Madrigal: The Reluctant Rock Star
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Nov. 24, 2004
w/Edith Frost and Manishevitz
Nov. 27, 9 p.m.
13th & Martha
Don't go looking for the new CD by Mal Madrigal
a.k.a. Steve Bartolomei at your local record store. You won't find
it. That's because Bartolomei isn't eager to have anyone hear it.
"You caught me on a good week," Bartolomei said, handing
over a copy of the CDR carefully enclosed in a hand-cut, hand-printed
package. "I made a few copies for friends last week, but that's
about it. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it."
The fact that the CD showcases Bartolomei supported by a veritable
Who's Who of Omaha's finest musicians isn't enough to rub away any
lingering insecurity over his recorded performance. It's the typical
posture of one of the city's brightest new talents -- a posture
characterized by modesty, self-deprecation, shyness and downright
fear. Bartolomei never sought attention, and until recently, never
got any. The quiet, reserved performer just wanted to write songs
and record them for posterity and maybe to be heard by a few of
his friends. But like it or not, that's all changing as a city already
ripe with singer songwriters begins to discover a new one right
under its nose.
The Omaha native began writing and
performing music while a student at St. Louis University three years
ago. "I did some open-mike nights at Frederick's Music Lounge,
a dive bar in south city where anyone could perform," Bartolomei
said. "It's the kind of place that on any given night, you
could see Jay Farrar's grandpa take the stage."
Bartolomei's folk-influenced style was a long way from the music
he thought he'd be playing as a student of local guitar legend Mike
Saklar (Ritual Device, Ravine). Taking lessons from the age of 12,
Bartolomei was raised on a healthy diet of Shellac, Jesus Lizard
"I thought I would be a guitarist in bands like those,"
he said, "but I never found a band that I felt comfortable
playing with. St. Louis University is a Jesuit college, so there
wasn't any real art scene or many musicians around. The band thing
never happened, and instead of working on guitar riffs that I'd
never play I started to write songs to record on my four-track."
After graduation, Bartolomei brought his songs back to Omaha, and
was asked to play a last-minute opening slot for The '89 Cubs at
The Ranch Bowl when the scheduled opener failed to show. His set
was so well received that musicians in the audience asked Bartolomei
if he wanted to form a band, including Ryan Fox (The Good Life,
The '89 Cubs), Casey Scott (Desaparecidos, Bright Eyes), and Matt
Baum (Desaparecidos, The '89 Cubs).
Bartolomei, Ryan and Scott as Mal
Madrigal debuted as the opener for Scout Niblett early this year.
Shortly afterward, Bartolomei asked guitar mentor Saklar to join.
Known as one of the city's strongest metal and noise musicians,
with Mal Madrigal Saklar shows a subtle, textured, emotional side
of his guitar playing that has rarely been seen.
lot of these songs are pretty old and I have to ask if this
is what I want as a debut. At the same time, I need to let
go of them."
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did some open-mike nights at Frederick's Music Lounge, a dive
bar in south city where anyone could perform. It's the kind
of place that on any given night, you could see Jay Farrar's
grandpa take the stage"
These days, Mal Madrigal is a rotation
of performers backing Bartolomei on stage, with the night's line-up
dependent on which sidemen are on tour. Saturday's show, for example,
will feature only Bartolomei, Saklar and Fox.
The whole cast of supporting characters, however, can be heard
on Bartolomei's unreleased gem of a debut. The first half of the
11-song CD was recorded in his basement, while the last half was
recorded throughout Casey Scott's home. Contributing musicians include
drummer Baum, bassist Matt Perry, drummer/keyboardist/guitarist
Fox, keyboardist Chris Schaeffer, vocalist Orenda Fink (Azure Ray),
banjo/accordion player Dan McCarthy, bassist Scott and Saklar.
The collection is a moody blend of atmospheric folk and down-low
rock highlighted by Bartolomei's personal songwriting style that
ranges from quiet waltz ditties (opener "Old Man River,"
the Lightfoot-ish "Overexposure") to full-blown rock opuses
(the bluesy "Smoldering," revelatory "The Morning
After," and 10-minute-plus noise-inflected closer "Message
Erased"). Throughout, Bartolomei wears his influences with
glowing pride -- from Alex McManus to Simon Joyner to Conor Oberst.
The recording has caught the ear of a St. Louis-based record label,
though Bartolomei seems reticent to make the move to legitimate
recording artist. "Part of it is negotiating with myself,"
he said. "A lot of these songs are pretty old and I have to
ask if this is what I want as a debut. At the same time, I need
to let go of them."
Published in The Omaha Reader Nov. 24, 2004.
Copyright © 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Photos by Chris Machian,
used by permission.