Timing seems right for Bethesda

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Akron/Kent band Bethesda, left to right, Jesse Scaggs, Eric Ling, Shanna Delaney, Dan Corby, Christopher Black, and Justin Rife will celebrate the release of their sophomore full length The Reunion at Musica on Satuday night. (Photo courtesy Bob Perkoski, www.Perkoski.com)

Tonight at downtown Akron live music venue Musica, a local band will make its case for becoming a national band.

Akron/Kent-based band Bethesda will celebrate the release of its second full-length album, The Reunion, a 10-song collection of melodic, acoustic-based indie folk. The band — violinist Christopher Black, bassist Dan Corby, singer Shanna Delaney, guitarist/singer Eric Ling, drummer Justin Rife and guitarist/singer/keyboardist Jesse Scaggs — are all in their mid to late twenties. They recorded the latest album and previous releases with former Six Parts Seven member Tim Gerak at his Mammoth Studios in Colorado.

The Reunion is a refinement of the sextet’s previously scattered sound with two new members (Black and Scaggs) helping to provide cleaner arrangements and better use of dynamics.

“They each bring a new sound to the album. This has more of a folk-pop and maybe a little bit of Americana in there and I think this album is much more cohesive …” Delaney said.

Throughout The Reunion, there is an underlying theme, which Delaney said was a happy accident.

“We noticed that these stories were coming together. We didn't mean to or try to make it happen but we noticed that they were all stories about people reuniting in some way — whether that be later on after death or in this world,” she said pointing to the title track about Ling's grandfather, Fit to Leave written for Delaney's brother who died while she was in college and Signs about Ling's brother's long-distance relationship.

“We always sit down and talk about the stories first before we even start writing parts and so we made sure to really go through these songs and make sure the tone and the mood that we [wanted] to come across in the songs” came through, she said.

The album was funded entirely by a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $8,000, giving the bank accounts of Ling and Delaney, who historically used their own money, a break.

The Reunion should please fans of the increasingly popular indie folk-pop sound of bands such as Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons, both of whom have won Grammys, sell out concerts and sell scores of records.

Delaney, a proud music theater geek who also studied opera, uses her unique and immediately recognizable and occasionally dramatic alto on songs such as the rising and falling Signs and the peppy Rotted Pines featuring the now familiar indie-folk shuffle groove. Go sports a kinetic bluegrass groove and, as with many of the tunes, a catchy, hummable chorus, while Delaney and Ling harmonize on the toe-tapping up-tempo indie-pop tune Stop Motion.

Right now Bethesda members are primarily weekend warriors, traveling and playing shows on Fridays and Saturdays as all the band members have “real” jobs. Ling and Delaney are both teachers (Delaney’s also in graduate school), and other members’ job titles include graphic designer and banker. But that could all change with the new album.

Bethesda will launch a radio campaign with radio promoter/marketing firm Unleashed music and has picked up nationally known P.R. firm Team Claremont and record label Inkind Music, run by a former Virgin board member who is still connected enough to get the album distributed by Sony.

The band settled on its acoustic-driven sound because founders Ling and Delaney are both fans, with Delaney growing up playing and singing bluegrass music “like a bunch of hillbillies” with her family. Ling was a fan of the often spare, dour sounds of singer/songwriters such as Elliot Smith. Nevertheless, Bethesda members realize their timing is serendipitous, dovetailing with a critically and commercially popular sound.

“Right,” Delaney said, “the Decemberists and Arcade Fire, when you see them doing so well, it definitely gives you hope. My mom said to me a year ago, ‘Do they even have a name for your kind of music?’ and I said ‘Yes, Mom’ and now you see it becoming rampant and that's very good for us.”

Bethesda will be making its second trip to the South By Southwest music festival in April in Austin, Texas, and then plans to embark on its most extensive tour this June. With a label, a publicist and the band’s take on what is a popular sound, Bethesda appears to be pointed in the right direction.

“It's exciting, and we'll see where we go; we'll see what happens,” Delaney said.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or by email at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com. He’s also on Facebook as Malcolm X Abram. … Go figure.

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