rustic overtones

With Local Support, Krasno's New Lead Role: You Can Get Blood From A Stone

Eric Krasno just jammed with Phil Lesh, original member of The Grateful Dead. Now he’s bringing his musical acumen to Portland to showcase his first solo album, Blood from a Stone.

“I’ve been playing with him on and off for last two years. His band varies, but I was lucky to have been with them a couple of times, sometimes with Chris Robinson, sometimes with Warren Haynes,” Krasno said from his Brooklyn home last week. “It’s fun. He likes to mix it up, take Grateful Dead songs and put a different spin on them.”

The guitarist Krasno has been penning lyrics with local legend Dave Gutter for the past two years. His new album was created when the two of them got together in the Port City to write some more and jam for a bit. Ryan Zoidis, from Rustic Overtones and Lettuce, joined them on sax. Some of the guys from London Souls came by to provide some percussion. 

Several other Portland musicians, including a string quartet, jumped into the arrangement. What resulted for the background artist was a move into the limelight.

“Right off the bat, we started rolling on all these tunes,” said Krasno, who provided instrumental ideas to Gutter’s words. “The next thing you know, what we thought was a writing session became the recording.”

He was excited to record in Portland again and pleasantly pleased with the community support. “It was a discovery for me,” he said. “I love Portland but didn’t know how much great music or how many great artists there are.”

The original plan was to get together and have different singers featured on different songs. Once they got underway, however, Gutter told him he should go out front and sing, be his own artist. It took a little while for the concept to settle, “but when I got in the booth and started singing, it took on a new life.”

Krasno will play at the Portland House of Music & Events on Friday, Aug. 19. He’s set to perform with Alex Chakour (bass), Eric Kalb (drums), DeShawn Alexander (keyboards), Danny Mayer (guitar), and Mary Corso (backing vocals).

The new record features appearances with Derek Trucks and Soulive, in addition to several of the Portland minstrels. Previously, Krasno worked with Gutter to write songs for Tedeschi Trucks Band, and on Aaron Neville’s forthcoming album.

“I collaborated with Dave at my mother’s house in Vermont,” he said. “We went to the woods for a couple of days and wrote the Neville album. We’re still constantly working on stuff, via satellite, but we work better when we’re together.”

Krasno’s surprise move from songwriter to lead singer led him to title the new album Blood from a Stone. It’s a joking self-reference, one he says many reviewers have missed. At first, it was a separate single, but he liked the name so much he made it the title.

Krasno had lived in Portland for a short while in the mid to late '90s. He noted how much it has changed since then, how it had become “culturally more rich. There’s amazing food at places like Eventide (Oyster Co.) and Duckfat. I know some foodies there, and there’s great coffee and beer. From the music to the food, it’s just beautiful in the summer.”

He’s previously worked with such diverse talents as Norah Jones, Talib Kweli, Justin Timberlake, and 50 Cent. In more recent years, he’s written for and toured with Tedeschi Trucks, playing bass in their band.

“I had a lot more connection with them (than the other big name musicians), and the project won a couple of Grammys,” he said. “And of course, the Neville record coming out has been a dream gig.” On it, he worked with Gutter, imagining Neville’s life through at least 50 poems he had sent them.

“The cool thing for me was laying down music and melodies, like painting a picture. We created the sketch and Aaron would add the color. He was very involved in the process, something he had not done on his records in a very long time,” Krasno said. “The excitement level between all of us was high.”

Gutter’s long been a lyrical inspiration for him, opening up word channels he hadn’t known before. “Once he opens it up, it just flows. Sometimes in the songwriting process, that’s all you need. He helped me learn how to write bumper sticker lines and then fit them in like a puzzle,” he said. “Dave doesn’t stop until we get it right. We push each other in that way. I’ve never had a cowriter as excited about it as I was. We’re good for each other. We’ll forget to eat, sleep, or do anything else. It’s like a marathon.”

One of the best things about the new album, he says, is that the band is taking on its own identity while working through the songs. “There are two guitars and a lot of lush vocals. It’s nice to be able to hone in harmonies with the band, do these interweaving guitar things.”

Krasno has been involved in music for a long time, but says it’s thrilling to have a new gig. “I’m so inspired, going back into my roots and cherry picking, with (Carlos) Santana-like guitar and vocals, Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonies, and hip-hop references. It’s exciting to be able to throw all these things into this melting pot and hear something brand new come out of it.”

Playing live has given him additional insights, by churning away and working on the music. “Every night there’s a moment when something brand new happens,” he said. “It’s what we work for, to allow that spontaneity to happen within the songs.”

At the Portland concert, Armies (Gutter’s new incarnation with Anna Lombard) will open up, and Krasno expects he’ll be able to get them to join him for some songs during the main act. He wants to get to Maine early and have several practice sessions with the local musicians who helped him get here. Musically, it’s the way life should be.

Eric Krasno Finds His Voice On Solo Debut (Highway 81 Revisited)

via Highway 81 Revisited

Two-time Grammy winner Eric Krasno still considers himself fortunate for his ability to play guitar a quarter century after he shattered his left elbow in a fall during a basketball game his freshman year of high school.

The mishap in his Connecticut hometown was an awakening, a musical turning point that makes the co-founder of jazz-funk bands Soulive and Lettuce, who has toured with Tedeschi Trucks Band — as a  bassist, no less —  grateful to this day to be doing what he’s doing.

“I rolled over this guy’s back. I was going in for a full-court lay-up, running all the way down the court,” recalled Krasno, 39, whose introduction to guitar was on bass, in his older brother’s high school garage band.

Right-handed, Krasno, based in Brooklyn since 1999, relies on his left hand to be his fretboard operator.

“The guy went underneath me,” continued Krasno, who took up the violin around the age of 4.

“When I went down, I crushed my elbow. My humerus was stuck out of my skin. It basically crushed my elbow. They weren’t sure if I’d ever use my hand or arm.

“I couldn’t move my fingers. I forced myself to play guitar, slowly but surely. My theory was it dramatically helped my movement. I forced my fingers to move. I definitely have full motion now. I definitely still have pain from it. I realized, the thought of not playing guitar … I dreaded it. So, I got more serious about it. If there was a possibility of not doing it, I’d be distraught. ”

Krasno, a prolific songwriter and record producer who has worked in the production of albums for Norah Jones, Tedeschi Trucks, 50 Cent and Aaron Neville, has  played it safe on the basketball court ever since.

He laughingly recalled enforcing a “no-contact” rule during pickup games with musician friends back in college — first, at the Berklee College of Music and, then, at Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

Musically, the improvisational guitarist whose performances have been historically instrumental, hasn’t exactly taken the same conservative path.

Except, that is, for when it comes to his voice.

He’s literally always kept his voice in the background, lending backing vocals for artists he’s worked with, such as Tedeschi and Trucks.

For the first time in his career, Krasno has stepped to the microphone in the role of vocal frontman for his own Eric Krasno Band.

His r&b-based solo album, “Blood from a Stone,” is due to be released this week, coinciding with a tour with his solo project’s touring six-piece band.

The band played Saturday at Boulder, Colorado’s Fox Theatre, performing with Dumpstaphunk. The tour returns to the east coast for a July 7 record release show at Brooklyn Bowl — Krasno’s home court. That’s where Krasno is the de facto house musician and where Soulive has hosted its annual “Bowlive,” a two-week, 10-night residency that welcomes a changing list of big-name collaborators.

Krasno also has dates for Soulive, which once opened for the Rolling Stones, penciled in for Sept. 14-15 at the Amphitheater at Coney Island during which the band will sit in for a two-night run with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and an all-star Phil Lesh & Friends lineup that will include saxophonist Karl Denson, keyboardist-violinist Jason Crosby and singer-songwriter Jackie Greene.

“I love it. He’s such a creative person,” Krasno said of performing with Lesh. “There’s nobody that sounds like him. He wants to stretch out the music. I’ve known Jackie for a long time. I’ve played a lot with Jason Crosby.”

During a recent interview with Highway 81 Revisited, Krasno spoke of no immediate commitments for Lettuce tour dates.

“We definitely have plans to do as much as possible. We’ll be out there for a while” he said of the solo band, which will tour the south in October.

“I got to the point where I wanted to do my own thing,” Krasno explained of his lead vocal evolution. “You work with a lot of people. I’ve been out on the road doing instrumental music. I wanted to eventually combine this together (with vocals). I wanted to get out in front and perform.

“I also started working with (writing partner) Dave Gutter (of Maine-based, rock-jazz-funk band Rustic Overtones), and we started writing a lot of songs together. He definitely pushed me to be a lead singer. He said, ‘Man, you sound good singing these songs.’

“I was kind of figuring out my vocal technique as it was happening. A lot of it was experimental. I like how it came out. It’s been an interesting journey. It’s a great experience to just play around.”

Krasno’s vocals on “Blood from a Stone” exude a certain Jimi Hendrix/Lenny Kravitz-like flavor, which makes sense  considering Krasno grew up listening to an eclectic mix of Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead and hip-hop acts like the Beastie Boys.

“Some of the initial ideas that would eventually wind up on the album were written thinking others would sing them,” Krasno said of his writing sessions with collaborator Gutter. “But when they were introduced to different artists, it wouldn’t necessarily work out. Eventually, I realized some of the songs we’d been writing were more personal and would be better suited for me to sing.”

Long-time friend Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi turned to Krasno back in 2013 to become the bassist for their Tedeschi Trucks Band after the departure from the band of Oteil Burbridge, former bassist of the Allman Brothers and current bass man of Dead & Company.

Krasno, who has  his own recording label — Feel Music Group — and Trucks had known each other for decades  — since Soulive opened during its first national tour with the Derek Trucks Band back in the 1990s.

Bass being the instrument Krasno played in a band, it seemed natural to jump aboard.

“He’s one of my favorite current guitar players for sure,” Krasno said of Trucks. “I did some songwriting for the first two (Tedeschi Trucks) albums.

“On tour, I realized how insane their schedule was. I was a placeholder while they found a permanent replacement. I needed a lot of things I had to get to.”

Tedeschi Trucks eventually hired Tim Lefebvre, the last bassist to record with David Bowie, to be their permanent bass player.

But Krasno and Trucks continue to collaborate.

Trucks makes a guest appearance on Krasno’s solo album for the track “Curse Lifter,” an instrumental described as an Allman Brothers-Santana crossover.

“People like to work with Kraz because he brings a lot to the table,” Trucks told the Wall Street Journal last year. “He’s a really good, deep listener, and he hears music both rhythmically and harmonically and as both a producer and a musician. There are not many people who can check all those boxes.”