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Rosa Chance Well


Cincinnati CityBeat

My favorite new record of the moment is the better-late-than-never debut of Rosa Chance Well, a girl-boy duo that bloomed in 1996 as part of the Boston-via-Washington, D.C.'s Art Monk Construction scene. The stunningly intimate self-titled acoustic-based album is a wonderful melancholy creeper of a CD, rich in fragile melodies and pulsating dark cocktail Jazz explorations. While the playful, seductively aloof voice of Vanessa Downing and multi-instrumentalist Dean Taormina first lured me in with their soft acoustic side, the album really got under my skin when it starts to heat up and buzz, rolling out a sonic space that reminded me of Television founder Tom Verlaine's Warm and Cool solo album from 1992. Guests Gavin McCarthy and Jeff Goddard of Karate and Chris Brokaw of Come electrify these richer passages, laying down a smoky vibe that simply sizzles. One cover track is featured -- a dark, haunting take on Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising," deliciously minimal and delicate. The Kimchee Records label has now issued this delicious lost nugget of highbrow Pop, and highly recommended to fans of early Suzanne Vega, Mary My Hope, Mazzy Star and Tarnation. (John M. James)


Delusions of Adequacy

File Under: Lush, atmospheric pop.
RIYL: The Spinanes, Bettie Serveert, Velvet Underground.

Oh god. So hard to type with my arms wrapped around a pair of speakers. At first this whole piece was just one long sentence, rambling and rambling, page after page, about what a fantastic discovery this record was. I could barely bring myself to stop the disc long enough to write coherently. I tried to whittle the review down to a manageable length. Really, I tried. But what could I possibly remove without cheating the reader? You need to know how great this record is, and in how many ways.

The truth is that I've developed a little crush on Rosa Chance Well.

The easy way out is to make the obvious comparisons: Rosa Chance Well displays a similarity to The Spinanes, both in arrangement (although RCW relies on more standard chord structures), and in singer Vanessa Downing's resemblance, vocally, to Rebecca Gates; the pop shimmer of the track "We Wore Long Sleeves" sounds for all the world like a Belle & Sebastian tune being sung by Heavenly. "And So Then Were We" builds a groove reminiscent of Bettie Serveert; a fascinating, minimalist cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" evinces a trace of Cat Power. But where Chan Marshall seems to evoke preciousness for preciousness' sake, Vanessa Downing inhabits her voice far more comfortably. If she wavers in her delivery, it's only in relation to the mood of the lyric-never simply for the effect of seeming frail. Downing's voice is always confident and secure.

And yes, sexy. There. I've said it.

The album opens with a small, gorgeous song called "A Wonderful Life," which slips in under the sound of clinking tableware and coffeehouse chatter, riding one chord for a long time, while Downing sings lightly: "From afar, cross my heart / you were sent by the stars / valentine, be mine / we will have a wonderful life." And as a second guitar joins in with a gentle lead that mimics Downing's vocal melody, it's impossible not to develop a crush on her. When that single chord finally shifts, and she sings "and it's all right, with you in this world / and I'm all right, with you now," I was sure that she was singing just to me, and my heart swelled right along with the guitars.

The second song jolted me out of my reverie, beginning as it does with the single fuzzy bleat of an electric guitar (an audio statement that perhaps says 'not so fast there, you moony-eyed dolt.'), which then retreated in favor of a slinky bass line and jangly, reverb-y guitar. When Downing sings "It's dark as hell / deep in the well spring / silver echoes from where gravity let go," I begin to lose myself in how pretty it all is... then after a verse or two Dean Taormina's fuzzy guitar sneaks back in, reminding me not to get too close... oh, but then it mixes with that chiming guitar, the drums course up in the mix, and Downing starts in with the wordless crooning chorus... how can I resist a chorus of ba-ba-ba's? And yes, definitely, I am completely in love. I'm sorry. I can't help myself. On behalf of critics everywhere, I apologize for this appalling lack of professionalism.

But the whole record is truly a dreamy delight, filled as it is with a constantly shifting and surging bed of atmospheric guitar washes and anchored by subtle, low frequency bass (played mostly by Taormina but provided in places by Jeff Goddard of Boston band Karate), and consistently strong lyrics. Elsewhere on the album, Gavin McCarthy (also of Karate) and Chris Brokaw (of Come) offer further instrumental assistance - on drums and guitar, respectively.

And here is where I can't really edit my remarks for readability. Caught up as I was in the mood of this album, this is as close as I can get to deciphering my own scrawled notes, taken while I was in the throes of hugging my stereo and pretending it was Rosa Chance Well: at the end of the record, "Drink Drank Sunk" begins with a halting voice and barely-there guitar, and you don't even notice that it's building, building and building, adding elements in the subtlest of ways, still building, and then oh my god, this whole gorgeous waterwall of sound comes crashing over you about three-fourths of the way through, and you feel like you're swimming submerged in these ringing guitars and perfect little snare hits... and then just as quickly the water recedes, the instruments begin to fade, and you want nothing more than to keep floating there until they all come back... but they don't come back. The song ends. A new one begins. You notice that it's the last song on the record. How could eleven songs have gone by so quickly? You think about backing up, listening to that last one again, because oh god, how calming that gentle voice feels, but then this one, "Bell's Inn," seems to have something pretty amazing going on, a slide guitar that recalls Mazzy Star for a minute before it gives way to a plaintive trumpet solo. And you think, a trumpet solo? Where did that come from? But then the slide guitar is back, just for a moment, and then it's only a guitar and Vanessa Downing's voice, and she's singing to you: "And this is the end / of a night at Bell's Inn / you come and you go, will you come back again? / 'There's another one down the road,' she said." And the record ends.

You're in love; you're coasting on it. And you have no choice but to start the record up again.

- Scout


Splendid E-zine

Sometimes bands are just like romantic relationships. Who hasn't had friends who date someone for a while, then part ways, then get back together, then take a break, then reunite again? The vital question in this situation would be, "Is the timing right at last?" In the case of Rosa Chance Well, the answer would be a resounding "Yes".

After playing together in Samuel, which broke up six years ago, Dean Taormina and Vanessa Downing tried to keep it all together by forming Rosa Chance Well. After only one live show, they moved on. Downing band-hopped from The Good Furies to The Wicked Farleys for a stint, and then hooked up again with Taormina. This time around, the two have something to show for all the years they've worked together.

Opening with a simple, quiet song ("A Wonderful Life"), Rosa Chance Well evokes thoughts of an open-mic night at which they're the only performers who are actually any good, tossing off a simple song to blow away all the covers by Dave Matthews zealots or Jewel-alikes. As the disc moves along, the band uses distorted guitars, whistling and a random sound effect here and there to create an album where melody is supreme, and Downing's voice is given free reign to impress with its straight-forward style.

Although it has been covered by such varied acts as the bluegrass band The Seldom Scene and Cajun singer Queen Ida, CCR's "Bad Moon Rising" is once again reworked here -- this time in a moody style reminiscent of Cat Power's cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction". Both of those originals had a happy, hopeful feel, in sharp contrast to their lyrics. Here we have a more literal interpretation. Moody lyrics. Moody music. In many ways, it works better.

Rosa Chance Well occasionally throws in an upbeat song. "We Wore Long Sleeves" is one of them, and it helps to give the record a bit of balance. You can't be mournful all the time -- unless your name happens to be Morrisey.

I don't know what plans Taormina and Downing have for, say, a year from now, but if we're lucky, these two will stick together. Why ruin a good thing?

-- Amy Leach


Weekly Dig

Something like a local version of Mazzy Star, Rosa Chance Well are, so far, the only people who've managed to make a Creedence Clearwater Revival song actually listenable to me (this would be their ultra-creepy version of "Bad Moon Rising"). They use sparse instrumentation, and seem to favor acoustic guitars to the electric kind (most of the time), but they still have an ethereal presence that the Dirty Three would love to nab. Featuring Vanessa Downing (formerly of the Wicked Farleys) and Dean Taormina, the duo sound like they could make moping the national pastime. It's not that their music is depressing, but there's a definite deep blue funk flowing through the songs. For some reason, it's hard for me to relate to a female singer; maybe it's the over-saturation of Madonna and her wannabes in the media for the past 20 years, maybe it's the insincerity I find in the whole Lilith Fair vibe. Downing made me forget all that and allowed me for once to actually enjoy what I've been missing. This is the kind of album you put on your stereo, plug in the headphones and lie on the floor crying to for hours.

--Amanda Nichols



Mmmmmm...tasty. Mighty tasty stuff. As much as we have tried, we cannot come up with any appropriate comparisons. Rosa Chance Well is the duo of Vanessa Downing (formerly a member of The Wicked Farleys) and Dean Taormina. The duo possesses a great many traits that are usually absent in modern pop acts. Specifically we find these elements to be (1) a wonderful sense of melody, (2) great lyrics, (3) superb vocals, and (4) an admirable lack of restraint. Regarding element #4, we have become oh-so-tired indeed of all the unnecessarily overproduced crap that comes down the pipeline lately. And it is always so obvious to us that all the overproduction is usually to hide the fact that there is nothing inside. There is a hearty meatball to be found hiding inside the juicy red center of Rosa Chance Well. And if you are industrious enough to obtain a copy of the CD and give it a spin you will see just what we mean. These folks are genuinely and truly talented. But what makes them even more engaging is the fact that they aren't trying too hard (another common stumbling block for many new artists). Fabulous tunes like "A Wonderful Life" and "And So Then Were We" make this disc a fantastic listen. Most intriguing. (Rating: 5)


The Boston Globe

Dynamic debut
By Jonathan Perry, Globe Correspondent, 05/17/2001

Singer-guitarist Vanessa Downing of the duo Rosa Chance Well is talking about the only critic who matters.

"When my mother told me how much she liked the record, it was like... I don't care if every review we get is bad because this is the highest honor."

The album that got the big thumb's up is Rosa Chance Well's self-titled debut, just released by Ipswich-based Kimchee Records (

Rosa Chance Well is a mostly spare, melancholic affair, with songs of darkening days ("Winter Chronicles") and drifting regret ("Drink Drank Sunk") carried on currents of quiet guitar and Downing's hushed vocals.

"We weren't trying to make any big statement or anything - we were just trying to write good pop songs," says multi-instrumentalist Dean Taormina, the other half of the duo. But there's something spooky going on in their music.

Although officially a twosome, Rosa Chance Well adds drummer Gavin McCarthy (who plays with the Boston post-punk band Karate) into the mix when playing live. In fact, the CD includes contributions from McCarthy, Karate bass player Jeff Goddard, and Come guitarist Chris Brokaw. Some of them may attend the band's CD-release party tonight at the Middle East Upstairs.

Downing promises a few surprises in her act. No wonder, coming from somebody who, on the album, covers Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" as PJ Harvey might. In Downing's hands, the song is a stripped-to-the-bone warning that makes explicit the apocalyptic vision at the heart of CCR's rollicking party classic.

Downing and Taormina first played together in Samuel, a Washington, D.C., punk-pop group that disbanded in 1995. The pair then moved to Boston and began writing songs as Rosa Chance Well - initially spelled Rosa Chantswell. Downing had named her old acoustic guitar Rosa, but neither duo member claims to know how the name took hold, or why. When Kimchee Records's Andy Hong offered to record a couple of songs in his studio for free, and then misspelled the band's name on the recording reels, the new spelling stuck.

Downing and Taormina were surprised when Hong asked them if they had any more original tunes. They were even more surprised when he offered to put the batch out as an album.

"I'm still kind of freaked out that there is an audience beyond Dean and myself," Downing says.


Collected Sounds

Debuting band Rosa Chance Well sound folksy and intimate on their album. Vanessa Downing's voice is beautiful and capable of wonderful things. She takes the already good songs and makes them even better.

The cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon rising" is a treat, dripping with suggestive menace and seductive loveliness. "Drink Drank Sunk" is a powerful tale of the downside of drinking.

It's an album that enchants the listener.

-- Anna Maria Stjarnell



From Washington DC do they it with two, Vanessa Downing voice and guitar and Dean Toarmina, bass, guitar and percussion. The songs are a mixture from lo-fi songs, and tracks that the native from Washington DC betray. It must be, if you get the help from Jeff Goddard and Gavin McCarty from Karate and Chris Browak from Come.

So you get songs as "there's nothing left to spend" and "And so then were we" were those guy's are playing with and what results in a jazzy, post rock feeling, as well as emo core influences. Those songs (the two mentioned are not the only one) are lesser fragile, and the playing (structures) are better worked out. The "solo" tunes are melodic lo-fi songs, like "Parasol, Kites and Embers", "A Wonderful life" and "The kingdom" with the pleasure voice from Vanessa in the main roll, and where they use regular the singing together and humming in the chorus.

The songs they write are good, and the variation on the record is big. Certainly a "grow" album that is worth a try if you are into the mentioned genres.

Vanuit Washington DC, doen ze het met twee, Vanessa Downing zang en gitaar en Dean Toarmina, bas, gitaar en percussie. De nummers zijn een mengeling van lo-fi songs en nummers die de afkomst van Washington DC verraden. Kan ook niet anders als je de hulp krijgt van Jeff Goddard en Gavin McCarty van Karate en Chris Browak van Come.

Zo krijg je nummers als "there's nothing left to spend" en "And so then were we" waar deze gasten op meespelen en die een jazzy, post-rock, en natuurlijk ook een emo, gevoel creëren. Deze nummers (en er staan er nog wel een paar op) zijn minder breekbaar, en zijn qua uitvoering en opbouw meer uitgewerkt. De "solo" songs zijn melodieze lo-fi nummers, zoals "Parasol, Kites and Embers", "A Wonderful life" en "The kingdom" met de fragiele stem van Vanessa in de hoofdrol, en waar in de refreinen veel gebruik wordt van samenzang en geneurie.

De songs die ze schrijven zijn goed, de variatie op de plaat groot. Zeker een groei plaat die het waard is uit te proberen als je het wat hebt met aangehaalde genres.


Guia del Ocio de Barcelona

Frágil pero sólido. Con la ayuda de Gavin McCarthy (Karate) o Chris Brokaw (ex Come), el dúo que forman Vanessa Downing y Dean Taormina entrega un disco de debut que seduce, intriga y enamora. Canciones sobre días terriblemente lánguidos y noches tensas en las que ni el marido ni la mujer encuentran postura para dormir. (Juan Manuel Freire)


Soul Food

Alzi la mano chi si ricorda dei Samuel. Al solo nominare il loro secondo ed ultimo 7'' ("Empty And Then Some", Art Monk Construction, 1995) vengo sbalzato indietro verso un’epoca irripetibile e ricordi indelebili, verso alcune delle fondamenta di quello che sono ora. Ma i Samuel si sono sciolti presto, porco cane, e quell’album che non ho mai capito se fosse previsto davvero o solo nei miei sogni non è mai uscito. Rosa Chance Well è un duo, composto da Dean Taormina e Vanessa Downing, che dei Samuel era l’incredibile voce. Coadiuvati qua e là da Chris Brokaw (Come) e dalla magica drum’n’bass line Gavin McCarthy/Jeff Goddard (Karate, bestie!) realizzano undici calme canzoni elettroacustiche dal grande fascino, ora tenebrose (la splendida cover di "Bad Moon Rising" dei Creedence Clearwater Revival su tutte) ora solari ("We Wore Long Sleeves" per esempio, che mi ricorda i primi 10000 Maniacs), ora inevitabilmente karateggianti ("And So There Were We"). Bello, bello.

posted by Soul Mate #65


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