If songwriter Shonali Bhowmik's long-running career in pop-rock demonstrated giddy and raw tension, her solo album detours into a new mood altogether. A native of Nashville, she spent years singing and playing guitar in melodic indie-rock bands in Atlanta before relocating to New York City. Bhowmik's newly released solo album 100 Oaks Revival, a bare-bones collection, aims for something much more melancholic.
"These songs came from a super-honest place that's different from my other stuff," says Bhowmik. "When I started out, I wanted some sort of dark, cowboy, bluesy music. It's not really rock or pop. Some of it's as drone-y as possible, which is not what I normally do."
Bhowmik worked with veteran Bloodshot Records ally and acclaimed producer Paul Burch at Pan American Sound, his home studio in Nashville. Burch handled most of the drum set duties on the tracks himself. Matthew Gill provided additional production and mixing at the Key Room in New York.
"Paul is a brilliant artist with a great voice," says Bhowmik. "He seemed to understand what I wanted. His style is old-school country. He started me out with this record on his eight-track machine. Matt helped me with additional overdubs in New York."
Morose, dissonant, and eerie, 100 Oaks Revival's opening track "All Her Things Come Easily" is a startling surprise to those familiar with Bhowmik's pop-rock past. "Star Treatment" is a drowsy gem with a swingin' beat that may remind listeners of the more festive offerings of the Elephant 6 collective. "Alligator's Tale," one of the upbeat songs of the set, bounces with a gritty heaviness. Even in a straight-ahead rocker like "Hold My Place," there's an airy, chilled-out sparseness. The strummy "What's Inside of Your Heart," a snappy ballad with Bhowmik handling acoustic guitar and vocals, closes the album with beautiful harmonies.
"I realized that I'd never recorded anything in Nashville before," says Bhowmik. "I'd never utilized old friendships with amazing musicians there. I came down a few weekends here and there, stayed with my folks, and worked on some of my songs."
Ten years ago, Bhowmik was finishing law school in Atlanta, waiting tables on the side, and co-fronting a tight power-pop quartet called Ultrababyfat. These days, she's in a similar routine, working at a Manhattan law firm by day and playing cool rock songs with tight bands in her free time.
Bhowmik currently fronts a quintet called Tigers and Monkeys, for which she is the main songwriter, singer, and guitarist. She never lost touch with longtime friend and bandate, Michelle Dubois (of Ultrababyfat), though. Dubois provides harmonies on several of the songs on 100 Oaks Revival.
"It's super easy for us to sing together," Bhowmik says of her longtime bandmate. "Michelle and I always said that we'd play rock 'n' roll together until our old age."
Bhowmik and her new band — studio man Gill on guitar, drummer Jeff Sheinkopf, bassist/keyboardist Jason Lam, and singer/keyboardist Amy Slonaker — left last week for a Southeastern jaunt.
"Initially, I was going to do this by myself, but some of the musicians I play with in New York expressed interest in coming down, too. They took off from work and signed on. For some of them, it's their first time traveling through the South at all. It'll be a blast."