Row Jomah, a fine rock quintet from Clearwater FL, have been around for several years, although we didn’t run across them until ZenFest in February of 2015. They immediately impressed with their tight musicianship, great lyrics, and unbridled enthusiasm.
By July, they had released their debut album titled Cat People! MusicFestNews published an extensive On the Rise feature at the time which you can read here. Currently, the band is working on its second studio album for issue in the fall. In the meantime, the band is thrilled to have an album release party Friday, March 31st, to celebrate Live at the Dunedin Brewery, recorded July 2nd last year.
Row Jonah and the Dunedin Brewery have a long history together, all of it very good. Keyboard player Austin Llewellyn also plays in the Dunedin Brewery House Band, performing most Wednesday nights. Leader Joe Roma (acoustic guitar and vocals) often helps run sound and/or lights there. And the band has performed there often; other members are Mel Walsh, guitar; Jason Berlin, bass; and Dylan Chee-A-Tow, drums.
And a brief word about DunBrew. Michael Lyn Bryant is one of those hard-working club proprietors continuously bringing in the very best music talent locally, regionally and nationally, and Chris Fama is a top-notch sound engineer who makes ever great performance sound even better. Fama did the live sound engineering on this album. The recording was then mixed and mastered by bass player Vinny Svoboda of Displace; he has put the excellent finishing touches on a number of area recordings at his VATS Productions studio.
Live at the Dunedin Brewery features five tracks that appeared originally on Cat People! along with four new ones which will likely appear on the new album in progress (and maybe “Cat People” will be on there, too, since it’s NOT on Cat People!).
The album starts where Cat People! left off, with “Outhouse,” a tune Roma described as an attempt to include as many time changes as possible. They succeed on that level for sure, but there is so much more. One of the signatures of Row Jomah tunes is the combination of Roma’s acoustic guitar and Walsh’s electric. That is how this song is introduced before Llewellyn’s electric piano falls in. Another signature is Roma’s distinctive vocal style, which can go from a whisper to a roar and right back again.
The recording throughout is remarkably crisp, which benefits everyone, but probably no one more than drummer Chee-A-Tow. He is a superb drummer, and you get to hear every nuance. Walsh takes a fine biting solo, then Llewellyn before the excellent false ending and return for one more great shot.
“Couldn’t I Be With You” is always a fan favorite, the subject of the song not quite ready for a break-up. Walsh sets up a great guitar figure, and Berlin stands out on bass. Llewellyn has another electric piano solo.
Roma is a warm and engaging frontman, also clever and incisive. He introduces “Windowpanes,” one of the newer compositions (he wrote them all) saying, “This is a song about love. This is a song for this guy right here. He needs all kinds of love. He’s loveless. In his heart.” But the tune is about a stalker, well, sort of. Perhaps we’ll call the subject an admirer from a distance. The bouncy tune puts his acoustic guitar work front and center as well. Walsh again nails a great solo, electric piano vamping underneath.
“Shudder” is not a happy tune, but the band delivers the message very effectively. There is a two-minute intro centered around Walsh’s guitar; then Roma’s guitar starts, followed by Walsh and Llewellyn on organ. He switches to electric piano (Fender Rhodes-like). Roma’s emotive vocals draw you in, and there is a sublime guitar coda.
Another new song is “You & Me.” Most of Roma’s songs deal with relationships, not all successful. This is a poignant love song. A long acoustic guitar intro leads to electric guitar and some fine piano work from Llewellyn. He plays one NORD keyboard which can mimic piano, electric piano, organ, clavinet, synthesizer and more.
Llewellyn begins “Fire & Ice” with a lovely piano intro. This is one of Row Jomah’s best concert tunes. In succession, acoustic guitar, electric, and drums fall in (and Berlin continues to propel the music on bass). Multi-instrumentalist and singer Chris Sgammato (Displace) makes a fine appearance on alto saxophone, then Llewellyn on organ, and Sgammato round two. Walsh also solos before the band kicks it into double-time.
Bassist Vinny Svoboda guests on “Sugar Sweet” with a great bass line and more delightful piano work. Once more, Roma sings of love and relationship. Walsh has some inventive ideas flourishing underneath the vocals. “What you got it’s more than most; what you got it could save the world.” There is a theme of promise and disappointment woven through his songs.
“Better Days” is the third new song here and a personal favorite. Everything works, from lyrics and a great electric piano solo to a truly wicked guitar performance from Walsh. this is one of three songs on the album they stretch out beyond ten minutes, deservedly so. Berlin’s bass gets a feature as the tune winds down.
Row Jomah closes this outing with “Funk,” and it is clear once again what a fine recording this is both musically and sonically. It is no wonder they are in constant demand. Bravo!
Row Jomah Live at the Dunedin Brewery is a perfect snapshot of a band continuing to grow and impress with every time they take the stage. You can find out Friday night at the album release party at — where else — Dunedin Brewery!