NORTHERN TOWN by Cranston Dean | INTERVIEW
Author: Sean Manuel
Asbury Park has a rich history of breeding and perfecting singer-songwriters. Cranston Dean is not an Asbury Park resident; however, the Atlantic Highlands songsmith channels that characteristically Asbury essence into his affecting oeuvre. Dean's recent album release entitled Northern Town dropped on all streaming platforms Thursday, May 11th, and rings loudly of Bruce Springsteen's thematic bedrock and Marvin Gaye's harmonic tendencies. You will find the town Dean writes of is much like yours or mine. It is imperfect. People are exploited for profits. The sun is down more often than it lights the sky. Despite its broken roots and some who want to hasten away from it, the town's residents are bound together by fierce loyalty and devotion to an honest day's work. As Cranston Dean brilliantly explores our modern social fabric, it is time to explore this compelling release.
Hey there, Cranston! Congratulations on the release of Northern Town. This release plays much like Marvin Gaye's LP entitled "What's Going On" or Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" LP as it addresses widely relatable sociopolitical issues throughout the tracklist. I understand you recorded the album in your parents' Atlantic Highlands home, assembling a wide cast under one roof. Do you hope to engender commonality with your listeners via the familial aura and warmth captured on this release?
Thanks for listening and taking the time on the interview, Sean! This album was recorded in my parents' home in Atlantic Highlands with the help of my closest musical friends and a few canine companions in January 2022. Northern Town is my 6th release (4 albums, 2 eps), and from the first one up to the present, I have tried to consider the ties that bind us all together when writing.
While I always hope to achieve that sense of commonality in my writing, I believe the warmth in this record comes from the closeness I have with each of the people who lent their talents to making it. Each player, the producer, the filmmaker, the artist who designed the cover (and the dogs) are all creatures whom I love. Spending those weeks together with people who I consider family, in a space that we all felt comfortable, without the time constraints of a studio, made for a really warm sounding record.
"Toe The Line" is the energetic A major opener to Northern Town. Lyrics such as, "never good at takin notes, I can never show up on time," in the first verse and, "day-drunk or daydreaming, maybe I'm just passin' the time," in the second communicate the Americana spirit found in the rebellious state of mind. The G# minor in the bridge indicates a shift in tonality to coincide with the lyrics, "Every life has it's problems, I can't seem to solve mine." Does the challenge of, "learning how to Toe The Line," render life purposeful and entertaining in the process?
The place I was writing "Toe The Line" from was a sense of 'wtf am I doing?' which is a question I ask myself every now and again. I have set aside a lot of the life milestones that I see my peers experiencing (getting married, having kids, that sort of thing) in pursuit of my musical aspirations. I wouldn't trade my time back and do it differently, however, I'd be lying if I told you it wasn't frustrating at times.
My retirement plan is death, man. I'll be doing this till the wheels fall off and, in a way, the purpose I have assigned myself is simply learning how to toe the line... Sure has been an entertaining process thus far.
The following track to "Toe The Line" is the bluesy E minor track entitled "Diamonds In The Dust." The narrative includes allusions to Big Pharma like, "doctors giving out addictive drugs to little kids, oxycontin, percocet, opiate, a number's all we are beneath the stripes and stars," while it also holds the federal legislature, Congress, accountable with lyrics like, "someone sick a dog on all the hogs that clog the halls and pass the laws that keeps us slaving to our jobs." Do these entities forgo offering viable solutions for the sake of profit?
Short answer is yes.
I am not anti-capitalist but I do believe that unfettered capitalism mixed with limitless lobbying in government is a dangerous mix. The ultra-rich are the lords and ladies of the land and we are the serfs. Both sides of our government seem much more interested in corporate backers and the desires of the ultra-rich than the wants & needs of the people who they are "by, for, and of".
Then again, history has always been this way, all around the globe. Just wish we didn't pretend it was any other way and just called a spade a spade.
Soulful E major "The Root" (the lead single to Northern Town) proceeds from "Diamonds In The Dust" and touches a similar note as you outline such current events as kneeling during the anthem, the proliferation of yellow journalism, and the deterioration of trust/truth in this narrative. Can any rich man/politician/public figure properly look out for others in a United States of America governed by post-Citizens United case law?
I wrote this song in 2020 amidst the protests, I was at the peaceful protest in Asbury Park and so the kneeling part is in reference to that.
I am sure there are rich folks that can, but I do question if they ever would.
The title track entitled "Northern Town" shimmies in with a mischievous G minor tonality and instrumental country staples such as the slide guitar. It plays like Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" in that the town comes alive in the midnight hour. A friend appears battered with a blackened eye from (presumably) a fight while the sun goes down, "by the railway split or the churchyard ground." As implied by the lyric, "Hopes... smoke 'em if you got' em, forsaken and forgotten and damned," is the Northern Town a dead end?
The northern town that I am painting is a dead-end kinda town but it's also a place where people work hard, party hard, are fiercely loyal friends - scrappy but kind. The town itself is a mix of a lot of places in New England, NY, Jersey, and PA that I hold dear and the people who live there.
The fella who produced the album, Michael Young, is from Maine and he jokes that NJ isn't even northern. But to me, the songwriting landscape seems very lopsided in favor of southern places and themes, so I am proud to say that I represent the northern ones.
Jumping a few numbers, "Fingernail Moon" comes in at Track 9 with a jazzy triplet feel reminiscent of the 50s. Like McCartney wrote "Lady Madonna" with Fats Domino in mind, were you writing "Fingernail Moon" with Ray Charles in mind?
I am sure he was subconsciously there, but for me it was probably more Marcus King at the time. I just love that dude's voice and writing. Fingernail Moon as a concept was something I've been thinking about since high school. Sometimes, if you are particularly stoned (and with a little imagination), a certain phase of the moon looks as if one of the gods bit off a fingernail and spit it across the heavens. I always wanted to write something about that moon because it always makes me chuckle a bit.
It's my "Blue Moon" in that I'm looking up to it for some sort of guidance, but instead of love, I am looking for guidance through the emotions I felt in "Toe The Line"
I read the Northern Town recordings were the last recordings bandmate Riley Schiro (electric guitar, backing vocals) contributed to before suffering a stroke. How is Riley progressing and what can listeners hone in on with this release that is "quintessential Riley Schiro?"
All things considered, Riley has made remarkable progress, thanks to his unwavering determination, hard work, and sheer willpower. While he can't play the guitar like he used to, he has found creative ways to keep music in his day to day life. For instance, he started tuning his guitars in ways that allowed him to play chords with just his right hand (as he was paralyzed on his left side). He also started playing a harpejji, which is like a guitar/piano hybrid that he can play with one hand.
He has made significant progress in his walking.
Riley has played all four full-length releases of mine and has been my bandmate and friend for years. To me, the most quintessential Riley Schiro moment was his solo on "Toe The Line". We have around 30 other takes of his solo, that are all great in my mind, but he knew he could do better and so he kept asking us for more time and more takes, which we were happy to oblige.
He does some really tasty string bending while maintaining an explosiveness to his playing. Chef's kiss.
Tell us about the Northern Town release show!
May 28th at Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park with the whole band from the album as well as Jackson Pines, The Mercury Brothers, and Emerson Woolf.
I play drums in Jackson Pines so I am looking forward to pulling double duty. Recently, I started working on Emerson's new EP and she writes killer songs and is a very kind human so I am very excited to see her set. The night is going to end with The Mercury Brothers who we've played with many times. We love those guys and consider ourselves Mercury Cousins.
Every musician that touches the stage that night is someone near and dear to me in this strange musical journey called life.
What's next after your release show?
The whole process was filmed by Ty Harrison and there will be a film release later in the year.
I have started recording a new batch of songs which will be released as singles. Additionally, I am part of a third band with Pat Conley, who played bass on this album. His band, Patty C & The Pints, will be releasing Pat's album titled 'A New Day Starts' on June 30th. To celebrate the release, we'll be hosting a show that evening at Low Dive on the boardwalk in Asbury.
Rumor has it I will be opening for the great Steve Forbert on July 6th in Bradley Beach for 90.5's Songwriters in the Park. I'll be in NY/New England doing some shows in July.
Where can people go to connect and interact with Cranston Dean?
My website is www.cranstondean.com
Socials are all @CranstonDean
Come to a show, I am often connective and usually interactive!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Just like to share the personnel on the album and thank them for being such good pals and greater artists:
Shane Luckenbaugh - Drums
Riley Schiro - Guitar/BGV
Max Carmichael - Guitar, Flute, Dobro & Slide Guitar, Octave Mandolin
Pat Conley - Bass/BGV
Michael Young - Recording Engineer / Producer
Ty Harrison - Film
Alex Mackenzie - Album Art/BGV
Allan Dean - BGV
Mixed by Patrick Noon
Mastered by Alan Douches
With extra help from Hudson and Shiloh
"If you've never heard Cranston Dean perform before, you're robbing yourself of an amazing experience. Dean's voice takes you back to a time when the singer/songwriter played the bars of Asbury during the heydays of The Circuit, and blew people's minds with their lyrical poetry."
- Bill Bodkin, pop-break.com
About the Author: Sean Manuel is a Senior enrolled in New Jersey City University's Honors Program. A Music Business major, Sean specializes in the piano and bass guitar. Outside of academia, Sean performs in and manages the Bayonne indie-pop group BreakTime: a four-piece writing modern pop tunes with generous vintage allusions to artists such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Are you interested in their music? Follow BreakTime @breaktimelivenj and stream their releases on all platforms.