The ABC’s of Ella Minnow

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Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

So what if Ella Minnow's latest recording has just six tracks on it? There's enough sound and sophistication for both longtime fans and newcomers to parse on Red Beard, a record that has plenty of bang for its thrifty buck.

There would have been more, said keyboardist Trey Price, but the people behind Ella Minnow can be exacting when it comes to their own music.

"It's taken us a year and a half to record this one," Price said. "We trashed half of the songs we planned to put on it. There were glitches on some of them and we just didn't like the way some of them turned out."

Conor Wallace, the lead singer and one of the band's two guitarists, said a software shift accounted for some of the songs on the cutting room floor. The band recorded and will release Red Beard independently.

"We'd moved from using Apple Logic to Reaper [recording software], and we lost some of the songs in that transition," Wallace said.

Minnow fans who have followed the band from its 2005 founding will notice that the group is making more substantial sound.

"I think we're writing more democratically, but also more selfishly," Wallace said. "What I mean by that is that, yeah, we're all working on the songs we write, but we're also writing music that we want to write. We're making music for ourselves."

In other words, the band is writing what they know. Wallace grew up influenced by his parents' involvement in Denton's light opera and musical theater companies, hence the moodiness of songs like "Black Apple" and "Storm System," both creating a theatrical atmosphere with rock opera flourishes. Price is grooving on old school blues and prog rock these days, which come through in occasional piano chords that hearken back to ragtime or veer into flashes of jazz. In "Indian Giver," drummer Stephen Reynolds' love of hip-hop rhythms comes to the surface not with a booing bass, but by changing the track's energy with snare and cymbal. Hip-hop might be known for throbbing bass beats, but the form also feeds melody on the treble end of things.

Red Beard is bigger in vocals, too. The addition of Courtney Marie and Tiffany Graber gives the record a more ethereal feeling than it would have if it was just Wallace's tenor (which sounds a bit like Aussie Dave Faulkner of the Hoodoo Gurus, though Wallace has more rasp in his pipes.)

"People really like the girls singing with us," Price said. "We had added the women to the band after the last recording, and we thought it was going to be one of those things where they'd record on this album and then be gone, but they stuck around, and we're really glad they did. People responded to it big time."

Marie and Graber's contributions bring an occasional nostalgia to Red Beard, especially on the hook-laden, uber-catchy "Storm System."

Marie and Graber's sweet sopranos bounce along with the sunny melody, making it sound like a back-to-the-1950s ditty about a boy meeting a girl. The lyrics, though, are totally 2011 - they hardly mean to have squeaky-clean fun at the sock hop. A storm rages outside and in - don't let the melody mislead you.

"I like the idea of something big, lots of voices, and there is a lot of unison singing on the album," Wallace said. "I grew up around community theater, and heard a lot of chorus singing. My mom [Linda Wallace] was the president of the board of Music Theatre of Denton, so that was a major part of our lives. People can tell I like musicals when they hear this stuff."

In its prior incarnations, Ella Minnow was Wallace on vocals, using "timbres that are almost feminine," Price on a hefty Rhodes keyboard, Josh Kitchens on a loud bass and Stephen Reynolds on drums. Wallace recalled being in high school and catching shows, and the scene being different.

"In high school, when you'd go to a show, everyone was moving. Our drummer, Stephen always says: 'Motion breeds emotion.' I thought you could tell that a band was really good because everyone was moving. Now, you go to shows, and people just sort of stand there and watch. I've always been of the mind that, when I get up there, I want to make people move," Wallace said.

The musicians said they're proud to have put out their fourth recording, and to have produced it according to their own tastes and intentions. The band burned the first run of the recording in its studio, lovingly called the bat cave.

"It's like a weird drug," Wallace said. "You're trying to recreate the feeling when you saw your first rock show when you make music. You're trying to capture that same feeling as when you first realized how much music could be to you. To me, the songs are all kind of fluid, and recording can sort of end that. Once you get it recorded, you can't take off with it on stage anymore, because people want to sing with you.

"People want to sing together."

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is cbreeding@dentonrc.com . THEY'RE WITH THE BAND

• Conor Wallace - vocals, guitar, banjo• Trey Price - keyboard, saxophone, vocals• Corbin Childs - guitar, vocals • Stephen Reynolds - drums• Josh Kitchens - bass • Courtney Marie - vocals• Tiffany Graber - vocals ELLA MINNOW CD RELEASE PARTY

• When: 9 p.m. Saturday• Where: the roof of Cool Beans, 1210 W. Hickory St.• Details: The Archetypes open. Event is the official release of the band's self-released Red Beard.

No cover.


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