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Talking About Commas: Press

Bear Connelly seems no stranger to the folk scene, but the Rhode Island native has been experimenting with different kinds of sounds since college when he moved out west in hope of inspiration. Mastering guitar, piano, bass, drums, Rhodes, congas, melodica, synthesized strings and mandolin, Connelly plays under the name Talking About Commas. His raw musical abilities have always supported telling stories that captivate listeners.

Now, Connelly has returned home and back to his roots as his music returns to folk. Talking About Commas has become a full band and the change couldn’t be better. With melodic twang and introspective lyrics, the group’s first album, released with Rhody Records, was an interesting and modern take on the genre. The group is currently at work with new material and, with Connelly’s expansive potential, the outcome is sure to be worthwhile.

I caught up with Connelly to discuss his turn to folk music and upcoming projects…

to read the interview click the link below
Talking About Commas blends thoughtful pop with country and western influences in their new release, Sick of Blocking Out The Sun. The slow, sad steel guitar twang that permeates most of this album makes me want to cry into my beer, while the introspective lyrics and alternative approach make me want to buy a latte and listen to a poetry jam. It's an interesting combination, but it works for this material. Talking About Commas is headed by singer-songwriter Bear Connelly, who writes the songs as acoustic compositions first, and later adds the other instruments. Because of this approach, that stripped-down feeling stays with the album, which suits the folky, homespun material perfectly.

Gentle music with honest lyrics, this CD muses thoughtfully on the hectic modern lifestyle in tracks like "Kids, Jobs, Women & Gods" and "Get a Car," where he urges us to "Gather up your money, stick your thumb out and start running to those places you can't prove exist." I love the vocal sound on "Women & Gods" in particular; Connelly's soft-spoken words challenge the status quo, which makes an intriguing counterpart for the more traditional country stylings. The lyrics read like poetry, although it still manages to sound melodic.

Overall, this album is thoughtfully done, and well produced. Standout tracks include "Fiction Can Be Fun" and "Plea Bargain," a duet with singer Allysen Callery. My personal favorite cut was the final track on the album, the moody "If I Was." This album has a melancholy feel, and the slow tempo does get a little monotonous at times. The only problem with ballads is that there is always a danger of them blending too much into the background, and not everything on this CD grabbed me right away. But Sick of Blocking Out The Sun is a good effort overall, and one that was obviously heartfelt.
Amid the popular resurgence of folk music among Indie artists is an amnesia regarding the trickiness of the genre. In addition to the already-vague moniker, it’s easy to veer off into other territories and get lost – add some twang, and you have Americana or even country; get too cloying, and you sound like something out of Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind.

For the most part, singer/songwriter Bear Connelly seems to understand this, sticking with a blooming, story-driven folk angle with his new band Talking About Commas and their debut Sick of Blocking out the Sun. While there’s not a lot of new territory staked out for the ears, Sun is satisfied with choosing easy listening and common troubles over creativity. And with Connelly’s pure voice and a smattering of simple guitar work guiding the album along, listeners will most likely forgive all the missteps.

Connelly is apparently new to the folk scene, though audiences will be hard pressed to tell. Superior acoustic skills trickle all over Sun, paired most often with a slightly country-fried slide guitar and Connelly’s own pristine vocal effort. Yet despite an ensemble of well-bred musicians bringing up the rear (Peter Morse on guitar and bass and Stefen Samuels on drums, among others), it’s obvious that Sun is the vision of a single artist. Though that vision is a rather pleasant one, it also paints an image of Talking About Commas being slapped together for the sake of Connelly’s own ambition.

It’s an ironic situation, considering that the best songs are the ones that feature nothing more than Bear and his acoustic. One track that hits the “folk” sweet spot is “Plea Bargain,” lulling to and fro with a plucky-but-thoughtful melody and the supporting vocals of Allysen Callery. Its rustic air is striking, considering it follows five amiable (but forgettable) entries that are more sonically fleshed out. Since the raw approach has always been folk’s charming grace – and Connelly employs it fantastically here – it’s a wonder why the rest of the album is so polished. “The Soundness of Recycling” starts out sorrowful and strong, but gets lost once too often; “Fiction Can Be Fun” is confident and ambling, but fails to separate from anything else one might hear in the college coffee-shop scene. Listeners will wish for more “Even the Sun Shines” rather than “Needle In The Hay” – the former is rippling and loose and subtle, the latter like an out-of-place Christopher Cross in a country saloon.

It goes without saying that Talking About Commas would work better as simply Bear Connelly (a star-making name in its own right), for as with any great American tradition, folk is about individualism. With Connelly, there’s enough talent, potential, and raw storytelling ability to scale great musical heights, and listeners would be better off if this young singer/songwriter threw caution to the wind and stopped playing it safe. Still, as it stands now, Sick of Blocking out the Sun does enough right to merit giving Talking About Commas a listen or two.


Kevin Liedel, MuzikReviews.com Sr. Staff Editor
November 3, 2008