working really hard right now. We are doing a lot of big stuff. But this group is just like dessert.”
Brain’s favorite part of rehearsal is listening to Pedicini and Radtke work on their unusual harmonies. “There’s something really well-matched about their voices,” Brain said. “They sound great together. But what they are actually working out, figuring out who is going to sing what, how their voices work together, is musically really fascinating to watch and to listen to. They are very creative about it.”
Brain has jammed with Pedicini weekly since last October, when he first attended her open mic nights at Sarasota’s now-defunct Bungalow. Pedicini loved the sound of Brain’s dobro but longed for the sweet sound of a harmonist. She approached Radtke, with whom she has performed many times over the years. The trio subsequently played their first gig at the Sarasota Olive Oil Company.
At that show, Pedicini asked the crowd if there was anyone present who played upright bass. “I just said it out loud, I said, ‘Isn’t there anyone here that plays upright bass?’ And there’s this guy right in the middle of the room. He’s been there all night … raised his hand. Miles Tweed!”
Tweed didn’t have his upright with him that night, but it didn’t matter. He soon became the fourth member of Passerine.
The group performs original music penned by Pedicini and Radtke, who each released solo CDs in 2008, alongside Neil Young and Bob Dylan covers and arrangements of traditional songs like “The Blackest Crow” and Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More.” While rock bands performing Bon Jovi songs are expected to sound like Bon Jovi, Passerine’s ties to folk music tradition attracts a certain kind of audience, one that comes to listen and embraces free musical interpretations. Encouraged by this, Passerine’s covers often become unrecognizable, forcing listeners to pay attention to musical aspects they’ve previously ignored or overlooked. “You give them your own mood, your own edge,” says Radtke. “And when it’s something that’s really old, now you are giving it context. Who knows what it originally sounded like? Or the meaning?”
“I have total respect for [rock cover bands] because people love their popular rock music,” Pedicini explains. “They love to go to bars and dance and move to it. … Anything that I do an interpretation of or anything that I write, it really has a meaning to me. I guess I don’t write it for that reason, so, you know, I want to have it heard and listened to, and I do find more freedom in that. If I was in a bar, I’d have to play that stuff that people want to hear. I would be limited.”
At one of the early Bungalow shows, Pedicini told Brain about her dreams, which somehow mostly involved ravens. Brain, a sociology professor at New College, recalled that the origin of his last name was the Gaelic word for raven. He began researching raven myths. “I came across in my search for ravens this word, ‘passerine,’ that is the order of birds that includes all of the perching birds, all the birds that have talons with opposing thumbs so that they can perch on branches, and it includes all of the songbirds,” he said. “But it also includes not just birds that sing musically but also birds like the raven. In mythology, everybody thinks of the raven from that Edgar Allan Poe thing, you know, the grim harbinger of death, but actually in most cultures where they have raven myths, the raven is a trickster and a courier who brings all kinds of news, and is known for having a great sense of humor, known for being one who responds to difficult situations with creativity. There are all kinds of great stories about the raven when you start reading over the different myths. Really, it’s an inspiring totem to have.”
For both Pedicini and Radtke, who are used to fronting bands that sport their names, Passerine offers a welcome degree of anonymity. “I’ve been ‘Radio-Free’ for a long time,” Pedicini says, “and I like just being ‘Carmela’ in this group. It’s just better for me.”
Passerine's typical sets include a mix of original music, traditional folk and bluegrass songs, and a selection of songs by others.
Dark Bird Dream
When I Surface
Another Song About A Bird
On the Other Side
Love is Myth and Madness
Dreaming of Abraham Lincoln
Everything and Nothing
Traditional songs include:
The Blackest Crow
Hard Times Come Again No More
Covers include songs by:
Be Good Tanyas
There are no upcoming dates at this time.