Some people hit the road to find themselves; others, to leave something behind. For Arron Dean, it was a little of both. The South Africa-via-Brooklyn singer-songwriter has had several homes and musical identities in his lifetime, but he comes into his own on MPLS, an album that documents the almost contradictory emotional arcs of someone whose life has been spent searching for something that may actually be in the past.
Arron Dean was raised on a small farm in an area called Knoppieslaagte, about an hour outside of Johannesburg, amid the political upheaval that led to the end of apartheid. As a young man at the turn of the new century, he followed his muse to the United States in pursuit of his dream of being a great jazz guitarist. "I was pretty young and utterly in love with jazz," Dean says. After a few years in Boston, his determination led him to New York City, where he made his mark on the scene—and came to the realization that "making it" in jazz means playing to disinterested bar patrons and "making about $200 a week."
Disheartened, Dean left jazz behind and experienced his first major musical shift. He started from scratch, reorienting himself with a punk-rock band quickly began packing clubs and partying their way across the Lower East Side. Meanwhile, he earned his keep working myriad jobs, from running a youth hostel to mopping recording-studio floors in exchange for the chance to write music for advertisements. But after a few years the audiences at shows dwindled and opportunities waned as the band drank away their potential. "We were a bunch of hard-drinking idiots all working in the same bar," Dean says, "with barely the sobriety to show up and play shows on time."
Dean's first run in New York came to an inauspicious end when half of the band members were fired from the bar where they all worked. Deciding it was time for a change of scenery they made plans to relocate to Minneapolis, to get their act together. But only Dean and one other member managed to follow through, the others staying behind in part due the same drug and alcohol problems they hoped to outrun. The band regrouped, but the promise of cheap rent and small-city camaraderie held less charm as six months turned into a year. "I probably should have known you can't start fresh by doing the same damn thing in a different location," says Dean says.
He realized what he needed wasn't a change of scenery but a change of tune. Fed up with screaming at the walls night after night, and feeling the sudden onset of profound loneliness, Dean returned to Minneapolis from a particularly dreary tour intent on making a real change. "When we got back to Minnesota I grabbed my acoustic guitar and started writing the most sincere music I'd ever written. I wrote about everyone I missed and everyone I loved. It was what I needed at that moment." With the blessing of his bandmates, he set off in a very new direction.
?His new sound, a strain of modern Americana infused with a hint of British melancholy a la Nick Drake, sprang from the old bluegrass and country records Dean played to find peace during long drives through the Midwestern expanse. He learned to finger-pick the guitar listening to the music of Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens, and his own material fell comfortably into a similar heartworn space as those renowned artists. Though he did not intend to record or release any new music he naturally amassed a set of songs; and through the encouragement of friends and the help of a few great musicians he'd met along the way, he found himself at Minneapolis' Sound Gallery studios beginning another journey—recording the music that would form the foundation of his debut album, MPLS.
Soon, he found himself working 16-hour days and pouring his paychecks right into the studio. "I'd work for four months saving everything I could and record two or three songs in two days," Dean says. "Then work until I had enough money again to record." While somewhat protracted, this process allowed him to recruit the people he felt would best help make the album he needed to make. "I let them do their own thing," matching them to particular songs "based on what I knew about them." He went to Nashville to record with Al Perkins, the great sideman to everyone from Emmylou Harris to Leonard Cohen, whose distinctive dobro on "Buffalo, South Dakota" opens the album. Backing and harmony vocals were added by Debra G (whom Arron calls "the best singer I've ever worked with") and Grammy-nominated singer Lona Heins. He flew back east to work with some of his old colleagues from the jazz circuit. A trip to Berkeley, California, to record "Happy Hour" with Venezuelan producer Enrique Gonzalez Muller, turned into Muller mixing the entire album.?
Despite the caliber of the guest musicians, Dean is truly the magnetic soul at the center of MPLS. His soulful tenor conveys a deeply felt longing that connects with anyone who's ever missed someone or someplace. The 12 songs capture the emotional minutae of feeling alone and disoriented, and the barroom familiarities and late-night bad decisions that sometimes result. Though the lyrical landscape is colored by drunks and absentees, these tales are delivered in a sad but hopeful tone. "I was picking up a lot of pieces when I went out there," Dean says."Although the songs are about the Twin Cities, [the cities] are really more of the backdrop than the actual subject matter. The songs are really about love, redemption, forgiveness, and missing the ones I love, with Minneapolis in the background of it all."
Dean's "sort of pained nostalgia" is matched with a range of tones, from slow-burning ballads ("Sleep Without Me" places a shimmering chorus alongside a deeply jazzy interlude) to driving alternative folk (the arpeggiated acoustic guitar of "First Aid for the Choking" recalls indie-rockers The Sea and Cake). A few modern-ish production touches, like the cascading layers of vocals on "St. Paul on Mississippi," provide the only real hints that the artist receives his mail in Brooklyn. (He moved back in fall 2009.)
Arron Dean is an artist who's found his true voice through the process of shedding skin. The long journey that brought him up to and through the recording of MPLS now begins again as the album is released.
Arron Dean - Vocals and Guitar
'MPLS' released August 2010
Album on rotation on over 150 college radio stations
[Introducing] – Arron Dean
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Yup, that’s with two R’s not two A’s. Just like his name, Arron Dean is not your typical singer/s...Yup, that’s with two R’s not two A’s.
Just like his name, Arron Dean is not your typical singer/songwriter. Inspired by jazz while growing up in South Africa, Arron made his way to the US and ended up doing what most people do, drop his jazz ambitions for the next best thing; New York punk rock. After a few years, the crowd surfing waves waned and his band broke up. He then set his sights on Minneapolis to escape the drug and alcohol addictions brewing with his Brooklyn base.
His acoustic guitar became his instrument of choice to accompany his lyrical tales of longing for past loves and friendships, and while his lyrics are more train-of-thought than thought-out, and at times quiver and hiccup like a teenager expressing love, they surprisingly capture your heart and mind, whipping you back to yesteryears of romantic innocence and exploration.
His music is ideal for those rainy days, buried between the cozy covers with your new love or buried between the pages of old photo albums. With hints of Dashboard Confessional guitar-play, Counting Crows word-play, and Elliott Smith curse-play, Arron Dean does well to evoke intimacy perfect for this time of year. Check out his debut album MPLS out now!
FAME Review: Arron Dean - MPLS
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You may never have heard of Arron Dean, but there are some who have, and the legendary Al Perkins, c...You may never have heard of Arron Dean, but there are some who have, and the legendary Al Perkins, consummate dobro player ne plus ultra, is one of them. He contributes lines on this CD that slay the listener, especially in the opening cut, Buffalo, SD, where just he and Dean appear, his ethereally keening instrument lofted above the singer's pained vocals. I mean, this one performance alone is a cut for the ages, a church for the stringed instrument in denuded revelation, and there's a reason Perkins chose to play on this CD, as Dean is a troubadour of a different coat, a guy who bleeds and sweats what he sings...and the kind of singer-composer who gives critics ulcers because his work is so familiar and yet so impossible of definition. I suspect that's what made the gig irresistible to Al.
Perhaps a clue to Dean's mind lies in his piano playing, strikingly akin to Harold Budd's, and in St. Paul on Mississippi, the music suddenly lifts into the skies in a heavenly apotheosis, as though the composer's fragile angeline vocals transcendentally imbued the entire environment, whence the mural could not help but ennoble itself. The follower, Minneapolis, is equally baffling in its conjoining of spiritual prairie refrains and progressive classicalism, a rending of the sod to get to its underlying evanescent nature, to free the seraph from the beast. Though Dean's work is completely different, I'm reminded of Sipo's shattering prog venture, Year of the White Rose (here), as both are unearthly.
It's a pity that more of this curious but entrancing music isn't making it to the mainstream. Howard Wuelfing has been a champion of the indefinable form, but Jeffrey Smith and Crash Avenue, another publicity venture winnowing the worthy out from obscurity, have increasingly been locating strange refrains and glowing misfits, vouchsafing intrepid musician and listener alike that all is not commercial trash and soulless plagiarism in a culture increasingly hellbound. Arron Dean treads the road not taken, and if one finds in him strains of Tim Hardin and other innovative trans-folkies, that inclination is not mistaken. You may have to struggle with this one before settling in but it's worth the effort and may even twist your perceptions in ways you weren't prepared to expect, couldn't even guess at.
Bootleg Magazine Album Review
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ARRON DEAN MPLS There’s something that either works or fails with singer-songwriters. Imagine t...ARRON DEAN
There’s something that either works or fails with singer-songwriters. Imagine that scenery of the lone singer sitting with an instrument pouring their heart out, laid to bare on a makeshift stage or in a coffee house. Add to that the mileage of traveling or leaving the performance when few have attended. It’s a lot to bear. It’s a lot to contribute. You can’t just be pretty and pull it off. When it fails, it’s bad for everyone. When it works, it’s a superb thing to hear and experience. A singer has to captivate the listener’s ear and soul. Arron Dean must have done that performance after performance playing around the mid west.
Dean is a self described farm boy from South Africa who moved to the U.S. to play Jazz. The music on MPLS is a collection of songs described as an explanation of “a year of desperation.” In all that time Dean experienced empty rooms and too much time away from family. The sense of isolation and loneliness ended up making MPLS refined and contextual, ghostly. That year must have burned something edgy and bright into his constitution. MPLS is beautiful, sounding like the songs have been performed by Dean for a decade or more. His lyrics are honest and descriptive, imagery falling from the songs so easily – of city lights and mouths to be kissed.
Dean sounds so at home with his music, seemingly played effortlessly. His voice is tender and smooth, honey soaked and calming. MPLS ends up dreamy and caustic in a subtle fashion. Dean tempers all of this with carefully added instrumentation that shows up but doesn’t dominate – the subtle slide guitar of “Sleep With Me” or the piano on the same track, the fiddle on “I Think I’ll Be Alright.” Dean really shines on “Sleep With Me” and “Empire.” The real gold is the spare acoustic “Betty Page” where his voice echoes from some far away, indistinct place, pining for the icon. While these gems stand out, MPLS as a whole is a real pleasure.
Open and Intimate
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rron Dean ‘MPLS’ Indie/Folk/Country http://www.arrondean.com By Paul Rouse If you were raised...rron Dean
By Paul Rouse
If you were raised in South Africa, played jazz in Boston, then punk in New York, what would your next step be? If a move to Minneapolis to write a warm, rich acoustic record is your answer, then you have something in common with Arron Dean.
Starting with the slide dobro on the opening track “Buffalo, South Dakota”, Dean prepares the listener for an intimate album built on a foundation of delicate finger picking. It is continued on the next song, “St. Paul on Mississippi”, to which Dean adds layers of vocals, building up to a swirling climax of “ahs”. The Twin Cities continue to set the backdrop on the 3rd track “Minneapolis”, which has the airs of a more lush The Hour of Bewilderbeast-era Badly Drawn Boy song. A bass line stretches along like a rubber band, pulling in more layers of horns and piano.
He adds a country feel to “Unannounced”, a lilting male/female duet that is as welcoming is its lyrics suggest. It sounds as if it could have been written by Ryan Adams and sung by Conor Oberst and EmmyLou Harris. Dean even dabbles in a lighter version of bluegrass on the closing track, “Thorn in Your Side.”
Echoes of Bon Iver come through in “Betty Page”, a lovely and sparse song that sprinkles piano around strumming and vocals, before rising to meet its end among the splashes of cymbals and chorus of “oohs” and softened horns.
With MPLS, Arron Dean invites the listener to cozy up to the fireplace and relax in the warmth of these songs. They’re open and intimate, missing the loves of days that have gone by, yet giving hope for brighter ones ahead. Something Dean himself may have with this album.
Very appealing sound...
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I am told that Arron Dean was raised on a small farm in an area called Knoppieslaagte, about an hour...I am told that Arron Dean was raised on a small farm in an area called Knoppieslaagte, about an hour outside of Johannesburg, amid the political upheaval that led to the end of apartheid. As a young man at the turn of the new century, he followed his muse to the United States in pursuit of his dream of being a great jazz guitarist. "I was pretty young and utterly in love with jazz," Dean says. After a few years in Boston, his determination led him to New York City, where he made his mark on the scene—and came to the realization that "making it" in jazz means playing to disinterested bar patrons and "making about $200 a week."
The South Africa-via-Brooklyn singer-songwriter has had several homes and musical identities in his lifetime, howeve his new album MPLS has a defined and very appealing sound that I am sure will appeal to a wide audience.
The promotional piece describes his new sound, as a strain of modern Americana infused with a hint of British melancholy a la Nick Drake, which sprang from the old bluegrass and country records Dean played to find peace during long drives through the Midwestern expanse.
Musician Arron Dean + Director Jonty Fine = Amazing!
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This video is absolutely amazing (as is the song as well!)!!! It’s for a new track for Arron Dean...This video is absolutely amazing (as is the song as well!)!!!
It’s for a new track for Arron Dean’s upcoming release MLPS by award-winning South African video director Jonty Fine.
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MPLS is a nice collection of folk tunes from the South Africa-born, Minnesota-based singer/songwrite...MPLS is a nice collection of folk tunes from the South Africa-born, Minnesota-based singer/songwriter Arron Dean. For fans of Damien Rice and Iron & Wine. Check out "Minneapolis," "Unannounced" and the bluegrass-leaning album closer "Thorn in Your Side."
I Think I'll Be Alright
Goodbye (Steve Earle cover)
Sleep Without Me
Thorn In Your Side