For the last few years I’ve been asked to listen to (and vote on) submissions to the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk contest. I sample as many of the 600+ submissions. This year I made it through over 400 of them. Some were marvelous; some raised the question “what were they thinking”. The rating scale was from 0 to 8. Of course, most fell in the middle. The judging was blind. I really wanted to know the names behind the songs I really liked and hear more from the songwriter.
This led me to Rhode Island singer-songwriter Mike Laureanno and this CD. Unlike the other artists who made my “7” or “8” list, TWO of the tracks from this CD were submitted by the artist and got my high rating. First up was the track “ Dig A Little Deeper” with the mantra “When times get tough, dig a little deep”. Long after the recording stops, you’ll find this phrase stuck in your head. The other was the albums closer : “Brother Leonard (for Leonard Cohen)”. Laureanno, plays tribute to the late Canadian songwriter is tender song. Laureanno is obviously a huge Cohen fan because he refers to the Canadian in another track “Comfort of an Old Friend” – in the notes on the press sheet.
I really like the singer’s voice. It is soothing and all the lyrics can be heard. It appears two of his brothers are here too since the last name Laureanno appears three times in the musician list.
The CD is self-released and the physical disc is packed in a simple cardboard digipak with just a photo and credits and nothing more. It is noted that the lyrics are on his website and encourage you to read them.
I’m glad I got to discover Laureanno and look forward to more of his music.
Noteworthy Indie Music review of "Tightrope" by Byron William February 2, 2017 Mike Laureanno is a folk artist hailing from Fall River, MA. In May 2017 Mike won the Wildflower, TX songwriting contest and in May 2016, he was both a finalist in the Kerrville New Folk competition and a winner of the Woody Guthrie songwriting contest. Along with that, two of Mike’s songs have reached the number one spot on Neil Young’s “Living with War Today” website. Mike has released three albums to date: ‘Pushing Back Wintertime (2013)’, ‘Road Signs (2015)’ and his newest ‘Tightrope,’ released this year. The lineup on ‘Tightrope,’ is Mike’s brothers, Frank Laureanno on bass and Tom Laureanno on Cajon Drums joined by Cathy Clasper-Torch, Cello and Fiddle and Tom Duval, electric guitar. Mike sings lead vocals, acoustic guitar and piano. Tightrope, an 11-track album, was produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Mike Laureanno at his home studio in Providence, RI. The first song off of his new album is the title track, “Tightrope.” The song kicks off with gorgeous melodic guitar riffs/arpeggios accompanied by an up-tempo drum bass and steady bass line. The arrangement of the song is engaging and speaks volumes about Mike’s talent as a musician. As the first verse begins, Mike vocals come in displaying a crystal clear tone that allows his songwriting to shine as you are able to understand each and every word he sings. Laced throughout the song are acoustic guitar riffs, nice harmonies and beautiful strings. Inspired by the famous French high wire walker, Philippe Petit, who released a dove mid-air as a symbol of peace to an inspired crowd, “Tightrope” is a stand-out song about compromise and balance and rising above the crowds for peace. In the chorus Mike sings,“Humanity a symphony. Rise above religion and race. The give and take a tightrope makes. Meet in the middle in peace,”bringing the theme of peace to life with descriptive poetry.
Another very moving song on the album is “Brother Leonard” which is a tribute to the late Leonard Cohen who was one of the finest poets and songwriters of our time. The song opens with a solemn piano line accompanied by a finger-style guitar playing. The slower style of this song brings out a softer, shimmering quality in Mike’s voice. Throughout this ballad, Mike breezes through entrancing melodies with a simple and gorgeous arrangement. With lines like, “There’ll be caviar and an open bar when you pass through that door and enter the Tower of Song. A glass of Bordeaux, a Marlboro, You'll be coughing with Hank Williams till dawn,” this song encapsulates the essence of Leonard Cohen through a music experience that seems nostalgic. There is no doubt that Cohen would be pleased with this haunting and honest tribute that is filled with gratitude, respect, fine musicianship and delivered with an emotional performance. “Shine a Light on Washington” is another favorite. This political song has up-tempo energy that livens up the CD. As Mikes tells it, his 90- year old mother-in-law would sit at her desk and write letters to congress. She called her participation, “Shining a light on Washington.” With a great beat, this song kicks off with a unique sound as we are swept away with intricate acoustic guitar lines and electric bass. Ramped up with political commentary influenced by the recent women’s march in Washington, Mike sings“Hear the marchin' in Washington. A million women up in arms. Don't need opinion polls to know right from wrong. Or a choke hold to show whose strong.” “Shine a Light on Washington” truly shines a light with lyrics that go beneath the surface as Mike keenly observes our political landscape with bold lyrics and a catchy tune to back them up. Mike Laureanno’s songs offer story-telling based on his own raw, real world experiences enabling him to share personal messages from a place of depth and empathy. “Dig a Little Deeper” is about surviving hard times, overcoming hardship and gratitude. Mike’s grandfather was out of work in the great depression and was forever grateful when he landed a job working for the W.P.A. Mike reminisces about these times, sending a message of hope. In the first verse he sings,“When I think of my old granddad in the cotton mills as a boy. A twelve hour day at a lunch-pail wage in torn overalls.” He then follows up in the chorus by singing,“When times get tough, dig a little deeper. Never give up, dig a little deeper.” The chorus is catchy with the refrain “dig a little deeper” sung after each phrase inviting folks to sing-a-long and be uplifted. To say that the track to this song is tender is understated; it has a delicate texture with moving strings and Mike sings it with intense grace and humility as if he is singing directly to his grandparents bringing tears to the eyes.
Tightrope is a wonderful accomplishment that delivers songs that are raw yet polished, delicate yet powerful; there are songs that take a stand and songs that gently and delicately stand down to pay tribute. It is a rich album that tells stories full of emotion, grace and gratitude filled with keen observation as each song carries a personal aspect of Mike bringing you closer to him as an artist and making his music highly relatable.
Rhode Island Motif Magazine review of “Pushing Back Wintertime” January 24, 2014 by Don DiMuccio
At its basic core, a well-written song should be able to transport the listener from out of the here and now, and into the songwriter’s state of conscience. Much like a movie or a good book, a song with an end goal that transcends mere entertainment value often allows us to live in far-off times while re-examining our own reality, if only for three minutes. And while taking in Pushing Back Wintertime, the new release from gifted folk artist Mike Laureanno, I was almost immediately plucked from the claptrap of our plugged-in / always-on world to a simpler America, where an honest survival reigned most important to everyday life. Rhode Island’s Mike Laureanno is truly a multi-talented Renaissance man who wears the hats of singer, songwriter, producer, engineer and musician with equal proficiency. He combines a gentle, experienced voice reminiscent of Tom Chapin, with the potent penchant for storytelling like Harry Chapin. In all the positive praise he’s garnered over the years, one word seems to be repeated in describing his body of work: poignant. And the 12 tracks that make up Pushing Back Wintertime are ripe with poignant themes and heartfelt imagery that allow the listener to experience a slice of Americana through the eyes of the quintessential everyman. Not always the America of apple pie and spacious skies mind you, but often the one of abandoned factories and abandoned souls left in its wake. Those whose American dream somehow passed them by. Yet through it all, Laureanno’s everyman endures with pride intact. One such character is illustrated in the track “Joe,” a victim of his times and circumstances, who now plays music for passersby at bus stations. “Joe is holding court at the bus depot, buskin and dancing, strumming on an old banjo. On the flip-side of luck, Brother can you spare a buck?” Though many writers would succumb to the temptation of injecting indignation, railing against society for allowing such injustice, Laureanno takes a softer stance by offering up a sliver of humanity: “... time in jail is warm, three hots and a cot — The sergeant knows his name, slips him some change.” “Have Mercy On The Sinner” is a wry look at the flesh failings of purported pious men of the cloth, through the recounting of three Catholic school teachers. Rather than a grandiose indictment, Laureanno uses simple imagery to illustrate man’s mortal imperfections: “They took a vow, there were no women, but there was plenty of red wine — Was Father Wolf ever forgiven when he hanged himself at Christmastime?” One of my favorites in the collection is “Little Red-Winged Blackbirds,” an uptempo number that references the still unexplained phenomenon of 5,000 birds mysteriously dropping out of the skies above Beebe, Arkansas, on New Year’s Eve a few years ago. Mike Laureanno juxtaposes this event to the death toll of American military serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Little red-winged blackbirds falling from the sky – Five thousand blackbirds, but the true count’s classified — Roosting in the willows, preened lean and fit — Five thousand blackbirds, with their bright red epaulets.” There is more humanity in Mike Laureanno's lyrics and empathy in his voice than most folksingers. He is destined to be one of Rhode Island’s greatest treasures, and I hope to be engaged by his work for many years to come.
Remo Ricaldone review of “Pushing Back Wintertime” January 2014
Mike Laureanno is a man of many talents: singer, songwriter, producer, sound engineer, guitarist and bass player. He played for many years with the legendary Jack Hardy, guiding light of the folk revival in New York starting in the Seventies. When it comes to his own work, however, this is Mike's debut album.
Pushing Back Wintertime is a thoughtful, balanced album, sung with a warm, melodious voice and composed with great attention to the melodic aspects. Twelve songs in which he weaves a tapestry of emotions, intellectual honesty and autobiographical reminiscences on the wave of a folk sound sometimes tinged with bluegrass or country & western.
Let Go is a touching tribute to the unforgettable Jack Hardy, a melancholy but also acutely perceptive reminder of how talent is not always recognized; Have Mercy On The Sinner is an ironic flashback to certain religious teachings received as a boy; Little Red-Winged Blackbirds shows a journalistic flair and excellent vocal blend; Summer's Gone plays up its enjoyable bluegrass assonance with a nice arrangement of fiddle and mandolin; The Garden is a profound reflection on growing up and loss of innocence; Gold Rush takes us back to the west in the 19th century while The Avenuers is once again played around childhood memories.
These and others make this debut album by Mike Laureanno thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. Currently a resident of Rhode Island, as a musician he could be compared to other excellent songwriters like David Mallett or Chuck Pyle, with whom he shares the same inventiveness and grace.