Mars Arizona
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Mars Arizona

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"Hello Cruel World is a bright spot on the Americana landscape. The San Francisco-based singer-songwriter duo of Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto manages to find the proverbial silver lining of good music while also conveying an overall sense of global disillusionment. The album's tasteful musical arrangements and spot-on harmony vocals are complemented by guest appearances from Al Perkins on pedal steel and David Grisman on mandolin. Along with thought-provoking original compositions, the duo also impresses by putting its own unique spin on songs from a broad range of artists including Neil Young ("Time Fades Away") and T. Rex ("By The Light Of A Magical Moon")." (Greg Yost) - No Depression Magazine


"Mars Arizona takes yesteryear's cosmic American music and kisses new life into an old vision." - Cafe Du Nord


"Led primarily by singer Nicole Storto, songs such as "Promise Me Nothing" and the soulful yet winding "Voyeur" seem to fly off the disc, bringing Natalie Merchant and Liz Phair immediately to mind. What is most interesting is how they straddle the line between contemporary rock and an Americana sound... a rather lovely album." - Pop Matters


"While I've done a little bit of traveling in my time, I've never happened upon anything quite like Mars Arizona in my travels, musical and otherwise... I not only want to hear more from the band but would also like to live there for awhile." - Freight Train Boogie


Mars Arizona melds a roots, alt-country and rock sound that flows well from song to song through the versatility of main songwriter Paul Knowles. Lead vocalist and co-writer Nicole Storto at times sings with the hush and lilt of Sundays vocalist Harriet Wheeler, but with the added grit of Concrete Blondes Johnette Napolitano. - Miles Of Music


The second full-length release for Bay Area alt. country band Mars Arizona isn’t as scattered as the title suggests. In fact, All Over The Road is a decidedly more focused roots record than their debut, on which they were covering Kurt Weill and Concrete Blonde. Now it’s Buck Owens, Gillian Welch and John Lennon, all in relatively simple acoustic folk arrangements that nestle comfortably amidst the band’s original material, much of which finds the band's two main forces, Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto, keeping things well-harmonized and porch friendly. After the two opening roots rockers, the train drivin’ title track and the chooglin’ “Shadows On The Wall”, things get intimate and rural with plenty of twangy acoustic guitar tunes enhanced with fiddle from Chad Manning, Dobro and mandolin from Emory Joseph and drums from the legendary Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson).
– Miles Of Music
- Mile of Music


Knowing that "Mars, Arizona" is a mythical locale helps explain the appeal of this duo (who, while currently residents of the Bay Area, did actually meet while in Arizona). It's a distinctively cosmic Americana vibe that Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto unleash on their second album, a wide-open country/folk/rock sound currently being explored by the likes of Johnny Irion and Sarah Lee Guthrie but which stretches all the way back to Gram and Emmylou.

The record kicks off in high style with the hard-twangin' title track, co-written by Knowles and Storto, about a "psychedelic cowboy" guru who zips from town to town and from honky tonk to honky tonk, in the process turning his disciples on to everything "from Waylon to Bottle Rockets"; between Knowles' blistering slide guitar solo and guest drummer Kenny Aronoff's precision overdrive, the tune's nothing less than an asphalt-scorcher. Other highlights include Knowles' Steve Forbert-like "Shadows On The Wall" and his atmospheric, Tom Pettyish confessional "He Broke Your Heart" plus Storto's sweet, fiddle-driven "Pretty Mama, Pretty Girl" (harmonizing with herself, she sounds uncannily like a young/old Lucinda Williams). And a pair of choice covers reveals a couple of key influences for the group: the Buck Owens/Harlan Howard weeper "Excuse Me, I Think I've Got A Heartache" locates Mars Arizona halfway between Bakersfield and Nashville, while John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" -- here, thanks to Chad (David Grisman band) Manning's edgy fiddle, even more scabrous than the original - needs neither introduction nor explanation.

Originally calling themselves Drowning Noah and stoked equally on Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, Knowles and Storto began playing out in '99, eventually adopting a more evocative moniker and recording their debut, Love Songs From The Apocalypse, in 2002. Based on the evidence presented by All Over The Road, these two have a long, fruitful career looming. If you feel inclined to head out in search of Mars Arizona, the only highway map you'll need is the one in your musical imagination. - Fred Mills - Stomp and Stammer - Atlanta


One of the reasons alt-country became so popular in the late '90s was that a lot of modern-rock fans grew tired of arcane, poetic love songs that were essentially about nothing. When Bottle Rockets howled about thousand-dollar cars, that was a relatable gripe, and now when Mars Arizona co-leaders Nicole Storto and Paul Knowles sing about a roaming, lonely man on "Streets Of Milwaukee," their sketch's directness is lacking in other corners of the pop universe. Storto and Knowles describe a motley assortment of broken people on Mars Arizona's second LP, All Over The Road, aided by unfussy guitar-picking and straight-ahead rhythms. The Bay Area duo has some dilettantish traits: When they cover the Harlan Howard/Buck Owens classic "Excuse Me, I Think I've Got A Heartache," they do so with a somber reverence that's more tourist than resident. But Mars Arizona is also capable of forging its own space in Americana, via songs like the casual rocker "He Broke Your Heart," where sweetly buzzing guitar counteracts Knowles' bitter words. - The Onion


Sep/Oct 2005
Reviews
Rants & Faves

Mars Arizona
All Over the Road
By Robert Baird

This duo of guitarist/singers Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto, once known as Drowning Noah, says their new name refers to where “Southern gospel hangs out in the Devil’s House.” That’s a daunting amalgam but one they’re able to back up, thanks to production values vastly superior to that found on their debut, 2003’s Love Songs From the Apocalypse, and more intelligent choices when it comes to covers, which receive solid readings: a geared-down, unplugged Buck Owens- Harlan Howard honky tonk weeper, “Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got a Heartache,” John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” and “Elvis Presley Blues” by this duo’s most obvious models, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. But unlike that pair, who instinctually hew to a funereal pace, Knowles and Storto aren’t afraid of electricity, as demonstrated on their cowritten title tune opener and Knowles’ Son Volt-esque “Shadow’s on the Wall.” - Harp Magazine


The population of Mars Arizona is small, just two guitar-pickin' singer-songwriters: Nicole Storto and Paul Knowles. But on their new album, they've got a lot of talented neighbors dropping by, including mandolin guru David Grisman, pedal steel and dobro ace Al Perkins, and classical/country fiddler Alisa Rose. Hello Cruel World finds the San Francisco band firmly ensconced in the rootsy alt.americana sound it began exploring on 2005's All Over the Road, marked by the duo's solid songwriting and understated arrangements. Storto opens things up with "Dirty Town," her chilling voice full of repressed violence and heartache. Rose contributes a swinging Texas-meets-Paris violin solo, and Grisman's supplies his usual subtle mastery on mandolin. "Landscape," dedicated to the city of New Orleans, showcases Perkins' blues-drenched pedal steel, complementing Knowles' gruff, distressed vocals. On "Circus," Knowles compares the country to a sideshow full of clowns who dance while ecological disaster approaches, singing in a weary tone that intensifies the bleak lyrics.

Knowles and Storto also are adept at wringing unexpected changes out of their cover tunes. They turn the early T. Rex fairy frolic "By the Light of a Magical Moon" into a bouncy honky-tonk anthem. Storto delivers an aching lead vocal on "Blue Kentucky Girl," tipping her hat to Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris without emulating either. Perkins drops some teary dobro fills into the mix while Rose's fiddle cries in the background. And "In the Pines" gets a stark, folky, bare-bones treatment highlighted by the duo's wailing, wordless harmonies. - East Bay Express


Discography

2002 - Love Songs from the Apocalypse
2005 - All Over The Road
2008 - Hello Cruel World

Photos

Bio

Perhaps it takes an imaginary small town to shed light on an imaginary America reeling in myth over reality. Well, welcome back Mars Arizona, the folksy but feisty duo blasting off from a fictional town somewhere in the Southwest into contemporary American reality with their latest release – Hello Cruel World. Firing poetic slings and arrows at a world gone mad, Hello Cruel World peers at our modern landscape with wit, hard driving energy and a wise nod of the head at a seemingly unjust world.

This is the third release from Mars Arizona on Big Barn Records distributed by Burnside Distribution. Their 2005 effort, All Over The Road garnered them rave reviews from many publications including Harp, Stomp and Stammer, Performing Songwriter, and Nashville Scene and a feature in No Depression. The record was also well-received by Americana radio and peaked at #41 on the AMA radio charts. A U.S. tour that year took them from San Francisco to New York via Nashville, where they made many friends and fans.

Great art is defined and framed by the artists’ interaction with and reflection on the immediate and wider world they inhabit. Mars Arizona’s Nicole Storto and Paul Michael Knowles have checked out both their local and global spheres and have created a tenacious album of beauty, tragedy, trauma and energetic urgency with this new offering. Their vibrations resonate with a country bluegrass mournfulness that evokes a stock take of the mess the shopping mall world is in. Storto and Knowles have climbed the holy mountain to camp out and hang in the global village, taken notes and translated what they touched, tasted, saw, felt, smelt and understood by it all.

For this adventure, they have gathered some of the finest musicians to marinade into a matchless and transcendent record. The majority of the album was recorded at Moondog Studio in Nashville, (big thanks to Billy Block) by Tim Coats. The remainder of the recording took place at Icehouse Studio in San Rafael, CA; Hilltop Studio in Mill Valley, CA; and BIAS studio in Petaluma, CA.

David “Dawg” Grisman makes sparks fly from his mandolin on the opening track “Dirty Town,” resplendent in its identification of the wayward coping mechanisms of small town barfly alcoholics. His son Sam Grisman pushes the tune into the red line with his thundering upright bass. The genius of Al Perkins on pedal steel haunts “Circus,” a tune that shakes its head in disbelief at the freak show fairground bazaar that America’s politicians have constantly toured the highways of humanity with. Or so it seems. Storto sets off on her own with “Good To Be Lucky” – her crisp and world-wise vocals taking inspiration from Mark Twain’s famous words: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” Storto’s voice hauntingly reminds us that the huge gulf between those privileged few and the masses below might just owe a thing or two to luck. Neil Young’s “Time Fades Away”, T Rex’s “By the Light of the Magical Moon” and Loretta Lynn’s “Blue Kentucky Girl” are put through the Mars Arizona sweet and sour smoothie maker. Paul and Nicole know their musical history books and these inspired covers glide, grate and grind in all the right places. The trauma of death and loss speaks softly and poignantly on “Wait For The River.” “Landscape (for NOLA)” highlights Mars Arizona’s creative compassion with a tune based on Paul’s father’s first hand observation of the devastation in New Orleans, after Katrina. This haunting original, complemented by Perkins’ pedal steel, brings it all down to the personal.

Other musicians that drive the tunes, sprinkle it with their deft touches and keep the rattle and twang addictive include Alisa Rose on fiddle/violin, Andon Davis on Bass/mando/guitars and D.B. Walker on guitars. Billy Block plays drums on most of the tracks, with Cory Stück taking the sticks on two tracks. Nicole Storto’s vocals fill the album with an ardent passion and a luminous throat chakra. Paul Knowles throws 6 and 12 string guitar, bass, harmonium, wah guitar and piano into the mix as well.

“Complacency equals death, man!” said the prophetic and poetic Paul Knowles recently. Hello Cruel World shows off a visionary Mars Arizona combining the personal and the political in a musically exciting look at our haywire world. Ignore its country driven, bluegrass fueled, and folk music footprint at your peril.

For further information contact: bigbarnrecords@earthlink.net
Paul @ BigBarn Records : 415-465-0449
Publicity: Michelle Roche - 706-353-3244
http://www.michelleroche.com
Radio Promo: Al Moss http://www.almosspromotion.com