“Oh my - yet another act that's apparently been around for absolutely years, producing a healthy run of CDs since 2000 (five of 'em!) without even making a fleeting appearance, let alone a dent, on my radar (who's been missing me out of their press mailouts then?… grr!). And yet theirs is a very distinctive sound-world that, once heard, is rarely forgotten or mistaken for someone else. Every track on this album could be judged a highlight - there's not a trace of a makeweight in the disc's 51-minute span. The musical trademark of the duo's approach is found in Sera's wondrous, silky cello lines soaring and dipping above Tom's subtly picked guitar rhythm. And as I've already hinted, Tom's songs are simply stunning. I'm completely won over by this very, very special disc.”
“Tom Mank could have been a baseball player had things worked out but I’m glad he didn’t make it. If he had, chances are he would never have really given music a chance and that would not have been fair to us. He is one of those hidden treasures, holing himself up in Ithaca, New York with wife Sera Smolen and playing music to (almost) his heart’s content. I don’t know Tom, but I do. I know how much he invests himself in his music and in his friends’ music. I know that he is a good, good man and one talented sonofabitch of a musician. And I love his music. Every time he and Sera release an album (there has never been a question of each recording separately except for the occasional tune), I get nervous because Tom has gotten better with every album and I worry about that jinx so many musicians talk about, but he hasn’t let me down yet. Tom lives the folk/blues and would have fit perfectly into the old New York folk scene of the sixties.”
"Tom Mank is a singer-songwriter originating from Ithaca New York , cellist Sera Smolen a classically trained musician . The duo performs atmospheric jazzy creations grafted to folk roots . Mank’s lively voice is sparsely accompanied with acoustic strings and harmonica here and there , performed inimitably. Their poetic meditations are exquisite, sometimes slow, but lovely in their meandering path. We hear exclusively accoustic instruments and every number is tastefully and intimately colored by Smolen’s unique cello playing. The groundwork of the recording took place in Bearsville, in Julie Last’s studio. Ms. Last whispers that on some tracks and we also hear singers Anna Coogan , Jeannie Burns, Kristi Gholson and Kyle Carey, both in the foreground and the background. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and moving CDs that I’ve heard in quite some time. "
"Music is like a spiritual meeting place, between the listener and the musician or between friends making music together, even if they are spread far and wide and don’t happen to be in the same place at the same moment. This is possible as long as they have a soul connection and respect each other’s individuality! This cd, “Swimming in the Dark,” was recorded in several different studios. This does not at all detract from the general feeling of the CD. it comes across as a cohesive whole, interwoven with threads of longing and melancholy. No one else can generate such a poetic sphere the way that Tom and Sera do, enriched by the images Tom creates with words. Tom Mank is one of those who like to get lost in the landscape or who reach for the mystery of the moon. It makes you want to keep this album close by so you can reach for it every time the “bareable” lightness of being pulls you down."
“I may know Mank only through his songs and a few emails, but I know him. I know that the music he deems worthy of recording is worthy of hearing. I know that he writes and sings from the depths of his soul. His soul. "Sergeant Oliver". The name of the song Mank wrote about the soldier assassinated by possibly his own troops, for it was not only the bullet which killed him but all of the people who set up the system which made the assassination possible. Killing is too kind a word for it. On Christmas Day, no less. Mank peppers this new album, Swimming In the Dark, with many stories. Some are heartrending duets of love and the search for Truth. Some are groove-laden retrospectives of emotion. If you want to hear what I hear, I suggest starting with Swimming In the Dark. It catches Tom Mank at his songwriting and singing best and Sera Smolen at her peak in interpreting Mank's songs. They have earned the right to be heard. Over and over again.”
"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."