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

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"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.
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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

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"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

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"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

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"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

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"‘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

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"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

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"[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

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"'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

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"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." 

Mirjam Adrianas
Folk Forum

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

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“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

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PAPER KISSES

"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

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"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

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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