NEW YORK : The Great Republic of Rough and Ready by our guest writer: Jacob Hyman

Posted on 8/22/2009 by Monica Yasher

Some bands make a career of striving toward the new: new sounds, new techniques, new combinations, new instruments. Few bands live in the past, making bygones relevant once again and resurrecting parts of music that died well before the start of the twenty-first century. But when a group like The Great Republic of Rough and Ready comes along, with the power to conjure the ghosts of music past, it can be a magical, albeit nostalgic feeling.

Everything about The Great Republic is of another time. From their hand-woven album artwork to the ‘30s jazz-club presentation of the music at bars around New York, The Great Republic reeks of a time and place in America that has been lost for the better part of a century. Guitarist Samuel Stein, sitting on a stool with only his guitar mic’d, never speaks a word and wears his vagabond suit and argyle socks as if he’s only just stepped off the steam-engine train after an arduous journey. He projects the style of a grizzled vet, wise beyond his years.

Singer Elissa Spencer stands at the microphone, completely at ease, oozing confidence and consistently sipping whiskey that, despite her outwardly obvious twenty-something years, gives her voice a sixty-something fineness. Think Nina Simone. Think Ella Fitzgerald. No effort at all…just smooth and smoky.

This picture that was painted in the dim light of Banjo Jim’s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is painted just as clearly on The Great Republic of Rough and Ready’s eponymous debut EP. From the opening croon of “Candyman”--the song that drew me toward the front of the room at Banjo Jim’s and whose sweetness seeps from the speakers--to the closing electric riff of “Gospel Ship,” The Great Republic of Rough and Ready is twenty minutes of ephemeral and ethereal time travel. As Spencer croons “Candyman” again and again, accentuated only by a light mandolin, the silences between her breathy pleas are rife with both pleasure and pain. Her a cappella jazz-vocal intro to “See See Rider Blues” harkens back to a barbershop quartet. At first Spencer is a lone voice, but slowly (as the magic of computers allow), three other Spencers fill the sound, signaling the entrance of Stein’s fingerpicked guitar licks and droning bassline that underlie the remainder of the song. Stein whips out the electric on “Cherry Ball Blues,” and his driving groove dances playfully with Spencer’s choked, meandering vocals. The intricate electric guitar riffs on “Gospel Ship” play similarly with Spencer’s carefully crafted melody, but with a more rhythmic and lyrical focus. This is all to say that, despite the EP’s diminutive runtime, between jazz vocals and blues riffs and subtly experimental instrumentation, The Great Republic of Rough and Ready have covered nearly half a century of American blues tradition.

The Great Republic of Rough and Ready’s twenty minute journey tells of a transient man and a weathered woman from the early 1900s putting on a traveling show, telling the stories of their life together. Through the quaint simplicity of a guitar and a voice (with some horns, strings, harmonium and mandolin sporadically and subtly thrown into the mix), this brief yet powerful narrative seems very honest in a way that more modern electronic music simply cannot be. It sounds like the roots of Americana and folk and Southern blues just reaching through space and time to remind us that, without such sound routes, the Justin Vernons and the Sam Beams and, yes, even the Elissa Spencers, would be nowhere at all.

And now about our guest writer:
Jacob Hyman is a freelance writer and musician in New York. He is currently the drummer in two musical projects: the experimental electronic pop quintet, Freelance Whales, and the power blues trio, Jon and the .44. He began his writing career at the G.W. Hatchet in Washington, D.C., and continues to write for web and print for Starved Magazine and the Princeton Record Exchange, among many others. He also keeps his own music blog, A Stereo Sun, which can be found at

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

Internet Marketingdata recovery