Jon Herchert, a.k.a. Dark Pony, is not new to the Minneapolis music scene. He has been playing around town for years--since his high school days, in fact, as the lead singer in his first band Mango Jam, some 22 years ago. Herchert is arguably one of the most credible musicians in town; his craftsmanship is impeccable, and his talents have been widely sought after (he's played with the likes of Alicia Wiley, Keri Noble, and Johnny Lang, among others). Finally, after over two decades of playing other people's music, Herchert figures it's high time to get his own sound out there.
As to be expected, it's well worth the wait.[jump]
Herchert's debut album, Suburban Serenade Vol. 1, isn't groundbreaking. It's not going to stop you in your tracks, it's not going to stir any blog-buzz. That's not the point. What Herchert has accomplished in Serenade is something much more permanent and terrifically wonderful--something that comes from a place of ease, of an artist who is unequivocally comfortable with his life and his music, who realizes what he has and is entirely grateful for it.
More than music, Herchert's songs reflect the pleasure he takes in life--a life which, for an artist with a debut album, may seem odd. Herchert lives in Deephaven, in a tucked-away, end-of-the-world suburban paradise, with his wife Teresa (who is easily one of the most beautiful women in the world, whom Herchert has known since they were both twelve) and his two children. When I stopped by his house to interview him, he was in the middle of rolling out pasta by hand for homemade tortellini. While I stood in the family kitchen, alternating between asking Herchert about his music and what he was doing to that fresh crab, Theresa was lighting candles on the deck. As a few more friends arrived and we filtered outside, lightly chatting and sipping wines and beers, Herchert fired up the grill for his lime-cilantro glazed shrimp, and it was then that I fully realized what was happening: a suburban serenade, indeed.
That's just the way Herchert does it, though. That's just everyday to him, and the simple complacency has grounded him. Suburban Serenade symbolizes this--achieves it, in fact. The album meanders around Americana and folk-pop, creating what Herchert cheekily terms as "suburban man rock," a sort of gospel-pop-country fusion. Herchert is backed by a phenomenal cast of characters: Matt Novachis on drums, Jim Anton on bass, Jared Rush on keys, and gospel singer Tonia Hughes, who all contribute to the rollicking, wide ranging nature of the album.
Album standouts like the countrified track "Dog," with its lonesome edge and catchy chorus, and the sad, regret-tinged "Hey Ma" bring Suburban Serenade to light as an honest work. Part of that is Herchert's voice--an instrument in itself, as he unabashedly carries all his Half the songs are laced with a deftly played pedal-steel guitar for that vaguely familiar sound of home, of music in its purest, most unpretentious form. "Suburban man rock" might be accurate on some level--Herchert certainly isn't "indie" (not that it matters), but if nothing else, it's a heartfelt folk album from a man who knows, at last, what he's doing and what he hopes for.
"My hope..." Herchert trails off, smiling crookedly, still trying to fit into the confidence he has in his abilities. "My hope is that people recognize it as good music, and want to hear more. What's unique about my record is that it's just me--I produced it, I engineered it, I mixed it... and it's a big release for me to let thus stuff go. It's been over twenty years in the making. I've had these songs written for years, but I wasn't sure of myself. And then I started a family, I was working for Youth Frontiers, and I just put my own music on the back burner." Herchert breathes in some cool air, looks around with pleasure at the faces gathered before him on his deck.
"It got to a point when I realized I couldn't put it off. It's my darkness kind of coming to light," Herchert says, referring to his music. "This is a big gig, this is a big deal for me. I'm just not that good of a promoter, and I'm not that good at promoting myself." Herchert laughs sheepishly, having pointedly eschewed the spotlight for over two decades. "But it's just time, and I've got to let it go, to make way for more things." The release party for Suburban Serenade will be taking place at the Cedar Cultural Center on Friday, August 26th. Doors at 7 p.m. $15 cover. Go, if you like good music.
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