Album Review: Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt – Shadow of the Cyclone

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt

photo courtesy of Aaron Nathans

World Premiere of Nathans & Ronstadt’s New Music Video: “Strongman”

Before I dive into the review, Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog is pleased to have the honor of presenting the official premiere of the very-cool video for “Strongman.” It’s the newest video from Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt, featuring the song “Strongman” from their Shadow of the Cyclone album.

Album Review of Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt: Shadow of the Cyclone

You’ve read about Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt on these pages before. I was first introduced to this Philadelphia-Cincinnati duo just two years ago at a house concert in Massachusetts. With Nathans on guitar and Ronstadt on cello, these songwriter-storytellers are able to pave a surprisingly broad path through their part of the music world. On their website, they refer to themselves as “progressive folk,” and I’d be unable to improve upon that in two words or fewer, so I won’t try. From slow to uptempo, from cheerful to ominous to downright silly, their performances and songwriting are varied enough that you’ll find the time passing quickly, wondering where the next curve leads, whether you’re catching them live or enjoying their new album, Shadow of the Cyclone.

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt - Shadow of the Cyclone

image courtesy of Aaron Nathans

“Ghost Writer” kicks off the album with a sound reminiscent of the early ’70s, broad, open-sounding, big-festival folk music you used to hear on FM radio back when I was little kid. Almost-country folk, the storytellin’ kind. Indeed, a lot of the songs on Shadow of the Cyclone are “the storytellin’ kind.” It’s a lane Nathans & Ronstadt fill well, and for their skill at that alone, this would be a noteworthy disc. But they’re more versatile than that.

Nathans & Ronstadt throw a little silliness and a tad more energy our way on the fun, clever “Haunted House.” You know, I think the song’s concept could be the premise for a TV show. Someone get Netflix on the line!

“Strongman” is a bit dark and deep, at least initially, interspersed with lively music with a bit of a circus freakshow (or Coney Island, as referenced in the song) element, packaged into a neatly enjoyable bundle.

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt

photo courtesy of Aaron Nathans

There are many songs on Shadow of the Cyclone that couldn’t be performed without a cello. Notably, the opening to “My Only Leap,” which adds an ominous flavor that would be tough for more traditional duos – those without deep-sounding, bowed instruments that aren’t tucked under the chin, for example – to replicate.

Nathans & Ronstadt plumb the depths a little deeper on “I Go Low,” a deep-vocalled, thought-provoking barroom-swaying declaration of a song that’s a fun ride that really does… well, go low.

The sole cover on Shadow of the Cyclone is a booming rendition of Sting’s “Englishman in New York.” The duo played this when I saw them perform live, and I’m really glad they included it in this collection.

“Phantasmagoria” is an instrumental that explores Nathans’ & Ronstadt’s influences, ranging cohesively (somehow) from hillbilly to chamber music. “Just One Minute” contrasts its pleasantly moving-along rhythm with a lot of tension, which is introduced by tempo changes and instrumentation. “Come On Sun” blends elements of folk-country, mid-tempo Americana, and classic rock (notably, in the occasional distortion); a cool blend.

That’s not everything on the album, but I think you get the picture – really cool, varied stuff with originality you’ll continue to appreciate after eight dozen listens.

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt

photo courtesy of Aaron Nathans

Shadow of the Cyclone ends with “Carry a Tune,” an odd, side-to-side, toe-tapping swayer with well-placed harmonies and big, sweeping orchestration at times that suggests a panoramic view displayed on a motion picture screen. Covering a broad range, the song ends abruptly. Album over.

Coupling well-structured, thoughtful, traditional songwriting with crisp musicianship and booming vocals, then adding this duo’s instruments of choice, Nathans & Ronstadt have a sound that’s familiar but unique and difficult to replicate. That’s their calling card, and it’s the reason you should check out their music. Even if it’s not your go-to genre – it certainly isn’t mine – there’s a very good chance you’ll really dig this exceptionally talented duo’s music.

Aaron Nathans & Michael G. Ronstadt

photo courtesy of Aaron Nathans

Looking Ahead

You’ll find the duo’s live dates on the “Gigs” page of their website. There actually are a couple shows on the calendar at the moment. Don’t get too excited – the venues are doing online shows. But do get excited because they’ll be Nathans & Ronstadt shows. First is a Sunroom House Concert (Dover, DE) performance on March 13th; then a Linden Tree Coffeehouse (Wakefield, MA) gig on April 10th.

You can see each of them individually at performances listed on their individual websites. Per the “Gigs” page of Aaron’s website, he doesn’t have any solo performances scheduled. The “Shows” page of Michael’s website does list three Ronstadt Brothers gigs in mid-April.

Be sure to follow the duo’s and the individual artists’ websites for additional information and upcoming performances as they’re added.

Live Review: Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Nathans & Ronstadt

Upton House Concerts, Upton, MA

April 6, 2019

It has been about a year since I last attended an Upton House Concerts gig. As advertised, it’s a cozy event, like a gathering of friends in a living room. And the series has plenty of regular attendees, so in a way it is. And since this host of the series is a songwriter himself, the one thing I know about any artist invited to perform as part of the series is that he or she will be outstanding songwriters. Or, as in this case, they. Aaron Nathans and Michael Ronstadt.

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Guitarist Nathans and cellist Ronstadt perform a unique style of song-driven folk music. Unique, yes, because all people are unique in their own ways. But that’s not what I mean, of course. Unique because you don’t often hear a guitar and cello duo.

Early in the first set, the duo performed a wistful song about “Old Film,” a tune that lyrically paints a vivid picture, while the cello adds a rich warmth. Also noteworthy early on were the energetic day-in-the-life song “Doing the Best I Can” and “Take My Words,” a song whose cello part can best be described as blues cello. (Really.)

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

After a crowdpleasing cover of “Englishman in New York,” Nathans & Ronstadt rolled out the rich, warm, energetic, Americana-esque toe-tapper “Corners.”

Next up was perhaps the angriest, darkest song I’ve ever heard about a peanut allergy, “Turncoat Peanut.” I can only assume Tom Lehrer was channeled during the writing of this song.

And yet there was no letdown as the first set closed with “I Go Low” and “Conshohocken Curve,” the latter a song about breaking up while stuck on the often backed-up Philadelphia-area freeway segment.

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Ronstadt switched to mandolin to kick off the first couple of tracks of set two, bringing a new sound to the duo for “Ghost Writer” and “If I Had an Axe.”

After a power and intense mid-section of the set (during which I was paying such attention I didn’t even think to take detailed notes), the second set continued with “Range Anxiety,” a story-song built around electric car battery life (range anxiety), a great tension-building tune with verses reminiscent stylistically of the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl.”

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Next up was a nostalgic tune about confiding in your barber, “Old Joe’s Chair.” And the evening closed with a powerfully rockin’, heavy prog-folk reimagining of “All Along the Watchtower.”

In all, it was a fun evening with a pair of engaging characters, a couple great songwriters both lyrically and musically, and a duo of talented musicians. Those six people were, of course, just two. Aaron Nathans and Michael Ronstadt. Absolutely a pair of people worth spending an evening with musically.

Looking Ahead

Nathans & Ronstadt at Upton House Concerts

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Upton House Concerts have completed this season. Watch their Facebook page again later this year for next season’s schedule.

Nathans & Ronstadt have several gigs listed for the rest of this year on the gigs page of their website, though the only two shows currently listed before the end of the summer are June 8th in Phoenixville, PA, at the Black Walnut Winery Tasting Room & Wine Bar and July 19th in Lansdowne, PA, at Jamey’s House of Music. Obviously, check back to see if they add additional shows to their schedule.

Also check the individual, solo websites for Aaron Nathans and Michael G. Ronstadt to learn about some of their other musical endeavors.