“Into the Night has all the vibes I love about folk music — well-crafted songs written from the heart and played with the hands, harmonies that lift the spirit — but it also features a sophistication of arrangement and production.” — Ani
Written in 2019 by Jean Rohe and Liam Robinson, Into the Night was recorded in New York City in two phases: basic tracking with an all-star rhythm section before the pandemic in February 2020 and horns and backing vocals after the first round of vaccinations in July 2021. In the intervening months while the project was on pause and sirens echoed through the streets at all hours, this collection of songs revealed itself as a reflection on our mortality and a call to live our brief lives with joy, imagination, integrity, and music. From the title track, in which a mythic live concert transforms a “backroom bar” into a place of brief, sacred communion, to “Hey, Houdini,” a driving bop about a life wasted in a state of denial, the songs’ prescience surprised even their creators.
“Listening to takes and editing this record was both a depression-obliterating joy and the source of some pretty painful longing for all that we'd lost,” says Jean. Working with some of their dear friends, frequent collaborators, and fixtures of New York’s diverse music communities, they gathered engineer Jake Lummus (Toshi Reagon, Gregory Porter), Christopher Tordini (bass – Becca Stevens), NYC go-to Tony Mason (drums – Amy Helm, Norah Jones), Jon Cowherd (organ – Brandi Carlile, Brian Blade, Rosanne Cash) and Bob Lanzetti (electric guitar – Snarky Puppy) at Eastside Sound in Manhattan.
When they picked up tracking again over a year later, they heard their horn and vocal arrangements come to life at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn. By early 2022 they were able to bring acclaimed LA mixing engineer David Boucher onto the project (Encanto, Randy Newman, Madison Cunningham), working remotely in a piece-by-piece process that allowed for a gradual refinement of the sonic landscape. “It is a testament to the many generous contributors to this record that I continue to feel the blood coursing through these songs,” Liam reflects.
Of their debut release on RBR, Ani DiFranco says, “Into the Night has all the vibes I love about folk music — well-crafted songs written from the heart and played with the hands, harmonies that lift the spirit — but it also features a sophistication of arrangement and production.” Anaïs Mitchell has this to say: “These songs are a portrait of togetherness and honest, defiant joy in a messy world.”
While remaining true to their roots in the acoustic songwriter scene, the sound of this record is something of a departure for the duo, who got its start over 15 years ago as a songleading and community music-making outfit, instigating social folk-singing experiences with audiences wherever it went. Since those early days, Jean and Liam developed a compelling body of original repertoire which they’ve shared in concert halls, intimate venues, barns, and bars for loyal fans and newcomers, while retaining a steadfast commitment to the uniquely transformative power of communal music making. Their acclaimed first record, Hunger, sent the duo touring through the US and Europe during 2018 in storied venues from Caffé Lena and Club Passim on the East Coast to the Green Note in London, opening for the likes of Anaïs Mitchell and Tom Paxton.
Liam's work as music director/vocal arranger of the Tony Award-sweeping Hadestown on Broadway and the release of Jean's solo record Sisterly took the act off the road for a few years. The two have their own artistic lives outside of R&R, drawing inspiration from NYC’s richly overlapping scenes. In addition to his critical role in the success of Hadestown, Liam was a member of the original Broadway cast of the Tony Award-sweeping Warhorse and an integral member of the Becca Stevens Band, shaping its sound since its inception. Jean’s songwriting has won honors from the Kerrville Folk Festival (2022 New Folk winner), the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (most-wanted artist), the Brooklyn Arts Council (2022 grant recipient), and The Telluride Troubadour contest (2016 finalist). She is perhaps best known for her oft-covered video single “National Anthem: Arise! Arise!,” a stirring alternative to the Star Spangled Banner, featuring brass arrangements by Liam.
The breadth of their creative prowess is on full display throughout Into the Night, from their canny wordsmithing to their production chops to their soulful and intricate backing vocal and brass arrangements. The cheeky tune “Off Track,” which runs on the motor of Jean's acoustic fingerpicking and Liam's clawhammer banjo, questions the value of “productivity” over carnal pleasure when there’s no time to waste. The languidly soulful “One Last Waltz” invites a reluctant wallflower onto the floor for the final midnight dance. “Where I’m Coming From” tells one story of white supremacy in the US through a personal, generational lens. The jaunty jug band jam “Singing Like a Saw” and the gently textured “Follow” are two sides of the romance coin. “Ways Down the Road” is a spare, poignant reflection on mortality and change, with echoes of John Prine. “Where Did You Go?” digs deepest on the topic, reflecting on the death of Jean's father in 2019. The sparse, arrow-straight lyric sits in dialog with aching, Gil Evans-esque horns, underpinned by Lanzetti's distant, distorted guitar rumblings.
Sometimes a song’s meaning sharpens with time. Into the Night ends with a reprise of the opening title track, reassembling the cast of musicians heard throughout the record in a farewell recessional. It is an elegy for the lost “saints” of music and a reminder of music’s eternal power of rebirth. “Echoes fade, stage lights dim / The curtain falls on every song, but you know it's gonna rise again.”