All artists must hone their craft before they experience large scale acceptance and success. Bob Dylan played in coffee houses for whoever happened to come in for a cup of joe. The Beatles played dank cellars and pubs before they ever wooed a wider audience. Elvis Presley sang in counrty western bars and truck stops prior to being the “King.” In the immortal words of Richard Starkey -”You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and you know it don't come easy.”
Ari Hest grew up surrounded by music. His father wrote jingles for toy commercials and his mother was (and still is) a cantor at a New York Jewish temple. He was raised on music that moved people to action. He was always a good singer with a great range and decent guitar skills.
Hest played the colleges and the Battles of the Bands. Many others did as well. Most have ended in obscurity. It is simply the nature of the music business. It is a difficult creative business where the business part lacks soul and heart and the creative part is all soul and heart.
Just like his father Hest thought he had found that hook which would propel him to musical and financial success. It was a new business model for music in an internet age that he called “52.” Here is how it worked. For the entire year of 2008, he wrote, recorded and released a new song every week and sent them via email to subscribers who paid a one time fee to receive them throughout the year. The, in 2009, he released an album, Twelve Mondays, that collected 12 of the 52 songs selected by his subscribers which he reworked and rerecorded.
Although 52 was somewhat successful it did not propel Hest to financial and musical success. However, writing a new song every week did one very important thing for Hest - it made him hone his craft. He learned lessons in nuance, drama and the emotive nature of music. His songwriting improved. His skill in arrangement grew. An expertise in the use of strings and percussion flourished.
It was his songwriting that improved the most. His first song in 1996, Hest recalls, was about "something involving a made-up girlfriend and a hot-air balloon". By the end of 2009, his lyrics now swelled with allusion and emotion, and evoked tales with which his audience could relate. Gone were the cotton candy, made-up girlfriends and hot-air balloons. Hest learned to connect with his audience with something worth saying and his audiences began to believe this quirky folk rock balladeer had something worth hearing.
In 2010 Hest went back into the studio and, on March 1, 2011, out came his new album “Sunset Over Hope Street.” The album consists of eleven folk-infused well-orchestrated songs. Each is awash in strings. Violins, cellos, guitars, bass, percussion, drums and keyboards intertwine to create stirring music. It is folk music but with deeper, more involved musicianship.
It is unfortunate that the album is named after what may be the worst effort on the album. The best and most accessible lyrical track is “Business Of America”:
Here is Hest at his most sardonic, critical and poignant. Bob Dylan couldn’t have done any better.
Hest has grown. He has paid his dues. With Sunset Over Hope Street Hest is now poised for large scale acceptance and success. Best of all it is now worth listening to what he has to say.
- Old School
Buy here: Sunset Over Hope Street