Arranged by Oli Rockberger
Additional arrangement credit tracks - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 - Jordan Scannella, Jordan Perlson
Recorded at Dubway Studios, New York City, March 2015
Mixed by Chris Abell
Mastered by Larry Lachmann at Kevorkian Studios
Produced by Chris Abell & Oli Rockberger
*Co-Produced by Zach Danziger with Oli Rockberger & Chris Abell
Executive Producer for Whirlwind Recordings - Michael Janisch
All compositions (c) Oli Rockberger/Oli Road Music (ASCAP)
Art Direction by Jesse Hayes
Cover image and additional photography by Oli Rockberger
Photography of Oli by Rob Blackham
released October 20, 2017
ABOUT THE ALBUM
Pianist, vocalist, songwriter and producer Oli Rockberger’s fourth studio release, Sovereign (his first for the Whirlwind label and following on from his self-release Old Habits), takes its title from the viewpoints of transition, growth and independence. The music for this album came together from a decision to return to his native London after sixteen years in the United States where, following successful graduation from Berklee College of Music attended as a Full Tuition Scholarship recipient , his hugely formative New York career developed as sideman to big-name jazz instrumentalists including Randy Brecker, Will Lee (with Steve Gadd) and Nathan East, to working alongside acclaimed singer-songwriters Carly Simon, Jesse Harris and John Mayer. Now based in the UK capital, Rockberger continues to work internationally as an in-demand sideman, with recent collaborations including Becca Stevens, Richard Spaven, Fridolijn and Louis Cole, in addition to his ongoing work with acclaimed UK songstress Laura Mvula, as a member of her touring band (keys/vocals).
These ten, intelligently-crafted songs – with stories and lyrics drawn from life experiences and whose music is grounded in a love of soul, jazz, gospel and R&B – might, at times, suggest Steve Winwood or Peter Gabriel, Colin Blunstone or Bon Iver. Yet there’s a personal, affecting integrity to Rockberger’s work which marks it out distinctively, due in part to his compositional detailing and a strong empathy with his personnel. Working closely as a trio with drummer Jordan Perlson and bassist Jordan Scannella, he also invites further trusted names from his “New York family” – album co-producer Chris Abell, guitarists John Shannon and Ryan Scott, vocalist Hannah Read, while 'The Garden' (track 7) features bass from Owen Biddle and drums/programming/co-production from Zach Danziger (Rockberger, Biddle and Danziger have put out three albums as collaborative experimental electro-soul group Mister Barrington).
Recorded predominantly as live-in-studio takes, Sovereign’s visceral dynamic, combined with the richness of judicious overdubs, is key to the “perfect marriage” that the pianist hears in his favorite albums. From the country-blues Wurlitzer hook of ‘Let’s Stay Home’, through the buoyant, gospel-infused outpourings of ‘Burned’, to the edgy, soulful groove of ‘My Old Life’, here are songs which explore the push-pull emotion of human relationships, alongside an ever-present sense of leaving places behind and treasuring memories.
As a vocalist, Rockberger leans so meaningfully on his lyrics and drives them with impressive, pianistic fervor – American-rock ballad ‘Right Through Me’ communicating sincerity through the added dimension of Hannah Read’s pure vocal, and reverberant ‘The Garden’ tenderly expressing perseverance. Randy Newman-style ‘Ridiculous’ drolly envisages the heightened-reality ‘what if’ of an imagined coffee-shop encounter, while ‘Vertigo’s pacey vibe becomes underpinned by a darker, unknown quality. ‘Is Anybody Out There’ and tender pop-ballad ‘Let Go’ express themes of searching, moving on and belonging; and broad, rallying Hammond anthem ‘Justify’ is so gloriously uplifting.
Discussing the importance of the project, Oli Rockberger explains: “I absolutely love and am proud to record and tour with other artists; but it’s also essential to have my own identity and creative voice – it feeds my soul in another way, as a songwriter, arranger and producer. Ultimately, I want to make music that gives people a warmth, or a feeling of being understood in some way. For me, songwriting is about making sense of what is going on in your life at that time; and, hopefully, other people that listen to it… can make sense of what they’re doing in their life, or what they’re going through, as well.”
"As a writer, he [Rockberger] has a knack for tunes that hark back to the days when soul and country musics fused together to create timeless classics."
★★★★ Jazz Journal
"Polished, inventive stuff."
★★★★ Evening Standard
"A truly irresistible voice... With Sovereign Rockberger successfully succeeds in melding elements of pop, soul, blues, country, rock and jazz and the resulting live-in-the-studio album is nothing less than enchanting."
★★★★ All About Jazz
"Oli Rockberger highlights his remarkable knack of marrying instantly memorable chorus hooks with captivating harmonies... A songwriter of great style and substance."
The Arts Desk
“Just the right combination of soul, emotional intensity and vulnerability.”
★★★★ Jazz Journal
“A superb album of eclectic, original songs richly coloured with blues, jazz and soul influences.”