Fifteen-year-old Marlowe Harrison is a throwback to the '60s and '70s. But when you consider he makes rock albums with his parents, it's no wonder.
Under the name Tamdrin, the Ashland High School sophomore and his father, Nigel Harrison, have written, recorded and released five albums on their Raisedonrecords label since December of 2007.
They're both multi-instrumentalists and prolific songwriters who work together at home to produce a rapidly expanding discography of progressive rock and folk-oriented music.
"There are lots of songs that my dad has written years ago, and we used to write songs all the time," Marlowe said. "We don't really write as much now, because we have four more albums coming out soon."
The family affair includes Alison Harrison, Marlowe's mother, who two years ago took lessons to become a professional singer because the group couldn't find a vocalist and "the guys said, 'Oh, well, you'll have to do it." She said the main goal of the group is to support Marlowe.
"Well it's fun because I didn't know I could sing, actually. I thought everybody else could sing," she said.
In terms of rock music styles, Tamdrin runs the gamut.
Nigel, who grew up in England, is heavily influenced by '60s and '70s folk and rock. On the folk side, it's the baroque pop of singer-songwriters such as Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Scott Walker. For rock, it's the progressive, psychedelic and art rock styles of Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Procol Harum. And throw in some blues-rock from the likes of Clapton and The Stones.
Marlowe shares his dad's love for all kinds of classic rock, especially British. He was born in Cottage Grove but lived in England for a decade before the family returned to Oregon about six years ago, and a few years later made Ashland their home.
"I think it's been good for me, having the big change, coming from England to America, and when I was old enough so that I knew what was happening, but young enough to be able to adjust to it," he said.
Marlowe performs in front of large crowds regularly at a church, and he's also a member of Turpentine, a noted group of all Ashland High School students. His music can be heard at myspace.com/marloweharrison.
"I'd like to be a guitar player and a multi-instrumentalist, because I like playing the keyboards a lot, and the bass, and I like recording and producing and playing live," he said.
The first thing that stands out about Marlowe's music is his tasty guitar work, which sounds remarkably mature for someone who's too young to drive. He provides some Hendrixian backward licks on some of his tracks, and when I told him I thought I'd detected some Santana-like moments in his solo at the Tidings Café, he said I wasn't too far off.
"Jeff Beck's one of my big influences," he said.
Over the course of their five albums, Tamdrin's sound has shifted from from folk fusion into heavier, keyboard-driven guitar rock.
The group's latest effort, April 2009's "The Obliquity of the Ecliptic," is an immaculately produced jazz-rock concept piece that's somewhat reminiscent of Pink Floyd's mid-70s sides. It comes complete with a prelude, spacey synthesizers galore, haunting lyrics and just enough psychedelic sound effects to keep the art theme going throughout, while musically exploring various flavors of fusion. It features some brilliant blends of electric and acoustic guitar. Only five of the 11 tracks have vocals, making it easily the most instrumental-heavy of the albums.
With fuzzed-out jammers such as the 17-and-half-minute-long "Corona into the Vortex" — which includes a bluesy breakdown not dissimilar to the Allman Brothers' "Mountain Jam" and an abundance of tasty changes — "Obliquity" showcases Marlowe's guitar, synthesizer and bass work like none of the other four albums. However, "A Sky for Thought," has some similar-sounding songs, also features excellent progressive guitar rock accented by spacey keyboards and would hold similar appeal for fans of "Obliquity."
Because Marlowe and Nigel lay down so many tracks on the album versions of their songs — with synthesizer parts including minimoog, Solina string ensemble and mellotron organ — and they've yet to find a keyboard player who fits their style to accompany them live, it's been a challenge for Tamdrin to reproduce its sound on stage, Nigel said.
"But it's not going to stop us from playing," he said.
Such was the case in their Tidings Café performance, in which Nigel played acoustic rhythm guitar and Marlowe played electric lead guitar, while next-door neighbor Joe Diehl, guitarist for the Karen Lovely Band, sat in on electric bass.
They started with "The Daimler Days Are Over," from their third album, September 2008's "A Sky for Thought," and followed with "Crocodile Tears," from their second album, May 2008's "Lost on the Way."
Both songs come from the folk-heavier portion of Tamdrin's catalogue, and the folk tunes work especially well with Alison's gentle and precise approach to the lyrics. (Her delicate yet rich voice also fits superbly with the group's spacey jazz-fusion tracks.)
The two songs they played live didn't have drums, which was the main difference from the studio versions.
"This was fun. It sounds good," Marlowe said. "And I kind of like playing scaled-down and quiet and softer as well as a full band and more rocking stuff. I like doing both."
Diehl appears on the group's fourth album, March 2009's "Stranger Fates," with additional guitar and a solo on the track "The Picker," a shuffle blues unlike any other tune the group has recorded. "Stranger Fates" by far has the most blues influence of Tamdrin's five albums, and Marlowe credits Diehl with furthering his interest in the blues.
"They're just the nicest family," Diehl said.
All of Tamdrin's albums can be listened to or purchased at tamdrin.com. The group can also be found at myspace.com/tamdrin.
Mike Oxendine is page design editor for the Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456 ext. 229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.