Its been two years. Last night at a neighborhood Chicago eatery Rascal and I waxed nostalgic about all that had happened with his music career in just that short time. The 22 year old Nebraska singer song writer, whose musical influences fuse a mix of blues, folk, country and classic standards like Jim Croce, Van Morrison and John Prine is in town for a show at the House of Blues, Saturday @ 9:30 for one night only.
It has been two years since a friend, Chicago producer and playwright, Nate Bell, overheard Rascal’s music at a campground out west. I listen to a lot of music, and have the fortune to meet quite a few new artists. After a time it becomes routine filing each new artist away into this influence or that genre. Rarely does an artist come along with that intangible something whose music is at once fresh and familiar. This is what I wrote back in 2014, just after the release of Rascal’s first CD, “The Long Road,”:
“Channeling a mix of rockabilly, folk and country, with a subtext of Latin melodies deftly integrated, comes the first EP from Nebraska guitarist and vocalist Rascal Martinez, or simply, Rascal. Rascal’s vocals come up out of the Nebraska plain like cool summer swell, evoking the sounds of a reincarnated Buddy Holly. But here is where comparisons from seven deceptively simple songs on “The Long Road” ends. The lyrics are straightforward, carried by addictive melodies…”
The Wife and I sat with Rascal over pizza and a glass of George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey in a quiet restaurant in Chicago’s Lincoln square neighborhood. the conversation meandered. We weren’t there for an interview, but to share time with a young man who is working feverishly, touring and writing, at a time when many musicians are becoming discouraged in the age of free music downloads. Rascal himself believes that the days are numbered for CDs. But if there is one thing that captures the spirit of the tall, slender guitarist/vocalist, with jet black air and an infectiously sincere smile and sets him apart it would be resilience and adaptability.
While the music industry has changed fundamentally in the digital download age, it is arguable whether or not the challenges to artists are any more daunting than they ever have been. It use to be that an artist had to virtually win the lottery by being picked up by a label to have a record or CD printed and distributed. Even studio costs were once exclusionary to many musicians and artists. As costs of production decreased CD sales could supplement artists not lucky enough to be supported by a label. Still for them, it was about the music and getting in front of an audience. Now anyone with a laptop and a microphone can record and mix an album, with music sharing platforms like Soundcloud, Spotify and others offering grassroots marketing opportunities.
For Rascal, it has always been about the music. Thursday he showed up at an assisted living facility for veterans and performed a set. From weddings, to private events and concerts, like Saturday’s House of Blues show, it is difficult to think of another artists who works as hard. Last year he moved to Denver from his hometown of North Platte. Early this year he spent time playing, writing and collaborating in Nashville. Speaking about his time there, one could almost imagine listening to Hemingway describe Paris in the Twenties for the inspiration and energy Rascal found in that iconic city.
We steered clear of politics mostly. Ana and I entertained him with old war stories and we caught up on family stuff, and even tried to persuade him how much European audiences would appreciate him. We don’t get to see him as much as we like. He’s a genuinely good guy from a very loving and supportive family, and all that comes through in his music.
His third CD is about to be released in a month or so. We’ll feature that on my radio show. In the meantime, for a taste of this unique talent find him on YouTube, and if you are in Chicago give yourself a rare treat and go and see this young man and say “I saw him when…” Remember that name: Rascal Martinez. Two years on, he’s still looking at that long open road ahead and making great music along the way.
Below: With Chicago artist, Ethan Kinsella at the Que4 Studios and a live jam in January.