Rhythm Road performs in The Sound Room at WEEU, 830 AM in Reading, PA.
- JoAnn Morrell Songwriter, lead and harmony vocals, guitar, bass
- Ernie Morrell Keyboard, harmonica
- Mike Fleming Saxophone
- Henry Patterson Drums, percussion
- Don Consul Vocals, guitar and bass
Rhythm Road will mark its 10th anniversary at Landhaven
Thursday April 30, 2015 12:01 AM
By Don Botch
JoAnn Morrell followed a nontraditional path to singer-songwriter.
At the point when many musicians are thinking about winding down, Morrell was just starting up.
“I’ve always sung at home,” the 60-year-old leader of the local band Rhythm Road said during an interview last week. “I’ve been listening to music my whole life and singing my whole life, but never really in public, so when I first started, my parents – everybody – was like, ‘We didn’t know she could sing.’ ”
Sing she can. And sing she will on Saturday night when Rhythm Road presents its 10th anniversary show at its favorite venue, Landhaven Bed & Breakfast in Huff’s Church.
It’s the place the band feels most at home, maybe because of its proximity to where it all started for Morrell 14 years ago, when she first met up with the people who would become her band mates at the weekly Barto Jams. Or maybe because Landhaven is a place where most everybody who has ever visited has felt at home.
“That’s our big show (every spring),” Morrell said, “and it’s so lovely, because it’s a real listening room. It’s really about the music there.”
“It’s very sweet, and there’s only a few places like that around,” added her husband, Ernie, who plays keyboards and harmonica in the band.
It’s almost as if the Morrells have to pinch themselves, not only because they’ve had the chance to make beautiful music together for the past decade, but because they get to perform it in a place they admire so much.
JoAnn Morrell was in her mid-40s when, inspired by friends who were in a band and seemed to be having fun, she decided to give singing a try.
A yoga instructor, she started out with chanting because she found that to be “a little less intimidating,” and before long she was showing up regularly at the Barto Hotel and getting onstage, which felt right.
“(Bob) Dylan’s son said he just got used to having cords all over the living room floor as he was growing up, and it just became normal,” Morrell said. “It was sort of like that (for me). It became more normalized, and I saw what it took and I thought, ‘Wow, that looks like fun. I’m going to try that.’ ”
Before long, she moved from performing covers to also writing her own material, drawing inspiration from the creative community surrounding her in eastern Berks County. And through those Barto Jams, she met Donna and Ed Land, proprietors of Landhaven, who invited Rhythm Road to perform in 2006.
“The took a chance on us, really,” Ernie Morrell said.
The band released a CD, “Rhythm To Burn,” in 2009, and JoAnn Morrell has continued writing new material ever since, some of which she performed last week in a Sound Room session at WEEU 830 AM that’s posted with this article at readingeagle.com.
The songs run the gamut from folk to jazz to blues to pop and arrive from all sorts of places. “Rhythm To Burn,” for instance, came to her in a dream and has an ethereal feel, while “Autumn and the Oak” personifies fall’s fleeting beauty.
“Jamboree,” meanwhile, is a foot-stomper inspired by Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail that gets people moving even if they’ve never heard it before.
“It’s neat when there’s a song that something like that happens,” Morrell said.
The band plans to mix in some covers Saturday that, like Morrell’s originals, span the genres. The set list includes songs by Traffic, Roseanne Cash, Tom Brown and Nickel Creek, to name a few, plus several medleys, such as one that transitions from “Fever,” made famous by Peggy Lee, into Bruce Springsteen’s “The Fever.”
“The Bruce Springsteen one we’ve done since day one, and I still never get tired of it,” Morrell said. “It’s a great song.”
Adding to the night’s allure will be a trio of special guests whom Ernie Morrell called “genius musicians”: Ken Gehret on violin and dobro; Matt Consul on violin, viola and mandolin; and Chelsea Consul Brooks on vocals.
“This viola and violin thing – we’re going to have a string section – I’m really looking forward to that,” JoAnn Morrell said.
The Consuls are the adult children of Rhythm Road guitarist and bassist Don Consul, whose vocal harmonies add an interesting dimension to the band’s sound, and whose sense of humor keeps things loose.
“Don really matches me phrasing-wise, which I really like,” Morrell said. “That’s not easy to do. He’s a good listener/harmony singer.”
Rounding out the group are a couple of other busy local musicians, Mike Fleming (Rockman Blues Band, Magic Touch) on sax and Henry Patterson (Exeter Community Band, Swing Fever, Magic Touch) on percussion and vocals.
To a person, they agreed that the Landhaven listening room, a converted 19th century general store with wooden floors, pillars and shelves lining the walls, is an instrument unto itself, like an old guitar with a tone that deepens and mellows with age.
“We all love playing there,” Morrell said. “It’s our favorite venue. It really is a magical room.”
Contact Don Botch: 610-371-5055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.