Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Emily Brass Band Shines On

The following was published in The Floyd Press on December 6, 2007.

Roberta Flack meets Bob Marley, that’s how I first described the music of Emily Brass when she was lead singer for the popular Floyd-based band, Foundation Stone. Back then I considered Foundation Stone to be a hometown “house band.” They regularly played at The Pine Tavern Restaurant, renowned for its Sunday Night Open Mic, community gatherings, and the Italian cooking of chef, Michael Gucciardo.

But then the Pine Tavern closed and later Foundation Stone folded when Emily and her husband, Jacques, the band’s bass guitarist, broke up. It felt like the end of an era, significant losses that would lessen my opportunities to dance with and socialize locally with friends.

The Pine Tavern has been open under the new management of Reed and Jane Embrey for over two years now. They serve down home Southern cooking that the Roanoke Times has rated with 4 ½ stars. Tom Ryan, a satirist who authors the online Floyd Enquirer, tends bar in The Tavern Room. This past Friday night, the venue and the sound of Foundation Stone were reunited. Emily, a singer, songwriter, and saxophonist, hosted a party for the release of her new CD with her new band, The Emily Brass Band.

In the old days bands played in the restaurant’s main room. Tables were moved to make room for dancing. Over the years, I and others wore down some of the Tavern’s wood floor shine with our enthusiastic and persistent dance steps. Since then the place has expanded. On this night, the last of November, we danced under the Tavern Pavilion, closed in with plastic and warmed with portable heaters. But it didn’t take long for people to throw their coats over the backs of chairs. Emily has a stage presence that encourages a feeling of celebration, and when she plays sax she reminds me of snake charmer with a talent for getting everyone up and shaking to her rhythmic grooves.

“Who knew?” I asked more than once of those who danced near me, after hearing lead guitarist Richard Ursomarso play. I’ve known Richard, a Floyd Market Gardener, for years but didn’t know he could play guitar riffs like a top chart musician. Other band members who rounded out the reggae, jazz, and hip-hop influenced sound were bass guitarist John Lindsey, keyboardist James Pace, and Foundation Stone drummer Dave Brown.

Emily, who is originally from Montreal Canada, is an environmental activist, and her lyrics reflect that. We once shared a group bus ride to Washington D.C. to protest the start of the Iraq War. She wore a large silver Statue of Liberty crown to go with her hand painted sign that read “Protest is our Patriotic Duty," one of the slogans we came up with at a sign painting party the night before the march. She volunteers her time to help put a local newsletter together, which frequently happens on my kitchen table, and sells Guatemalan clothing when she’s not busy writing and playing music.

The name of her new CD, “Open Door,” suggests the hopefulness that is an integral part of Emily’s style. With a sultry voice ranging from soothing to commanding, she raps and sings lyrics that prod listeners to think about how they live, urging global awareness with a hip upbeat that causes me to look around and smile at my dancing neighbors.

Although most of the songs Emily performed were new ones off her CD, every now and then she would shout out to the crowd that it was time for a “Foundation Stone fix,” and the audience would cheer and prepare to sing along.

Emily’s website, emilybrass.com, best describes her music and what it’s like to dance to: Like a musical shape-shifter, Emily Brass takes you on a psychedelic hippie-hop journey, channeling the ghosts of old school rap, rock-steady reggae, ragtime jazz, and 60's rock & soul, while relentlessly keeping you in a sweat-inducing, smile-inspiring trance-dance, all night long.

Maybe not all night long for some of us, but when it comes to the music of Emily Brass, I’m good for at least a first two hour set.

~ Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com on December 3, 2007.

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