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MP3 Doug Kwartler - Halfway House
Halfway House is a remarkable ensemble of mostly acoustic-based folk and country tinged rock music. Featured guests include guitarist Mark Spencer, (Blood Oranges, Jay Farrar, Lisa Loeb) and other New York based singer / songwriters.
Doug Kwartler''s musical upbringing was filled with the enduring storytelling of Bruce Springsteen, the in-your-face folk-rock of Tom Petty and the rockabilly twang of Brian Setzer. All these influences gracefully come together in his debut solo release, Halfway House, on Hollow Body Records.
"Somewhat more subtle, personal and introspective." That''s how Kwartler, lead-singer and songwriter for the prominent New York roots-rock band Foundry, compares Halfway House to Foundry''s upcoming sophomore disc, Give Me A Reason To Live. (Also on Hollow Body.) Foundry, Kwartler''s band for 5-years, has established itself as a popular roots - rock outfit not only in the New York City area, but also in other parts of the East Coast and overseas. The band has sold cd''s in Belgium, Italy, Germany, Holland, Japan, France and Denmark and has toured extensively throughout the eastern U.S.
Fourteen tracks in all, Halfway House is a remarkable ensemble of acoustic-based folk and country tinged music. Featured guests include guitarist Mark Spencer, (Blood Oranges, Jay Farrar, Lisa Loeb) and other New York based singer / songwriters including, Sara Brenner and Michael Leuci. The cd was recorded mainly in Kwartler''s own Hollow Body Studios in Long Island, NY over the last half of 2002 through the summer of 2003. It is a poignent collection of songs that delve into the most formidable and complex aspects of relationships, family and childhood, as well as broader social issues of prejudice and consequence. "I think I read an interview with Lucinda Williams who said something in regards to writing about the things you''re most afraid to write about and also not being afraid to write about your truths. It''s the hardest thing to do, but it makes for the most powerful work," Kwartler says.
Subtlety pervades the opening track on Halfway House in a song called, "You Were Still." "It''s a quiet and simple love song and I wanted to keep the arrangments simple to emphasize that feeling," Kwartler notes. The song features a finger-picked guitar track with a flute and organ accompaniment and Kwartler''s unaffected vocals. It opens with a suitor stumbling upon his destined to-be true love but waiting to approach, "Well I saw you lyin'' there, You did not notice I was there...Well I waited ''till you were gone, then I slept there all alone...." Ultimately finding her again and humbly acknowleding her tranquility, "Then I found you on the hill, I was in motion, but you were still, saw you lyin'' with me, saw you lyin'' with me over there...."
"Not all the songs are quiet," Kwartler assures potential listeners. "There are some rockers, but they have a different feel than what you would hear on a Foundry record. On the new Foundry record, for example, there''s definitely an overall live and raw energy we captured. I think on this solo album, even the rockers have a somewhat more intimate and personal feeling. And as a whole the cd offers a more eclectic range of sounds and production."
Nowhere is that range more evident than on the cd''s two instrumental pieces. "All Good" starts off with an "old-timey" banjo riff and winds up in an acoustic foot-stomping, country-blues jam -- complete with slide guitar, cellos, shakers and other percussion. "Prelude," which eventually segues into the introspective, "Places," is awash in layers of buzzing guitars, drums and other unusual sounds. "Much of ''Prelude," Kwartler explains," was taken from sound clips of the song it precedes, ''Places.'' They are interconnected. I wanted to create something very different and capture a feeling I had as a kid growing up, which is kind of what ''Places'' is about. So, I guess ''Places'' is both narrative and emotive, while ''Prelude'' is more of the pure feeling, without the words. They''re both about the same thing."
It''s on songs like, "Places," and the starkly eloquent, "Hometown of My Own" that Kwartler explores the memories and feelings of his childhood. "Places," which features haunting guitar work by Mark Spencer contrasts the naive confidence of being young and invincible with feelings of confusion and emptyness. All this is wrapped in a sparce acoustic setting with Spencer''s chilling guitar sounds in the distance.
"Hometown of My Own," with its stark arrangement of vocal, acoustic guitar, chimes and organ, is pure Springsteen, circa Nebraska. The only song on the cd not produced by Kwartler, it was produced by
long-time friend and former Foundry drummer, Michael Leuci. Kwartler adds, "That song''s origin is directly influenced by a Springsteen song called ''Freehold.'' I guess it''s kind of a reaction to it. Even though I''ve been a fan for 20 years, I first heard it only a couple of years ago. It blew me away to hear how he combined writing both critically and endearingly about this place in which he grew up. It''s also really funny. I started to think about my old neighborhood. Unfortunately, I couldn''t find too much humor in https://www.tradebit.com nonetheless a song was born. I was over at Mike''s [Leuci] house one day and I played him the song on acoustic guitar. He really liked it and suggested we record it right there. I had a horrible cold, but it added some interesting gravelly quality to my voice. A couple of weeks later, Mike played me what he''d done with it and it was great. A keeper."
While a good portion of Halfway House is intimate and acoustic, the cd also boasts a slew of upbeat and mid-tempo rockers, including "The Ride" (which recalls some of Tim Easton''s latest work), the testimonial "Morning Burn," the love-spurned and Tupelo-esque, "Mars" as well as the guitar driven "Dreamcatcher."
"The Ride," the cd''s second track, is an anthemic call to arms. The song opens, "Call you out, across all nations running through yourself..." Kwartler says, "It''s about prejudice, misunderstanding and ultimately acceptance, trying to find a sense of peace." "Morning Burn" echos Wilco and the Jayhawks. "That song is about a lot of things. It''s about struggling to accomplish something and having to make decisions and deal with the decisions you made, it''s about being alone and again, it''s about consequences," Kwartler explains. "Mars" is a fast-paced song about love gone wrong, fresh with irony and sarcasm. Kwartler notes, "Yeah I was over with Mike at my friend Austin''s house, which overlooks the beach and the sky was amazing. It was a few weeks after Mars (the planet) had appeared at its largest in thousands of years and Mike looked up at it and just said, "Mars is shrinking." (Which became the first line of the song.) I guess it stuck with me."
Another song that harkens back to Springsteen is the cd''s closing number, "Things We Never Mention." That song, along with "Range," "Halfway House," "Nighttime," and "Feel Like Sleeping" intricately explore personal relationships and consequence, themes which permeate the entire cd.
"Things We Never Mention," dives deeply into the darker and unspoken arenas of love and relationships. "The things we never mention, that get us through this pain, I''ll never walk this broken road again," proclaims the singer. "I wanted to write a song about the thoughts people have and the actions they take to get through their day and their lives. But they''re things that they keep to themselves, even in the closest of relationships. They''re not necessarily bad things, although they could be, but they''re things that maybe there''s some mixed or guilty feelings about," says Kwartler. The cd''s title track, "Halfway House," also touches upon similar issues but with the singer ultimately digging in for the long haul, "...Burn the curtains and shades, I''ve come to finish and stay, We''ll manage to come away from Halfway House."
"Range," the fourth song on the cd, is weaved with stories of reflection, regret and, ultimately, promise. It opens with a scene from a junkyard with an old car in the rain and cuts next into the life of a woman doubting a choice she''s made. Soon there are intertwining images of the modern world with all it''s distractions, describing "...helicopters flying overhead," and "...war relations, relay stations, radio towers lookin'' strange...." But soon the singer resolves, "...But I''m coming into Range," offering some hope in finding himself among the confusion. The song revolves around a gentle country shuffle, set to soothing acoustic guitars and familiar sounding country licks by Mark Spencer on lap steel guitar. Kwartler explains, "I think the anchor song or cornerstone of Halfway House is ''Range.'' It comes full-circle from beginning to end and sets up the characters (through the narrator) to have some hope in the face of doubt. It encompasses all the themes on the cd together in one story."
Doug Kwartler began playing guitar at age 15. Immediately influenced by Brian Setzer, a fellow Long Islander, Kwartler soon bought his first guitar - a 1963 Gretsch Atkins Nashville Model. He quickly learned the rockabilly riffs of the masters, including: Perkins, Cochran, Vincent and, of course, Setzer. Although he admits, "not nearly in the same universe as those guys."
Soon, other guitarists like Keith Richards and Pete Townshend would influence his style. It was their influence that really made Doug want to perform on stage. At that time, his dream was only to become a great guitar player.
All that changed when, in 1984, Doug''s older brother (who''s aptly named, Bruce) brought home Born In The USA. "Springsteen was the greatest influence on me as a musician. He made me want to be a songwriter. Before him, my dream was to be a guitar player. " Additional influences Doug sites are Tom Petty, Dylan, Johnny Cash, Jay Farrar and Woody Guthrie.
In addition to being a songwriter and performer, Kwartler also records and produces albums for other artists in his Long Island, NY, Hollow Body Studios. New York artists such as: Austin Kuebler, Stuart Markus, Sara Brenner, The Repercussions, Dave Isaacs and Howard Hilsenrath have all recorded there. "I definitely like to go for a natural, warm and roomy sound in my production," says Doug, adding, "I really like producers like T. Bone Burnett and Daniel Lanois. Those guys know how to make music sound natural and organic."
On Halfway House, Kwartler breaks open and delves into many of life''s most defining moments, putting them into songs with lasting melodies and genuine lyrics. Drawing from his own experiences, he has created an album that is both fresh and authentic, with music rooted in history and with stories and struggles that are a part of all of our lives.
Look for Kwartler to tour in support of Halfway House through the summer, 2004.
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