How To Make A Mountain, And A Party
I was born before the hills,/before the arid playa,/when the iron was inside the rock,/before the heat transformed it sings Lys Guillorn on her new single, “How To Make A Mountain.” Waiting for the walls to cave in./Waiting for heaven to end.
Her proclamations are husky and sure, vibrating just a little at the end of every line. Julie Beman joins her on keyboard and vocals, their voices soaring over the track. As they do—Waiting for the walls to cave in, Waiting for heaven to end—banjo comes punctuates them clear as day, plunking out a few Americana phrases that feel right at home.
Saturday night, Guillorn brought those lyrics to Lyric Hall, where she and her band celebrated a split-single release album with No Line North. The release party, which featured Guillorn and her band (Peter Riccio on drums, and Eric Bloomquist on bass and Beman on keyboard and vocals), No Line North musicians Brian Slattery, John Leonard and Michael Kiefer, and opener Bill Beckett, drew close to 50 people to the Westville venue.
As attendees filtered in to Lyric Hall’s intimate performance space, Beckett opened the evening with a stage full of guitars, swapping them out every few numbers. Channeling not Guillorn’s rock tendencies or Schlesinger’s self-described “up-tempo, raucous rocker” of a song, he ushered the audience through a meditative pre-show, bestowing on them a mellow, electric christening before the main acts took the stage.
As he played on, the space began to fill up, attendees pulling out folding chairs and stretching out on the hall’s threadbare carpet and wood floor. Every so often, he would look up from his instruments into the audience, soaked in neon pinks from the stage. Five small, scalloped lights on the stage and glassy-eyed crowd, members still murmuring to each other, winked back.
Then Guillorn was up. As she launched into familiar material, members of the crowd swayed in their seats, a few sinking into lyrics they recognized. Toward the center of the room, a few friends of Guillorn’s—all fellow musicians—ushered attendees onto their feet.
Suddenly, it was a party, with serious head-bopping and dad-dancing unfolding in one part of the room. Guillorn went into “Boylesque,” off her album I’m A Boy, released earlier this year. Turning everything around,/is the specialty of the house nodded music writer Karen Ponzio from one side of the room, pushing close to the stage. As Guillorn wound down, she switched from guitar (a 1966 Gibson 120T) to a five-stringed banjo, the band playing on behind her.
“This is the new single,” she announced to cheers and applause from the audience. Then with a flourish of banjo, she slid into “How to Make A Mountain,” soaking the room in a story of nature retaking the world, undoing the damage that has been unleashed on the planet.
It’s her “Nothing But Flowers” moment, an environmental ballad that goes down easy, but is worth returning to many times over. “How to Make A Mountain” is wonderfully disarming, a song that comes on as cozy, folksy Americana but packs a much bigger punch. It’s not the first time Guillorn has gone there, and likely not the last, either.
But it is a first in a different way: Guillorn’s first time playing banjo with her band, on a recording. For an artist who spaces out her recordings (Guillorn did her first recording in 2003; the second was a decade later in 2013, and a third came earlier this year in March), maybe that’s surprising news — but it’s her guitar we’re used to hearing as listeners. This one, recorded at a friend’s home, sounds comfortable and urgent and new, even though she’s been playing banjo around town for years. And that’s the best of Guillorn — she knows exactly who she is, and where she’s going.
“This is to sort of mark this current moment in time,” she said in an interview before the party.
So too is No Line North’s “Dirty Holiday,” based on a 2015 New York Times article on American vigilantes fighting for ISIS. “I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Schlesinger said at the release, band members ready to play behind him. And so, he reached into his bag of rock-related tricks and scrounged around for a while.
What he has come up with is a piece that’s soaked in old-school rock, with a quick nod to Dinosaur, Jr. and lyrics that stick with you after the piece is over.
“In a word say go can't stop this feeling/oh the telling ways never been so inspired/to see the white of their eyes to send them way down low/ready set go gonna bring on a fight,” he sings, with pounding, propulsive drums from Kiefer in the background.
But the secret (or not-so-secret) weapon on the track is Brian Slattery, arts editor for the New Haven Independent and a musician with genre-bending groups across New Haven. Here, it’s Slattery’s fiddle that sheiks wildly at the beginning of the piece, taking a turn into schizophrenic territory by the end of the piece.
As the evening wound down, Slattery showed off those skills in one corner of the room, playing along with The Horseflies’ “Cluck Old Hen.” Outside in Lyric Hall’s bar, Schlesinger and Guillorn signed posters and albums that came with the price of attendees’ tickets. The two joked with audience members, the building filled with laughter long after the show had ended.
“It was a beautiful night,” Schlesinger said.