For those that like to cut to the chase: This is a review of the new album by the FOR Collective, organized by Ron “Rosco” Selley. It slays. In fact, it is fair to say it is one of the best independent recordings to come from this area in recent memory. Feel free to scroll to the bottom of the article to the links where you can purchase it for download.
For those of you that like to savor something special for a little bit, let’s talk …
It is hard to believe until you think about it, but Rosco Selley has been a fixture on the mid-Michigan music for a few decades now. In progressive, successful and happening outfits like Blues Controversy and Maybe August, he developed a well-deserved reputation for his lights out harmonica chops.
In more recent times he has worked within several combinations with “brother by another mother” and former Maybe August bandmate, Michael Robertson, including the Brokenhearted Saviors and The Sky Blue Sky. He is also in regular demand as a sideman and session player, working with artists such as Brandon Calhoun and Jen Cass & the Lucky Nows.
In 2015 Selley added “Solo Artist” to his resume with the release of ‘Kneaded and Thrown,’ a nine-song disc that leaned heavily toward the kind of somber Americana that is the territory of artists like Townes Van Zandt.
Though Selley had studio experience through his previous bands, he says that the Kneaded and Thrown sessions at Reed Recording Company were where he “fell in love with the process” of recording. It was also around this time, as Selley puts it, that he realized “Hey, I have a lot of songs I’ve written that I can’t really sing, and I am meeting all these great singers.”
With that thought, the concept of the F.O.R. (Friends of Rosco) Collective was born. For this project, he decided to assemble a group of guest vocalists he would match with songs he already had or would develop specifically for them. The plan was to return to Reed Recording and utilize a cross-section of Reed’s regular session players. (Who, for anyone listening, are crying out for a cool name like the Wrecking Crew, the Funk Brothers or the Swampers.)
As Selley described, “the first song we recorded was ‘You Are The One.’ “I had done a show with Honesty (Elliot) where she threw down on some bluesy stuff I hadn’t really heard her do before. I had this song that was a quarter done, so I sat down with Honesty and Mike (Robertson) and we worked it out. She just knocked it out of the park. That’s when I knew this was going to work.”
Each of the songs is interesting in how they seem to be such a match between the vocal personality of the singer and the tune. Selley attributes some of this to his roots as a songwriter in Blues Controversy.
“Often, I was writing for a female singer, so I had to try to get into someone else’s head space.”
“Every time I listen through the album, I have a new favorite. Today it is Jen Cass on LA River. She has such sorrow and grit in her voice, like Lucinda Williams.
“As a songwriter, you always have all these ½ finished, ¼ finished songs. This gave me a good reason to finish them up. For instance, I had the phrase ‘a little problem’ that fit perfect with the idea of working up a song for Brandon (Calhoun).”
“I’d previously worked with Paul Randolph, who sings ‘Gradually Blue.’ It’s the most sophisticated song on the record. It’s a lot of chords mashed together. More than any song on the project, I wrote this very specifically for this voice.”
There are a couple of things worth mentioning on the point of “sophistication.” The first may only be noticeable to someone who has followed Rosco in his various musical personas as band member, sideman or solo artist. Though he is known in many circles for a somewhat otherworldly ability as a soloist in both traditional and modern styles on his chosen instrument, this is not a harmonica record. This album features Selley creating textures, sheen and ambience, along with the occasional screaming solo. It’s certainly the most complete recorded example of his techniques and talents to date.
The second point would be his obvious growth as a songwriter since his earlier recorded works. He attributes this largely to working with so many great songwriters in the last several years, namechecking Jen Cass, Donny Brown, Robertson, and J Dean, among others.
“I got way smarter about the way songs work. There is no formula, but I am more conscious of the role of the chorus, verse, bridge, pre-chorus, solo and their role in the song. I have also had to get a bit better at guitar, substituting tastier chords … theory.” The other thing that helps is having talented friends, as Selley emptied the stable, so to speak, on this recording.
Whether it is the spine-tingling performance by Michelle O’Neil on ‘Here Again,’ Larry McCray tearing it up on ‘The Crossing’ or JD Dominowski channeling middle America on ‘I’m Ready Now,” every vocal performance is a stunner. The variety in the voices keeps the song cycle moving and the songs hang together well, no small feat when you consider that the “band” pulls off numerous styles, each backing a very distinctive vocalist.
The musicians on the project certainly bear mentioning, as they contribute to one standout track after another. Aside from Robertson, who also sings ‘Get Outta Here,’ the session musicians on the track listing are a who’s who of local talent, including guitarists Scott Van Dell and Larry McCray, bassists Keith Carolan and Ryan Fitzgerald, drummers Donny Brown, Steve McCray, saxophonist Jim Rosborough, keyboardists Mike Thomas and Jim Alfredson. Selley brother, Dave Selley, makes a couple of appearances on brass, including a stellar solo on ‘Gradually Blue.’ Multi-instrumentalist Loren Kranz appears on several tracks on drums and keyboards, as well as backing Selley with Barbarossa Brothers bandmates Drew Pentkowski and Fitzgerald on “Wrong Headed Thinking.” Backing vocalists Kay O’Neil, J Dean and Daniel Patrick round out the crew.
Overall, the F.O.R. Collective is a stunning achievement, not only for Selley and his bevy of bandmates, but for our regional music community. It’s an area that continues to produce top shelf talent and collaborative efforts, such as this. Bravo, Rosco. Bravo, band.
This is quite the collective achievement. You can find out more about the F.O.R. Collective at www.forcollective.net and you can download the album at all the usual outlets, including https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/forcollective
16th November, 2023
7th November, 2023