“Musical couple Tom Mank and Sera Smolen from Ithaca New York have been making music since 1994. Mank is responsible for poetic lyrics, singing and guitar. Dr. Smolen is a classically trained cellist. The couple has now produced seven successful albums. Tonight they are in the good company of harmonica virtuoso Gait Klein Kromhof, singer-songwriter and also producer and engineer Rich DePaolo, violinist Amy Merrill, and Julie Last (vocals and guitar) - known for her work as producer and sound engineer for Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Shawn Colvin and Rickie Lee Jones.

The first set starts with the up-tempo ‘Baltimore The Blues’ (Almost Time 2001), followed by ‘Harpers Ferry’ from the latest album ‘Unlock The Sky’. Then a fine ‘Waiting For The Train’ sung by Last, followed by ‘The Valley Of Elah’, sung and announced by DePaolo as a metaphor of David and Goliath, beautifully accompanied by Merrill on her antique viola d'amore a chiavi from Leipzig. Then, announced as "Pre-Trumpian", but still very current song ‘Love In A Difficult World’, with lyrics like "We're told we all need guns, to protect us from our fear" underlines that.

Mank is very busy with the history of the wars that have played in West Flanders and elsewhere and has written several beautiful songs about it, of which we hear a few tonight, such as ‘Bannockburn’ (battle in Scotland 1314), accompanied by the sad sounds of Smolen's cello. "They do not ask for war". The last of the first set is ‘Off-Beat Rhyme’, ending with an impressive solo by Klein Kromhof on harmonica (he has at least 25 in his case).

At the start of the second set, Mank apologizes for running behind for 20 minutes. So they clearly feel like it and start with ‘Green Apple’ (Swimming In The Dark 2013), ‘Small Boat’ sung by Last with a nod to Joni Mitchell and ‘Quiet Of The Night’. This is followed by the quiet ‘I Left The City’ (Unlock The Sky 2017) and the Sergeant Oliver, known as 'serious song', about WW1.

And then, with great admiration from the audience, a long and impressive solo by Smolen called ‘Unlock The Sky’, also the title of their latest album.

‘Thunder & Lightning’ is one of the most beautiful songs on it. The harmonica game by Klein Kromhof is so strikingly good that he can even make Toots T. smile on the other side. Add to that the lovely voice of Last, the slide guitar game of DePaolo, the deep cello sounds of Smolen and Merrill's beautiful sounding viola ... then you can not help but regard this evening as very special.

The audience can not get enough of it, resulting in an encore with ‘Crooked Moon’ (‘Love, Love, See You Soon’).

Tonight we witnessed 6 skilled musicians who performed at a very high level during each mentioned song !!”


"The cello of Sera Smolen drives the clouds away, but never completely. You know that the cello brings its own melancholy and that's no different on 'Unlock The Sky' (self-produced) from Tom Mank and Sera Smolen. Mank is a talking bard who loves to collect the sun rays that pine through the deck of clouds. He warms himself up. For example, he sings on a wall in a city that reflects the sunlight ('I Left The City'). He seeks love in a world of war ('Love In A Difficult World'). The collaboration between cellist Smolen and singer-songwriter Mank delivers special music. It is folk with classical undertones that can end up quite jazzy. The American couple is currently working on a tenth Dutch tour. That explains the contribution of the Dutchman Gait Klein Kromhof (harmonica) to 'My Thunder And Lightning' along with Belgian Kimberly Claeys who sings a duet with Mank. The record was largely made in Woodstock NY. Before the album concludes with 'Amsterdam', Smolen plays the instrumental title number which gives her the opportunity to display her school-based game."

"Tom Mank and Sera Smolen have been playing together for a number of decades. Mank is a singer / songwriter who accompanies himself on guitar, and Smolen plays cello, so together they actually form a rather unusual combination, because Smolen does not sing. But her cello game adds a lot of extra attention to Mank's songs, and there is still an increasing amount of listening to be done on the instrumental level than there is for the usual singer / songwriter songs.

For example, listen to 'My Thunder and Lightning', in which the Dutch mouth harmonist Gait Klein Kromhof plays a duet with the cello of Smolen - which only produces beautiful music. The title song of the album 'Unlock the Sky' is Smolen's only composition and also the only instrumental song, and you can hear how great Smolen is - it's a breathtaking piece of solo cello that also makes the classically educated Smolen a composer on her own.

Mank and Smolen regularly perform in Belgium and the Netherlands, hence there are also some musicians from these regions playing on their album and also this is where part of the album was recorded. Keep an eye on the playlist of this phenomenal duo and absolutely go see them when they perform in the neighborhood, and tune in to this beautiful CD."

Tom Mank & Sera Smolen - Unlock the Sky - Ithaca Reocords 5679

"Tom and Sera have been together for more than twenty years. Guitarist Tom taught himself how to be a singer / songwriter and played over the years in folk, blues and bluegrass bands. Sera, on the other hand, is a classically trained cellist. For 'Unlock The Sky', Tom and Sera recorded in Woodstock, where they are surrounded by local musicians, which produces a very good result.  

The honky-tonk piano immediately gets the duo started in the bluesy opener 'Harpers Ferry', then gets an extra push by adding Sera's cello. Unusual but successful! That cello also opens the heavy-hearted 'Love In A Difficult World'. Once the song has started, Sera's cello takes on the role of bass and lead guitar, which it does with great effect. In fact, she keeps doing this often. The cello is even more beautiful during 'Ballad Of The Blue Sea', where Sera initially starts with a rather classical sounding intro, then adds seamlessly to the guitar and percussion. She can win all honors during her solo moment, the instrumental title track.

Tom Mank's vocal sometimes reminds me of Rod McKuen. That voice, by the way, is fantastic, combined with the sweet voice of Sera's cello.  This is especially reflected in the song 'My Thunder And Lightning'.

'Unlock The Sky' leaves a special impression because of the prominent cello. This instrument is not only used in classical music, it is proven by class. "


"Beautiful melodic songs, influenced by people and Americana, with a moment of glory for the cello, which replaces in a fantastic way both the bass and lead guitar."

The magic of music between the visual arts

"Public appearance does not say anything about the quality of music. Sometimes you enjoy the most beautiful evenings with a wealth of handful of fellow enthusiasts. Last night there were so no more than twenty visitors witnessed the magic that originated in the already special music of Tom Mank & Sera Smolen between the visual art that was exhibited in The Space in Geldrop.

In the former post office of Geldrop, art is now being exhibited in Galerie De Ruimte. It is about images and paintings, but also jewelry. In addition, attention is paid to performing arts in the form of small-scale concerts. Last night, the American singer songwriter Tom Mank (singing, guitar) was there with his partner Sera Smolen (cello). Their beautiful listening songs got a magical edge in this area, where art is a warm welcome.

It's a unique combination, Tom Mank, a performer with a folk and blues scene, and classically trained cellist Sera Smolen. Mank writes of those wonderful listening stories he takes with his hesitation, sometimes almost whispering voice, guiding himself on acoustic guitar. And then those songs get even more atmosphere thanks to the excellent play of Sera Smolen, who puts her cello layers under the songs that emphasize the content, sometimes romantic soft, and again fiery. There is just a new album from the duo 'Unlock The Sky', of which they play almost all songs. 'Harpers Ferry' is a merry jazzy piece where the title song is a delicious virtuoso instrumental on cello, where you can listen to listen and listen. 'Love In A Difficult World' is a somewhat darker piece of news, while 'My Thunder and Lightning' seems to refer to Mank's recent health perceptions, even if it could be regarded as a love song. On the CD, it appears to be a romantic twinkling with 'Calico Dress' (Mank wrote with Kyle Carey), even though they are not brought together.

But this tour also wants to play some older work next to that CD presentation, so they have chosen songs from the repertoire of the previous four albums they made together. I hear beautiful stories, such as 'Sergeant Oliver' (from Swimming In The Dark, 2013), about a fallen soldier from the First World War and another delicious instrumental of Sera, 'Where Do You Bury A Gipsy?' (from Souls Of Birds, 2004). It was written following a visit to Wales, where they saw a truck with a lot of flowers, people went to the cemetery. It turned out to be a 'gypsy', a nomad who is buried in the place where he was born.

And now 'Unlock The Sky' is on. It has become a wonderful album, which grows with every listener and the magic of the performance continues to sound in the music that comes from the CD player. 

Tom Mank & Sera Smolen can still be seen in the Netherlands and Belgium until the end of April. The performance in Geldrop was like a duo, but at the upcoming concerts they also have guests."


"Separately Tom Mank and Sera Smolen each experienced their own musical crossroads, but since they became a duo in 1994, you can now label them as 'one' and then a 'special one'.
This American couple worked differently - Tom as a folk, blues and bluegrass singer-songwriter and Sera as a classically trained musician with a cello at her side. The collaboration of the two led to a harmonious singing cello, guitar and voice. On this new CD called "Unlock The Sky" you will witness eight poetic masterpieces.
On this new album from the duo of Mank-Smolen, we also hear a little of Belgian - because two Belgian studios are listed as where recordings were made.  Also - last but not least - on Tom Mank's song 'My Thunder and Lightning' we gratefully hear our sweet-voiced Western Queen, Kimberley Claeys - a number which Tom and Kimberley perform as a duet.
From the opener 'Harpers Ferry', Tom and Sera pull together with the rest of the musicians to grab your attention. This first song is somewhat cheerful.  Starting with the next song, the voice of Mank and the cello of Sera pull even closer together and take this album into a sometimes mysterious atmosphere - accompanied by beautiful harmony vocals.
On the same track which our very own 'Little Kim' sings a duet with Tom, there also is a Dutch twist - because Gait Klein Kromhof delivers a clever harmonica track.  The back cover photo is also of Dutch origin, taken especially by Theo Looijmans.  Also, I enjoyed the song 'The Ballad of Blue Seas' - which makes you dream of another less complex world.
The title track 'Unlock The Sky' is a composition of Sera Smolen, an instrumental creation where folk and classical music meet themselves. The final song is 'Amsterdam'."

"Regularly Tom Mank and Sera Smolen admire the Northern Netherlands because of their friends and their annual concert there. This year, the experienced duo arrive with a stunning new album under their arms.  On 'Unlock the Sky', the Americana duo collaborates with many others. Mank writes duets with Jeannie Burns, Kyle Carey and Anna Coogan. It is a relaxing album, with beautiful songs. The opening song is magnificent - "Harpers Ferry" - the duet with Jeannie Burns - is one of the smoothest tracks on the album and already very relaxed. Each song is a lovely little story in itself. The musical cello of Sera Smolen plays a leading role here as does, from the first note, the keyboard. The album was recorded in the United States, but also partly in Belgium. Magnificent also is' Love in a Difficult World' - a strong protest song - highlighted by the duet with Terry Burns. "Calico Dress" is a superb song. The two voices fit and achieve great heights in a beautiful love duet. Gorgeous, you want to hear this!  The stylistically different song is the almost classical 'Unlock the Sky', an instrumental song where Smolen's gets all the space. The album concludes with 'Amsterdam' a beautiful melancholic song about saying goodbye. With eight tracks, I would have liked a bit more quantity, but the quality is very high. Enjoying Tom Mank and Sera Smolen!"


"The guitar / cello duets from veteran singer-songwriter Tom Mank and his partner Sera Smolen are rarely very exciting at the first listening, but turn out - on closer listening - to be always exceptionally beautiful and sophisticated," wrote Eric van Domburg Scipio the editor of the Popmagazine “Heaven”, more than three years ago of this duo. These words, I can fully understand, because Tom and Sera have completely overwhelmed me on “Unlock the Sky”. Rarely has a first listen of an album made such an impression on me, especially by the originality of the repertoire. This couple have already made their mark in the music -  Sera originally trained in classical music and Tom playing in several folk, blues and bluegrass bands. They have performed together as a duo since 1994. Tom writes much of the repertoire, often together with others. “I Left the City” he wrote together with Ithaca resident Anna Coogan, who is well known in the Netherlands. One of the most beautiful songs, “Calico Dress”, he co-wrote with Kyle Carey. Both ladies moreover will soon release new disks of their own.
Not only in the songwriting, Tom also works together with others in the singing of the songs. A large number of singers share the vocals with Tom, including the Belgian singer Kimberly Claeys in “My Thunder and Lightning”. This song also has a Dutch touch, as harmonica virtuoso Gait Klein Kromhof makes a particularly nice contribution. Incidentally Gait will be heard soon on a new album with Ries Vuyst. The photo on the back of the CD is also of Dutch origin, which is made by Theo Looijmans. Tom himself has shown interest in the Netherlands through the re-mix of the song “Amsterdam”. Besides these songs of Tom, there is also a beautiful instrumental composition from Sera, “Unlock the Sky”, which shines. Performing solo, Sera's game is totally unique. I know very few musicians who are known to be so distinguished. Next month they will tour for the tenth time in the Netherlands and Belgium, hopefully you see them, because they bring a special repertoire. It would not surprise me if “Unlock the Sky” at the end of 2017 turns out to be my favorite album of the year.”

"Twenty years already playing singer / guitarist Tom Mank and Sera Smolen cellist together and hear again how they are grown together musically, lyrically and intuitive with each new album released. Where Tom Mank poetic texts writes Sera Smolen accompanies him with cello, sometimes used as a bass. Sera do not sing but instead let her speak cello thousand languages, emotional musical expression of the whole range of emotions in the course of a chained human existence. The songs of Tom Mank are indeed melancholy with a dormant opposition because of anything ever being lost as in the narrative and intrieste "Ballad of The Blue Seas', where you, as it were grieving because of the ship by the calamity of the time is flooded. Tom sings his songs with bluesy warm sometimes musing voice, with female vocalists alternately join him, i.a. Jeannie Burns, Terry Burns, Kimberly Claeys, Kirsti Gholson, and Julie Last. As with the album 'Paper Kisses' in 2010 was the producer Julie Last again the album.

In all those years form the duo making music, the singers and percussionist Manuel Quintana a close friends team that becomes associated with the birth of each new album. The Dutchman Gait Klein Kromhof accompanied by harmonica, namely on the bluesy "My Thunder and Lightning" that has a personal meaning because of the evil that can strike suddenly. If anyone knows Tom Mank, as a true feel closer to express their own grief, pain and adversity in sober vocals, where places and scenes have a special significance. The rhythmic "Harpers Ferry" in duet with Jeannie Burns, and the nostalgic 'Amsterdam' are examples of this. Originally, Tom Mank Ithaca, NY, and he played both folk and bluegrass groups before he went touring with Sera also overseas to the Netherlands and Belgium, where this album was recorded partly. Health problems forced him to insert a break. In "I Left the City 'you can hear the discord of a poet who prefer to escape the city to see somewhere in peace the sun rise. Julie Last sing along with him while the cello Sera seems to mourn all isolated city dwellers, who are deprived of poetry.
It's those intrieste cello sounds that evoke a particular emotional again and again as to when the stunning 'Calico Dress "with the incident flawless voice of Terry Burns, timeless like a fairy tale, in which melancholy and longing lurk like your shadows suspects under a glistening water surface. The unspeakably beautiful and instrumental 'Unlock the Sky' you only hear Sera's cello as it were, the flight of a bird visualizes like this break from the earth to fade in the air. The cellist, fully Dr. Sera Jane Smolen, followed Conservatory and is also a teacher. A composition of its rules, is to classical, mixed at times with a certain spirituality. This dimension can sometimes be found in the songs of Tom next to an undercurrent of bitterness like 'Love in a Difficult World' where the bow voiced the gloom. Anyway Tom Mank proves himself a survivor whose music and poetry are closely intertwined, fed by his commitment to humanity and the creation of lasting beauty.
It's stompy, it's original, and it's gorgeous. We highly recommend it and thank Tom Mank and Sera Smolen Personally for Their Music. Their music is written to inspire all to live life in celebration with all respectfully." - www.rootstime.be
"I really enjoyed this new CD.
Tom Mank & Sera Smolen... Unique... A pure beauty... A fantastic cello (I never heard a cello played like that!) and their 2 voices are a invitation to romanticism, emotions... A music that takes you, that rises your spirit, a stunning sonic landscape...  I will air tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 ['Harpers Ferry', 'Love in a Difficult World', 'My Thunder and Lightning', 'Calico Dress'] in April.
This was good music!"

No one writes or sings like Tom Mank. No one. He is historian, poet, and a keeper of pasts and futures. He writes of and for everyman and every man as if every moment matters. In tones of sepia, glancing into the past while keeping topics universal. He lives in a world romantic, simple emotions and truths the basis of life.   

Too few know Mank's music or the brash-to-delicate cello of wife and partner Sera Smolen who is acknowledged by many people as one of the best in the world on that instrument. They have recorded a number of albums which remain under the radar in spite of the excellence and quality of the music. Over many years they have joined with a cadre of musicians which could be defined as a closed circle, though the circle never quite closes. Based in Ithaca, Mank and Smolen's reach spreads as far as Woodstock and even across the waters to The Netherlands and Belgium.   

If they toured, things might be different, but their busy schedule beyond the music and occasional health issues have kept them, on the whole, close to home which, for this album, was a good thing. It is hard enough to gather a clan, so Mank used the time as opportunity to call in favors from a variety of friends and musicians, most notably Julie Last and Kirsti Gholson (voices) and Manuel Quintana (percussion), who have worked on earlier projects. The addition on the odd tracks of Jeannie Burns, Terry Burns, Ron Kristy, Kimberley Claeys, Gait Klein Kromhof, and Amy Merrill caps off a session of which Mank and Smolen can be proud.

On Unlock the Sky, Mank teams with Jeannie Burns (Hardin & Burns) for an upbeat jazzy blues tune (“Harper's Ferry”) to kick off the album, the voices light and airy, the slight blues groove the same. “Love In a Difficult World” is pure Mank, Smolen providing the beat and incidentals while Mank, Last and Gholson match voices (their work on previous Mank & Smolen albums has been stellar). Mank again duets, this time with Kimberly Claeys, on “Thunder and Lightning,” a song just outside of blues, and again with Terry Burns (Burns & Kristy) on a folk ballad (“Calico Dress”). “Ballad of the Blue Seas” is not about seas at all but the story of the Blue Seas Recording Studio which sank into the Baltimore Harbor under mysterious circumstances (harmony by Last, who also does the honors, and quite admirably, on the following track, “I Left the City.”). Mank decided to rework and include a song originally recorded on the Paper Kisses album, “Amsterdam,” and again the trio of Mank, Last, and Gholson create their magic.   

The anomaly is Sera Smolen's instrumental, “Unlock the Sky.” She has studied the cello for years, worked with David Darling on improvisation, and usually has a solo composition ready when needed. As with past efforts, this is a study outside of genre as she incorporates a variety of movements into a four-and-a-half-minute work. If you want to see something, try to catch her live sometime. She makes the impossible seem easy. Myself, my wrists hurt just watching her.

There is something in the works of Mank & Smolen which is hard to describe. Mank definitely resides outside the mainstream, the music emanating from an inside filled with war, love and conflict, and Smolen--- well, read the last paragraph. The icing on the cake this time around is that Mank, known for reaching out to his peers for musical support, folded as much from as many as he could here. This is a special album, no doubt, and the results show it.

For those who have never heard Tom Mank & Sera Smolen, let me leave you with a few examples of their work. Listen closely. This ain't your Grampa's old folk music.  This is Tom Mank & Sera Smolen. Not quite like anything I have ever heard.

"Oh my - yet another act that's apparently been around for absolutely years, producing a healthy run of CDs since 2000 (five of 'em!) without even making a fleeting appearance, let alone a dent, on my radar (who's been missing me out of their press mailouts then?… grr!). And yet theirs is a very distinctive sound-world that, once heard, is rarely forgotten or mistaken for someone else.

Every track on this album could be judged a highlight - there's not a trace of a makeweight in the disc's 51-minute span

The musical trademark of the duo's approach is found in Sera's wondrous, silky cello lines soaring and dipping above Tom's subtly picked guitar rhythm that's allowed to ring and chime, both elements overlaid by their captivating shared vocals.

Tom's songs are simply stunning. I'm completely won over by this very, very special disc."

"Tom Mank is a singer-songwriter originating from Ithaca New York , cellist Sera Smolen a classically trained musician . The duo performs atmospheric jazzy creations grafted to folk roots . Mank’s lively voice is sparsely accompanied with acoustic strings and harmonica here and there , performed inimitably. Their poetic meditations are exquisite, sometimes slow, but lovely in their meandering path. We hear exclusively accoustic instruments and every number is tastefully and intimately colored by Smolen’s unique cello playing. The groundwork of the recording took place in Bearsville, in Julie Last’s studio. Ms. Last whispers that on some tracks and we also hear singers Anna Coogan , Jeannie Burns, Kristi Gholson and Kyle Carey, both in the foreground and the background. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and moving CDs that I’ve heard in quite some time. "

“Tom Mank could have been a baseball player had things worked out but I’m glad he didn’t make it. If he had, chances are he would never have really given music a chance and that would not have been fair to us. He is one of those hidden treasures, holing himself up in Ithaca, New York with wife Sera Smolen and playing music to (almost) his heart’s content. I don’t know Tom, but I do. I know how much he invests himself in his music and in his friends’ music. I know that he is a good, good man and one talented sonofabitch of a musician. And I love his music. Every time he and Sera release an album (there has never been a question of each recording separately except for the occasional tune), I get nervous because Tom has gotten better with every album and I worry about that jinx so many musicians talk about, but he hasn’t let me down yet. Tom lives the folk/blues and would have fit perfectly into the old New York folk scene of the sixties.”

"Music is like a spiritual meeting place, between the listener and the musician or between friends making music together, even if they are spread far and wide and don’t happen to be in the same place at the same moment. This is possible as long as they have a soul connection and respect each other’s individuality! This cd, “Swimming in the Dark,” was recorded in several different studios: partly in the Coldbrook Studio in Bearsville, NY, but also at various other studios across New York state, in Minneapolis, MN, and even at a studio in Belgium. This does not at all detract from the general feeling of the CD. it comes across as a cohesive whole, interwoven with threads of longing and melancholy. No one else can generate such a poetic sphere the way that Tom and Sera do, enriched by the images Tom creates with words. For almost 20 years the singer/guitar player and classically schooled cellist have toured together. They seem to breathe music like heavenly dew. This album is their 6th, again produced by Julie Last, who sings along in some songs. No less than 8 vocalists join in one after the other with the warm, dark voice of Tom Mank, song poet from Ithaca. And the delicious cello sounds weave both consolation and compassion through the melodies."

Tom Mank is one of those who like to get lost in the landscape or who reach for the mystery of the moon. It makes you want to keep this album close by so you can reach for it every time the “bareable” lightness of being pulls you down."




"If you're looking for that three-o'clock-in-the-morning album, this is it. You know, when you come home polluted or just exhausted and need to wind down. When you wake up at three a.m. and can't get back to sleep. When nothing seems right and you need perspective or everything seems right and you need perspective. You see, the songs on 'Paper Kisses' are soft kisses on the cheek and quiet conversations in the night. They are late evenings and early mornings in subdued light or in the dark. They are hope and despair and joy and angst. They are a Tom Mank & Sera Smolen gift to the discerning ears of people who treasure music beyond its use as filler or background music. 

The feel, the aura, the music--- they all inhabit one point in time, or so it seems. Mank has grown exponentially as guitarist, Smolen steps out of the background a bit more (which makes a huge and positive difference), and the contributions of the “guest” artists are somewhat minimal and yet crucial. Pulled together by the musical vision of Mank and Smolen and the legerdemain of producer Julie Last, Paper Kisses hits the mark and will stand on its own long after Mank and Smolen have recorded their future projects, of which I hope there to be many. What I'm saying is, it is no wonder Mank has put his last two projects into Last's hands. It is in the grooves."

"Paper Kisses" is an impressively beautiful and sensitive CD with a notable lovely leading part for Sera's melancholic 'classic' cello and the wonderful quiet singing of Tom. The poetic lyrics complete the whole in an really exemplary way. BIG SURPRISE!

tom mank & sera smolen - paper kisses Singer-songwriter Tom Mank, together with cellist Sera Smolen, just completed a jewel of an album. Mank wrote all the songs (sometimes with producer Julie Last, Kirsti Gholson or Susan Hoover, but mostly on his own) – with the exception of one impressive instrumental by Sera Smolen. The songs themselves are already beautiful, particularly with the enchanting cello of Smolen – but it’s the arrangements that give the album its special value. You could fill several CD's with all the songs from foreigners in which Amsterdam appears, and this song will easily be the top selection. Relaxing, intimate, jazzy and magnificently arranged. This is a 'growing' album, to listen to more than once in the late evening. An intimate masterpiece. - Moors magazine (The Netherlands), September 5, 2010

"From the very first notes on, this CD excites your imagination. The cello of Sera Smolen and the voice of Tom Mank create magic from the opener 'Off-Beat Rhyme' until the last etherial track 'Lit By The Moon'. Both performers sense perfectly each others changes of mood. On several songs also some female harmony voices join Sera's cello and Tom's acoustic guitar; and on one song Edward Biko Smith adds conga's and on another one Julie Last, who produced this album, sings a solo. Tom Mank knows how to translate his own lyrics into poetic language: about segregation in Baltimore, lost lovers, for short songs of complaint, nostalgia and desire. But it is the Robert J. Spear cello, already for fifteen years the loyal companion of Sera, that provides the fairytale-like frame with bass-lines that sometimes reach to atmospheric heights. The 'spacy songs' wander between jazzy rhythms and folky textures with Sera's cello constantly braiding the fragments of melancholy. But she studied at the Conservatory and played in orchestras many times, which you can hear from the instrumental 'Sarkori' with a classical interpretation and being of a liberating beauty. Known for her improvisations, she has been invited by painters, poets and sculptors to frame their performances with her music or take part in cello-festivals. She also gives seminars and has her own cello-studio. On the other hand, her husband Tom Mank taught himself to play the guitar and is an inspired songwriter already since 1980. From Ithaca (N.Y.), where he lives for 30 years already, he roamed the country to disseminate his folk-blues and blue-grass live to the audience. This album is his 4th already as a duo with Sera. His talent lies in songwriting and in creatively dreaming away to horizons 'where the sun meets the blue'. His songs remain on that emotional line which perfectly keeps the balance between jazzy bluesnotes and improvising day-dreaming-blues. Sometimes his voice resembles Nick Drake. He also knows how to embrace the nostalgia of the fall as well as the spring-breeze in his songs. (This is) an album to become silent out of respect for the wandering spirits on dancing feet, reaching out for a melody and the rhythm of the beat. No better words than this 'free translation' of the passage from Tom Mank's 'Where's That Train', to describe this CD."

"Tom Mank and Sera Smolen are so far beyond the mainstream, it's scary. They are acoustic music's Igor Stravinsky in a world of Brahms and Schumanns. I mean, Brahms and Schumann are great, but Stravinsky— man, that's adventure! Mank approaches this album like a modern beatnik, picking subjects on the edge and presenting them with unerring touch. Mank and Smolen do more with a simple acoustic guitar and cello than some chamber orchestras or jazz ensembles and when you add Last and Gholson… I have not really talked in terms of expertise. After having listened to this album numerous times, I am of the mind that Tom Mank and Sera Smolen are easily Grammy material. They are expert at their craft, but more than that, they develop it. At their level, I am not at all sure that it is a craft but art. There can't be a gig they play where a large percentage of their audience is not comprised of fellow musicians. That, my friends, is a given, and it speaks volumes."

"Oh, there is so much crap out there! Thank heavens there are GREAT records like this to stem the tide! If you brought a pile of CDs home from a folk festival, “Souls of Birds” is the one that would end up on the top of the pile. It is risky, real and pushes boundaries in a very natural way with nary a hint of pretentiousness. Tom Mank’s low-key Lou Reed/Leonard Cohen-ish vocals have a compelling, spoken word quality to them. Mank is one of those singers who could be reciting the phone book and you’d go “yeah, there’s something to that!” The lyrics, thankfully, are a lot better than that though! Sera Smolen’s cello takes us all kinds of places weird and wonderful, while never losing touch with the emotional roots of the songs. She’s soloistic, but always in a way that supports the overall thrust of the music. Her cellistic terrain includes emotive, whacked-out natural sound effects and high-energy solos drawn from many influences, such as 19th century etudes and Indian ragas, to name but a few. Smolen is a passionate player who is clearly intimate with the inherent joy in taking musical risks. Though there are a few guest spots (violin, sarod and trumpet are featured) it is Mank’s guitar and Smolen’s cello that are the instrumental mainstays of the songs. Due to their willingness to keep changing things up, the sounds of their instruments are continually fresh and inspiring, as are the arrangements. There is always some cool new surprise poking its impish head around the corner ahead of us as the CD progresses. It is thrilling when artists dig in and craft a work as rich and vibrant and authentic as this. Five stars."

AUDIO: Tom Mank & Sera Smolen


Like us on Facebook