On Stage: Rose of the West at Boot and Saddle

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Rose of the West

Rose of the West, which is headlining a show on September 17 at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528,www.bootandsaddlephilly.com), has a contemporary sound and, at the same time, a sound that could have put the band in heavy rotation on MTV in the 1980s.

Fronted by Gina Barrington, Rose of the West sounds a bit like Echo and the Bunnymen with a female singer instead in Ian McCullough or The Cure with a chill girl vocalist in place of Robert Smith. There are also heavy similarities to Bat For Lashes.

Rose of the West — Gina Barrington, vocals, guitar; Thomas Gilbert, guitar, synthesizer; Erin Wolf, keyboards, vocals, harmonium; Cedric LeMoyne, bass; Dave Power, drums – makes music that is hazy, dreamlike and warm and chilly at the same time. Barrington’s vocals are simultaneously lilting and crystalline.

The Milwaukee-based band is touring in support of its debut album which came out earlier this year on the Communicating Vessels label.

“The record came out back in April,” said Barrington, during a recent phone interview from her home in Milwaukee. “Right now, I’m packing up for this two-and-a-half-week tour of the East and Midwest.

“We got to make the record in Birmingham, Alabama. It took about six months with three trips total – two with the band and one with just me to do the mixing. It was a great experience. They call Birmingham the ‘Magic City’ and there is a darkness to the album.

“We did have some analog gear we used. It was a blend of analog and digital because I write a lot and I usually use computer. It was a really good studio to make this record.”

Barrington went a roundabout way to fronting her own band.

“I grew up in Milwaukee,” said Barrington. “I learned music from my grandfather, who was on orchestra director. He had me practice and practice and I hated it. I was playing piano, violin and flute. I wanted a guitar and he said not until I learn things better. But he gave a guitar to my brother.”

Barrington was quick to leave Milwaukee when she had the chance.

“I stayed there until I was 16,” said Barrington. “Then, I quit high school and started traveling for work – in Europe and mainly in Italy. I started modeling when I was really young – not the best job but it offered me an outlook on life and an education I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

“I got to experience a lot of the world at a young age. I was tall so I did a lot of runway modeling. I pretty much cut it off in my mid-20s. I always kept Milwaukee as my home until I was in my 20s and moved to L.A. I came back to Milwaukee in 2006 because I needed a break.

“When I first moved to L.A., I met some friends who were musicians and started dating one of them. I realized I was attracted to dating musicians. Then, I thought about my boyfriend and realized – I don’t want to date you, I want to be you.

“I was a closet musician for 10 years. I didn’t know what to do with that stuff. I had done a couple bands in L.A. and then came home to Wisconsin. I started writing again by myself after three years of a bad marriage. I made an EP and it got good response when it came out.”

Slowly, her music career evolved.

“About five years ago, I had this collection of songs,” said Barrington. “I had a band called Nightgown.”

Barrington formed Nightgown in 2014 but personal conflicts tore the group apart. Like a Phoenix, Rose of the West spring from the ashes.

“Thomas (Gilbert) stalked my shows because he really liked my songs,” said Barrington. “Eventually, he came up to me and said he wanted to do something.”

That “something” was to form a band and that band is now Rose of the West.

Video link for Rose of the West —https://youtu.be/B_wRXBwofeA.

The show at Boot and Saddle, which has Blood Sound and Absinthe Father as the opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

If you have a musical project with somewhat dreamlike songs performed by a wide array of guest musicians in the studio, you might just have a project called Pretend Collective.

And if that project produced an album filled with top-flight songs and interesting musical ideas, you could call the LP, “Pretend Collective.”

And, if you wanted to introduce that album with a “vinyl album release party” in the project leader’s hometown, you could hold the celebration at one of the top clubs in said hometown.

Mike Reilly

That’s exactly what Mike Reilly is doing when he celebrates the release of the self-titled debut by Pretend Collective with a hometown concert on September 18 at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, 215-739-9684,

www.johnnybrendas.com).

“I’ve been recording this album over the last two years while doing other gigs,” said Reilly, during a recent phone interview. “I’ve been putting these songs together for the last 10 years.”

“Pretend Collective” officially dropped on September 13 through the charitable label The Giving Groove with half of all album proceeds directly benefiting Nuçi’s Space, which provides mental health services to music industry members.

Nuçi’s Space is a charity based in Athens, Georgia handpicked by Reilly, who envisions ending the epidemic of suicide and inspiring a culture free of the stigma attached to brain illnesses and its sufferers by supporting a community-wide effort that focuses on education, prevention and access to appropriate treatment for musicians.

The album is Reilly’s project – an ambitious endeavor that has benefitted from the help of a long list of world class players, producers, engineers, assistants, visual artists, filmmakers and more than 30 singers.

Reilly has made a name for himself as a songwriter’s drummer touring, recording, and writing with Hoots & Hellmouth, Ha Ha Tonka, The Spring Standards, Matt Nakoa, Freddy and Francine, and many others.

His resume includes extensive work in the theatre world– offstage in pit-orchestras, on-stage in new and old works alike, and even originating the role of the villain, Jessup McElroy, in “Red Roses, Green Gold,” the 2017 Off-Broadway jukebox musical featuring the music of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter.

The recorded ensemble for the making of the “Pretend Collective” album consisted primarily of working Philadelphia and New York musicians, many of whom tour globally, play on Broadway, and collaborate with some of the biggest names in music.

Some of the main contributors were Aurélien Budynek (Marky Ramone, Cindy Blackman Santana), Jaron Olevsky and David Streim (Amos Lee), Jonathan Davenport (Dirty Projectors, Buried Beds), Bryan Percivall (Britney Spears) and Tom Deis (Uni Ika Ai, Via Audio).

“This band on the record has never officially played together,” said Reilly, whose actual hometown is King of Prussia. “They’re all friends of mine – and some of the best players I know. I’m just thrilled with the personnel on the record. Most of them were in the studio with me.”

They were in the studio with Reilly – but not all at the same time.

“I started recording in late 2017 – one or two days a month,” said Reilly. “I finished tracking in late 2018. I did most of it at Sine Studio in Center City and some stuff at my home studio in Kensington. All the recording we did made it onto the record.

“Now that this is done, I’m moving back to Brooklyn next week. I do voice-over work in New York. I do a lot of theater stuff. And, I do a lot of live playing in New York…a lot of bar gigs.”

Reilly is an accomplished songwriter but pounding the skins is his main gig.

According to Reilly, “I’ve been playing drums since I was eleven years old. I’m thirty-seven now. I play a lot—for fun, for livelihood, for human connection. There are a lot of ways to approach it, but I sound my best when I’m making the other players sound their best. That means I have to listen. When I want to listen deeply, I close my eyes.

“I’ve been banging around on the piano since I was seven. I mostly do it alone. There was never much formal technique at play, but there was always a lot of play at play. There has always been curiosity, and on the other side of that, I found songs no one else had found.

“Thirty years, dozens of bands, a ludicrous CV, and a trip or two around the world later, I find myself with a finished record. Don’t give me your arrangement or production ideas—it’s mastered. It’s done. No more space for creative input; thank you, we’ve done all that.

“By we, I mean the members of Pretend Collective. It’s not quite a band, but don’t hold us to that. It’s rather a vast umbrella that keeps figuratively dry and creatively significant.

“If you want people to love what’s coming through the speakers, you’ve got to love what you’re laying down, what you’ve discovered together. I love these players and I love what they have brought to this music. Enthusiasm for this record was really shared across the board. Imagine what we can do together. That’s what we mean by Pretend Collective.”

Video link for Pretend Collective – https://youtu.be/TzQVCSl1ZbQ.

The show at Johnny Brenda’s, which has Andrew Lipke and Erik Kramer as opening acts, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10

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