Record label, Asbury Wax Cylinder Recordings, recently announced the launch of Carl Chesna & Co.’s first full-length album, entitled Prayer to the Black Madonna — a retrospective record that is part alterna-folk, part Americana, and ultimately all rock ‘n’ roll. Reminiscent of John Mellencamp, The Pretenders, REM, and Tom Petty, the band and album capture a contemporary sound influenced by the Asbury Park lifestyle and music scene.
“Carl Chesna goes deep in a world where everything is 15 seconds,” said Jon Leidersdorff — owner of Lakehouse Music and founder of Asbury Park Music Foundation. “I was incredibly impressed by his ability to connect so many themes to one large idea. Truly an album, and true art from his experience. Carl does it for all the right reasons.”
In addition to lead singer and guitarist, Chesna, other notable album contributors include two-time Grammy winner Tom Ruff of Asbury Media, Keith McCarthy of Sunday Blues, Chris Donofrio of Deal Casino/Nicole Atkins, Joy Vay of TV Tramps and Tight Lipped, and vocalist Caryn Sills Hasseltine, who is Beverly Sills’ niece.
“Prayer to The Black Madonna will have the listener on a path of discovery of songs,” said Scott Stamper, Talent Buyer, The Saint, Asbury Park. “My faves are ‘Don’t Talk to Me’ featuring Joy Vay on vocals, and ‘Whore of Babylon,’ a classic song within Carl’s live performances. Carl has amassed many local musicians to create a classic sound from the opening song ‘Here Comes Trouble’ to the bonus track, standout song, ‘Ghost of New Hope.’”
Other recommended tracks include: “Theme Song,” “Selfish Comedy,” “Can’t Sell Me, Love,” and “Placebo Soul,” all of which can be heard online at asburywax.com. Additionally, tracks “Dark Night of the Soul” and “Wintertime Greys” have received international distribution to the radio through Poetman Records compilation CDs.
Born in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., Carl has been performing on stage since age 13. In his 20s he moved to New York City’s East Village and formed the indie record label Regular Records. What started as a vanity label for his critically acclaimed EP, The Psychology of Waiting, ended up expanding with a healthy roster of NYC-based artists. During that time, he wrote and recorded the song, “St. Anthony,” which received worldwide airplay. In 2001 he relocated to Asbury Park, N.J. and has been part of the Jersey Shore music community ever since. Chesna is the founder of the Asbury Wax Cylinder Recordings label and wrote the Mercury Retrograde Society column for The Aquarian Weekly. He was nominated for “Top Male Acoustic” at the Asbury Music Awards in 2010 and played at the Awards ceremony at the legendary Stone Pony.
So, let’s take a listen to a few of these stellar new tracks and see what exactly is going on in the world of Carl Chesna.
First up is an upbeat number called “Here Comes Trouble.” Carl’s vocals are strong and clean as the band does an able job behind him. Guitars mix with bass and drums as Carl and company provide heavenly harmonies behind the lead vocal. Very Matchbox 20-ish. Compositionally speaking, the song works quite well. McCarthy’s guitar work is evident, and I’d know it anywhere which is a great thing to me. Fantastic start for an album!
Next up is a song just called “Theme Song.” Very much in the vein of The Counting Crows, “Theme Song” bounces along at a steady pace shored up with violins, guitars and various percussive instrumentation. Chesna’s vocal style is reminiscent of many great singers from the ‘90s and the current decade. I also believe I hear a banjo in there which is probably McCarthy. It’s a nice touch and significantly adds to the overall feel of the song. Not sure who is playing the violin, but I wanted to give kudos to them as they frame the song perfectly.
Moving around a bit, I came to a song called “Wintertime Grays.” I love the intro, which is a blend of electric and acoustic instrumentation that literally swirls and echoes throughout the spectrum. Percussive hits and cymbal-work top it off before Chesna kicks in with his vocals. The melody on this song is my all-time favorite and gives a very 1960s vibe that I personally love. Verses slide into bridges and addictive choruses effortlessly. Backing vocals come courtesy of Caryn Sills Hasseltine and really make the chorus pop. The guitars are my favorite, as they provide hypnotic and melodious direction for the song and really drive things home. This may not be a radio favorite in general, but I love it and its one of my favorites on the disc.
“Selfish Comedy” is another outstanding song. Chesna starts things off with percussion and chugged guitars as he delivers Tears for Fears-styled vocal harmony attacks. I love how he layers the musicians and gradually brings the dynamic of the song from subdued to an intricate building attack with the second verse or so. Once again guitars guide the direction and feel, delivering a combination of intricate chord progressions, chugs, and strumming intricacies. Chesna’s voice is powerful yet complex, rising and falling in all the right places without overpowering anything. This yet another awesome song that should do well for Chesna.
Another song I wanted to mention is “Too Old.” Slashing guitars kick things off before the song settles in with the help of violin work that skitters up the scale before Chesna starts singing. Very Neil Young. Guitars are dreamy and roll along underneath Chesna’s toned vocals. I love how the song swings before kicking into a more aggressive chorus section with returning electrics before settling back into the groove.
When it comes to songwriting, I would have to agree with Jon Leidersdorff. Chesna has indeed come up with a great record, and even though I don’t have room to cover the entire 17-song disc, I would highly recommend picking this up if you get the chance, as the combination of musicians, sounds, and songwriting skill puts Prayer to the Black Madonna high on my list of late-year success from local artists.
To get Prayer to the Black Madonna and find out more about Carl Chesna and band, head over to asburywax.com and get the details.