Carnivals and Other Tragedies is the third full-length release from Chicago based singer songwriter Marshall (Hjertstedt), although this is the first release to a national audience. Carnivals and Other Tragedies (July 20, 2018) is a collection of 7 original songs which center on a hybrid acoustic / electric approach and spanning the gamut of singer-songwriter based folk, roots and rock. It’s an easygoing sound balanced between positivity and poignancy. As Marshall explains, “I focus on melody and lyrics that people can understand and relate to and I feel the voice is the primary instrument in any song.”
Marshall traces the roots of his professional song-writing career to the Chicago folk/ roots epicenter between the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Park and Fitzgerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn. It’s here that Carnivals and Other Tragedies really began to take shape. Marshall worked along side Bill Kavanah, who plays bass, at his Bob Dog Studios where the album was mixed and mastered as well as recording with Steve Dawson at his Kernel Sound Emporium studios and who contributes lead guitar on the song ”Make It Right”. The album also features notable contributions from Jordi Kleiner on fiddle, Jerry King on drums, Andon Davis on guitar, with Jenny Bienemann and Robinlee Garber joining on harmony vocals. Marshall himself provides the acoustic guitar work and all lead vocals.
The opening track “Carnival Ride” delves into the struggle of human relationships, the unsure journey that love can take in its long and winding path. The tune kicks off with a pulsing dissonance with Marshall warily stating “I don’t know what you’re thinking most of the time, sometimes you’re Dr. Jekyll, suddenly you’re Mr. Hyde” with the song then turning a more optimistic corner, uplifting to “Oh how lovely, basking in your glow”. The song confesses to the pendulous nature of love, before resigning its self to embrace its flaws and enjoy the ride.
“Merry Go Round” is a songwriter’s lament, set to an upbeat shuffle paired with fiddle, “Make It Right” is a melancholic blues, trying to avoid confrontation yet asking for forgiveness, featuring Steve Dawson on lead guitar. While “El Nino” features Marshall alone with acoustic guitar, “– I’m a weather buff. And I stumbled on a story about the Atacama Desert in South America. It’s the driest place on earth. It only rains there every 7 years, . . . when the El Nino comes it bursts forth in life with flowers, and plants, and birds, and bugs.” Aptly coined in the lyric "And then it rains. The desert blooms in joy.Blushing beauty, like Helen of Troy. The air is filled with fragrance and with song. But quick as he comes, he is gone."
Bookending the collection of songs on the album,” The River”, with its languid and methodic rhythmic current is the most literal song on the album. “I lie awake at night and stare at the ceiling. It’s just not fair, that some find happiness, some find sorrow, more than their share.” As Marshall states “All of the incidents depicted in the song were really happening in the lives of close people around me. And sometimes life can be very bewildering. This phrase literally summed up what was going through my head.”
As Marshall explains, “Carnivals and Other Tragedies didn’t start out as a concept record. It was, just going to be a compilation of the best gifts the muse has given me in recent years. However, similar metaphors had wormed their quirky way into my lyrical vocabulary and I had to sit back and confront that idea. So I decided to embrace their commonality, and use that as the theme of the whole album.”
For Marshall music has always seemed natural. He first acquired the taste at the 7th grade talent show where not being content with the “assigned” exercises from his music teacher he instead performed a rendition of Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool”, riling up the audience with its rock n roll machinations. Graduating to a Beatles cover band in high school before eventually playing the college folk circuit while studying architecture.
Marshall’s life took a temporary musical detour while raising a family, but his guitar was never far from his side. Eventually reemerging with his release “Overflow of the Heart” in 2007 and followed in 2012 by “Painting the Scene”. He would tour the Midwest working folk and roots venues across Chicago, with pilgrimages through Garrison, Iowa’s Idiot Jam on and up through to Ontario’s Georgian Bay in Owen Sound.
Asked about how he sees and hears the nature of his music Marshall muses, “I feel the voice is the primary instrument in any song, it has to sell the song. And, I work hard on my vocal presentation. There’s nothing more joyful than writing and playing music. Truly. I play music out, to give purpose to the writing I do.”
Carnivals and Other Tragedies is a collection of easy going songs which occupy a certain space in time, balancing both sides of the coin, rooted in the fundamentals of happiness and sorrow, optimism and disappointment, love and heartache. It harkens back to a once and future sense of spirit.