BY LINDSEY MCGINNIS '18 & SARAH OLSEN '18
After performing at Nightfest earlier this month, folk-rock duo The New Rockwells officially released their debut studio album, Live from Carnegie Hall. Frontman Marty Boyle and Ben Muller, who plays piano and saxophone, worked with other local artists to record new material and old favorites, like their 2015 single “Never Let You Go,” which appears as track six.
The two met in 2012 at Amherst College during an open mic event at the Marsh House. Boyle was a junior at UMass and Muller, a sophomore, attended Amherst College. After listening to each other’s impressive performances, they knew they should collaborate.
“The rest is history,” said Muller.
Boyle now works as an accountant in Boston, while Muller studies film composition at NYU, but the pair is always ready to put on a show, from busking to barrooms to black tie galas. They describe themselves as a “barn-storming duo” whose musical influences include Billy Joel, Jim Croce and Steve Goodman. According to the duo, Live at Carnegie Hall borrows its name from Goodman’s last record.
The album opens with “A Few Days,” a twangy tune with lines like “Counting the cars in the afternoon traffic/I left early and still I can’t hack it.” While the song certainly has a lamenting quality, it avoids the affected sentimentality that often plagues this genre.
Another pitfall of modern folk is the issue of storytelling. Done well, folksy lyrics are honest and relatable; done poorly, the track becomes a hyper-literal cliche. Fortunately, this duo is being careful.
“It’s easier for me to write something that’s really literal,” said Boyle, “[but] I would so much rather [listen to] a song that has a lot of subtext.”
“You want it to be able to appeal to an audience, but also still be personal to you,” agreed Muller.
The New Rockwells find this balance by using each other as soundboards, to edit away lyrics that leave no room for interpretation. The album’s third track, “22 Candles,” is a good example of this teamwork.
Written during Boyle’s summer in Copenhagen, the playful track describes the eight hours he spent laboring over a girlfriend’s 22nd birthday cake. Later in the song, he promises that, if he’s still alive, he’ll spend 14 hours baking her 85th birthday cake. It’s a sweet song that stops just short of sounding trite.
The second track of Live at Carnegie Hall is “Save for Two,” a slower song that keeps its energy up through rock-solid percussion and a lively fiddle solo. Written just a week before they started recording, it is also the band’s newest song. They performed it for the first time live on the Amphitheater stage during Nightfest.
The band has recently performed in various Western Mass. venues and plan on taking their “open-ended” promo tour to D.C., NYC, Philadelphia and Vermont before eventually returning to Amherst.
The album ends with “Where Are You Tonight?” a song the duo loves to perform live. The peppy track quickly turns into a full clap-along anthem, with Marty’s raspy-waily vocals singing:
“Now I’m in the New Rockwells, and we’re out on the road. I don’t know where you are tonight. / Will I pass you on the highway? Will you be at tonight’s show? Hey mama where are you tonight?”