Seeds and Chains is an engaging new album by Philadelphia area folk artist Up the Chain. Led by front man and creator Reed Kendall, the album employs some of the most talented musicians in the Philly area for this entertaining and rewarding musical journey. There is hardly a weak moment on this eleven-track album filled with solid compositions and the pristine production of Bill Moriarty. While the music has a solid folk/rock core throughout, there are definite nods to other genres like alternative, Americana, country, and even a bit of Philly soul.
Seeds and Thorns starts with one of its strongest tracks right up top. “Seasick Sailors” was co-written by bassist Matt Wong and has a great upbeat Americana style with just a touch of a country arrangement. Lyrically, the song is a rallying cry against complacency. Musically, the song is driven by a great acoustic riff and strategic placement of electric and acoustic piano riffs along with slide and electric guitars and measured vocals. Finally, there is a true outro chorus section, which adds variety and the crowning jewel to the arrangement.
The rest of the tracks are sole compositions by Reed. “Tire Track” has a mellow, James Taylor-like approach led by electric piano of Anam Owili-Eger, a talented player who maintains his own solo career beyond Up the Chain. Anam returns with a great acoustic piano lead on “Same Story”, an otherwise acoustic folk tune which examines the struggle between restlessness and stability. Adding some contrast to this track is drummer Matt Scarano, who plays a consistent, driving, country beat while all other instrumentation remains much more mellow. Scarano’s kick adds a nice effect to the beginning of “Take Me Talking”, complimenting the line “Your past is pounding at the door”. This song also contains nice rudiments and a Caribbean bass line by Wong.
“A Ground” takes a decidedly bluesy turn during the intro with a crying guitar lead by Avery Coffee who also adds some strategic sonic candy like slide and riff-walked electric parts. The remainder of the song is pretty much an acoustic ballad with a bit of a Jim Croce vibe. “The Horse’s Course” has an interesting drum beat by Scarano and more production enhancements by Moriarty while the short diddy “Something New” contains a pleasant fiddle throughout by Kiley Ryan.
The album was recorded over the course of several months at Moriarty’s new studio in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia, which he calls “No Nostalgia”. The track “For to Give Away” is a definite tribute to the old-school soul known as the Sound of Philadelphia, with all the elements on full display – smooth bass, electric piano, saxophone, and most especially Kendall’s vocals, which adapt to this genre perfectly with a high-pitched croon found nowhere else on the album. This is followed by “No Sweeter Sound”, perhaps the best overall song on the later half of the album. Here the songwriting and production join at the sweet spot with layered electric guitars and a great guitar lead complimenting the interesting composition with a diminishing chord progression and waltz-like beat making for some absolutely “sweet sounds”
Kendall says he did not script the various musical parts for Seeds and Thorns, but rather started with simple ideas and grooves and let the talented musicians take it to its place. The closing medley feels the most improvised on this album. “Everything We Have” begins as a live sounding acoustic tune but eventually builds with overdubs until it feels a lot more electric. A sustained organ and bass beat provides the link into the final track “Names of Ghosts”, where you can feel some influences from Paul Simon and Jackson Browne. The consistent acoustic rhythm is complimented by long flourishes of guitar pedal effects and an almost a percussive ensemble with orchestra of guitars to end the album (save for the short live piano and vocal recording that acts as a “hidden” track.)
Kendall had been performing live since age 13 and releasing solo albums in high school. After a soul-searching journey to New Zealand he came up with the concept for the group Up The Chain and they released their 2011 full-length debut Holy, Open, Drying Road, consisting of live recordings and early demos. With Seeds and Thorns, Kendall’s music has reached a new plateau of studio production with a full band while staying true to how the simplicity of the songs as they were conceived.