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Rio Neon Serves Up Coffee Love

Party at Kent Stage on Sunday Celebrates New CD Release

Kent band Rio Neon is throwing a party this Sunday, and you're invited. 

The reason for the celebration is the release of the group’s second CD, Coffee Love. At their concert this Sunday at the Kent Stage, the band will play the new effort in its entirety, along with other favorites and some holiday tunes.

Rio Neon’s music incorporates elements of country, folk, swing, jazz and bluegrass. In other words, it’s a marketer’s nightmare.  The band simply refers to its sound as “folk jazz,” and that’s an apt moniker. 

“It is hard to categorize what we do, and that’s both a blessing and a curse,” said Red Michel, guitarist and vocalist. “We go from Cab Calloway meets Ray Charles to the Eagles meets Manhattan Transfer. We’ve been compared to all of those acts. So to us it’s just folk jazz. It’s old things done well and new things twisted.”

In addition to Michel, the band includes Sally Kandel (vocals and ukulele), Roger Phillips (vocals, guitar and mandolin), Bob Smith (bass) and percussionist Jim Koozer. Koozer is the newest member of the band, having joined after the recording of Coffee Love.

The group has been together for 10 years, which is quite a feat for any band. Their first recording, Midnight Surprise, came out in 2006. The new set features  a mix of traditional tunes, originals and select covers such as Bob Dylan’s The Wicked Messenger.  Many of the songs have been a part of the band’s live repertoire for a while. A few remind me of the laid back swing of Dan Hicks, who they’ve opened for at the Kent Stage, and that’s a good thing in my book.

Whip Me Up Something, penned by local songwriter Tim Wallace, is one of the best of the bunch, featuring some humorous double entendres. Another of my favorites is Centerpiece, a cover of a Lambert, Hendricks and Ross tune that allows the vocalists to shine.

The CD’s 12 tracks feature a number of complex and challenging harmonies, which they navigate quite well. Local musician, photographer and Kent Patch blogger Brad Bolton recorded, mixed and mastered the disc.

Coffee Love also includes a couple of bonus tracks, or “seasonal beverages” as the band refers to them. North Pole Jamboree, which was first heard on WKSU’s Ornaments and Icing program in 2006, is an up tempo swing number, and all of the vocalists take turns on A Kiss for New Year’s Eve, a fun plea to Santa for some holiday romance.

Coffee Love is a fine representation of Rio Neon’s music – distinctly American and rooted in folk and string band traditions. I look forward to hearing the tunes in a live setting, where I expect they will flourish.

Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. show at the Kent Stage is free, though a $5 donation is suggested, with all of the proceeds going to the Kent Stage. Michel is grateful for what the venue means to the city.

“They’ve been good to us and other local musicians and obviously to downtown, bringing thousands of people to Kent every month,” Michel said. “We feel it’s the jewel of Kent.”

In a nod to the CD’s title, free coffee from local shops will be available at Sunday’s event, along with gifts, games, drawings and surprises.

“It’s not just a concert, it’s a party,” Michel said. “It will be a lot of fun.”

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