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01/19/11 • Albums • By Leslie Connors
Critique: "Live at Quiet Waters Park - 2010"
The Kings of Crownsville Genre(s): New Orleans Jazz; Blues

The Kings of Crownsville have earned their title. On "Live at Quiet Waters Park – 2010," the band delivers a tightly-wound yet spontaneously energetic performance that must've had their audience in a trance.

At first, the "Quiet" seemed like a winking reference to the absence of loud applause from the concertgoers; vocalist/guitarist Steve Johnson referring to them as a "tough crowd" in the audio only added validity to that theory. Hopefully, the ecstatic cries of the fans were simply edited out; if not, that "tough crowd" needs a walloping for not fully appreciating this sweltering mélange of jazz, blues, and even country.

"We are the children of dark and light," exclaims Johnson on the opening cut, "Dark 'n Light." Johnson is either referring to mulattos or the multi-racial roots of New Orleans jazz. Either way, the song delights in the balance of the sun and the moon. Pete Miller's heavy, swaggering bass is offset by the giddy horns, united by the Steely Dan smoothness of Johnson's coolly detached vocals. There's a slight reggae tilt in "Dark 'n Light" as well, giving it that extra spice. Mike McCormick's rollicking keyboards on "Tanqueray" inject fuel into the track's easygoing rhythm while the bluesy talk-singing of Johnson recalls Jimi Hendrix's bold articulation.

There are a handful of covers on "Live at Quiet Waters Park – 2010" but perhaps none better than the Neville Brothers' "Yellow Moon." A painfully simmering tale of infidelity and jealousy, "Yellow Moon" is a heartbreaker to begin with. However, McCormick's icy-cold delivery, wherein wounded emotions are clawing at the surface, is a show stopper. The rest of the Kings conjure images of a tropical paradise of his lost love, her adulterous romp tearing into his imagination. One hopes that the audience the Kings played to that night was awed into silence. After all, music as good as this can leave some speechless.


The Capital

Courting a following
Kings build fan base through unique blend of musicality, experience
By Theresa Winslow, Staff Writer
Published 01/23/11

Steve Johnson and his friends have dinner together every week, but no one really starts cooking until after they eat.

The Band
By Paul W. Gillespie — The Capital
The Kings of Crownsville hold court in the bar and lounge at Cafe Mezzanotte in Severna Park last weekend. The six-member band plays a unique mix of jazz, rock, country, folk and blues.

The group of friends that includes a social worker, architect, neuroscientist, software engineer, retired Air Force officer and finance manager - all of whom qualify for AARP membership - set down the knives and forks, pick up their axes, and transform into the Kings of Crownsville.

The band, which was founded six years ago, plays original music that cuts across a wide range of genres. Think New Orleans-tinged jazz mixed with rock, blues, folk and country performed with tight vocal harmonies and instrumentation that speaks to the experience of the musical veterans.

In addition to the Kings, all six members have played with other groups, and many still do. Bassist Pete Miller of Arnold, for example, is also part of O'Malley's March, the Celtic rock band featuring Gov. Martin O'Malley, as well as a handful of other bands. Trombonist Jim Tavener of Crownsville founded the Annapolis Junction Big Band and also runs a swing band.

The other Kings are: Rob Creath of Baltimore on drums, Mike McCormick of Severna Park on keyboards and Ed Justice of Millersville on trumpet.

Creath is the youngest member, at 50.

Johnson, who's lead singer and songwriter, as well as guitarist and the only founding member still with the band, is the oldest at 61.

"I like the fact that it's a very eclectic mix of music," said Justice, the band's newest member who joined six months ago. "I love jazz, I love rock and I love folk, and the with the Kings we do elements of all those - sometimes in the same song."

Johnson described the sound as "Louis Armstrong meets Steely Dan."

The Kings take their name from his ties to New Orleans, where he spent half his childhood, and his current residence near Crownsville. They perform at venues from Baltimore to the Eastern Shore and recently released a live CD. The recording features nine songs from a July concert at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis. Another CD is on the way this summer.

"To me, (music) is just sort of what I do to make sense of my life," Johnson said.

His songs touch on everything from relationships and growing up to politics to the economy, often with flashes of an ironic sense of humor.

Some feature unique rhymes, like this phrase from "Your Butterfly Tattoo'': "I dig your attitude and your general demeanor. Your cool philosophies and your 1990 Beemer."

Here are another couple lines from the same song: "I like your existential ectoplasmic point of view. Sometimes I wonder just who the hell I'm talking to."

Many times, Johnson first gets an idea for a song while he's driving, then goes home and tries it out on the guitar before presenting to the rest of the band for their input. Every number is polished at those after-dinner get-togethers, which usually feature some type of chicken, before it's debuted for an audience.

"A lot of what I write is for the band; the band becomes your instrument," Johnson said. "Your band starts to have a certain sound, so you want to write for that sound."

Royal treatment

One of the regular gigs for the Kings is at Cafe Mezzanotte in Severna Park. They played in the restaurant's bar and lounge last weekend, when they had the unenviable task of following the Ravens playoff game.

The crowd, which was watching the game intently, was understandably down after the nail-biting loss. The band also started a bit late because of the game, but it only took a couple songs to lift people's spirits and get them clapping.

The Kings started their first of three sets with two originals, "Rise Up" and "He Built a Wall," then segued into their own version of the Beatles' "Come Together." It added a New Orleanian flavor and roaring horns to the classic. Johnson said adapting the song for the band was actually fairly easy, taking only two rehearsals.

Among those taking in the concert was Kosmas (Tommie) Koukoulis, who owns Cafe Mezzanotte. He's a big fan of the group, which plays his venue monthly. The Kings, for their part, enjoy performing there, even though the stage area doesn't leave much extra room once they move in all their equipment.

"I love these guys," said Koukoulis. "They've got a hip sound; their own blend of rock and blues."

The Kings played for over three hours before calling it a night, performing more than 20 songs. Every time they get together, the members said they have fun, but they also improve their musical synergy.

"To find this is rare," said Creath.

Reproduced by permission: Capital Gazette Communications, Inc., 2011.

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