Asheville-area music fans know Ram Mandelkorn for his guitar work in the funk/soul ensemble The Digs and the jazz/reggae fusion quartet Below the Bassline, plus various side gigs that crop up with assorted talented collaborators.
Audiences on the local front and beyond are also about to become acquainted with his vocals and songwriting via Rahm Squad, whose debut LP Sojourn receives an album release show Friday, Jan. 31, at The Mothlight.
An Asheville resident since 2000 and an alumnus of Warren Wilson College and Western Carolina University, Mandelkorn calls Rahm Squad his “main passion project.” The core trio is rounded out by Jaze Uries (drums) and E’Lon JD (bass), with a rotating cast of pals joining in on the fun.
“Basically, it’s a bunch of my close friends who I hired and got to play my music,” Mandelkorn says. “It’s a relatively newer project that I’m just only now taking seriously and really trying to put it out there to be a thing.”
The X factor in his heightened focus on Rahm Squad is the gradual progression of his singing and songwriting. Fond of such distinct vocalists as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Mandelkorn credits putting in the necessary hours of practice with helping him improve his craft, as well as setting a firm deadline to finish Sojourn.
“I’ve been doing the instrumental thing for several years and feel like I’ve developed that part of my voice, but I’ve always wanted to do the songwriting thing — and I’ve been trying in my bedroom for years,” Mandelkorn says. “I’ve been trying to write songs and see if I like them or not and get confident enough to play them. I feel like I’m finally … finding my voice, figuring out what I want to say and how I want to say it. It’s been a good experience.”
Sojourn was recorded in fall 2019 at Asheville’s The Eagle Room under the guidance of Matt Williams. Overdubs, vocals and horns were added later at Mandelkorn’s home studio, and the album was mixed in Los Angeles by his longtime friend, former Asheville-based engineer Jon Ashley (The War on Drugs; Sylvan Esso).
Considering his other projects, it’s only natural that Mandelkorn cites plentiful world music influences on the album, plus elements of indie music, soul and R&B. Catchy opening track “Battle Scars” sets the tone for a collection that flows from groove to groove, leaving room for the guitarist to let loose with memorable solos on “Prayer,” “Song for B” and other tracks. CaroMia Tiller’s harmonies add an appealing layer to the vocals, and Simon Thomas George plays bass on half of the songs, though it’s Ben Colvin’s saxophone that nearly steals the show, especially in tandem with Mandelkorn’s guitar on “Earthquake.”
“I have melody lines that I wrote and [Colvin] played them, but then he comes in with harmonies and he’ll adjust them and make them more tasteful and cooler,” Mandelkorn says. “I wrote most of the music, then he refines it. That’s kind of how that process works with the horns.”
Regarding Sojourn’s lyrical content, Mandelkorn hesitates to identify particular personal experiences or societal issues that informed his writing — at least on a conscious level.
“That’s been a cool part of this experience — seeing what my subconscious and my unconscious wanted to say. I feel like that’s been a learning process,” he says. “The pretty cool thing about writing these songs and recording this album has been learning what type of stuff I want to write about. I feel like there’s a connection with your subconscious and unconscious when you’re doing that. So, a lot of this album is processing life. I feel like it was a healing experience.”
All of the above and more will unite at the Mothlight show in what Mandelkorn says is the biggest band he’s ever had. In addition to a full horn section, that night’s edition of Rahm Squad loops in several backup singers, percussion and pedal steel player Jackson Dulaney, who contributes his signature guitar licks on the album’s “Blind Suspicion.”
“It’s going to be a big, full band — close musical friends and collaborators, and kind of a special event,” Mandelkorn says. “In general, and when I go tour this time around and play it, it’ll very likely be a trio or a four-piece. But it’ll probably be an eight- or nine-piece band for the CD release.”
WHO: Rahm Squad with Goldie & The Screamers and DJ Arieh
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 31, 9 p.m. $10