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A Carnival of Musical Bliss

Off the Cuff: Live at the Winchester (Independent)

Troubadours of Divine Bliss

By Tim Roberts

Forgive the hyperbole that follows: Off the Cuff from Louisville's Troubadours of Divine Bliss is simply fun, fun, fun. Two discs of sheer joy. Guitarist Aim Me Smiley and accordionist Renee Ananda only get better with each release and their music is never disappointing. All of the spontaneity, fun, passion and compassion in every one of their live performances is present in these discs. Anyone who has seen these women perform live knows what that is like And if you have never seen them perform, this is as close as you can get.

Recorded during a December 2004 performance at the Winchester in Cleveland, Ohio, Off the Cuff presents the Troubadours in all their spontaneous glory. They have only one message in their music: Free your dreams, follow them and find your bliss. They do not communicate this with sound that you would hear in the Wyndam Hill catalog (atonal music with harps, soprano saxophones and the sound of water trickling over stones, stuff you'd hear piped over the speakers in a dentist's office to mask the whistling of a drill and the grinding of enamel). Instead, they follow in the grand tradition of street busking and cabarets. These are the spiritual goddaughters of Renaissance minstrels, gypsy musicians out to steal your heart (but bring it back to you), Barbary Coast barroom bands and cabaret chanteuses like Edit Piaf. Their musical mirth in those traditions is draws you in and you can't help but feel somewhat changed when it is over.

As for the music itself on Off the Cuff, it is, to be sure, a career retrospective containing selections from their three previous studio recordings, but it also features breathtaking covers of John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery," Tom Waits' "Shiver Me Timbers," and even Eric Idle's "Brightside of Life," currently featured in the Broadway musical Spamalot. Each song has the trademark Troubadour accordion, guitar and two-part vocal harmony, but they are also fleshed out with guest musicians Randy Brewer on mandolin, Steph Dlugon on violin, Brian Henke on guitar and Bob Petarcas on banjo.

But one song on the entire two-disc set probably has the most impact in light of the disaster that befell the Gulf Coast last month. "Scarlet Carnival," a tribute to all the rollicking fun that went on in the Storyville section of New Orleans and which appeared on the Troubadours' 2000 release Dressing Room for Eternity, is a reminder of what that city once represented in the minds of many: the Mardi Gras, nonstop jazz, erotic temptations, voodoo mystery, Lestat. The song is, to paraphrase the line spoken by James Earl Jones's character in Field of Dreams, a reminder of "all that once was good and it could be again" about that city.

Throughout all of the music on Off the Cuff, you get the feeling you're at a carnival, where the games aren't rigged, where the rides are safe but still fun, where the smiles are genuine and not a sleaze-hiding veneer, where you can still get a quick peek at the sideshow with their wry wit and sometimes off-color hilarity.

In short, it represents everything the Troubadours of Divine Bliss are about. - Tim Roberts


The Babes of Bliss Strike Again

Dying, Laughing (Free Your Dream)

Troubadours of Divine Bliss

By David Lilly

It's a scream. It's a tranquilizer. It's a riot and a philosophy class. It might even move the stoics. It's the only product you will ever require; it's Dying, Laughing, the newest CD from the Troubadours of Divine Bliss. Known individually as Aim Me Smiley on guitar and Renee Ananda on accordion, this duo is easy on the ears.

A life that includes a vision of bliss does not necessarily mean a life of hedonism. That becomes clear right away as Aim Me and Renee carry us off to some European cafe with a cover of "Dance Me to the End of Love," which was penned by the master of melancholy himself, Leonard Cohen.

The best qualities of this pair include musical and lyrical gifts, wisdom, a timeless repertoire and having the courage to practice what they "preach." Also, their singing is absolutely out of this world. The vibrato throughout this disc sounds like vocal flags waving in the wind. Whether intentionally or not, some of this material (especially "Free Your Dream Carnival") evokes styles of early 20th century music we might hear on cleaned-up 78-rpm records. In other words, these women acknowledge no stylistic boundaries or limitations. I pity (and envy) the poor music store clerks who might have to choose a genre for ToDB CDs.

Moving - ahem - blissfully along: In the wake of the Cohen cover, "Trapdoor" treads sullenly while insisting on a spiritual rejuvenation at a dead-end of sorts. The positive messages continue with "Mission Possible," including a funky rhythm carrying the encouraging words, "You've got what it takes/To make the mission possible/Whatcha wishin' for your mission/You've gone undercover to discover/all that you've been given/Equips you for your livin'." A little later comes a universal experience taking the shape of a "Secret Admirer." Most people, especially the more insecure and introverted among us, have lived the lines, "If I seem a little nervous/Maybe it's because I care/Maybe I wouldn't be nervous/if we weren't breathing the same air." If you have experienced that depth of shyness you can truly relate to the song.

Near the half-way point I thought, "Oh man, not another artist playing a Rumi song; enough already!" Indeed, this Louisville duo plays music to a poem (translated into English) by 13th century spiritual leader and poet Rumi. All right, so "Rumi at the Inn" might not enter the top 40, but like, dig that wordplay, man. The song is part honky tonk, part blues and contributes to making this CD worth listening to. The aforementioned "Dream Carnival" would be right at home in the film Moulin Rouge. 'Tis yet another liberating, infectious and wildly vocalicious reason to put this CD into your listening rotation.

Dying, Laughing is the third CD from this eccentric duo. Not only does it start with the aforementioned Cohen cover, but near the end of the disc, they throw in a crazy version of "The Roadrunner/Bugs Bunny Hour" theme song. Makes a person curious about their first two discs, eh? - David Lilly


"They are the spiritual goddaughters of a tradition that spans the hidden history of music - of performance, actually - from Medieval troubadours reciting poetry in some noble's palace, to Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims spinning bawdy tales. From Renaissance street minstrels, to singers in turn-of-the-century saloons in New Orleans (where the city's police posted signs warning patrons to BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS AND LOOSE WOMEN, a line used in the Troubadours' "Scarlet Carnival"). From performers in outdoor cafes in France after the First World War serenading the Lost Generation, to acts in cabarets in 1920s Berlin - "Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome" - a handful of years before the monsters came out. From flower-child jams in Haight-Ashbury, to singer-songwriter nights entertaining a new set of nobility". - Gem Roberts


"The harmonies of the Troubadours of Divine Bliss are soft as Kentucky Bourbon and Spanish Moss. Mix it up with the wild soul of Joplin in two truly sweet women. This duo defies labels. Let's just say they are a celebration of music and life. Pack your bags, because the Troubadours of Divine Bliss are gonna take you to places you've never been before...and you're gonna want to stay awhile." - Carla Riggs


Sharing Stories, Freeing Dreams, Finding Jewels In Trash Cans:
Tim Roberts

Needle-thin streams of sweat rolled under his collar. April showers had ended early. The sun had already bathed the May land with the warmth it needed to bring back the colors gone since autumn. That job was done. Now it was being merciless. He sneezed from another noseful of dirt kicked up from the dry road. He had regretted taking his place behind the second nun's horse after their first minutes on the long ride to Canterbury. It had not digested its breakfast hay very well. A friar and a scholar engaged in a whispering discussion on herbs had nudged his horse back to the end of the convoy. Far ahead on the lead horse, a knight was telling of the Duke of Theseus's victory over the Amazons.

That's why he was there - the stories. More than twoscore pilgrims on their way to Thomas a' Becket's tomb and each one willing to entertain the rest with a story: pious, ribald, sad, or hilarious tales that could be collected, memorized, and eventually shared. They could be mined for small crystals of wisdom or large chunks of bawdy humor. They would entertain at a feast of nobles or in a raw public house. The experiences of a few would be the memories of many.

He pulled at the collar of his cassock and blotted the sweat. Then he found himself disregarding the smelly beast in front of him, concentrating instead on the melodic voice of the knight, telling now of a tyrant king named Creon. The story continued. He seemed to pluck the knight's every word from the air and shove handfuls of them into his memory. He took advantage of the journey's length. He seized the opportunity ahead.

It's carpe diem, baby.

It was 48 hours past Shrove Tuesday - Mardi Gras time - on a warm evening in early March. A white '78 Chevy van was parked at the intersection of Frankfort Avenue and Rastettler, next to Clifton's Pizza in Crescent Hill. There were several pinpoints of rust on the van. Each one radiated into five cracks in the paint, forming serendipitous stars on the van's body. The side and passenger doors were open. Two women were placing their instrument cases on the sidewalk, loading up for their performance that evening at Clifton's. The taller one wore a tee shirt and patchwork overalls made from small squares of carnival colors. A dark velvet hat with a short, floppy brim covered her honey-blonde hair. She wore two-toned shoes. The shorter one wore a jacket covered in blue-grey fringe, a long silk skirt in deep blue, and sandals. Her hair was bundled in a loose bun.

On the passenger seat was Blossom, a pudgy black Lhasa Apso, the two women's mascot, who has joined them on a journey - physical and metaphysical - across the nation, performing on streets or in clubs or at festivals. It has also been the journey of a 16-year-old friendship, four of them as a performing duo. Of their teenage years becoming friends in a small-town Pentecostal church while their fathers - one a pastor, the other a deacon - feuded. Of their young adulthoods where one got married and worked in information technology sales while the other moved from city to city playing music and acting. Of their reunion, spiritual rebirth and decision to take their show on the road. Literally. Along the way they have collected stories of their friends, their fans, the people sharing the street with them and of their own experiences. And in the tradition of their name, they have returned these stories as music and poetry, sharing them with their audiences. More than half a millennium ago troubadours would bring stories to royalty and nobles, meant as entertainment but surviving the centuries in a number of forms, as poems, plays, or songs. Meanwhile, their colleagues, the minstrels, would bring stories and songs to the people in the towns. At some blurry point the traditions merged.

These two women are their descendants. Using only a guitar, an accordion, voices as rich as fudge, and harmonies that weave together like thick yarn to blanket you in intimacy, the women have a message: our stories reveal our dreams, our dreams need to be free, our freed dreams bring us bliss, our bliss is our destiny.

It's the message of The Troubadours of Divine Bliss.

"Very simply put," said Troubadour Renee Ananda (the tall one in the patchwork overalls), "what we hope to be about is freeing your dream. What we feel like we've done is free our dreams, to make music and to free our other dreams through music and theater. For me, it's doing what I love with all my heart. And that's for anybody, no matter what they do.

"Bliss should be everyone's destiny."

Renee and Aim Me Smiley, her cohort (the one in the fringe jacket), both glow with a sweetness and warmth, a switched-on spirituality, cosmic awareness in campy clothing. Both women laugh easily and from the heart, which is one manifestation of their bliss. Their live stage performances are full of humor and audience interaction, skills they learned as buskers - street performers whose audience may not be permanent but is always appreciative.

They are the spiritual goddaughters of a tradition that spans the hidden history of music - of performance, actually - from Medieval troubadours reciting poetry in some noble's palace, to Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims spinning bawdy tales. From Renaissance street minstrels, to singers in turn-of-the-century saloons in New Orleans (where the city's police posted signs warning patrons to BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS AND LOOSE WOMEN, a line used in the Troubadours' "Scarlet Carnival"). From performers in outdoor cafes in France after the First World War serenading the Lost Generation, to acts in cabarets in 1920s Berlin - "Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome" - a handful of years before the monsters came out. From flower-child jams in Haight-Ashbury, to singer-songwriter nights at Starbuck's, entertaining a new set of nobility whose SUVs fill the parking lot.

Their most recent attempt to archive that tradition is Dressing Room for Eternity, their second recording, containing songs inspired by characters they've known as well as encounters they had during a six-month stay in Europe. Recorded by Donnie Oswald at Reel Time Audio in Louisville, mastered at Mom's Musicians General Store, and on sale at ear X-tacy (and at their shows, from an old suitcase lined with velvet), Dressing Room and There's No Place Like Om, their first release, are a pair of a self-packaged introductions to blissmusic. For now, Dressing Room is also one way for them to keep a presence in their hometown while they tour.

When we talked, the women were still glowing from their Shrove Tuesday festivities from two nights previous. They had performed at a Mardi Gras party at Beau Weevil's, the small wooden house on Bardstown Road in the Highlands, formerly known as Kiwi's, Gilligan's and a host of others since its days as the Sunset East in the 1980s. New Orleans had once been their home, where they had first performed as a duo, awkwardly singing Christmas carols. They had assimilated themselves into the city's culture, the decadent atmosphere of an ongoing party, the cosmic picnic. Even being almost 800 miles north didn't completely disconnect them from the city where they had taught themselves their art. They led a spontaneous parade of Beau Weevils' patrons across Bardstown Road to the Bristol Bar & Grille, a microcosmic celebration of Fat Tuesday in their hometown.

They spread their celebration of bliss around the US and Canada during the first summer they based themselves in New Orleans.

"We moved around 37,000 miles," Aim Me said, "playing music on the streets, having no clue what town we were in, trying to figure out where the main square was, setting up our case and making enough gas money to make it to the next town."

"It gave us a good venue to learn our instruments a little more," Renee said, "and it gave us great characters to write songs about. There's nothing like it, really. That's where our heart is."

The trip they took to find that place for their hearts began 16 years ago in a Pentecostal church located in a city outside Louisville. Renee's father was the church's pastor, Aim Me's was a deacon.

Their friendship began after Renee saw a white rabbit.

Renee Ananda's Tale

Sixteen-year-old Renee Ananda (her chosen last name, a Hindu word for bliss) was the church organist. "One Sunday morning I was playing, bored out of my gourd, and I looked up and saw Aim Me bouncing in with a cheery smile. There weren't a lot of young people at church. It was mostly a lot of really old people."

"I was literally bouncing," Aim Me said, "because I was portraying the Faith Bunny for the children's church [service]. I was dressed in this big white rabbit costume."

"So how could I miss her, right. After church we ended up meeting, chatting and became instant best friends. She was 13."

While their new friendship developed, a schismatic conflict between their fathers boiled up ("way too much to expose," Renee explained). Aim Me's father kicked Renee's out of the church.

"We kept in touch," Renee continued. "We both went off to school, saw each other on occasion, but it didn't affect our friendship. We knew our fathers were going through their own things and that it had nothing to do with who we were."

Renee left Louisville to attend Evangel College in Springfield, Missouri to study broadcasting. "I got my degree. Did my internship in broadcast news and went, `Eww! This is not for me.' I couldn't handle all the egos."

The pair kept in touch through letters and phone calls, both racing toward transition periods in their lives.

Renee resumed her tale. "I was selling computer networks to big corporations - Lay-Z-Boy, Wendy's, Marathon Oil. My heart wasn't connected to what I was doing.

"One day my beeper was going off, my pager was going off, lots of things were going off inside of me. So I just got in my car and drove away from my life, back to Louisville. I'm driving down the road I'm calling Aim Me on my cell phone. . ."

Meanwhile. . .

Aim Me Smiley's Tale

"I was bouncing all over the place," Aim Me Smiley said (Smiley, her mother's maiden name, is redneck for bliss). "I went to three different colleges in three years. Not consecutively, either. I lived in Southern California for a year, lived in New York city for awhile, went to Indiana University for a year, majoring in theater all this time. Then I went to De Paul University in Chicago to study theater."

She was in Chicago when Renee called her. "I was going through a lot of changes in myself, too. I was in an acoustic duo called Cooper's Eden with a wonderful singer named Astra Kelly. I was also in theater, but there was nothing happening with it. So I started to get into music because it just seemed a lot freer. Astra was a wonderful influence on me. She's the one who got me singing, other than Renee who taught me in church how to sing harmony.

"Renee, while she was going through all the stuff with her husband, started writing an abundance of poetry. And I was questioning myself: what is my mission, why am I here, what's going on, how can I express myself, what's my gift."

Renee's cell-phone call came during the time when Aim Me was involved in a two-woman show called Tango Palace, an examination of the duality of each person. She described it as intense, revealing, preparing her for the set of choices she would make after her reunion with Renee.

"She came up to visit me. We were both really charged, asking what we were doing with our lives. We were also having a spiritual rebirth. We had both been burned by the church, seeing the hypocrisy, backstabbing, all that stuff. We started searching within our souls and spirits once again. . .and it set us free."

The Troubadours Tale

With their spiritual direction set and their destines now shared, the two women needed a medium to communicate their personal discoveries, a vessel of sorts to carry the wine of bliss and a plate for the wafers.

"Renee had a dream she was playing the accordion," Aim Me said, "so she went out and got one."

"I also had a dream I was bald and ended up shaving my head," Renee admitted. "So Aim Me said, `let's just pick up and move to New Orleans.' We both needed a change."

"I told her one night to come to New Orleans and be a street performer with me," said Aim Me.

"She was planning on doing that," Renee said, "I was not. I didn't know how to play the accordion. I was just gonna go down there to get another computer sales job. But the idea of picking up and planting myself somewhere new was great."

Once in New Orleans, the duo needed a simple way to begin their careers as buskers without making musical pratfalls. The answer: Christmas carols.

Renee said, "I thought Christmas carols were easy. You know all the words. We wrapped ourselves in battery-operated Christmas lights, put out a sign that said, `We really don't know how play our instruments, we don't know how to play these songs, but we're here for you'. People were really sweet about it. That was successful enough. I quit. Aim Me started playing on the streets [by herself] and I was kind of looking for another job. Then one day she said, `Just try it with me.' We've never gotten a real job since."

In their four years as a duo, the Troubadours have found that street performing does have some advantages. The work is steady, since you don't have to worry about finding a club that will accept your music. The street truly is the best open stage. Musically, there are other advantages, too.

"The biggest benefit, for me, at least," said Aim Me, "is not focusing on the technical aspects of playing, which are important. But a lot of people get stuck there and they either talk themselves out of it or criticize themselves out of continuing the music. It has kept the heart in what we are doing. It's more about exchanging with people."

"It's about not taking yourself too seriously," Renee said. "When we first started playing together, I would hit a chord and freak out thinking this was being magnified about a zillion times to everyone. It's been beautiful because we've developed our own styles. And, granted, we'll probably never be really technical musicians. But we'll always put our heart into it."

"Another good thing about the streets," Aim Me said, "is that if you make a big mistake, the person who's walking by will hardly ever hear it. But what's also a wonderful thing you can never get playing anywhere else is that you're sitting one-on-one with that person who stops to listen because they're interested, or they like it, or they're lonely, or whatever."

"It's not so coincidental," Renee said, "like they just happen to be eating in the restaurant where you're playing."

"Then after the song, you have an exchange with that person. People have opened up to us and talked about the deepest part of themselves - about suicide, about the terrible things that have happened to them, and also about the beautiful things that have happened-"

"About their secret wishes. The dreams they'd like to free," Renee added.

And their stories. And the characters that inspire stories.

The Elvis the Pelvis Tale

The global economy also has spawned a global Main Street, something the Troubadours have observed during their street performances across the US, Canada, and Europe. People scurry by each other on nothing but small talk and dreams of a Big Mac at the end of their walk down the street. "La Rambla," on Dressing Room, is about the rush people put themselves into and the rewards they see as their destinies, "pounding the pavement to make a down payment on happiness." Their eyes are either averted from - or shocked by - the numerous urban anomalies: the homeless, the drag queens, the street preachers or Hari Krishnas.

In New Orleans, it was Elvis the Pelvis, who is mentioned in the song.

Renee explained. "This was a guy, a German stockbroker named Klaus who became Elvis the Pelvis. He appeared on the street corner wearing nothing but a box and a silver cape. He had given up being a stockbroker and became homeless. He was dancing on the corner, singing Elvis songs, approaching women. One day he was being witnessed to by a Christian woman who was witnessing through a monkey puppet called Chi-Chi. In the meantime two drag queens are dancing in front of us to our music. We looked over and could hear that Elvis was being saved.

"So right when she was pronouncing his salvation, he looked at us ... and he winked. These kinds of characters are the greatest inspiration in the world."

The city where they met Elvis provided the Troubadours a training ground for performing and an endless source for wild stories. It was as if Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims decided to blow off their pilgrimage and instead act out their tales in a place where they could chug red wine and flash a little flesh.

It was also the city where the Troubadours received their first accolade and, in a karmic twist, lost it.

The Clock-In-A-Pizza-Box Tale

While in New Orleans in 1997 the duo recorded and released their first CD, There's No Place Like Om, 13 long tracks of blissmusic and spoken word. The songs include musical renditions of Mother Goose's "Hey-Diddle-Diddle," the semi-autobiographical "Cup-`n-Coin," and more, some including instrumentation as diverse as saxes, kazoos, and an electronic laughing box. One of the spoken word pieces, "Reve-You-Tion," is a summary of their philosophy as a band and as people. While Aim Me hypnotically repeats the word "revolution" over a steady drum beat, Renee recites the poem, punctuated by the gentle challenges of "Do what you fear the most" and "Speak your dream." Layered over both are whispers, chanting, sighs, laughter. Repeated listenings would do more for a heart than an entire library of Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Their presence, both recorded and live, in New Orleans earned them the "Best New Folk Band" award from that city's Offbeat magazine.

"[There was] a big ceremony with Offbeat and The House of Blues, where we received our award," Renee said. "The prize that they gave us was a beautiful, hand-painted ceramic clock. It was shaped like a record. We went up to receive our award, and they had put it in a pizza box. We were leaving and Aim Me was dancing out the door with the pizza box, spinning it. It spun out of control, fell, and shattered. So now our award is in pieces."

"Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we accepted it wearing Groucho Marx glasses," Aim Me said.

"We're not about awards. We're about rewards," Renee emphasized. "The rewards are the interaction and the fantastic opportunities we have to connect with people. I can say this for the both of us: the desire of our hearts is to inspire people to free their dreams. The most beautiful thing has been to see that happen. Those rewards could not even begin to compare to an award."

"I'm not in this for self-gratification," Aim Me added. "or honestly even the art of it. I'm really all about wanting to encourage people, and exchange with people, and to help them realize that life is a beautiful gift."

Epilogue

The Troubadours have returned to Louisville to make it home base for blissmusic ("Plus all our nieces and nephews are here," Aim Me said) and to take advantage of the special warmth they feel here at home. They will still tour the country, entertaining its street scenes and playing in a few clubs. They also hope to play more festivals.

No matter where they perform, the Troubadours of Divine Bliss always welcome you into a festival of stories delivered in creamy harmonies, of inspiration imparted lovingly by a pair of women who feel deeply the underlying spirit of all life.

The night before the journey in The Canterbury Tales, the host of the inn where the pilgrims are staying offers his welcome and hints at what's to come:

You're off to Canterbury - well, God speed!

Blessed St. Thomas answer to your need!

And I don't doubt, before the journey's done

You mean to while the time in tales and fun.

Or as the Troubadours, Chaucer's distant goddaughters, sing in "Scarlet Carnival:"

Welcome to Storyville,

You always leave with a whopper of a tale
- Tim Roberts


One night, Renee Ananda dreamt she was playing the accordion, so she went out and bought one. Her best friend Aim Me Smiley knew two whole guitar chords, so naturally they decided to put their show on the road. It was Christmastime, so the unconventional duo wrapped themselves in battery-operated Christmas lights and performed carols on the streets of New Orleans. That was over four years ago. Ananda and Smiley, now known as The Troubadours of Divine Bliss, have not only learned their craft -- they’ve polished it -- and boy does it shine! Imagine the sweetest harmonies you’ve ever heard dressed in 80 cent thrift store bell bottoms. The Troubadours aren’t about wowing their fans with high fashion; what they do best is sing. Ananda provides the accordion and vocal harmony, Smiley sings lead and plays guitar. A typical Troubadour set also includes a little spoken word, sound effects (radio static, windshield wipers), and a healthy dose of audience participation. Their lyrics are half beautiful, half bawdy often featuring clever puns, alliteration, and bizarre but true stories from their countless adventures. The Troubadours met 15 years ago in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The products of very charismatic Pentecostal upbringings, the couple was “baptized, sanctified and deodorized respectively.” They learned to sing in the church, and formed an instant camaraderie thanks to their musical bond. Together, (along with Blossom, their seven year old Lhasa Apso) Ananda and Smiley spend well over 200 days a year driving all over the county in their 1988 Mazda 626 looking for musical venues and populated street corners to share their unique and infectious music. In addition to the standard bar and coffee shop gigs, the duo has played at festivals, corporate breakrooms, air shows, laundromats, yoga classes and organic farm conventions. In 1998, the duo armed with only their instruments and a total of $100 hit the streets of Europe for six months. They earned enough spare change busking to visit six countries, purchase their return plane tickets and buy a new sound system. When touring, Ananda and Smiley estimate they have to sleep in their car about 25% of the time. Both insist that the constant travel and continuous companionship has served to only strengthen their love for one another. Oddly enough, they prefer what most would consider a grueling schedule and difficult lifestyle. They prepare their meals on a propane camping stove, make most car repairs using duct tape and earn well below the poverty level for one person, let alone two. They flat out rejected a major recording contract. “There would be no spirit of connection with people” Ananda explained “They’d want us to wear more make-up” Smiley added. “Because of our relationship, they’d eat us alive. They’d tell us where to play. It would become a job.” Don’t want a top ten countdown unless I’m on my way to the moon… Just give me a little boy dancing to a tune Two lovers kissing in the spotlight of the fullest moon Tell me your dreams let me make music on the streets Listen to song for awhile. -- From “Same Name Fame Game” - Steph Dlugon / The Chronicle


The Troubadours of Divine Bliss brought heavenly helpings of charismatically cool comfort and joyous jest to a sweltering crowd Saturday (6/12/99) at the Brick Alley Theatre. Aim Me Smiley and Renee Ananda, who are both in their late 20s, report that they’d much rather be savoring their adventures on the road than seeking success and stardom within the music business. This refreshing attitude is reflected in a show that combines humor and harmonies with a quirky and complex mix of standout songs. Reared in Kentucky within the Pentecostal Church, the duo now calls New Orleans home. A recent six-month tour of Europe has added to an impressive array of gigs and busking stints performed throughout the United States. They took to the stage Saturday toting a cardboard cutout of a cartoon dog along with a clunky ironing board. They set both items up “to make you-all feel at home.” Accompanying themselves on guitar and accordion, they added unique mouth-borne sound effects, such as windshield wipers, to a delightful selection of comedy bits, poems, rants, raves and rhythms. At one point Smiley bolted off the stage to tickle each member of the audience. Their soaring vocal harmonies let a lovely light shine through an hour-and-a-half long set of deftly performed material from the compact disc, There’s No Place Like Om, and from a newer project due to be released soon. Standout songs such as the jaunty “Last Carousel” and the hauntingly beautiful “Be Brave” are joined by other noteworthy numbers like the powerfully subtle “Hey Diddle.” Lyrical charm and potent points of view are expressed throughout the dynamic offerings. “The tips of her fingers are like a road map for the miles of steel string she’s traveled,” is a line from “Biggest Fan,” while “Night Rainbow” implores the listener, “If there’s no happy rainbow, make one out of cookie dough.” The Big Easy’s Troubadours of Divine Bliss easily had a hot Brick Alley audience hitting the bricks feeling inspired, renewed and refreshed by a righteously raucous musical performance. - Jim Guyette / WRUW


Unexpected Listening Leads to Divine Bliss / Jason Lustig
A breath of fresh air and the sounds of pure enjoyment seem to be missing from music today, yet they suddenly came together in an unexpected place and time: Monday night at Arabica. I was sitting with my girlfriend, studying for sociology and trying to get into the book I was just starting. Suddenly without warning I heard a guitar being tuned overtop of the house music. How distracting. Suddenly the house went down and a raunchy little guitar line hit the air, punctuated by the drunken sounds that typify the accordion. A sweet, weary and very powerful voice rose overtop only to be underscored by the light vocals of a second performer. I couldn't take it anymore, the sounds was too much. I had to see who these minstrels were. As minstrels I wasn't that far off. They were the Troubadours of Divine Bliss, a remarkable duo whoes live show embodied emotion, love, strong messages, fun and remarkable ensemble playing. The dynamic changes between the lead and backing vocalists were astounding. Just as one was soaring, the other came up behind and broke through while the first harmonized lightly behind only to return to the forefront when the proper time called. In any ensemble, finding the balance between the parts is difficult, but is even more so when the lines call for such powerful changes. Each shift accented the lyrical sentiments of the song in amazing fashion. The two troubadours are Aim Me Smiley and Renee Ananda. Their songs are soulful, jazzy, rocking, hillbilly, bluesy, bluegrass, folkly jaunts with strong words and stronger emotion. Watching these two I could see their own enjoyment radiating as they played. Along with their solid collection of songs (two CDs are available)they took a request and performed one of the strongest versions of "Angel from Montgomery" that I have ever heard. It was possibly my favorite cover version of any song; it stayed true to the spirit even when they brought their own unique charm to it. The band came together first as childhood playmates. Later one of their fathers kicked the other's father out of the church they both belonged to. Years later the two came together with the shared idea to be street performers spreading their belief in spirituality around the country. They have found themselves performing everywhere from coffeehouses to outdoor festivals. In the process, they have released two CDs, the newest of which I could not help but buy. They opened the live show with the seventh track from their Dressing Room for Eternity album. "Freedom" set the mood for the show, freeing the audiences members' minds for some crazy fun. The disc's tracks cover the entire spectrum of their sound but all retain common binding elements in both the lineup and stylings of this daring group. Perhaps one of the best songs on the CD, "Ludlow's Tracks," is in memory of a lost friend. It has some of the best harmonies, rhythm changes and soul to come around in current music. There are more up-tempo songs like "Fame Game" and "Scarlet Carnival" and softer songs including the great "Hyde & Seek." All of the songs have a New Orleans feel thanks in large part to the accordion, but also to the jazzy lead vocals. It is the harmonies and countering vocal lines that make the songs really swing. These are not the washed out pop harmonies of the Backstreet Boys or the re-run ones heard from the Indigo Girls. These two singers know how to be daring but remain artistically sound. Too often experiments in music detract from the meaning and become more than an enhancement taking over from the song itself. Here each little outburst, each little add-on, each harmonized line or overlapping rhythm creates or furthers the mood of the piece. The group puts on a great live show and the CD is incredibly solid.<br>Artistically, they are not afraid to make the music that comes naturally to them and then take that sound further than they could rightfully be expected to. I was not only impressed but have become nearly infatuated with their music. It is very rare that I find a band I dig this much but there they were interrupting my study session and opening my ears to some Divine Bliss - Jason Lustig


"Their acoustic music with a streak of old-timer flavor appeals to those who like the female camaraderie and harmonies of the Indigo Girls but are looking for something with a bit more weirdness, humor and range...sultry narratives...vaudville send-ups...luscious covers...Aim Me and Renee move from pathos to flippancy with breathtaking speed."
- Anastasia Panthios / The Plain Dealer


"They are the embodiment of a new generation of Folk Artists who have taken the genre to the next level...with a 21st Century Creative Edge. Since their appearance at Blissfest, the Troubadours have stolen the hearts of the Blissfest faithful." - Jim Gillespie


Discography

Sacred Letters of Surrender / 2008
Off the Cuff: Live at the Winchester / 2006
Dying Lauging: Firecrackers on a Funeral Pyre / 2004
Dressing Room for Eternity / 2001
No Place Like OM / 1998

Photos

Bio

THE MUSIC:
Through the years they have had the privilege of living the life of true troubadours, traveling the
wondrous expanse of America, Europe & Canada. & have been inspired accordingly. Their travels
have given them the opportunity to sample a wide variety of tastes, cultures & timely issues that
have become the muse for their myriad of musical genres & 4 recordings.
"Their acoustic music with a streak of old-timer flavor appeals to those who like the female
camaraderie & harmonies of the Indigo Girls but are looking for something with a bit more
weirdness, humor & range...sultry narratives...vaudeville send-ups...luscious covers...Aim Me & Renee
move from pathos to flippancy with breathtaking speed." --Anastasia Pantsios, Plain Dealer
“A caravan of creativity from Houdini to Fellini, from front porch to torch, from jamboree to gypsy."
--Allen Marando, Indie Muse---ician
THE BLISS STORY:
Troubadours of Divine Bliss are a duo from Kentucky. They met 26 years ago in a spirit-filled, holy rollin', charismatic church…Renee's Dad was the Pastor & Aim Me's Dad was a Deacon.
Renee was hammin' it up on a Hammond Organ & Aim Me was moonlighting as Faith Bunny…
They were baptized, sanctified & deodorized respectively. As the Hatfield & Mc Coy's of the Pentecostal world, Aim Me's Dad ended up kicking
Renee's Dad out of the pulpit. They both lost faith in religion & gained faith in the Spirit.
In 1995, the Universe brought them back together with the vision of being Troubadours of Divine
Bliss, Street Performers who travel around encouraging Revolution of the Spirit & Courage of the Heart. Renee had a dream she was playing an Accordion, so she got one.
Aim Me learned two chords on the Guitar & Bliss was born. They followed their destiny to the streets of New Orleans where (wrapped in battery-operated Christmas lights) they debuted as Christmas Carolers in 1995 on the corner of Royal & Toulouse in the Big Easy.
They were named “Best New Folk Band”
by New Orleans’ Offbeat Magazine.
They were named, “Best Folk Band” by Louisville’s Leo Weekly.
In 2002 they returned to their Old Kentucky Home,
& made a cabin in the bluegrass hills the launching pad for bliss.
View the Bliss Story Part 1 here:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6961098540450191448&hl=en
View the Bliss Story Part 2 here:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7743052978019883280&hl=en