Hearing Aide: Castle Creek Releases ‘The Only Life’

Central N.Y. based Castle Creek is a duo composed of singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Kim Monroe: vocals, guitars, Rhodes, organ, bass, percussion, cello and Chris Eves: vocals, guitars, Rhodes, organ, bass, drums. This is their first full-length CD, The Only Life, released in November 2014 and is solidifying the path they’ve been creating from the northeast to Austin, Texas and to the west coast at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA. in January. They’ll have the honor of performing at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse following the sold-out SAMMY Award Hall Of Fame Dinner on March 5.

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As if that wasn’t enough, the CD is self-produced and engineered, with all song-writing credits to Kim and Chris besides track 6 which is a Monroe/Mark Doyle composition. Bruce Monroe contributed lap-steel to track 1. Matt Mangano at Southern Ground Studio, Nashville is credited with the mix, and Independent Mastering, Nashville with the finishing touches. All of these facets together make for a dynamic and soulful blend of what the duo describes as alternative blues. It’s fitting as the elements of snarl and bite mix intricately with the bluesy rise and fall of their emotive vocals, each voice standing easily alone or perfectly complimenting the other.

The duo first met at a mutual friend’s wedding where Kim sat in with Chris’ band that was performing there. They talked afterward about songwriting and their own solo projects, eventually writing “Brand New Blues”, that is on this release, that day. Before Castle Creek, Chris attended Berklee and had been a national touring/session guitarist, writing and recording his own songs along the way. Two of those are featured here, “New Normal” and “Bigger Than the Two of Us”. Kim is a multiple SAMMY winner for her two solo albums recorded with Mark Doyle in Syracuse, she credits him for, “Essentially teaching me how to rehearse with a band, how to record music in a studio, introducing me to Soul Music and pushing me to be a better performer.” She then performed in a Buffalo area musical collaboration with Robby Takac of Goo Goo Dolls, called Amungus. After building a reputation around the northeast under their own names as a duo, they took the name Castle Creek for this, their first full-length release.

Before reading their answers to my questions and while listening to their disc the first time, I had a good idea where some of their influences came from. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing reviews, and it’s always interesting to see where those influences take them. Kim lists Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, I had both, even before seeing a picture of Kim placing her left hand in Bonnie’s left handprint at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Chris’ were evident watching him rip the slide guitar during a Vinyl – Albums Live performance of The Black Crowes, “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion”, he lists The Allman Brothers as well among others. Both he and Kim have diverse musical tastes, something that holds true with many great musicians, they appreciate, listen to and learn from all genres of music from classical to pop to metal.

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The opener, “The Only Life I’ve Ever Known” gives a deep expression of what’s to come throughout this whole offering. The counter-point between Monroe’s growl, the plaintive wail of Greg Monroe’s lap steel and Eves’ slide work illustrate the emotion pouring from the lyric. You can almost hear Raitt split into two personalities and doubled through the mix, it grabs at your heart and pulls hard. “Brand New Blues” straddles a similar line with Eve’s blues riff coloring Monroe’s grit and determination. The way their vocals compliment is noteworthy as well, Eves’ tempered soul softens Monroe’s edge at just the right moments while allowing her natural twists and turns to come through in a searing fashion. She’s telling you a story, it’s real, heartfelt and emotional, commanding your attention.

“Dragging My Heart Around” lets Eves come to the front vocally and the tune rolls to the rock side of blues embellished by the Hammond swirling. The depth of their instrumental abilities is remarkable, Chris hits ‘em hard here, he could easily be a drummer and that’s a lot to say. Many attempt this and it ends in tears, here he does that and more as he answers with a ripping guitar solo to top it off, amazing stuff! You can almost hear The Black Crowes on “Burning Bridges” with it’s swampy slide and rhythm until Monroe kicks the vocal in and it becomes all Castle Creek. The driving beat and quality of the mix provide a platform for Monroe to tell another incredibly personal tale from. Her vocal range and consistent quality are exemplary and allow the song to rise and fall with each new verse supported by and accentuated with Eves’ brilliant guitar work.

“New Normal” brings Eves to the forefront again and Castle Creek keeps showing different levels and voices they have in their arsenal. This tale of triumph is well written and expressed as kindred spirits find each other. While tales of being outcast and alone can sometimes wear heavily, disaffection becomes something of the past to reflect on and rise above here, uplifting while the sadness slips away. “New Reality”, the Monroe/Doyle composition, is straight-up blues and self discovery. Monroe shreds an exposition of growth away from small town entitlement to the heights available to her through herself. “Glass Heart” is a classic moving on song, the difficulty of doing so and the disillusion of love gone bad. The analogy is strong and the lyrical turns ring true.

“Brace For The Heartache” shows how the blues turns so easily to rock, the rave-up guitar tracks push Monroe along, “I could see this coming from miles away, We bend until we break, All that I could do is hold on and brace for the heartache”. The Hammond solo fits so perfectly and segues into the big guitar riff that takes you to the close, brilliant rock music right here.
“Bigger Than the Two of Us” has a Buckingham/Nicks self-exposure kind of feel, after all, the best of songs come from personal experience. The guitars are big and the groove is solid, when Kim and Chris sing together it’s very easy to believe everything they say. This is single material for sure.

“The Saddest Long Song” brings the tempo down and Kim’s bluesy vocal evokes an image of a smoky club and a single spotlight shining as she pours her heart out to a silent audience hanging on every note. The blistering guitar solo only heightens the tension in the room until it softens and ushers her story back in. Cue the audience standing and cheering. “Warpaint” spins the disc back into overdrive, flexing the muscle of a determined woman expressing her self-confidence and her undeniable charms. When this band rocks, it hits hard and wonderfully counters its softer side, but I believe it’s where the band soars. The closer, “Flown Away” acoustically brings the set to an end. Chris’ lead and Kim’s harmonies combined with the string parts are stunningly somber, yet beautiful at the same time. When it’s a song of hope, there’s always a chance for another chapter in the story.

Key Tracks: The Only Life I’ve Ever Known, Bigger Than the Two of Us, The Saddest Love Song

Kim and Chris have deep appreciation for their families, friends and supports. From Chris: My parents who are very supportive. My Brother Travis. My teachers growing up in the area- Ed Vollmer, Carmen Caramanica, Rick Balestra. From Kim: My Mother Liz and Father Bruce who both introduced me to the music business in different ways. My Step-Father Greg for introducing me to off the wall music I never would have heard. Mark Doyle for essentially teaching me how to rehearse with a band, how to record music in a studio, introducing me to Soul Music and pushing me to be a better performer. Chris for making me the performer/musician that I currently am. And it seems obvious but of course to everyone who has bought our music, come to our shows, loaded our gear, made us look/sound good on stage, given us places to stay on the road and musicians who have learned our music and been a part of a band with us. Castle Creek will give you many opportunities to experience their musical magic live and I highly suggest you do that, after you purchase this cd of course. You can follow Castle Creek on Facebook and on their website.