by Jason Trachtenburg
It’s Me or the Dog
So here’s the story, and please correct me if I am misled.
I first met Emily Frembgen when we were working our respective day jobs. While I was walking some serious dogs, Emily was pulling espresso shots in a curiously positioned coffee kiosk in the middle of a shrine dedicated to everything supposedly indie, that has since been relocated to Times Square.
Everyone knows the routine by now. You work your job early in the day time, so that your night time is open for show biz. That’s how it works.
Emily and I got to talking and sure enough, we were both songwriters. She told me about “Americana Mondays,” a show that she hosted on the regular at the Knitting Factory. These shows would feature a whole array of songwriters working in various genres, but who touched on Americana music in one way or another, and Emily curated these shows!
Eventually I became familiar with Emily’s repertoire through the Knitting Factory shows, and other shows at Pete’s Candy Store and the former Sidewalk Cafe, and a good number of these songs appear on Emily Frembgen’s new album, It’s Me or the Dog. But let’s take a step forward for a moment.
If I understand this like I should, It’s Me or the Dog is a choice, and you can’t have both. “But in a perfect world, we would have everything,” says Emily. This line is from a song on her album, “Silver Lining,” a countrified rock song with a strong message concerning unfulfilled needs and wants, and can be seen in a hilarious new video featuring well known New York actor and comedian Mike Amato.
To continue, just so you know, there are two kinds: The kind that likes to lie, and the kind that doesn’t like to lie.
In other words, everyone lies, but there are actually some out there who LIKE to lie!!! And when that’s the case, you know you are in for it. I am referring, of course, her song “Changes” (https://open.
“Sad Affair,” has nods to our beloved Mr. Zimmerman with full on harmonicas, Hammond B3 Organ, elongated notes, the word “ridiculous,” and the clear message of confusion contained when “searching for signs.”
One of the standout songs on the album is “Flower/Weed,” which was just released as a snow video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLByBtCx6C4). It’s a classic, literally, containing Baroque-esque chordal patterns and Shakespearian sonnet-like lyricisms. Keith Xenos’ sparse and haunting keyboard gives way to arpeggio guitar and a self-inflicted, one-sided, back and forth conversation with a soon to be ex-close friend.
So, getting back to the story. I talked my way into Americana Mondays by somehow convincing Emily that I was a bonafide Americana songwriter. I mostly write ’60s and ’70s style pop music along with ’40s and ’50s Big Band Swing, and most recently children’s songs for a pigeon named Frankie. But it takes one to know one.
I’d sit up in bed with a Guild acoustic and started to strum out a different kind of song. I was “turning Americana” whether I knew it or not, and I think I knew it. The years were 2017 and 2018, and I became involved with a project that needed Americana folk-pop music with a flair for the early 1960’s. (1963 to be exact, but more about that in a bit.) I performed at Americana Mondays a few more times and once even wore a country shirt! I started an Americana Sundays series of shows (or was it Tuesdays??) at a Williamsburg Grateful Dead themed bar/venue called Wonders of Nature, where Emily was on the bill with Turner Cody and Sam James, among others.
Emily is one the top singers on the songwriter scene. I always knew that. And as singers, we try and have what we like to call these “million-dollar moments.” You know, where everything has been fulfilled musically, and the vocalist enters the room and proceeds to turn the shop upside-down. Well, that is the case and point by the song “Turn Around.”
A beautiful portrait of a musical landscape has been painted on guitars, both petal steel and electric on this track, by Hugh Pool. By waiting an extra measure before the chorus, the door has been cracked open for a million-dollar musical moment. All three choruses are larger than life, and, when Emily sings the title line, “Turn Around,” a certain perfection in sound has been created that can never be captured again. This is a million-dollar musical moment that will last forever.
The last song on the album, “He Held Onto Me,” asks “… why does this feel like the end?” The song sounds like it’s about some kind of breakup. It features Brian Mitchell on piano and some shooting stars of some slide guitars at the very end as the song fades and the album ends.
At the very end, we have been treated to a high level professional recording of songs that span the gamete of Americana with some of the sweetest vocals this side of the Mississipp’.
I never knew there was even a choice, but likely this is just my inexperience talking right now. Let’s just put it this way: I’m not choosin’ the dog!
Check out the CD release show for Emily Frembgen on Thurs. Sept. 23 at the Knitting Factory.
EMILY FREMBGEN (https://www.emilyfrembgen.com/) is a NYC-based singer-songwriter. After a successful tour and two albums with Language of Termites (In a Different Time and Place and Preterito Perfeito) in her hometown of Denver, she returned to the Big Apple, created four solo albums, curated a multitude of events including a weekly Americana show at the Knitting Factory. Her album It’s Me or the Dog is due out in September. She’s also written multiple theme songs for podcasts including Kate Willett’s “Reply Guys” and starred alongside Jason Trachtenburg (of Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players fame) in his off-Broadway musical Me & Lee (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu3NGGqmrKc&t=1085s). Read more about Me & Lee in Boog City (wordpress.boogcity.com/boogpdfs/bc133.pdf).
JASON TRACHTENBURG (https://www.youtube.com/user/jasonpendulumswings) is best known for his role as “The Dad” in the long running Off-Broadway and Indie-rock act The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players. He has appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, MTV, VH1, Sundance Channel, The Bonnaroo Fest, and is a multiple-time award winner at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He has received feature coverage in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, N.M.E., Spin, and many more. He has given a T.E.D. talk, and his band’s debut album (Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. 1) reached #79 in the CMJ charts. Jason’s first musical, Dr. Glassheart – A Modern-Day Medical Musical Comedy, is being developed into a podcast. His current musical, Me & Lee – The Musical is the authorized musical adaptation of the historical autobiography of Judyth Vary Baker: Teen Science Superstar, witness to history, and secret girlfriend of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. Jason is the president of the 4th St. Food Co-op in New York City.