The look of Christmas time in New York City differs from neighborhood to neighborhood. The mood changes as you ride from Central Park, where the horse-drawn carriages are festooned with garlands and wreaths, to tourist central Midtown, where everything is glitzed to the max. But travel farther south and the streets become more narrow and even in some places, cobble-stoned. It makes the big city just a little more cozy. The streets are filled with vendors selling Christmas trees, and even the occasional chestnut roaster can be found.
The night after Madison Square Garden hosted the star-studded 12-12-12 Concert, it seemed the city was still shaking off the lingering vibe. While the club scene was still active, the holidays and residual effects of the big bash in Midtown, left Greenwich Village a little more quiet than the norm.
Sullivan Hall is a narrow and long venue, with the stage at the far end. Low ceilings add to the intimate feel of the space. A little before nine, House of Essex took the stage.
House of Essex was formed less than a year ago, but the musical experience of this band is not in question. Founding member Tim Welch has put together a group of musicians with deep pedigrees, and more than impressive credentials. They bill themselves as an eclectic, vintage rock band which, while definitely accurate, does not quite cover all that is House of Essex.
The opening notes of “To the Bone” explode from the keyboards of Welch, followed closely by the fast paced rhythm of David Longworth on drums. Longworth, long-time member of LaBamba and the Hubcaps, has also toured extensively with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. While Welch offers a full and smooth vocal style, the addition of Lora McFarlane-Tazwell as featured vocalist, brings another rich and layered dimension to their sound.
House Of Essex’s Right To Love You
A haunting guitar intro from Courtney Sappington sets the tone for “Right to Love You,” a song about obsessive love. One of the highlights of their EP, it builds slowly, as does obsession, until it reach its peak. Sappington, a veteran of countless Broadway shows as well as tours with Garland Jeffries and Bobby Womack among others, doesn’t overwhelm you with this talent or style. Instead he sucks you in, filling all the empty spaces with beautiful notes which seem to float in the air.
“Bright Lights” bring McFarlane-Tazwell to the lead vocal spot in a song specifically written for her by Welch. Originally her vocal coach, Welch crafted a vehicle for her and she flies with it. With her background of R&B, Jazz and Reggae, Lora offers a rich vocal, making full use of her range.
The band’s next four songs were not off their debut EP. “Final Holiday,” a breakup song, featured Welch and McFarlane-Tazwell trading vocals. “Red Tape,” more of an uptempo song with the rhythm section of Longworth and bassist Gregory Jones taking charge. Jones, whose body of work goes back to Sly & the Family Stone, draws from Cuban, Brazillian, Funk and Soul influences. What he delivers is an understated but distinct bass line.
“Rainy Day” echoed with a Spanish infused melody and features a seductive guitar solo by Sappington. Layered vocals give fullness to the song, but the gold star goes to the guitarist on this one. “Tear Down” proved to be one of those songs where all the pieces just fell into place perfectly on this night. Each instrument played perfectly against the others; the chorus caught the crowd’s attention and didn’t let go, while the vocals pulled it all together.
The almost classical start to “Learn From You” quickly falls back to bring up the rock roots. Changed from the EP version, the lead is now exchanged over the verses between Welch and Tazwell-McFarlane, with good results. The evening ended with “Explode,” another song off their EP, where the aptly named tune left a lasting impression with its striking chorus.
For a relatively new band, House of Essex has developed a unique sound, born of decades of experience. While still working out the growing pains, what House of Essex offers is quality musicianship and lots of it. For those who want to experience a band’s sound, rather than just hear it, House of Essex brings that to the table, along with a healthy dose of good old rock and roll.
Written by Kath Galasso
OurVinyl | Contributor
Too The Bone
Right To Love You
Learn From You
House of Essex on Spotify