After years on the road with Zappa Tribute Band, Project/Object, and in New York clubs and schools playing with Astrograss, Jordan Shapiro assembled a super group of his long time collaborators to create Cold River. Rooted in Americana, with branches that bend into genres as diverse as bluegrass, progressive rock, and alt.country, this brand new band has recorded an eponymous album set for release at the Brooklyn rock club, Southpaw, on 4/18/2008. The new album features original treatments of some classic folk songs Shapiro pulled from Carl Sandburg's "American Songbag," new music set to Beat poetry originally created for environmentally themed theater, and original music featuring the evocative lyrics of off-Broadway playwright turned medical student Joe Grossman.
The members of Cold River, like the songs on their debut album, have criss-crossed paths while traveling around the world over the past 15 years. Shapiro and Grossman have written songs together for theater and various bands since they met in college in 1995. Drummer Jordan Young entered the picture the next year where he met Shapiro at the Jazz Studies department at the University of Michigan. In 1999 they all moved to New York City, where Young got his MFA at Manhattan School of Music studying with jazz greats Gerald Cleaver and John Riley. Shapiro and Grossman went on to create works for musical theater, and Shapiro soon after joined Project/Object and formed Astrograss with violinist / mandolinist / clarinetist Dennis Lichtman to play traditional bluegrass and more adventurous newgrass while at home in Brooklyn. Lichtman came to Astrograss after playing with the Boston based rock band Mori Stylez. He currently plays with a Brazilian choro group, as well as in the Bill Bell Band, and in Irish sessions around the city. Bell, another eclectic multi-instrumentalist, plays keys with Cold River, and has played with Shapiro in a number of projects. Singer Jennifer Milich, Shapiro, and bassist Adam Armstrong all play together in the kids band AudraRox (seen on Noggin/Nickelodeon TV, and soon to be seen on Sesame Street). Armstrong, originally from Australia, has played bass and taught music around the world while appearing on over 70 albums. Milich, who has an Americana band of her own with Lichtman, brings intimacy and a lot of heart to the band.
From this diverse pool of talent, Shapiro has crafted a unique, musical sound for Cold River, where echoes of the driving guitars of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the sweet vocals of Emmylou Harris, the complex compositions of Zappa, the progressive country rock sounds of Gram Parsons and Steve Earle, and the modern rock aesthetic of Wilco and My Morning Jacket are all apparent. Thematically, Cold River's debut album cleaves to a modernized Beat Generation sensibility. Besides new music set to Gary Snyder and Donald Jeffrey Hayes poems, the album includes the topical "August War Song," and the prototypical anti-consumerist anthem "Hallelujah I'm a Bum" which Shapiro first heard on Dan Zanes' album "Parades and Panoramas". The original song "Money is a World Wide Web" has a similar, if more ironic message, whereas "Acadia" which Shapiro and Grossman wrote on a road trip to Nova Scotia, grew out of the pre-ironic past of maritime music. Other tracks on the new album include "Everyday Thoughts," an abstract duet originally written for a play, and the folk classic "Lakes of Pontchartrain" which made its way to Cold River from Louisiana via Ireland and Paul Brady.
After the CD release party at Southpaw, Shapiro hopes to bring Cold River to a larger audience by going on the road once again. At future performances, expect a fresh take on the rare Stephen Foster composition, "Angelina Baker", deeper delving into Carl Sandberg's "American Songbag", and more Shapiro / Grossman songs.