After releasing their 2013 debut full-length Start Sinning, Philly rock duo John & Brittany (John Faye and Brittany Rotondo) saw the album's title track catapult into heavy rotation on Sirius XM's Little Steven's Underground Garage, and place 3rd in LSUG's year-end listener's poll (Joan Jett was #1). The music video for their follow-up single "Paper Planes" aired on over 100 video outlets in the US and Canada, making it all the way to "The Freshmen" on MTV-U and to MTV.com. Their boy/girl dynamic captures the sweetness and tension of predecessors like Buckingham/Nicks combined with the punk ferocity of The Kills. John & Brittany made well over 100 live appearances in 2013, playing stages of all varieties from Philly to Atlanta to San Francisco. Ask them about their thoughts on an end game or big success in the music biz, though, and you'll get this answer from John: "What I really value is our time spent doing this, the ability to experience as many people and places together as we can. That's success to me. I don't really care about acquiring things." Brittany adds: "I think we've always consciously or sub-consciously based our decisions on what makes things interesting, as opposed to taking the path of least resistance."
John & Brittany have always been way more about the journey that the destination.. because every stop along the way seems to yield a story. From the way they met in the waning days of 2008 (when John was trying to hawk tickets to his band's Christmas show, but Brittany spent all her money on weed), to their unlikely musical partnership (John was a seasoned musician, Brittany had never picked up a guitar or written a song in her life), to their ever-growing canon of cautionary road tales (that one gig at the roller derby where Brittany broke John's guitar nearly in half just minutes before he had to sing the National Anthem), these rock n rollers have no shortage of interesting stories. It's been that way since their 2011 self-titled debut EP, a sparkling romp with character-based nicotine pop songs about whiskey-swilling devils and angry middle managers. It continued with 2013's Start Sinning, which spun wild yarns about Robin Hood-inspired bank robbers, bible belt grifters, and sundry other sinners and not-so saints.
Enter the new 2014 EP Stories To Be Told, whose title was suggested to John & Brittany by Little Steven Van Zandt (of E-Street band and Sopranos fame and his aforementioned Sirius XM channel). Upon first listen to the as-yet-untitled EP, Van Zandt commented to his producer, Dennis Mortensen, that each song was like a short story unto itself, and playing off the title of the record's closing track, Stories To Be Told came into being.
The song which inspired the title, "Story To Be Told," is a touching eulogy to a young man who Faye and Rotondo met only once, during a hospital gig for Musicians On Call, a non-profit organization that brings musicians to the bedsides of the terminally ill. Notable for its gentler, folksy sound, the song harkens back to John & Brittany's roots as an acoustic duo, cutting their teeth on the open mic circuit in Philadelphia. The rest of the EP, their first vinyl release, is equally illuminating and much harder rocking. The opening track and first single "St. Valentine," chosen as Little Steven's Underground Garage "Coolest Song in the World" for the week of August 17th, 2014, is a quintessential J&B rocker, with snarly punk attitude and a chorus that will have dysfunctional lonely hearts everywhere singing "You dig it when I suffer." "Delacroix Blues" may be J&B's most vivid musical statement to date. With its half-step chord changes, spooky tack piano, and descriptive lyrics about a man known only as "Mr. Jack," it comes off like a musical voodoo doll, with John & Brittany holding the pins. For all its Bayou-drenched, warped-record mystery, the song's "Meet me down the road" chorus is one of the catchiest hooks in their catalog. "La Tierra" (which is Spanish for "The Land") continues the duo's occasional latin rock infatuation with a look at the modern American underbelly. With a nod to 2013's "El Gato," a down-on-his-luck ex-con ponders "If it feels like your 10th life and you're out on borrowed time," the song seems to suggest that, for the 99%, life on the outside is becoming more and more indistinguishable from life on the inside. This song also caught Little Steven's ear and landed onto the Underground Garage playlist. "Hank The Hound Dog" is a cross-dressed chronicle of sex, drugs, and rock n roll, and what happens in the aftermath. Complete with a Beatle-y musical outro that sounds like one poor soul's descent into madness, "Hank" is based on a real Philly guy, who owned a real bar, wore real mini-skirts, and took all-too-real drugs until there was no turning back.
In spite of its relative brevity, clocking in at under 20 minutes, Stories To Be Told is a satisfying listen, once again bringing the creative and personal dynamic that defines John & Brittany to the foreground. Their growth as a song writing team with each release seems to remain a bit of a mystery to them. "We fight tooth and nail for what we want out of each song. None of these was a walk in the park to write, especially in the emotional sense. But every time we felt like it was hopeless or a dead end, we just tried another path and all of a sudden the song would go from nothing to this vivid world that we just wanted to keep exploring." The journey, not the destination.. with only the stars to light their way.