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Michael Kroll

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Michael Kroll has probably best been described as a heart and soul musician. Writing intimate lyrical stories in the grand singer-songwriter tradition, that he sings in a supple, baritone growl. He and his band create a music that is in turns delicate, sweeping, and propulsive. When you hear or see him perform his songs, you can feel him bringing everything he has to everything he does—inhabiting each song authentically and completely. “Probably the biggest lesson for me was learning that putting everything I have into something doesn’t always mean louder or harder or even more intense,” Kroll reveals. “More often than not, it’s about getting my thinking out of the way and letting the music use me as its instrument. To be guided by what the song wants. That’s really the constant lesson for me.”

It’s a lesson born of a lifelong love affair with music. “One of my earliest memories is of me visiting some quiet house with my mother, wandering off into another room and finding a piano there. I knew what it was and that I probably should bang on it, but I couldn’t resist pressing down on a key. And wow, what a sound. Just one perfect piano note filled this quiet, twilit house so beautifully. I did it a few more times, from low to high and then I hit two keys at the same time and my mind was blown again. It was two sounds as one sound. It was magic and I could make it happen. I was hooked.”

Kroll picked up the guitar at 8 and then began a largely self-taught exploration of melody, harmony, and songs. “I hated lessons and just wanted to find a way to make music,” Kroll explains. It helped that he had very good influences. “My dad, who worked in advertising, had only two rock albums, Abbey Road and The Band. That and a steady diet of Django Reinhardt the Great American songbook and classical music were my musical foundation.”

When Kroll started writing songs in his early teens, he was steeped in the traditions of 60s and 70’s British rock and American singer-songwriters. “My bible was the Complete Beatles songbooks,” Kroll recalls. “They cover so many kinds of music, and the songs are just beautifully constructed. You can pretty much learn everything from them.”

Kroll studied American Culture at Northwestern and used the opportunity to really explore one of America’s greatest contributions to the world, Chicago Blues. “Now, you could look at my decision to write my thesis on fathers and sons blues singers in Chicago as a transparent attempt to legitimize my hanging out in blues bars in Chicago during my senior year in college,” Kroll laughs. “But I was going to hear every kind of music I could. So getting credit for some of it really helped.”

After playing in bands and writing continuously through high school and college, Kroll’s career as a singer/songwriter really took flight with a move to New York City in the early 90’s. He made three fine albums Nothing Blue, Ether County, and Salt and, maybe more importantly, he toured America, learning his stagecraft, finding himself, surviving the hard knock life. “It was all pretty great,” Kroll remembers. “I was on the road, driving around, seeing America and learning how to deal with having no money. I was on what I now fondly call the “Apple-a-Day” health insurance plan, eating wrong, and seeing and interacting with parts of the world that not everyone gets to see. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone necessarily. It’s one of those things that’s good to have done. Not necessarily good to do.”

In an effort to retain his essential connection to it, Michael decided to give up on the industry and simply focus on the music. In the intervening years, Kroll never ceased making new music or recording new songs. “At this point, these songs don’t belong to me so much as I belong to them; they have quite literally helped make me the musician I am,” Kroll explains. “So much of my journey has been about me learning to become a better instrument for this music.” That’s part of what makes Clamorous so compelling.

It has an electric effect on the listener. From the uplifting rush of its opener, “Blue,” to the folky jazz of “Crush,” to the rockin’ tango of “Drop,” it’s clear that Kroll’s time woodshedding and writing songs was put to masterful use. On it you’ll hear hints of the hushed, whispery mysticism of Nick Drake, the droll, dark wit of Richard Thompson and the warm soul strut of Van Morrison. A sprinkling of Radiohead and Peter Gabriel in the textures and rhythms. And in the distance, always, the Band and the Beatles. The disc has an accessible, widescreen production, the band is sympathetic and you will be sucked into this lyrical, sensual album like you might once have with Jackson Browne or John Martyn. “I’ve always really liked songs that hang together, that play off of one another and I think this is what my band and I did here. I’m very happy with it. As with the way ‘Blue,’ came together in the studio and the way ‘Soul of a Summer Day’ grooves.’ I think I’m singing better than I ever have on this album and that these are the best songs I’ve ever written.”

“My longtime producer, friend, and all-around musical genius Andy Green (John Cale, Lou Reed) has been with me all the way and that kind of history and sympathy between musical minds is just an awesome asset to any musical endeavor,” Kroll enthuses. “The band is just an amazingly soulful group of guys, Tony Mason (Joan Osborne, Norah Jones, Cyril Neville) on drums, my musical brother Matthew Lindsey on bass, and Kenny White (Marc Cohn, Shawn Colvin) played the Hammond B3 and Rhodes. I plan to hook up with them and do dates on both coasts, when we can work out the details. I’m looking forward to it. As good as the songs are, as always, it’s the musicians who inhabit them with me that make all the difference. The shows should be really special.” Given the results on record, he’s probably right.

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