Tom Mank and Sera Smolen
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Tom Mank and Sera Smolen

Ithaca, New York, United States

Ithaca, New York, United States
Band Folk Acoustic


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"Tom Mank is a monster songwriter, right up there with the best, and can paint musical pictures like you can't believe. His voice has an underneath-a-streetlight-late-at-night aura to it that is entirely disarming at times. And Sera Jane Smolen? If you want to hear what a difference a cello can really make, this will show you. She is nothing short of masterful, playing everything from standup jazz bass to flowing classical-oriented movements, all on a cello. I can't say enough about her playing." - Frank Gutch Jr

"Woodstock Times"

“Sera’s sinuous cello and Tom’s driving guitar generate a firm beat beneath metablues that’s homespun yet exotic hinting of smoky nights in Istanbul or Calcutta. The blend of Dave Van Ronk and Mose Allison in Mank’s voice pins your ear to delicious synesthesiac lines like ‘the sky won’t bend and the wind won’t cry’.As a centerpiece Smolen’s ‘Sarkori’, a cello nocturne evoking Dave Brubeck and Phillip Glass, nestles in nicely. Throughout, Sera gives the cello an uncannily human voice.” - Spider Babour, 2008

"Rootstime (Belgium)"

“From the very first notes on, this CD excites your imagination. The cello of Sera Smolen and the voice of Tom Mank create magic from the opener Off-Beat Rhyme until the last ethereal track Lit By The Moon. Both performers sense perfectly each others changes of mood. Tom Mank knows how to translate his own lyrics into poetic language: about segregation in Baltimore, lost lovers, for short songs of complaint, nostalgia and desire. But it is the Robert J. Spear cello, already for fifteen years the loyal companion of Sera, that provides the fairytale-like frame with bass-lines that sometimes reach to atmospheric heights. This album is Tom’s 4th already as a duo with Sera. His talent lies in songwriting and in creatively dreaming away to horizons 'where the sun meets the blue'. His songs remain on that emotional line which perfectly keeps the balance between jazzy blues notes and improvising day-dreaming-blues. Sometimes his voice resembles Nick Drake. He also knows how to embrace the nostalgia of the fall as well as the spring-breeze in his songs. (This is) an album to become silent out of respect for the wandering spirits on dancing feet, reaching out for a melody and the rhythm of the beat. No better words than this 'free translation' of the passage from Tom Mank's Where's That Train, to describe this CD." - Marcie, 2008

"Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange"

Tom Mank and Sera Jane Smolen are so far beyond mainstream it’s scary. They are acoustic music’s Igor Stavinsky in a world of Brahms and Schumanns. I mean Brahms and Schumann are great, but Stravinsky—man that’s adventure! So it is with Mank and Smolen, at least as presented in Where the Sun Meets the Blue, an album of amazing musical styles. Sure, the overlying style is folk and jazz with a bit of Smolenized-classical thrown in on the side, but that does not even begin to describe what goes on on this album. And trust me when I say that the meager attempt I make here will fall sadly short. Mank approaches this album like a modern beatnik, picking subjects on the edge and presenting them with unerring touch. For instance, Off-Beat Rhyme. A seemingly simple look at an unrequited love of sorts, he creeps into the nebulous shadows of emotional turmoil, yet with a light and practical air brought off by his superb guitar and the absolutely laughably excellent cello of Sera Smolen. ... Up to this point, I have not really talked in terms of expertise. After having listened to this album numerous times, I am of the mind that Tom Mank and Sera Smolen are easily Grammy material. They are expert at their craft, but more than that, they develop it. At their level, I am not at all sure that it is a craft but art. Regardless, I know one thing. There can't be a gig they play where a large percentage of their audience is not comprised of fellow musicians. That, my friends, is a given, and it speaks volumes. - Frank Gutch Jr, 2008

"Cello City Ink, 2005"

“Oh, there is so much crap out there! Thank heavens there are GREAT records like this to stem the tide! If you brought a pile of CDs home from a folk festival, Souls of Birds is the one that would end up on the top of the pile. It is risky, real, and pushes boundaries in a natural way with nary a hint of pretentiousness. Tom Mank's low-key Lou Reed/Leonard Cohen-ish vocals have a compelling, spoken word quality to them. Mank is one of those singers who could be reciting the phone book and you'd go 'yeah, there's something to that!' Sera Smolen's cello takes us all kinds of places weird & wonderful, while never losing touch with the emotional roots of the songs. She's soloistic, but always in a way that supports the overall thrust of the music. Her cellistic terrain includes emotive, whacked-out natural sound fx & high-energy solos drawn from many influences, such as 19th century etudes and Indian ragas, to name but a few. Smolen is a passionate player who is clearly intimate with the inherent joy in taking musical risks. Due to their willingness to keep changing things up, the sounds of their instruments are continually fresh and inspiring, as are the arrangements. There is always some cool surprise poking its impish head around the corner ahead of us as the CD progresses. It is thrilling when an uncannily human voice.”. - Corbin Keep

"Real Roots Cafe (Netherlands)"

“ It is hardly possible to compare with other music, the only ones coming close are the Walkabouts in an acoustical mood. Tom has a calm singing style and a somewhat hoarse voice, which in a wonderful way does justice to the beautiful harmony-singing of the female guest-singers. Of course a prominent role is Sera Jane who plays virtuoso on every track. 'Where Do You Bury A Gypsy' is a solo, composed by herself, while the long 'Big Red Moon' exists of almost 7 minutes instrumental teamwork of cello and sarod. It's a fascinating album, that also presents beautiful, originally composed illustrations on the cover. Tom and Sera Jane want to come to the Netherlands and we can only welcome that idea!” - Johanna Bodde, 2005

"Heaven Magazine (Netherlands)"

“Where the Sun Meets the Blue is the fourth CD of the American duo Tom Mank and Sera Smolen, for musical gourmets. The combination of Mank’s voice, songs and guitar, completed with Smolen’s cello and every time one or two changing instruments and voices, results in a wonderful charismatic folk album.” - August 2005

"Rootstime (Belgium)"

"A new album from Tom and Sera (Ithaca, New York) excites great
expectations because their folky music is simply unique. Not only the warm voice of Tom Mank, but especially Sera's cello - create an exclusive atmosphere which attaches itself to each of the ten tracks as pearling dew.

The same importance that cellist Jaqueline Du Pré represented to the world of classical music, Sera Smolen has for folky roots-music. She too has a degree by studying at the conservatory (she teaches cello every day), but instead of only giving classical concerts, in the end she preferred to also be part of a performing duo together with Tom Mank, already for nearly fifteen years now .

Singer-songwriter Tom composed almost all songs, one or two times as cowriter. As a poet he places himself next to Robert Burns and Ted Hughes. With his narrative singing and expressive lyrics he also seems to be a modern Jack London, looking for happiness and harmony, while he is aware of historical loss, such as in the mourning, disconsolate song 'Kennedy'.

The voices of Kirsti Gholson, Kathy Ziegler or Jennie Lowe Stearns join him and increase the fragile emotional state of mind, where dreams sometimes shatter like breaking glass.

In each song, slowly moving forward, you hear the magic of Sera's cello , sometimes with heavy bass-lines, another time climbing to heavenly heights.

In the instrumental and sublime 'Eagle Feather', composed by Sera, she seems to hover like a bird on the wing with her bow. It brings about an emotion, which could even make the sun weep.

Together they create a sound, that would be perfect for a chapel, like the one in Cultuurcentrum Roepaen in Ottersum (NL), or in a little white church somewhere on a mountain in Hellas (Greece), or preferably close by in a room with old stained glass windows, where the light is filtered by the leaves of trees.

Once more heart, poetry, imagination and intuitive feeling are present in this album, as it was in their last one 'Where The Sun Meets The Blue.

Who said again: 'Music is Love Looking for a Melody'. - Marcie, 2010


Paper Kisses, 2010; Where the Sun Meets the Blue, 2007; Souls of Birds 2004; Conversations in Waves, 2001; Almost Time, 2000



Tom Mank, an independent singer-songwriter for the past twenty years, has played in folk, blues, and bluegrass bands collaborating with a host of singers and instrumentalists in Boston (MA), Brattleboro (VT), Keene (NH), and Ithaca (NY). He currently performs with Smolen and many other musicians and continues to generate new music.

Dr. Sera Jane Smolen is an active performer of many genres of music, including four centuries of classical music. In addition to her collaboration with Mank, she has performed extensively with the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra, Albert Consort (New Violin Family), Tri-Cities Opera, Mansfield University Piano Trio, Ithaca Piano Trio, Trio Melange, Chiron Festival of the Creative Spirit, and Cornell University Hesterian Musicism. She has taught at Mansfield University, Alfred University, Hobart & William Smith, and Ithaca College. She is the assistant director of the New Directions Cello Festival, a founding member of the Binghamton Cello Festival, and a guest clinician around the US and Canada.

Tom and Sera have been performing and writing music together since 1994. Mank, a self-taught singer-songwriter, and Smolen, a conservatory trained cellist, blend their musical languages into an eclectic style. Guitar, voice, and cello have many ways of blending, with the cello as bass, and doubling with guitar or soloing. Mank’s eloquent writing of instrumentals is contrasted well with his poetic lyrics. Their latest CD, “Paper Kisses", was recorded in Bearsville, NY with both Ithaca and Woodstock area musicians and vocalists contributing. They will take this CD to The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany on their November 2010 tour. Their previous CD, “Where the Sun Meets the Blue”, received enthusiastic reviews in both the US and Europe and was rated one of the best CDs of 2008 by a reviewer at the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange. Previous to that, “Souls of Birds” was released on I-Town Records and was rated as the 5th best CD of 2004 by Real Roots Café in The Netherlands.