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Back to Business: Getting reacquainted with long-absent friends
Gary Hizer, Urban Tulsa Weekly
Oct. 31, 2012

You can be excused if it feels like it's been forever since you heard something new from Tony Romanello. After all, Romanello departed for grad school in 2005 and hasn't released a disc of new tracks since Rock & Roll Fairytales in 2006. In the world of rock (especially on a local level), that's near an eternity's absence.

Romanello hasn't really been gone that long, however. Upon returning to Tulsa in 2008, he layed low for a bit, then formed his current band, The Black Jackets in the fall of 2009, playing infrequently around town while the Romanello and his fellow band members learned how to balance work and families while still getting their music fix.

For Romanello, though, the current band fell into place naturally. Once again accompanied by guitarist Andy Callis (who was also a long-time member of TRB), Romanello has a familiar partner in crime. Likewise, drummer Mike Friedemenn played on the Rock & Roll Fairytales EP in 2006 and fell in naturally. Bassist Matt Vandaveer is an old friend as well, as the two played together during college in the band Rumor. The lineup is completed by guitarist Mike Taylor, who would occasionally fill in when TRB needed a third guitarist, making him a logical addition when Romanello decided to move forward as a three guitar band.

That's one of the things that make The Black Jackets unique, especially on the local scene. When you look at the current rock landscape, there aren't many rock bands with three guitarists: Foo Fighters come immediately to mind, but beyond that, the age of walls of guitars seems to have passed. Of course, it's not easy to fit three guitars into a song, but this trio of friends have distinctly different playing styles which ultimately complement each other and weave together to make a more interesting rock tapestry.

To my ears, Callis is the rock steady rhythm player, filling the pockets with big, chiming chords and appropriately harmonious fills. Romanello's playing is a bit more loose and off the cuff, drawing from more blues derived players and creating more relaxed solos when called for. Mike Taylor is a near polar opposite: the mad scientist and professor of the group, dialing in his tones and solos with a unique precision and deliberate direction. Although on paper it seems as if the three would clash, the opposite is true: each player fills a very specific role and complements the others to create a dense wall of sound.

That wall is so dense, in fact, that at times it's hard to tell who is playing what. In the end, however, the specifics are inconsequential. What matters is that the group has come together to create some of Romanello's most complete and harmonious work to date. One listen to "Lifting Me Higher" is all you should need as an example to convince you. Yes, you heard correctly. I just referenced a new track that exemplifies just what the band is all about. After taking a little time out for the band to get its sea legs back and find a specific direction for its sound, the group finally headed into the studio in March of 2011 to start work on a new EP, which the band is finally ready to release with a party this Saturday night at The Shrine.

Titled Pleased to Meet Us, the disc is both a nod to the Replacements album of the same name (a favorite of Romanello and Vandaveer) and a reintroduction to the band which has now been playing together for three years, yet still flies below the local radar.

If you're wondering what took so long, it has simply been a matter of timing and priorities. Shows over the past couple of years have been sporadic at best, in part due to the fact that Taylor and Friedemann are also members of Philip Zoellner Band, which has on occasion created scheduling conflicts. On other occasions, it has provided the perfect opportunity for both bands to share the bill and play together.

It's also a matter of priority. As Romanello explains it, all of the guys in the band are married and there are now a total of six "band kids" to be accounted for. "We all have lives and primary jobs," he said. And although the members may have let the dream of being big rock stars pass in favor of families, there's still a part of them that wants to rock. "We all have our lives, but we still want to play," Romanello shared. "We're all just approaching it from a different angle and we're all happy with where we're at."

As a result, The Black Jackets haven't been in any hurry to rush anything out. If anything, the band has been more focused on playing when and where schedules would allow and paying its dues to reestablish itself on the local scene. It also took its time in crafting the five songs that comprise the new EP to make it a true band effort. Romanello stressed the fact that these songs are truly a product of the band and everyone's input. "I came to the guys with the songs on an acoustic guitar with lyrics, but the rest became a full band effort to bring these songs to life," he shared. The band makes a return to The Shrine the Saturday night, November 3, for the release party for Pleased to Meet Us with special guest Promo Dave & the Haters, All About A Bubble and Scotty Isaacs, formerly of Traveler) opening the show. Cover is $7 and everyone in attendance will receive a download card for a free digital copy of the new EP.

When discussing the release with Romanello, he shared that "So much has changed since I started in music. It seems like everyone gives their music away now. We did this record ourselves and did it on our terms, how we wanted. We wanted to share it with our fans and give it away, but not to just anyone. This way we're giving it to our fans and to anyone who cares enough to come out."

Of course, for those who prefer to have an actual CD in hand, physical copies will be available for sale at the show as well. Regardless of your preferred method of listening -- via digital copy or CD, this EP opens the door to the next chapter of Romanello's career with a band of friends and musical peers. The songs may be some of his best yet, especially the aforementioned "Lifting Me Higher" and reflective "The Way It Goes", which also appeared on this year's Homegroan compilation.

More than anything, however, it's a great reintroduction to Romanello's songwriting and a band that promises to carry on into the future on its own terms, balancing life, music and rock & roll dreams.

"We've been playing for a long time and this is our way to give back to the people who have supported us. That's really the motive behind this record," Romanello shared. "We appreciate the people who have stuck with us over the years and we're happy to still be doing this."

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