Review by Don Wilcock
The Record, Troy, New York
Annie and Jonny Rosen of Annie and the Hedonists met each other in Milwaukee almost 20 years ago. “When I saw Annie on the stage, I fell in love,” says Jonny.
The way they worked with each other in our interview offers just a hint at the harmony you can expect from both their Saturday concert at Eighth Step in Cohoes and their debut CD, “Side of the Road.”
When I asked Jonny if his initial reaction to Annie was love at first hearing, she coached, “Careful, Jon.”
He immediately recovered. “The beauty of her voice only reflects the beauty of her soul.”
“Nice one, Jonny,” she cooed. Then, he cinched it. “Once I heard her voice, I knew I had to check out the person and the being behind that voice. And I found out the person is every bit as beautiful as the voice.” Annie and Jonny are half of a group that includes a second husband and wife team, Steve and Betsy Fry. Together for 10 years, their public performing has taken a back seat to the raising of children. “We’ve been practicing for 10 years in the living room, in the kitchen and the bathroom,” says Jonny.
That said, it’s a credit to their talent, that the few public performances they have done have been in prestigious venues such as Caffe Lena, Saratoga’s Victorian Stroll and Eighth Step.
“Side of The Road” also reflects a maturity, style and ,joy-de-vivre uncommon for a group with so little experience onstage. Their back porch sessions and rubbing shoulders with seasoned musicians such as Jack Hume in the Pick’n’ & Sing’n’ Gather’n’ Society, as well as producer Don Person, has stood them well. “Side of The Road” is an incredibly eclectic folk album that puts spirited new arrangements of Christine McVie and Lucinda Williams songs next to gospel shouts, labor ballads and and torchy blues mamma standards. Both Annie and Jonny have eclectic musical backgrounds.
“Yeah, we love all different kinds of music,” says Annie. “I mean, I love early jazz. I love Motown. I love bluegrass. I love the torch songs, like Billie Holiday. There’s so much great music out there and so little time. There’s a lot of great stuff out there.”
“When I was a kid growing up,” adds Jonny, “my father collected all the great old jazz, blues and folk records. He’s got thousands of them on all the old 78 rpm records. So, I grew up hearing Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, as well as people like Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Josh White.”
“I think people love the singing and harmony and the rhythms, and Annie’s singing is really something,” says Jonny as an explanation for their short but impressive resumé. “And it’s pretty unique,” chimes in partner Annie. “Steve Fry is amazing. This guy plays the trumpet, the piano, the guitar, the mandolin and all these instruments really masterly.”
The Frys have an 11 year-old daughter named Amanda Lynn — a mandolin, get it?
There is a thread of dry humor running through their music. It swings with a wink. Even their name telegraphs a saucy attitude.
“There’s no specific story (concerning the name),” says Jonny, “but I think you’re right about the dry humor. If people want to see the hedonism, all they have to do is invite us over for dinner. We like Italian, and we’re big on desserts.”
“Very big on desserts,” adds Annie, “chocolate desserts!” They chose Gentle Wind Records’ Don Person to produce their CD.
“We’ve done a couple of children’s CDs through Gentle Wind, and we did one scholastic, K through 3 I think it was, the alphabet. We did that and had a cassette and a big flip chart,” explains Annie.
“It was geared for K through 3,” says Jonny. “And it was a pretty creative project. They had hired a couple to write new words to old nursery rhymes.
It was done alphabetically, and then they hired our group to do the music. Actually, it also featured on numbers (our daughter) Hannah Rosen who’s not a permanent member of Annie and the Hedonists.” The group plans to expand its performing calendar with the release of “Side of The Road.” Jonny, for one, is ready. “Ten years ago, Steve Fry said to us, ‘Think how much better we’ll sound in 10 years.’ He was right!”
Nationally renowned dobro and guitar player Kevin Maul joins Annie and The Hedonists both on the CD and at Saturday’s performance at the Eighth Step at Cohoes Music Hall, 8 Remsen Street in Cohoes. Tickets are $12, available by reservation or advance Visa/Master Card charge at 434-1703 or online at www.eighthstep.com.