The Great Republic of Rough and Ready
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The Great Republic of Rough and Ready

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Americana

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"A Stereo Sun review"

Some bands make a career of striving toward the new: new sounds, new techniques, new combinations, new instruments. Few bands live in the past, making bygones relevant once again and resurrecting parts of music that died well before the start of the twenty-first century. But when a group like The Great Republic of Rough and Ready comes along, with the power to conjure the ghosts of music past, it can be a magical, albeit nostalgic feeling.

Everything about The Great Republic is of another time. From their hand-woven album artwork to the ‘30s jazz-club presentation of the music at bars around New York, The Great Republic reeks of a time and place in America that has been lost for the better part of a century. Guitarist Samuel Stein, sitting on a stool with only his guitar mic’d, never speaks a word and wears his vagabond suit and argyle socks as if he’s only just stepped off the steam-engine train after an arduous journey. He projects the style of a grizzled vet, wise beyond his years. Singer Elissa Spencer stands at the microphone, completely at ease, oozing confidence and consistently sipping whiskey that, despite her outwardly obvious twenty-something years, gives her voice a sixty-something fineness. Think Nina Simone. Think Ella Fitzgerald. No effort at all…just smooth and smoky.

This picture that was painted in the dim light of Banjo Jim’s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is painted just as clearly on The Great Republic of Rough and Ready’s eponymous debut EP. From the opening croon of “Candyman”--the song that drew me toward the front of the room at Banjo Jim’s and whose sweetness seeps from the speakers--to the closing electric riff of “Gospel Ship,” The Great Republic of Rough and Ready is twenty minutes of ephemeral and ethereal time travel. As Spencer croons “Candyman” again and again, accentuated only by a light mandolin, the silences between her breathy pleas are rife with both pleasure and pain. Her a cappella jazz-vocal intro to “See See Rider Blues” harkens back to a barbershop quartet. At first Spencer is a lone voice, but slowly (as the magic of computers allow), three other Spencers fill the sound, signaling the entrance of Stein’s fingerpicked guitar licks and droning bassline that underlie the remainder of the song. Stein whips out the electric on “Cherry Ball Blues,” and his driving groove dances playfully with Spencer’s choked, meandering vocals. The intricate electric guitar riffs on “Gospel Ship” play similarly with Spencer’s carefully crafted melody, but with a more rhythmic and lyrical focus. This is all to say that, despite the EP’s diminutive runtime, between jazz vocals and blues riffs and subtly experimental instrumentation, The Great Republic of Rough and Ready have covered nearly half a century of American blues tradition.

The Great Republic of Rough and Ready’s twenty minute journey tells of a transient man and a weathered woman from the early 1900s putting on a traveling show, telling the stories of their life together. Through the quaint simplicity of a guitar and a voice (with some horns, strings, harmonium and mandolin sporadically and subtly thrown into the mix), this brief yet powerful narrative seems very honest in a way that more modern electronic music simply cannot be. It sounds like the roots of Americana and folk and Southern blues just reaching through space and time to remind us that, without such sound routes, the Justin Vernons and the Sam Beams and, yes, even the Elissa Spencers, would be nowhere at all.

(http://astereosun.blogspot.com/2009/08/traversing-great-republic.htmlastereosun.blogspot.com/2009/08/traversing-great-republic.html) - Jake Hyman


"Mediatized review, Fresh Tracks Festival"

Mesmerizing ive and recorded music by The Great Republic of Rough and Ready provided a circular (or four-cornered) structure to Enrico Wey’s “Heart Ain’t In It: Four-Chamber Studies.” Four performers—Caitlin Marz, Elissa Spencer, Sam Stein, and Wey—enter the space drinking from Styrofoam cups; Stein is holding a guitar. They chat, undiscernibly, and then stand in formation, as if watching the audience. Recorded music with stylized scat plays low, from the back corner of the stage. The players put down their drinks, move to another location, and repeat the looking. When assemble at the back, Spencer sings the now familiar music while Stein plays it, drooping over further and further as he does. After Marz lays down, the quartet exits, and are replaced in exact position by four completely different performers as recorded music rises from the back of the house—opposite the original source. This piece resonates on many levels—from theoretical questions about the nature of performance and of identity, to the practical matter of teaching living works to new performers over time and how it changes the work. I couldn’t help thinking this kind of work would probably fare well in galleries or museums: it shares certain qualities with the work of Tino Sehgal, not least the fact that it’s credited as an “arrangement” and not as choreography.

(http://www.bmacmedia.net/?p=241) - Brian McCormick


"Hunter College Radio"

Recently, WHCS invited the Hunter community to share their musical talents over the airwaves- we asked musicians to submit their mp3s for some airplay and hoped that students and faculty would express some interest.

Turns out, as WHCS expected, Hunter College has some serious talent.

The Great Republic of Rough and Ready is led by Sam Stein, who is studying in the Hunter Urban Planning Masters Program, and Elissa Spencer, who is an adjunct professor in the Education Department, as well as a recent graduate of Hunter College.
Together, they play American Folk music with a modern-jazzy edge. Elissa’s voice seems to really hit you right at first listen; it’s almost haunting but keeps you captivated. Sam’s guitar playing skills provide beautiful riffs and are the perfect accompaniment to Elissa’s voice, both of their talents seem to complement each other and really lure the listener in.

Click here to listen to their song “Candy Man” which was played on WHCS.

Also, check out their MySpace for more music and a list of shows.

(http://whcs.hunter.cuny.edu/post/269404188/recently-whcs-invited-the-hunter-community-to) - WHCS


Discography

In January 2009, we self-released a 4 song EP. The tracks, which are all available to stream at myspace.com/grrready, included Candy Man, See See Rider, Cherry Ball Blues, and Gospel Ship.
We are about to release a 7-inch single (A: Angel of Death, B: You Are My Sunshine) and a 6 song EP with Lau derette Recordings. In addition to the single and B side, the EP will contain CC Pills Blues, God Gave Noah The Rainbow Sign, Mother's Last Word To Her Son, and Cyprus Grove Blues. Angel of Death and You Are My Sunshine are also on our myspace page, as well as our bandcamp site (grrr.bandcamp.com).

Photos

Bio

The Great Republic of Rough and Ready re-examine the traditions of country, folk, and blues in a unique style that is at once an offering of respect, an act of conservation, and an insightful critique. Their stripped-down reinterpretations – encompassing the works of artists from Ma Rainy to Skip James to Hank Williams – are steeped in craft, and imbued with a haunting stillness and subtlety. The sound is lonesome, quiet and incisive. It delights in small silences.

The group takes their name from the former sovereign nation of Rough and Ready, just outside of Nevada City in northern California. One of the most prosperous mining towns of the California Gold Rush, its residents seceded from the United States in 1850 – in protest of taxes on mining claims - forming The Great Republic of Rough and Ready. Less than four months later those same residents voted themselves back into the Union, so as not to be excluded from 4th of July festivities.

The Great Republic of Rough and Ready are Elissa Spencer (vocals) and Samuel Stein (guitar). Based in New York, they find themselves equally at home in upscale theaters and dive bars. In 2009 they were featured in New York City’s River To River and CMJ festivals, and have been commissioned to write and perform music for dance at Dance Theater Workshop and Judson Memorial Church.

Lau derette Recordings will release the group’s first 7-inch in April 2010. The single features Hank Williams's The Angel of Death paired with the sobering verses of You Are My Sunshine. A downloadable EP featuring additional bonus tracks, accompanies the record.