Mike Powell and the Black River are set to release their second full-length studio album, Gypsy Winnebago Friday. The album was recorded in the band’s loft, The Family Room, overlooking Armory Square in Syracuse over the course of the summer and features contributions from two new band members.
Joining Mike Powell (guitar/vocals), John Hanus (guitar), Joe Bell (bass) and Dom Scicchitano (drums) on this outing are Brian Lauri (keyboards) and Jason “Jocko” Randall (percussion).
The ten-song album reveals a band coming into its own following its 2018 release Classic Universe. A few years under their belt and a series of weekly residencies at Downtown Syracuse’s King of Clubs has helped this band to really grow as a unit. Powell’s songwriting on this album is some of his best.
The most apparent difference between this record and their first is the vocal harmonies. “I had a long conversation with the band and emphasized how much I felt these songs needed more voices,” says Powell. “There’s something really powerful about human voices singing one message together. The guys obviously have great ears so they grabbed ahold of the harmonies right away and it really brought these songs to life.”
Fans who have attended the “Thursday Night Rock Show” residencies at King of Clubs have witnessed the band’s progression from a blue-eyed soul band, as exhibited on the debut Classic Universe to a well-rounded rock band with jamband tendencies. This transition can largely be attributed to the addition of Lauri and Randall.
Many of the songs included in this collection are not new to the die-hard Black River fan. Bandleader and lead songwriter Mike Powell and his partner John Hanus have been performing songs such as “Gone Too Far” and “Moonlight, Sunshine, and Rain” in front of audiences for several years. These songs have also been incorporated into the full band sets as well yet they still reveal a freshness on this recording.
The production of Gypsy Winnebago showcases the individual members of the band, particularly drummer Dom Scicchitano and relative newcomer (to The Black River at least) Brian Lauri on keyboards. Lauri is also a member of the Syracuse-based roots-reggae band Root Shock.
Lauri uses his synthesizer to transport the listener back to the ’80s at times, especially in “When I Was a Fire.” The Cars’ Greg Hawkes and Genesis’ Tony Banks would approve.
“CAW” is a recent composition that can’t help but be influenced by the band’s frequent opening slots for the Canadian surf/spaghetti western/psychedelic rockers The Sadies. John Hanus’s guitar, paired with Scicchitano’s galloping drums and Powell’s haunting whistling transports the listener to the old west, one of Powell’s frequent lyrical destinations.
In short, Gypsy Winnebago is an album that exhibits a maturing band that should garner some attention for The Black River from critics and fans alike. The album will be released on Friday through all the major streaming platforms. It can be preordered here.
Key tracks: CAW, Renegade Rhythm, Finer Things