San Francisco-based band Tin Cup Serenade is set to release its second album, Tragic Songs of Hope, on April 26, 2013, via Tin Cup Serenade Productions. The album will be available in digital and vinyl formats. Tragic Songs of Hope lives up to its name, with ten songs brimming over with exuberant melancholy, bringing to mind an eternal noir rendezvous, where the band never stops, and the crowd is too drunk on the music to care. The songs evoke a Tin Pan Alley melange of New Orleans Jazz, Calypso, Swing, Mariachi, ragtime, early Country, and traditional Cuban Music. The band will be touring widely to support the album’s release.
“Every song on the album has a bit of pathos and a bit of sunshine,” singer and bandleader Rolf Wilkinson explains. “There’s no sadness without happiness, no comedy without tragedy. I like the complexity that results from conflicting emotions, and that's often a source for my music.”
Tin Cup Serenade blends Wilkinson’s subtly percussive archtop guitar style, elegant arrangements that mix voice, horn, and inspired synergistic improvisation, and a rhythm section featuring Eric Garland’s minimalist drumming and the propulsive upright bass of Safa Shokrai (Rupa and the April Fishes, The Glasses, The Drift). Wilkinson's relaxed croon is equal parts maudlin and elegant, seemingly drawn from a melange of Cab Calloway, Chet Baker, and Dan Hicks. Larry Leight on trombone (Lavay Smith, Brass Menažeri) and Pete Cornell on saxophones (Mazacote) are both well known Bay Area horn men who are magnificent on this recording.
Their extensive repertoire combines obscurities from the American songbook with Wilkinson originals that are indistinguishable from the classics, which is no mean feat. On the new album, Wilkinson wrote lyrics for two Duke Ellington tunes—“Limbo Jazz” and “Lament for Javanette”—and the results settle in quite naturally.
The album also features two cover songs from singer-songwriter, Connie Converse (who mysteriously disappeared), whose early home recordings were recently brought to light after having languishing for over five decades.
Except for the two tunes by Converse, Wilkinson produced and wrote or co-wrote everything on Tragic Songs of Hope. His original tunes combine modernity with timelessness, moody compositions with unexpected bursts of light. “Fragments of You” is a minor key tango with a cha-cha beat, the story of a broken romance lightened by Wilkinson’s sly vocal delivery. “Sunny Oakland Day” is the album’s most optimistic song, a love letter to the East Bay City crooned by Wilkinson over a laid-back swing arrangement that brings Count Basie to mind. Live, “YaYa Blues” gives the band a chance to stretch out and get loud. On this recording, its slow, swing blues builds momentum with extended solos by Cornell on sax and Leight’s muted trombone. Tin Cup is a small combo, but they aim for, and achieve, the sound of an old-time big band with brilliant originals featuring inventive horn charts and the intricate rhythmic interplay of bassist Shokrai and drummer Garland.
After starting on guitar, Wilkinson shifted to drums and spent years playing jazz in Canada, then moved on to The Molestics, a band that mixed Dixieland, calypso and Hawaiian songs, as well as the touring band of the late Ray Condo, a legendary Canadian western swing and rockabilly artist. He still plays drums in a number of Bay Area jazz and Latin groups.
In 2002, Wilkinson went back to the guitar and started teaching himself old jazz tunes. “I started singing as a kind of self-prescribed musical therapy after going through some rough times,” he says. Singing his jazz tunes and classic saloon songs, Wilkinson got some gigs with Shokrai on bass and various horn players they knew. The band became Tin Cup Serenade as a salute to their humble beginnings in a small San Francisco club where their only compensation came from walking around the room with a tin cup asking patrons to support the music. Wilkinson produced their 2008 debut, Tin Cup Serenade, released on their self-named label, Tin Cup Serenade Productions.
While the core band is featured on the album, Tin Cup live is a community of San Francisco and Oakland musicians who rotate through the lineup depending on when and where they’re playing. The core band is Wilkinson - vocals, guitar, songwriter; Leight - trombone; Cornell - saxophones; Shokrai - bass; and Garland - drums. But on any given night, you might also find Ara Anderson or Darren Johnston on trumpet, Brandon Essex, Ari Munkres, or Sam Bevan on bass, Jan Jackson on drums, and a variety of other Bay Area singers and instrumentalists joining the band as surprise guests. Live, the band has an approach to improvising that goes back to the Basie big band of the 1930s—wherein horn players improvise behind the soloist—although with Tin Cup, it’s voice and horns creating spontaneous harmonies on the fly.