Messerly and Ewing
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Messerly and Ewing

Cincinnati, Ohio, United States | INDIE

Cincinnati, Ohio, United States | INDIE
Band Rock Pop


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"Messerly & Ewing - Every Bitter Thing - Review"

Cincinnati’s Messerly & Ewing is the 17-year-old songwriting partnership of musicians Mark Messerly and Brian Ewing, whose catalog has been remarkably consistent from the start. But that doesn’t mean that the duo hasn’t progressed and evolved over the years. Every Bitter Thing finds the twosome in peak form, featuring some of the best songwriting in their decades-crossing career. Perhaps it’s the comfort of their creative brotherhood — both stay busy with other projects, particularly Messerly, who plays bass (and many other instruments) with Wussy. Or maybe it’s the growth of Messerly & Ewing into a cohesive band unit; on Every Bitter Thing, bassist Sean Rhiney and drummer Bill Donabedian find a tasteful groove behind the duo’s well-crafted, highly melodic sound and contribute greatly to it. The album, as a result, is the most “Rock & Roll” in the M&E catalog. In the beginning, the duo’s sound was often pegged as “Folk” or “Roots Rock,” but Every Bitter Thing shows those influences more subtly integrated and less obvious. Messerly & Ewing do recall The Jayhawks, not so much sonically (although there are some similarities) but in the way the two singers’ voices combine so perfectly in harmony — they are Cincinnati’s equivalent of Mark Olsen and Gary Louris. But one of the more notable things about the album is that the band it most sounds like is Messerly & Ewing; the duo has constructed and fine-tuned their sound so expertly, they’ve become the kind of band whose music you hear and can instantly identify as M&E. Every Bitter Thing is an emotionally moving record — the songs seem generally about feeling deep love ... and losing that feeling — and the electric guitar work (which hovers in the R.E.M./U2 realm) is particularly effective. But it’s, as always with M&E, those ear-hijacking melodies that’ll keep listeners coming back for more. Messerly & Ewing celebrate their new release Friday at The Comet with a free show with guests Shiny and the Spoon. Grade: B+ - Cincinnati CityBeat

"The Bitter Beginning"

What happens when you cross a Folk duo with the architects and founders of the MidPoint Music Festival? You get a righteously pissed Folk duo.

“If one more person describes us as a Folk duo, I’m going to kill,” Messerly & Ewing guitarist/vocalist Mark Messerly (also a member of Cincinnati band Wussy) says over drinks at MOTR Pub. “Whatever your first impression is, that’s it. I could bust into a Woody Guthrie song, but if you look at our influences, they’re all Pop and Rock.”

“I don’t want to say we were pigeonholed and trapped,” guitarist/vocalist Brian Ewing says. “But we were pigeonholed and trapped.”

M&E fit the quacks-like-a-duck Folk description early on, but adding bassist Sean Rhiney and drummer Bill Donabedian — MidPoint creators and highly regarded musicians — made them a certified Rock band.

“We’ve been around forever but, as far as the band goes, we’ve never had an intact lineup,” Messerly says. “It’s the most free I’ve ever felt, because these guys can roll with anything.”

The path from M&E’s last album, 2004’s Darkness Drops Again, to the new lineup and new release, Every Bitter Thing, was long and arduous. It began after Darkness, when Ewing sought professional help for balance problems he was experiencing.

“I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease, which is a fluid imbalance in the inner ear that causes hearing loss, nausea, vertigo, all the fun stuff,” Ewing says. “I didn’t know day to day if I was going to be vertical. We couldn’t schedule anything. It took me three or four years to figure out how to deal with this.”

Almost simultaneously, Messerly’s marriage unraveled and he set aside music to concentrate on his relationship. It was a difficult and painful period.

“You can guess what’s on the table — ‘You love music more,’ ” Messerly says. “I quit everything, except Wussy — we were making the first record, but that band was barely together. I told Brian, ‘I gotta do what I gotta do.’ We played MidPoint and we had no idea if we would ever play again.”

“They were kicking on all cylinders when this happened, too,” Rhiney notes. “They (won the 97Xposure competition) in 2002, they put the next album together, they had Randy Cheek and Justin Hackett as their rhythm section and were doing out of town shows. To watch it as a friend, it was like, ‘How cruel can fate be?’ ”

Shortly thereafter, longtime friends Rhiney and Donabedian signed up to create a flying contraption in Cleveland’s edition of Red Bull’s annual Flugtag Festival, inviting Ewing and Messerly to join them (they’d met when Rhiney brought them in on the first album by his band Clabbergirl in 2001). Flugtag launched a much-needed upswing in Messerly’s life.

“My therapist said, ‘When you got back from Flugtag, I knew you’d be OK,’ ” Messerly recalls. “That weird weekend was the first step toward pulling myself out and it was with these guys, because we’re family.”

Ewing adjusted to his Meniere’s difficulties and assembled the band Catalog Cowboys while Messerly devoted time to Wussy. The pair played out sporadically, stockpiling new songs for a potential recording. In 2009, Messerly and Ewing finally swapped songs and it was revelatory. Their experiences had deepened their songwriting, forcing them into new emotional states and modes of expression.

“I was like ‘Damn, these are my favorite songs that I’ve heard Brian write. I want to be a part of these songs,’ ” Messerly says. “Then there’s the flat out joy of singing with Brian. But we were still a mess.”

“I have a tendency to write about Mark,” Ewing says with a laugh. “When you’re writing, you’re trying to dig into some personal connection. For me it was watching Mark and all the crap he was going through. I wound up writing song after song, several of which made it onto the CD, about that love-and-loss situation. I had one of my most prolific periods in that stretch and I think that helped the strength of this CD.”

The pair invited Rhiney to join them as they worked through the new songs. The multi-instrumentalist had teed up the invitation long before it happened.

“I told Mark if they ever needed a bass player, I wanted to be it,” Rhiney says. “Bill and I were fans of these guys before we walked in.”

Rhiney wanted to include Donabedian in his own project, but it hadn’t materialized, so he asked Messerly and Ewing if they’d be interested in Donabedian’s services. They couldn’t accept fast enough.

“I was surprised and flattered, but I was really excited because of the songwriting,” Donabedian says. “The songs might have been Folk — two guys playing guitars — but as long as there’s a good melody set to the right beat, it’s a Pop song. I love music that transforms like that.”

Given the foursome’s longstanding friendship and musical similarities, the chemistry and comfort was immediate.

“When you get in a band, there’s this long period where you pretend to like each other, but we’ve known each other so freaking long,” Messerly s - Cincinnati CityBeat

"Darkness Drops Agian - review"

Lifting title and tone from a line in W.B.Yeat's apocalyptic 'Second Coming,' Darkness Drops Again is a rollicking, reflective disc from this award winning roots' duo. While more rock guitar based than previous efforts (a who's- who of local lead guitarists guest), don't worry about cries of 'Judas' from the tradition-based Americana community. M&E remain equally true to their own homespun heartland take on roots music's earnest themes and colorful storytelling, but aren't afraid to mix in a dash of rock excess - a big juicy chorus ("Leap Year") or mini-moog riff - to make things sonically interesting. Listen to guest guitarist Tod Weidner's delightfully messy solo in the bouncing "She Said" and you'll get the point. The focus still remains on the duo's taut harmonies and catchy songwriting - Ewing's melancholic ballads, "Lonely" and the superb heartbreak hymn, "When I Lost Your Love," and Messerly's churning rockers like the aptly titled slide guitar exercise, "Backslide" and the twisted "Kinda Girl," are first rate lessons in literate, solid songwriting. Other standout tracks include the 3am wistfulness of "Beautiful Now" and the disc's epic soul stirrer, "Orlinda."
And where 2001's The Last Twelve Hours came accessorized with multiple session players and guests, Darkness benefits from a cohesive recording core with drummer Justin Hackett and hired gun/Ass Ponys' bassist Randy Cheek. Cheek brings super solid, melodic rock playing while Hackett is a powerhouse who adds innovative tribal rhythms to the mix. Keeping it all in the family, M&E also enlisted Pony's front man Chuck Cleaver as de facto producer. Cleaver's subtle touches as a sympathetic songwriter are evident, letting the duo's storytelling take center stage and allowing just enough dirt and grit around the edges for authenticity. - Cincinnati CityBeat

"Chuck Cleaver"

Amazing energy, sweet harmonies and SONGS, folks...f*cking SONGS. Get anything they've ever done. - Ass Ponys

"MidPoint Music Festival "Buzz Band""

Combining fine songwriting with solid musicianship and a natural love of performing, M&E make some of the best Roots/Americana rock anywhere. - Cincinnati Enquirer

"Catalog Cowboys Show Review"

Rockgrass Hoedown the burns like fire. Every kind of American Music and volume. - Cincinnati CityBeat

"Messerly and Ewing Show Review"

The Jayhawks trick or treating as the Everly Brothers. - Cincinnati City Beat

"Midpoint Music Festival"

Intelligent and passionate roots rock from Cincinnati's premier multi-instrumentalists and songwriters.
- Festival Schedule


Every Bitter Thing
Darkness Drops Again
After Dark
the last twelve hours
the Practice of Everday Life
the Wrong Way



Messerly and Ewing continue to evolve. Celebrating 15 years together in 2009 M&E have put together a new band featuring a more eclectic guitar driven sound and a rhythm section of Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian. They will be playing extensively this summer and fall to support the release of their 6th CD. While M&E’s schedule slowed in resent years with Mark and Brian spending time working with other local bands including Wussy, Catalog Cowboys, and 7 Speed Vortex, they continued to play as an acoustic duo until late in 2008 when they decided it was time for a new direction. Messerly and Ewing are fully embracing the indie-rock and pop feel that has always been a part of their sound. In short…expect the unexpected.