This 2nd seasonal collection that was forwarded to me includes Christmas, but singer-songwriter/guitarist Randall Kromm also throws in some clever Halloween, Veteran’s Day and New Year’s Eve songs as a delightful bonus. Sentimental Season encompasses many of our beloved holidays. This LP is a family effort with Randall joined by daughters Emma and Grace on vocals. Joining them are Eric Kilburn (mandolin and dobro), Joe Barbato (piano and accordion) and Peter Tillotson (upright bass) with a few others.
The first track is a hat tip to All Hallows Eve – “It’s Halloween (and It’s Beautiful Out)” finds Randall singing about what he sees in costume, and the candies that are being offered by friends and strangers alike. Randall doesn’t seem to miss much – he nails down so many memories of a good old-fashioned Halloween. Kromm is a songwriter rich in sentimentality, nostalgia and he has a dead-on perfect vocal tone to enrich every word he sings.
This track is sung in a manner like The Nails’ ever clever “88 Lines About 44 Women.” Kromm just lays out all the colorful images that make that spooky day special. Years ago, going house to house to neighbors and being something you’re not in costume was a rite of passage. No dangers, no mischief (well, maybe a little), and the fun – that was everything. It was a magical time and not what it’s considered today. It’s sad. But Randall gives a peek back at when it was marvelous. Now that’s a great holiday song and there aren't many respective of Halloween.
Still in his Halloween mode, “Train of Zombies,” chugs along in a bluegrass manner and I wonder exactly who Randall’s “zombies” really are? Are they the dead? Or just politicians, commuters on cell phones, rude people, and shysters? Mmm
Randall’s song, humorous -- never sounds novelty-oriented, yet, I couldn’t help but think of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s classic 1962 Halloween hit “Monster Mash,” as Randall goes bellowing deep in his voice on the word “night…” and it just makes the song so cool.
There’s a poignant turn where Randall decides to write and sing a holiday song for Veterans. You must respect that effort. “The Most Important Thing,” is a slow ballad. Not necessarily a tear-jerker, but a song written with respectful words. Kromm brings to the listener’s attention the sacrifice these people make to keep us safe, to be able to write songs too, to be able to follow our dreams, and worship who we wish and say what we need to say. Eric Kilburn’s excellent harmonica and mandolin are primarily featured and for a song like this, perfectly suited.
Thanksgiving is the subject of “Coming from Everywhere, Home” – isn’t that the truth? Mournful soaring Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki violin frames the tune and Emma and Grace provide the harmonies. “Thankful,” continues in the tradition of Thanksgiving as Randall sings about all the things he’s been thankful for. There are thousands of songs written each year but it’s amazing that some of the reasons for singing are never sung about. Thanksgiving? There should be hundreds of songs in this genre. We are luckier than we could ever believe.
I was a disc jockey in the early ’80s in Plymouth, MA – and while everyone was getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner and decorating and cooking, I was elected to sit at the control board and play seasonal songs and…and…field the hundreds of calls that came from around the US and a few from foreign countries about what we were doing in America's Hometown Plymouth, MA for Thanksgiving. It started out crazy but to this day, it's an experience I won’t forget. The people who called were all so gracious and wanted to share in what we inherited from the Pilgrims. It wasn’t racism. They celebrated for several days with the Native Americans and ate, shared cultures, and the Pilgrims were not a militia. They were just people from another country sharing their food. If it weren’t for the Native Americans many Pilgrims may not have made the first winter. We forget that today.
The beautiful Randall Kromm anthem “Building Together,” addresses this in song in recognition of Native American History Month. Joe Barbato’s piano shimmers and the harmonies of Emma and Grace elevate the song.
The PR says the title track “Sentimental Season,” would have been a great song for the late balladeer Perry Como to cover. I agree. When I was growing up it wasn’t Thanksgiving unless you watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, wasn’t Christmas until you sat and watched Perry Como’s Christmas Special (brought to you by Kraft Foods) – ha, I even remember the sponsor. And it wasn’t New Year’s unless you tuned into Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians. What a great season it was with all these people. No one has the tradition today that makes them mandatory watching to make the holiday – real.
A Christmas folk song follows “Wouldn’t I Have Known,” adds the angelic vocals of Emma as she trades off lead vocals with her dad. A melodic violin winds through the melody and their voices do indeed have a seasonal quality. The story touches upon the holidays and the poor and what we do about it. I worked a corporate Christmas party that included a big stuffed roasted pig, turkey, roast beef, vegetables, pasta, potatoes, salads, beverages, cakes, pies, pastries, and bread -- lots of bread, By the end of the party much was left untouched, unwrapped.
The President of the company asked me to help take charge and clean up. When everyone in upper management left the group who remained behind with me looked at each other and wondered what we were going to do. Throw out all this incredible food? As they started to assemble garbage bags and boxes, I thought of a relative who worked soup kitchens during holidays and called her. She said she would make phone calls.
She called back and said a church that fed the poor and homeless would send three vans in half an hour and not to touch anything. The seven people who came prepared and broke down all the food and cleaned the entire place for us efficiently. They prepared the food on premise. It all took a little over an hour. Later, they said to us, they would be able to feed more than 100 homeless and poor beginning that night. One woman wept because she said they never got a single donation as large as ours.
Anyway, Randall’s song reminded me of not only our generosity but our wastefulness. That food could have easily been discarded. I'm sure there are many corporations that do discard their leftovers after their holiday parties. It doesn't have to be that way. I was told recently that I wouldn’t have been allowed to do what we did then, today. Liability. So much for being a good citizen. Where are our values?
A duet with his daughter Grace, Randall sings about “At Least Now There’s Snow,” – and yes, while I don’t like shoveling snow when I look out the window and see it fall white on trees and roads, even on New York City streets late at night (I have seen that many times peaceful on park benches and even garbage cans), I do think: "at least there's snow." I can’t help but feel it’s the way the world refreshes itself. Cleans everything, starts a new. Nothing lasts forever, the snow will melt. But it does work a special magic on the spirit. Kromm’s vocal with his daughter emulates the very beauty of the snowfall. If you believe in God, Mother Nature as well, it’s one of the greatest things they ever thought of. Snow.
Being joyful at seeing family again on the holidays is Kromm’s beautiful “When I See the Lights Again,” and this could be sung at any time. My family is coming closer each year to that distance that will prevail. Who is moving to Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, and New Hampshire? It's going to be difficult to manage those future get-togethers. Randall tackles that subject and its complexities – as few songwriters have done. The whole of the year has us probably being a little neglectful, wrapped up in business and responsibilities. We are only here for so long on this mortal coil. Better hook-up with the ones you love as often as you can – maybe that’s why Christmas really exists. I have Jewish, some Native American and Muslim friends who don’t celebrate Christmas at all, but they do come together with their respective families at Christmas. Go figure.
As the PR states and I agree this is Randall Kromm’s “Springsteen” and “Cleveland,” becomes a wonderful road trip at the holiday's tune. Nothing overstated or sung with vigor. A beautiful acoustic ballad that would be comfortable on Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” collection. Impeccable mandolin and acoustic guitar picking, and one of the warmest Randall Kromm vocals. This is a beautiful song.
The final contribution is the slow, melodic “Happy New Year, Beautiful.” Why is this a special song? Because unlike so many holiday songs this one is a romantic-piano driven tune about a man who sees his loved one through new eyes on New Year’s Eve. This should be a must-play at any New Year’s Celebration – whether it be at a big shindig with a big band, or alone at home watching it all on television. At some point just before the big countdown, a piano player should take to the stage and sit – and just sing this to the reminiscing couples. What a moment it could be before they take to the dance floor, have the countdown, a toast and the new year comes.
You can’t go wrong with a Randall Kromm collection. He continues to mine the old-fashion but always manages to put a twist of originality into his modern song approach. Sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? Well, Randall doesn’t make his work sound dated. That’s all. He takes what’s dated and makes it sound contemporary. Gotta love him for that.
This twelve-song 46-minute CD was co-produced by Eric Kilburn. I’m not certain I had a final CD, so I can’t comment on the packaging accurately.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / December 2018