WE STILL KNOW HOW TO LOVE
“Slowing, autumnal splendid music, often a bit sad. Tom Mank and Sera Smolen have been guaranteeing this for more than twenty years. The American couple hits you straight in the heart with sublime songs, rooted in folk, with a dash of blues added. The great emotional impact is not so much due to the vocals and guitar playing of Mank - very nice indeed - but especially to the moving cello playing of his wife. The cello is already an instrument that can sound wonderfully melancholy, and the way in which Smolen touches the strings makes goosebumps almost inevitable.
With WE STILL KNOW HOW TO LOVE, the duo add another splendid record to their oeuvre. Assisted by several guest musicians (harmonica, violin, piano) and female singers (Smolen does not sing), they perform nine poignant songs. The album was partly recorded in Belgium and there is actually also a piece of spoken Dutch text in the title track, which has the subtitle Resistance and is about an attempt to keep an Allied pilot out of the hands of the Germans.
Earlier we reported that you have to let their music act on you (due to the tempo it sounds a bit slow at first), but if you do that, you will be very richly rewarded again. In short, every reason to look for this record, all the more because the CD is placed in a very nice three-fold cover on which all texts have been printed.”
Kees van Wee 4 stars (out of 5), Heaven Magazine (March/April 2020)
“We dealt with this couple, in music and in life, in 2017 reviewing their seventh album Unlock The Sky. Now, three years later, We Still Know How To Love is released, which reflects the musical characteristics of the American duo well known in Holland and Belgium. Together since 1994, Tom songwriter and guitarist and Sera cellist graduated from the Conservatory, they have merged their experiences and their instruments in a personal style in which the cello alternates the function of bass, duplication of the sound of the guitar and soloist.
The new album was recorded in three different moments and places: Newfield and Bearsville in the state of New York and Ooigem in Belgium, with several collaborators, partly already present on the previous album, who always add circumspection to the choirs, the banjo, on guitar and harmonica. Talk Of The Town is a suffused departure with acoustic guitar and cello that introduce the voice of Tom and the guest Janet Cotraccia, almost whispered. 1966 is a nostalgic track that intertwines musical protagonists and historical facts of that period with hints to Beatles songs, insertions of electric guitar and the voice of Jeannie Burns.
We go back even further with Bannockburn 1314, which recalls an episode of the Scottish War of Independence with some verses recited in Gaelic, while the cello paints a poignant background. The text of Paris 1920 has historical references to the situation of the soldiers at the end of the First World War, while that of We Still Know How To Love which also includes Dutch verses refers to aid to Allied pilots during the Second World War. Still in the historical context, Our November Day is linked to the dramatic murder of President Kennedy.
These significant texts are accompanied by folk music with classical influences, very refined and dramatic, intimate and painful, characterized by the cello often in a duet with the guitar or the harmonica, while Tom's way of singing can sometimes remind Leonard Cohen.”
LATE FOR THE SKY , The Vinyl Legacy Association Blog, Italy - 15 May, 2020
“You can feel a historic melancholy as soon as you unfold the three-piece cover, with a painted blood-red color palette on the front page. 1966, 1314, 1920 are some dates that hark back to bloody wars: the approach for guitarist / singer-songwriter Tom Mank and partner Sera Smolen on classical cello. A combination that delivers eight quirky country albums with depth in a quarter of a century. On this recent album, the duo goes back to some striking facts such as the war between the Scots and the English, the Vietnam debacle, Paris at the end of WWI… and the feelings that flare up during such periods. With some great vocals, even in Dutch, by Kimberley Claeys and Ellen Shae, the album constantly captivates. The mature voice of Tom Mank is supported by Sera's cello, as a bass and as a melo-dramatic solo instrument. It makes a powerful contribution to the heavy lyrics. However, it also emphasizes that there is still hope and love. Also worth mentioning: the recordings were not only made in New York, but also in the Belgian Barefoot Studio in Ooigem. 'We Still Know How To Love' became a dramatic singer-songwriter album that should certainly be placed alongside the work of Leonard Cohen. Recommended for listeners who seek more quality.”
Marino Serdons, Keys and Chords Magazine - Belgium, April 28, 2020
“So the record starts very calmly, basically you can hear Tom Mank's acoustic guitar and the cello of the Sera Smolen, who is trained in classical music. This alone gives a very special expression. But a number of accompanying musicians and guest singers round off the sound very much to this emotionally colored result, whether it is the distorted electric guitar on track two or the percussion on two tracks.
Thematically, one has committed itself to certain events or fixed points. This is how ‘1966’ describes the year when you woke up in the morning with ‘Homeward Bound’ (Simon & Garfunkel) who heard the Beach Boys, or Dylan is mentioned with his performance at Albert Hall, as well as Hendrix, The Beatles and so on, and so on against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Track three goes one step back in history, ‘Bannockburn 1314", to one of the decisive battles in the Scottish Wars of Independence, here also enriched with additional singing in Gaelic, a very moving history lesson ...
But in ‘Paris in 1920’ we find ourselves again with the sixth song, with a story of soldiers in Paris. And so some everyday topics are broached, others in connection with war (# 4), with the death of John F. Kennedy (# 7) or even trouble with neighbors (#8th).
The lyrics are musically framed in absolutely dramatic atmospheric moods, there is really nothing comparable of this kind. And this uniqueness is bewitching and fascinating. Despite the prevailing calm mood, everything seems extraordinarily powerful and expressive, especially whenever the cello starts and produces warm and also strongly melancholic sounds. The music is most likely to be located in the genre singer / songwriter, and there with a special position par excellence, although occasionally with a certain nuanced closeness to Leonard Cohen ...”
Wolfgang Giese, musikansich, Germany, January 2020
“Over the years, Tom Mank (vocals, guitar, self-taught) and Sera Smolen (cello, classically trained) have gained many musical friends. They recently concluded their eleventh tour of the Netherlands with a concert with Lazy Sonnie Afternoon in Son ... It turned out to be a great performance, which made me curious about the new album 'We Still Know How To Love', because I heard some fascinating stories that I didn't know before. And anyone who already knows Tom Mank knows that he is a born storyteller in his lyrics, as well as in the brand new work, in which love and war play a major role.
Anyone who expects to find only love songs after seeing the title will be disappointed. If you like wonderful listening stories, then this album (just like the predecessors by the way) is perfect.
At the performance in Son I immediately became charmed by a few songs from this album ... But while listening to the CD I am most touched by two pieces that were not included in the performance. Bannockburn 1314 (about a famous battle in the first Scottish war of independence about 700 years ago) ... contains the simple but very appealing words “we don't ask for war, we all ask for love, ”which I believe are of all times.
That is followed by an impressively beautiful piece with a partly Dutch text and that is the title track, 'We Still Know How To Love (Verzet)', about finding and bringing a pilot to safety during the Second World War... Again the haunting atmosphere of the interplay between cello and harmonica.
In the end, war seems to play a greater role on this album than love, with the caveat that ordinary people always get involved. And those people are those who do what they always do or what is good, who still know what it's like to love. And that makes 'We Still Know How To Love' an exciting and loving album, which immediately looks like the next performance of this couple of musicians. But that will take a while, because they are just back home in Ithaca.”
Mirjam Adriaans - February 2020
"Singer / song witer Tom Mank and cellist Sera Smolen have been playing together for a long time, and they clearly have something to do with Belgium and the Netherlands, because there are always a few Belgian or Dutch musicians playing along on their albums and on the title track of this new album We Still Know How to Love (with 'resistance' in brackets) I suddenly heard a piece of Dutch text passing by. It turns out to be a song about the Second World War in the Netherlands.
Cellist Sera Smolen really adds a lot to the arrangements of the beautiful Mank songs. She does not sing herself, so the female second voices you hear are from guest singers, Jeannie Burns, Janet Cotraccia, Kimberley Claeys, Ellen Shae, Kirsti Gholson and Julie Last. Mouth harmonica player Gait Klein Kromhof also plays on four songs, and his duets with the cello are incredibly beautiful every time.
Everything was recorded in New York and in Ooigem (and that is in Belgium). Nine masterful songs, beautifully sung by Mank, melancholic, and really blood-curdling nicely arranged. A great duo that still has to go on for the time being. Keep an eye on their playlist, because they regularly perform in the Netherlands and Belgium."
Moor Magazine Ltd, England, January 2020
"On their eighth album singer-guitarist Tom Mank and cellist Sera Smolen put nine songs, which are musically and lyrically directly linked to the songs on predecessors like ‘Unlock the sky’, ‘Swimming in the dark’ and ‘Paper kisses’.
Again the duo invited musicians such as percussionist Manuel Quintana, guitarist Rich DePaolo, singers Kimbley Claeys and Ellen Shae plus harmonica player Gait Klein Kromhof for accents in Mank’s melodically rich, folky songs, which also have jazzy and classical influences due to Smolen’s defining accompaniment and solos.
While the Belgian Claeys and the Dutch Shae complement the songs, Americans Quintana and DePaolo and Dutchman Klein Kromhof create welcome extra contrasts.
Mank’s restrainedly sung lyrics also contain them, although they start from anecdotes. In ‘1966’ for instance he doubts the conclusions of the Warren Commission regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy at the very last minute after singing about melancholic memories, while DePaolo soloes sharply.
How decisive Kennedy’s death was for Mank, is also evident in the moody ‘Our November day’, in which he sings about what would be that last normal day before the assassination.
Three of the other songs once again demonstrate Mank’s fascination with the soldiers in wars they neither caused nor wanted: he pictures the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 between the Scots and the English just as vividly as he does feverishly partying Paris after World War I or the Dutch who thought they should help English pilots flee in World War II, the latter in lyrics co-written by Shae.
Mank and Smolen have rightly found an audience in Europe with their poetic songs. Now the US has yet to allow itself to be conquered."
Ruud Heijjer, Kippenvel, RTV Katwijk, Dutch Radio - February 2020
UNLOCK THE SKY
"Oh my - yet another act that's apparently been around for absolutely years, producing a healthy run of CDs since 2000 (five of 'em!) without even making a fleeting appearance, let alone a dent, on my radar (who's been missing me out of their press mailouts then?… grr!). And yet theirs is a very distinctive sound-world that, once heard, is rarely forgotten or mistaken for someone else.
Every track on this album could be judged a highlight - there's not a trace of a makeweight in the disc's 51-minute span
The musical trademark of the duo's approach is found in Sera's wondrous, silky cello lines soaring and dipping above Tom's subtly picked guitar rhythm that's allowed to ring and chime, both elements overlaid by their captivating shared vocals.
Tom's songs are simply stunning. I'm completely won over by this very, very special disc."
David Kidman, FATEA - 2017
"No one writes or sings like Tom Mank. No one. He is historian, poet, and a keeper of pasts and futures. He writes of and for everyman and every man as if every moment matters. In tones of sepia, glancing into the past while keeping topics universal. He lives in a world romantic, simple emotions and truths the basis of life.
Too few know Mank's music or the brash-to-delicate cello of wife and partner Sera Smolen who is acknowledged by many people as one of the best in the world on that instrument. They have recorded a number of albums which remain under the radar in spite of the excellence and quality of the music.
There is something in the works of Mank & Smolen which is hard to describe. Mank definitely resides outside the mainstream, the music emanating from an inside filled with war, love and conflict... For those who have never heard Tom Mank & Sera Smolen, let me leave you with a few examples of their work. Listen closely. This ain't your Grampa's old folk music. This is Tom Mank & Sera Smolen. Not quite like anything I have ever heard."
Frank Gutch Jr, No Depression - 2017
"It's stompy, it's original, and it's gorgeous. We highly recommend it and thank Tom Mank and Sera Smolen personally for Their Music. Their music is written to inspire all to live life in celebration with all respectfully." - www.rootstime.be
Marcie, Rootstime - 2017
"I really enjoyed this new CD. Tom Mank & Sera Smolen... Unique... A pure beauty... A fantastic cello (I never heard a cello played like that!) and their 2 voices are a invitation to romanticism, emotions... A music that takes you, that rises your spirit, a stunning sonic landscape... I will air tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 ['Harpers Ferry', 'Love in a Difficult World', 'My Thunder and Lightning', 'Calico Dress'] in April.
This was good music!
Mike Penard, ISA Radio France - 2017
"The guitar / cello duets from veteran singer-songwriter Tom Mank and his partner Sera Smolen are rarely very exciting at the first listening, but turn out - on closer listening - to be always exceptionally beautiful and sophisticated," wrote Eric van Domburg Scipio the editor of the Popmagazine “Heaven”, more than three years ago of this duo. These words, I can fully understand, because Tom and Sera have completely overwhelmed me on “Unlock the Sky”. Rarely has a first listen of an album made such an impression on me, especially by the originality of the repertoire. This couple have already made their mark in the music - Sera originally trained in classical music and Tom playing in several folk, blues and bluegrass bands. They have performed together as a duo since 1994. Tom writes much of the repertoire, often together with others. “I Left the City” he wrote together with Ithaca resident Anna Coogan, who is well known in the Netherlands. One of the most beautiful songs, “Calico Dress”, he co-wrote with Kyle Carey. Both ladies moreover will soon release new disks of their own... Besides these songs of Tom, there is also a beautiful instrumental composition from Sera, “Unlock the Sky”, which shines. Performing solo, Sera's game is totally unique. I know very few musicians who are known to be so distinguished... It would not surprise me if “Unlock the Sky” at the end of 2017 turns out to be my favorite album of the year.”
Theo Volk, Johnny's Garden - 2017
"‘My Thunder & Lightning’ is one of the most beautiful songs [of the performance]. The harmonica game by Klein Kromhof is so strikingly good that he can even make Toots T. smile on the other side. Add to that the lovely voice of Last, the slide guitar game of DePaolo, the deep cello sounds of Smolen and Merrill's beautiful sounding viola ... then you can not help but regard this evening as very special.
The audience can not get enough of it, resulting in an encore with ‘Crooked Moon’ (‘Love, Love, See You Soon’).
Tonight we witnessed 6 skilled musicians who performed at a very high level during each mentioned song !!”
Wies Van Luijtelaar, Blue Room Sessions - Newsbrief - 2018
"Listen to 'My Thunder and Lightning', in which the Dutch mouth harmonicist Gait Klein Kromhof plays a duet with the cello of Smolen - which only produces beautiful music. The title song of the album 'Unlock the Sky' is Smolen's only composition and also the only instrumental song, and you can hear how great Smolen is - it's a breathtaking piece of solo cello that also makes the classically educated Smolen a composer on her own. Keep an eye on the playlist of this phenomenal duo and absolutely go see them when they perform in the neighborhood, and tune in to this beautiful CD."
Moors Magazine - 2018
"[Tom] Mank is a talking bard who loves to collect the sun rays that pine through the deck of clouds. The collaboration between cellist Smolen and singer-songwriter Mank delivers special music. It is folk with classical undertones that can end up quite jazzy. The American couple is currently working on a tenth Dutch tour. That explains the contribution of the Dutchman Gait Klein Kromhof (harmonica) to 'My Thunder and Lightning' along with Belgian Kimberly Claeys who sings a duet with Mank. The record was largely made in Woodstock NY. Before the album concludes with 'Amsterdam', Smolen plays the instrumental title number which gives her the opportunity to display her school-based game."
John Gjaltema, Alt Country NL - 2018
"'Unlock The Sky' leaves a special impression because of the prominent cello. This instrument is not only used in classical music, it is proven by class. Beautiful melodic songs, influenced by people and Americana, with a moment of glory for the cello, which replaces in a fantastic way both the bass and lead guitar."
Lambert Smits, Keys and Chords - 2017
"Sometimes you enjoy the most beautiful evenings with a wealth of handful of fellow enthusiasts. Last night there were so no more than twenty visitors witnessed the magic that originated in the already special music of Tom Mank & Sera Smolen between the visual art that was exhibited in The Space in Geldrop. And now 'Unlock The Sky' is on. It has become a wonderful album, which grows with every listener and the magic of the performance continues to sound in the music that comes from the CD player."
Separately Tom Mank and Sera Smolen each experienced their own musical crossroads, but since they became a duo in 1994, you can now label them as 'one' and then a 'special one'... The collaboration of the two led to a harmonious singing cello, guitar and voice. On this new CD called "Unlock The Sky" you will witness eight poetic masterpieces... From the opener 'Harpers Ferry', Tom and Sera pull together with the rest of the musicians to grab your attention. This first song is somewhat cheerful. Starting with the next song, the voice of Mank and the cello of Sera pull even closer together and take this album into a sometimes mysterious atmosphere - accompanied by beautiful harmony vocals.
Rootsville - 2017
Regularly Tom Mank and Sera Smolen admire the Northern Netherlands because of their friends and their annual concert there. This year, the experienced duo arrive with a stunning new album under their arms. On 'Unlock the Sky', the Americana duo collaborates with many others. Mank writes duets with Jeannie Burns, Kyle Carey and Anna Coogan. It is a relaxing album, with beautiful songs. The opening song is magnificent - "Harpers Ferry" - the duet with Jeannie Burns - is one of the smoothest tracks on the album and already very relaxed. Each song is a lovely little story in itself. The musical cello of Sera Smolen plays a leading role here as does, from the first note, the keyboard. The album was recorded in the United States, but also partly in Belgium. Magnificent also is' Love in a Difficult World' - a strong protest song. Highlighted by the duet with Terry Burns. "Calico Dress" is a superb song. The two voices fit and achieve great heights in a beautiful love duet. Gorgeous, you want to hear this! The stylistically different song is the almost classical 'Unlock the Sky', an instrumental song where Smolen's gets all the space. The album concludes with 'Amsterdam' a beautiful melancholic song about saying goodbye. Enjoying Tom Mank and Sera Smolen!
Richard Wagenaar, The Next Gig - 2017
SWIMMING IN THE DARK
"Tom Mank is a singer-songwriter originating from Ithaca New York, cellist Sera Smolen a classically trained musician . The duo performs atmospheric jazzy creations grafted to folk roots . Mank’s lively voice is sparsely accompanied with acoustic strings and harmonica here and there , performed inimitably. Their poetic meditations are exquisite, sometimes slow, but lovely in their meandering path. We hear exclusively acoustic instruments and every number is tastefully and intimately colored by Smolen’s unique cello playing. The groundwork of the recording took place in Bearsville, in Julie Last’s studio. Ms. Last whispers that on some tracks and we also hear singers Anna Coogan , Jeannie Burns, Kristi Gholson and Kyle Carey, both in the foreground and the background.
“Tom Mank could have been a baseball player had things worked out but I’m glad he didn’t make it. If he had, chances are he would never have really given music a chance and that would not have been fair to us. He is one of those hidden treasures, holing himself up in Ithaca, New York with wife Sera Smolen and playing music to (almost) his heart’s content. I don’t know Tom, but I do. I know how much he invests himself in his music and in his friends’ music. I know that he is a good, good man and one talented sonofabitch of a musician. And I love his music. Every time he and Sera release an album (there has never been a question of each recording separately except for the occasional tune), I get nervous because Tom has gotten better with every album and I worry about that jinx so many musicians talk about, but he hasn’t let me down yet. Tom lives the folk/blues and would have fit perfectly into the old New York folk scene of the sixties.”
Frank Gutch Jr, Blog - 2013
"Singer-songwriter Tom Mank, together with cellist Sera Smolen, just completed a jewel of an album. The songs themselves are already beautiful, particularly with the enchanting cello of Smolen – but it’s the arrangements that give the album its special value.
You could fill several CD's with all the songs from foreigners in which Amsterdam appears, and this song will easily be the top selection. Relaxing, intimate, jazzy and magnificently arranged. This is a 'growing' album, to listen to more than once in the late evening. An intimate masterpiece."
- Moors magazine 2010
"If you're looking for that three-o'clock-in-the-morning album, this is it. You know, when you come home polluted or just exhausted and need to wind down. When you wake up at three a.m. and can't get back to sleep. When nothing seems right and you need perspective or everything seems right and you need perspective. You see, the songs on 'Paper Kisses' are soft kisses on the cheek and quiet conversations in the night. They are late evenings and early mornings in subdued light or in the dark. They are hope and despair and joy and angst. They are a Tom Mank & Sera Smolen gift to the discerning ears of people who treasure music beyond its use as filler or background music.
The feel, the aura, the music--- they all inhabit one point in time, or so it seems. Mank has grown exponentially as guitarist, Smolen steps out of the background a bit more (which makes a huge and positive difference), and the contributions of the “guest” artists are somewhat minimal and yet crucial. Pulled together by the musical vision of Mank and Smolen and the legerdemain of producer Julie Last, Paper Kisses hits the mark and will stand on its own long after Mank and Smolen have recorded their future projects, of which I hope there to be many. What I'm saying is, it is no wonder Mank has put his last two projects into Last's hands. It is in the grooves."
Frank Gutch Jr, Blog - 2010
WHERE THE SUN MEETS THE BLUE
"Tom Mank and Sera Smolen are so far beyond the mainstream, it's scary. They are acoustic music's Igor Stravinsky in a world of Brahms and Schumanns. I mean, Brahms and Schumann are great, but Stravinsky— man, that's adventure! Mank approaches this album like a modern beatnik, picking subjects on the edge and presenting them with unerring touch. Mank and Smolen do more with a simple acoustic guitar and cello than some chamber orchestras or jazz ensembles and when you add Last and Gholson… I have not really talked in terms of expertise. After having listened to this album numerous times, I am of the mind that Tom Mank and Sera Smolen are easily Grammy material. They are expert at their craft, but more than that, they develop it. At their level, I am not at all sure that it is a craft but art. There can't be a gig they play where a large percentage of their audience is not comprised of fellow musicians. That, my friends, is a given, and it speaks volumes."
Frank Gutch Jr, Blog 2007