"If you're looking for that three-o'clock-in-the-morning album, this is it. You know, when you come home polluted or just exhausted and need to wind down. When you wake up at three a.m. and can't get back to sleep. When nothing seems right and you need perspective or everything seems right and you need perspective. You see, the songs on Paper Kisses are soft kisses on the cheek and quiet conversations in the night. They are late evenings and early mornings in subdued light or in the dark. They are a Tom Mank & Sera Smolen gift to the discerning ears of people who treasure music beyond its use as filler or background music. The feel, the aura, the music--- they all inhabit one point in time, or so it seems. It is no wonder Mank has put his last two projects into producer Julie Last's hands. It is in the grooves."
"A new album from Tom and Sera (Ithaca, New York) excites great expectations because their folky music is simply unique. Not only the warm voice of Tom Mank, but especially Sera's cello - create an exclusive atmosphere which attaches itself to each of the ten tracks as pearling dew. Tom sings it all, with a voice being a mix of the voices of Nick Drake, Chris Eckman and Eric Andersen. Both artists allow each composition to breathe, while playing together. They create a sound, that will be perfect for a chapel, like the one in Cultuurcentrum Roepaen in Ottersum (NL), or in a little white church somewhere on a mountain in Hellas (Greece), or preferably close by in a room with old stained glass windows, where the light is filtered by the leaves of trees. Once more heart, poetry, imagination and intuitive feeling are present in this album, as it was in their last one 'Where The Sun Meets The Blue. Who said again: 'Music is Love Looking for a Melody'."
“He has a mature, 'dark' voice, plays guitar and writes almost all the songs. She studied at the Conservatory and gets miraculously melancholic sounds out of her cello. Tom Mank and Sera Smolen (from Ithaca, New York) are a special duo who just released 'Paper Kisses' - a strong fifth album. It takes some time before you realize this, but when you really sit down to listen to it, it gives you goosebumps. Then you will suddenly notice how beautiful the singing is (with Jennie Stearns, Kirsti Gholson and Kathy Ziegler), how touching and wonderful the cello sounds, and how beautiful the melodies are. It is folky, sometimes a bit jazzy, but quieter. And as we make comparisons, Sera Jane's cello playing (with the bow but also plucking) resembles every now and then the playing of Rufus Cappadocia (Bethany & Rufus), maybe less spectacular, but likewise effective. 'Paper Kisses' is an album for autumn more than the summer, but let this not be a reason to ignore it! ”
“Singer-songwriter Tom Mank, together with cellist Sera Smolen, just completed a jewel of an album. Mank wrote all the songs (sometimes with producer Julie Last, Kirsti Gholson or Susan Hoover, but mostly on his own) – with the exception of one impressive instrumental by Sera Smolen. The songs themselves are already beautiful, particularly with the enchanting cello of Smolen – but it’s the arrangements that give the album its special value. You could fill several CD's with all the songs from foreigners in which Amsterdam appears, and this song will easily be the top selection. Relaxing, intimate, jazzy and magnificently arranged. This is a 'growing' album, to listen to more than once in the late evening. An intimate masterpiece.”
“Their recent album 'Paper Kisses' is the 5th CD released by this original folk-duo. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Tom Mank (N.Y.State) and (classically educated) cellist Sera Smolen have performed together since 1994 and have made an absolute unique experience of their ensemble. Their music is very subtle, sometimes experimental, very quiet and - unmistakable because of the cello - wonderfully sad. On their latest CD there is the vocal assistance by Julie Last (she plays guitar on one track and is producer and recording technician as well), Jennie Lowe Stearns, Kathy Ziegler and Kirsti Gholson. "Paper Kisses" is an impressively beautiful and sensitive CD with a notable lovely leading part for Sera's melancholic 'classic' cello and the wonderful quiet singing of Tom. The poetic lyrics complete the whole in an really exemplary way. BIG SURPRISE! ”
"Tom Mank and Sera Smolen are so far beyond the mainstream, it's scary. They are acoustic music's Igor Stravinsky in a world of Brahms and Schumanns. I mean, Brahms and Schumann are great, but Stravinsky— man, that's adventure! Mank approaches this album like a modern beatnik, picking subjects on the edge and presenting them with unerring touch. Mank and Smolen do more with a simple acoustic guitar and cello than some chamber orchestras or jazz ensembles and when you add Last and Gholson… I have not really talked in terms of expertise. After having listened to this album numerous times, I am of the mind that Tom Mank and Sera Smolen are easily Grammy material. They are expert at their craft, but more than that, they develop it. At their level, I am not at all sure that it is a craft but art. There can't be a gig they play where a large percentage of their audience is not comprised of fellow musicians. That, my friends, is a given, and it speaks volumes."
"From the very first notes on, this CD excites your imagination. The cello of Sera Smolen and the voice of Tom Mank create magic from the opener 'Off-Beat Rhyme' until the last etherial track 'Lit By The Moon'. Both performers sense perfectly each others changes of mood. Tom Mank knows how to translate his own lyrics into poetic language: about segregation in Baltimore, lost lovers, for short songs of complaint, nostalgia and desire. His songs remain on that emotional line which perfectly keeps the balance between jazzy bluesnotes and improvising day-dreaming-blues. Sometimes his voice resembles Nick Drake. (This is) an album to become silent out of respect for the wandering spirits on dancing feet, reaching out for a melody and the rhythm of the beat. No better words than this 'free translation' of the passage from Tom Mank's 'Where's That Train', to describe this CD."
"Oh, there is so much crap out there! Thank heavens there are GREAT records like this to stem the tide! If you brought a pile of CDs home from a folk festival, “Souls of Birds” is the one that would end up on the top of the pile. It is risky, real and pushes boundaries in a very natural way with nary a hint of pretentiousness. Tom Mank’s low-key Lou Reed/Leonard Cohen-ish vocals have a compelling, spoken word quality to them. Mank is one of those singers who could be reciting the phone book and you’d go “yeah, there’s something to that!” Sera Smolen’s cello takes us all kinds of places weird and wonderful, while never losing touch with the emotional roots of the songs. There is always some cool new surprise poking its impish head around the corner ahead of us as the CD progresses. It is thrilling when artists dig in and craft a work as rich and vibrant and authentic as this. Five stars."