You’ve probably heard Ross Bellenoit play before. You may not realize you have, but if you follow the local music scene with any interest, chances are decent. Since moving to the city in 2003, the 28 year-old Massachusetts native has performed live or appeared on record with a long and varied list of Philly-based artists. Amos Lee? Bellenoit handled guitar duties for his 2007 tour. Sun Airway? Played lap steel on their debut. Birdie Busch? Yep. The Sweetback Sisters? Nod. John Francis? Uh huh. Grammy-nominated Christian rapper Da T.R.U.T.H? You bet.
Dude keeps busy.
“I’d totally forgotten that was coming out today,” Bellenoit says.
He is speaking on June 5th, the day of the digital release of Home Songs, Vol. 2, the second EP in a planned three-part series (Vol. 1 came out in January). Stuck all day in the studio, he’d let the occasion slip his mind.
After years of playing on other people’s records, Bellenoit began recording his own material in 2009 – the year, as he explains, that he “actually got a computer.” With help from a successful Kickstarter campaign, he and his band released a full-length album, Eight Track Mind, in December of 2010. This year’s Home Songs series, as the name suggests, is the accumulated result of three years worth of homemade recordings. With one or two exceptions, Bellenoit is playing every instrument on every song.
Originally moving to Philadelphia for school (he graduated from the U of Arts in ’08), Bellenoit soon found his talents in high demand within the city’s fertile singer-songwriter community. In time, his skill on a six-string would take on almost mythical status. Bellenoit hasn’t received an enormous amount of print coverage in his career, but in every press clipping that does exist a sentence or two is devoted to salivating over his guitar work. Even legendary session man Chuck Treece felt moved to pay his respects, memorably describing him in Philadelphia Weekly as “a motherfucker on guitar.”
Despite this reputation, Bellenoit describes the new EP as “fairly mellow.”
“This EP has the least amount of electric guitar showcasing I’ve put on a record so far. The previous records all had moments of pretty psychedelic guitar work. This one is much more subtle.”
Indeed, you’d never guess Home Songs was the creation of a guitar god. Bellenoit says he was influenced in part by Damien Jurado’s Maraqopa, which makes sense – the EP is dreamy and plaintive in much the same way as that album (though here those qualities are mingled with enough pop sensibility to lower the vulnerability quotient a bit).
Ideally, Bellenoit says, the live show will retain the poignancy of these songs while still making room for the energy and spontaneity he values in his live performances.
“I want to shred a little bit,” he assures. To that end, the setlists will feature selections from all over his catalog, including tracks written for the as-yet-unrecorded follow-up to Eight Track Mind.
Bellenoit and his band (the Goods) will be making appearances around the tri-state area throughout the summer; a short tour of Massachusetts is tentatively planned as well. Home Songs, Vol. 3 is due out in the fall, by which point he hopes to be back in the studio. Bellenoit continues to lend his talents to other songwriters, and in recent years has also been working as a producer out of Turtle Studios in South Philly. “My whole life is pretty much music,” he says.
And Philadelphia is all the richer for it.
by Tadhg Ferry
Photos by: Lisa Schaffer