San Fermin is the brainchild of Brooklyn based composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone and the release of Jackrabbit further proves his talent of composing unique and flowing arrangements that are both haunting and beautiful.
Although Ludwig-Leone is the mastermind behind the band and plays keys live, equal respect goes to those performing and playing live which include Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye on vocals, John Brandon (trumpet), Stephen Chen (sax), Rebekah Durham (violin and vocals), Michael Hanf (drums) and Tyler McDiarmid (guitar).
I had already decided to review this album after being quite impressed with their live set from SXSW, which if you ever get the chance to see them live, I highly recommend.
The 15 tracks are expansive (with a few being short instrumental interludes including “Ecstatic Thoughts”, “The Cave” , “The Glory” and “Halcyon Days”) which clearly showcase the talent of every person involved in San Fermin with their short but great bursts of keys, strings and horns.
The start of the album is with “The Woods” which is as expected, both haunting and beautiful and speaks of a childhood murder in the woods near a school, which later sets the lyrical theme of relationships, death and being alone throughout the album.
The dual vocals of Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye work well together, with a few duets together, but mostly they take their turn on vocals and it works well for each track. “Ladies Mary” is percussion and horns heavy which highlights Kaye’s clear yet strong vocals. Next, “Emily” is one of the tracks released early from the new album and continues with the theme of spending time with others, yet still feeling lonely. Tate takes the lead on this track and has a commanding and strong voice which plays well throughout Jackrabbit.
The title track “Jackrabbit” continues with the theme that death is inevitable and includes the lyrics “Wanna live like an animal, by the skin of your teeth, put your good face on, you’re not fooling noone, you’re a jackrabbit underneath” which then follows with the addicting chorus of “Run for the hills, run for the hills, run”. It’s a beautiful and expansive display of strings, horns and Kaye’s soaring vocals. This track is also stellar live and the recording doesn’t quite do it justice.
“Astronaut” is led by Tate which starts with acoustic based guitar and later builds with great horns and harmonies. The backup vocals help make this track feel ethereal.
“Philosopher” showcases Kaye’s vocal strength once again and has great energy throughout with notable work from both Chen and Brandon. This is another great track played live.
“Woman in Red” is led vocally by Tate which erupts with horns and strings again throughout. Both Kaye and Tate sing together on “Parasites” which is at times chaotic and experimental. The beginning almost sounds like an irish jig but then evens out and has a great solo by Chen towards the end with a wonderful accompaniment of Durham on the violin.
“Reckoning” follows through again with the theme that life is short, but the song seems to be thanking a mentor or someone that might have taken a parent type role during childhood. The song is simple and violin centric.
“Two Scenes” is another vocal duet which speaks to the passage of time and again, the fact that we are just “skin and bone” which is first mentioned with lyrics in “The Woods”. The theme is about girls eventually becoming mothers with the parting lyric “and all these girls they will be mothers, it starts by being someone’s lover.” The composition on this track is beautiful, layered and expansive.
The final track is another duet between Kaye and Tate on “Billy Bibbit” which seems to end with a bit of hope. The theme throughout has been about the fragility of life, struggling with getting outside of your head, and sometimes feeling lonely even in relationships. “Give into love, get what you want.” As Kaye sings behind the entire band erupting, “Billy we’re all gonna die, so get out of your mind.” This track is another one to where you get the full experience and respect in a live setting.
Maybe Billy Bibbit was the last song on purpose to sum up that even though death is inevitable and we all have our own issues with the fragility of life and the pain that death can bring, give into love and live it anyway.
Jackrabbit is a great album and showcases the talent of the entire band and of course the mastermind behind it all – Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Their sophomore release did not disappoint and is even better than their debut. Jackrabbit is cohesive and enthralling, yet haunting from the start – it comes full circle in the end with a bit of hope and love still shining through.
Jackrabbit is out on Downtown Records Tuesday April 21. You can pre-order on i-Tunes or get some really cool packages (album + t-shirt and even vinyl options) here. If you can’t wait to hear the entire album, check it out streaming on NPR.
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