In this evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we delve into Sonnet Cottage, an alternative indie folk outfit hailing from northern Virginia. They recently dropped their second studio endeavor, a wonderfully soothing little collection entitled ‘Half Written Story.’ The introspective, acoustic jaunt through catchy melodies and a powerful female vocalist is one of the most sublime efforts of 2015. Let’s dig right into it.

Vocalist Rachel Russell is the defining highlight of the entirety of ‘Half Written Story.’ The instrumentation backing her is simplistic and easy-going - soft string sections, subdued acoustic percussion, and plucked acoustic guitars craft a soundscape of remarkable tact. ‘This Time Around,’ the opener of the album, is also one of the best tunes of the bunch. It introduces as Russell as a versatile, but comfortable vocalist. Nothing on this album overreaches itself or feels out of place, which is certainly an admirable quality.

Now, an album that doesn't overextend its hand is typically a record that also plays it too safe. Sonnet Cottage does do this throughout their sophomore effort, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From the reverberated, dream-like pastures of ‘Not Enough’ to the classically-tinged ‘Rushing Past,’ the band manages to explore their musical tendencies without feeling too ‘safe.’ Goodness, I’d argue the latter track is actually more than a bit experimental, even toying with some jazz stylings.

‘Half Written Story,’ the epic title track, manages to break the band out of their acoustic singer songwriter-esque musings, digging deeper into that alternative indie influence they boast in their self-description. Tunes like ‘A Million Voices’ do this masterfully as well. Again, jazz influence is abundantly apparent. Sometimes, the line between accessible jazz and folk is blurred. Just look at the pinnacle Tom Waits record, ‘Closing Time.’ I’d argue it is sonically similar to Sonnet Cottage’s sound. When Waits recorded that record, he wanted to make a jazz album. He got lost in folk ideas, though, and the album is an odd, but massively satisfying hybrid of the two. That’s exactly what ‘Half Written Story’ is.

This isn’t an extended review, so I’m just dealing with the highlights of the eleven track collection. Thus, I’d like to close on some thoughts about ‘Scarborough Fair.’ Obviously, it’s a Simon and Garfunkel cover. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. A cover song of such a notable song can go so wrong in so many ways. Then, I heard the song. Man, it’s excellent. The female harmonies play it very true to form - there isn’t much of a deviation here between the cover and the original. That works, though, because you have two options when crafting a superb cover: pay homage through simplicity and faithfulness, or go out way into left field. Sonnet Cottage does the former well.

‘Half Written Story’ is a wonderful little record chock-full of compelling tunes that’ll have you humming them for weeks. The record does play it safe, but it does so in a manner that doesn’t necessarily make you anxious for change, or bored, for that matter. With that said, I’d stream the album and pick the songs you enjoy to download and buy. Chances are you may enjoy half the record and feel indifferent to the other half. It isn’t completely fluid in its quality, and it does meander. When it really sets itself to it, though, it kicks other acoustic-based indie acts to the curb.

Half Written Story composed by Sonnet Cottage happens to have become an instant Fall favorite. Now traditionally music is intended to invoke movement, emotion or thought. In the hyped up internet universe we all live within it is hard trying to find a simplistic yet capable band worthy of expanding into unknown territory. Torey and Rachel of Sonnet Cottage have seemingly grown up from the frozen ground by placing themselves in the middle of a revolving spectrum of Pop music. That being said, easily any college radio station would pick up their album Half Written Story, finding at least one track to spin on the airwaves.

Once the progression of the songs take hold, not only does the album sound good and well produced without being given an overall analyzed/cleaned up approach. A raw underlying aggression is mustered while tender voices speak out about actions all by attaching beautifully written lyrics. Not at a single moment did Sonnet Cottage have to prove that they happened to have something different. Not getting lost in the dozens of other acoustic ridden Alternative/Indie acts is the biggest accomplishment. Standing out from the crowd by never raising your voice louder than a whisper. Some musicians should not slip through your hands as if they were sand. Sitting and engrossing oneself in the full time that the album allows, drinking in an ounce by ounce of lyrical content formed into none other than a story. First off, a congratulations for transforming a story into an album…as time has shown that can go over brilliantly or fall off the face of the Earth.

Elements that can be summed up for Sonnet Cottage has a bit of Jazz, Folk, Alternative, Indie and Rock. Acapella could be a venture these two women could create and all the while being excited already for what the next album could bring.

What comes across as a stroke of genius is that the band name Sonnet Cottage, very much so captures their sound. Mainly the band name can be the last thing with any real thought attached to the band. However, this one has a special fire slowly growing into a beam of spectacular light.

Sonnet Cottage is an alternative folk band from Northern Virginia. The "band" is actually sisters Torey and Rachel Russell with help from guitarist Buddy Speir. They released their debut album, "Another Time" in 2012 and are back with a new album called, "Half Written Story". It is evident from listening to the music that the influences are deeply rooted in classical, folk and jazz music. The songwriting is pretty straight forward and the overall effect of the arrangements is an "ethereal" sound which gives it a nice quality, different from a lot of the Americana or so called alt-country bands populating the landscape these days.

The album starts off with the title track that at first sounds like they borrowed a few licks from Coldplay but settles quickly into a dreamy, melodic statement of purpose. The girls have worked hard on blending their vocals and each has a distinct sound that compliments the other. For my taste, the production on this track is a bit busy and muddled but by the second track, the record has settled into a better groove and production that is a little simpler and emphasizes the vocals a little better. Let's face reality. The songwriting is adequate and sometimes interesting but the best thing this band has going for it is the sister act and the vocal arrangements. The subtle harmonies and interplay between the principals is what sets this group apart from the rest.

Sonnet Cottage has been nominated this year for folk artist of the year and "Half Written Story" is nominated for folk album of the year by the International Music and Entertainment Association’s IMEA Awards. Quite an achievement for a band with just two albums to their credit. The Russell sisters are in their zone and we expect great things from this duo in the future.

Tap on the the Vents Magazine link above to read the interview!

Sonnet Cottage technically consists of singing sisters Rachel and Torey Russell and pianist/composer Kent Heckaman, though credit should also be given to the slew of studio musicians fleshing out the arrangements. Formed in 2010, Sonnet Cottage sets out to create peaceful, fun and contemplative alt-folk music, supporting a number of environmental causes in the process. For the most part they have succeeded. Heckaman has been writing songs and producing for other artists for quite some time. Some of his previous instrumental work makes an appearance on (piano piece “As The Story Unfolds” gains new life with vocal accompaniment under the name “Waterfront Park”). Rachel and Torey each posses delicate voices, but when in harmony their voices take on an even greater dream like quality, especially on “Letting It All Go.” -

In addition to composing the music, Heckaman serves as the primary songwriter for Sonnet Cottage’s material. Another Time’s most effective tracks employ a show-don’t-tell approach. Rather than addressing an issue directly “Waterfront Park” and “The Caretaker” draw your attention to the little details, like coffee stains on a homeless man’s shirt or missing seasons in an old woman’s memory. Other tracks, such as “Root Beer Stand In Afghanistan” and “Most Unlikely” occasionally force rhymes or use other awkward tactics to get their point across. “Little Did I Know” manages to convey a message of environmental ignorance bluntly yet with enough finesse to compliment its elegant arrangement.

Whatever flaws Another Time has seem insignificant when compared against “The Caretaker.” This simple folk melody accompanied by rainfall slowly grows into a gentle, beautiful waltz. The track feels light and graceful, joyous and calm. Until of course you realize the song is written from the perspective of someone with Alzheimer’s. Then the song makes sense, and the emotion hits you like a ton of bricks. Most impressively, “The Caretaker” contains no trace of pretention or stiffness, and the lyrics move as gracefully as the music.

For the time being, Sonnet Cottage sounds more like another Heckaman endeavor than a cohesive group. The perfectionism of the arrangements and use of an army of studio musicians make Sonnet Cottage sound more rich than most three-member groups. Heckaman has once again demonstrated his compositional skill, but his work as a lyricist can be hit or miss; when Heckaman hits, though, he hits hard. They have already created peaceful, beautiful music, but if Sonnet Cottage can find the organic connection that all folk music requires they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Folk band Sonnet Cottage (Kent Heckaman and sisters Rachel & Torey Russell) are considerably fresh to the scene, having just formed in 2010. But that doesn’t mean the trio (driven by classical, folk and jazz influences) hasn’t already found their refined sound; sample a few songs from their first record, “Another Time”, and you’ll appreciate Sonnet Cottage as one of the better folk songwriting acts on the scene.

Heckaman says of the collection, “‘Another Time’ is an album that needs to be listened to from start to finish in the quiet of your living room…this is not a record that suggests we are trying to fit into the mainstream with a fleeting single.” He continues, “We hope fans discover our ethereal soundscapes that work well with our vocal textures… We write lyrics that are both poetic in nature and meaningful in content and hope that they leave the listener in a contemplative mode.”

Check out “Another Day” – after Sonnet Cottage spends some more time in studio, you’ll certainly find them mastering their stage performance. There’s a whole lot more to get into, so keep reading for all the answers to the XXQ’s.

Click hear to read the interview between Kent and Pens Eye View: http://www.penseyeviewnew.com/pev/2012/07/26/sonnet-cottage/

‘Another Time’ from Sonnet Cottage ‘gentle melodic harmony’

(June 28, 2012)


Two otherworldly voices like reflections in the same mirror, slide delicately over the songs on ‘Another Time’. They create a fragile, sometimes unearthly soundscape that entices you into its melodic harmony. This is Sonnet Cottage and their debut album ‘Another Time’. There’s the slightest suggestion of early, layered CSN-style ephemera floating around that sits well with the slightly whimsical ambiance of the music and feels completely in place.

From the reflective realization of ‘Letting it All Go’ through the understated pastoral naivety of ‘Most Unlikely’, the incipient longing of ‘Waiting For Summer’ to ‘Waterfront Park’ with its simple elegance, the sisters voices shimmer and dance around the melodies. There’s a slight, but welcome step change with ‘Trail of the Wind’ with its brass accents and more overtly stated percussive changes but still the voices blend into an elusive echo.

This is elegant American indie folk. It’s music for listening. Slip through its mellow narratives and find soothing sympathies to take you away from the hustle and bustle of life. And that in itself is the only downside – perhaps just a little too much of the same. Irrespective, Kent Heckaman writes undeniably pure lyrics around some carefully crafted tunes; the sisters’ voices do the rest.

Sonnet Cottage are sisters Rachel and Torey Russell (vocals) and Kent Heckaman (piano, keyboards) supporting them on ‘Another Time’ are a host of fine musicians and a plethora of instruments including drums, percussion, guitar, bass, cello, viola, harp, trumpet, flugelhorn, harmonica, flute, banjo, fiddle and bouzouki.

Sonnet Cottage is an inspired and ethereal indie/alternative/folk trio made up of sisters/vocalists Rachel and Torey Russell, and acoustic mastermind Kent Heckaman. Their new album “Another Time” delivers more wisdom than you’d typically expect from just about any release, really, so I could tell very quickly that the group would be a welcome addition to my personal playlists. My favorite track is definitely the opening track “Letting It All Go”, with it’s calm, collected, but mourning vocals trading off, urging the listener to drop everything and just be. All of this over beautiful and lush musical arrangements, and the stage is set for contemplation. Sonnet Cottage are serious, both musically and thematically, and this much is evident right away.

“Most Unlikely” is another stunner. It’s almost too artistic and strange to be a single, and this works in Sonnet Cottage’s favor. The vocals and music are typically gorgeous, but the chord choices make the piece especially interesting. The title track “Another Time” once again takes the emotion of the witness perspective. The feeling you get when listening to this music is one of someone watching their life from a distance, neutral and accepting. This is where Sonnet Cottage is at their most intriguing.

“Waiting for Summer” is a surprisingly somber outing, given the track name, and it’s absolutely sublime. Try listening to this as you walk through the park people watching. It’s the kind of song that makes you see the world differently. Brilliant lyrics and an emotive delivery make for a gut-wrenching performance. Kent Heckaman sets the mood perfectly. This is a standout track…sad and human. “Trail of the Wind” picks up the pace, but not so much as to break the flow of the album. I’m once again struck by the lyrical choices and earnest singing by the Russell sisters, as well as the spiritual quality of the music.

“The Caretaker” is another album highlight, with it’s darkness and hope.

“Another Time” is a stunning release overall and I’d recommend it highly to fans of Sufjan Stevens, Midlake, Norah Jones, Sinead O’ Connor, Radiohead, and Nick Drake.  I would also recommend their music to any folks who are inclined towards serious self-inquiry, which some call “soul searching”.

Sonnet Cottage social media:

Facebook -- https://www.facebook.com/SonnetCottage Twitter -- https://twitter.com/SonnetCottage YouTube -- https://www.youtube.com/user/SonnetCottage

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