Josh Cleveland & The Cedar Street Band have been quite busy the past two years. From playing two shows a month at Erte & The Peacock Lounge in NE, to a semi-regular gig at LTD Brewing in Hopkins, to continually expanding their audience at the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport, the constant movement has helped polish the group.
Most of their evenings are spent playing 2 and a half hours of music. As you can imagine, the monthly routine can be challenging. But as Josh Cleveland expresses, “I want my music to mean something. I want, if only for a moment, my songs to connect my story to the stories of those listening. Heart to heart, beat for beat.” It’s that message and desire that continues to push his band to play and fight for a piece of your ear.
I had the delight of catching up with the group at LTD Brewing. The venue is moderately sized, with a performance area nestled across from the bar. Designed so that everyone can see and hear the band, it filled up quickly.
Josh is supported by The Cedar Street Band, which includes bass player Philip Rampi, multi-instrumentalist Dustin Smith, and occasional drummer Eric Smith. The evening started with Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” prompting telephones and cameras to veer attention to the band.
The next 6 songs were originals, all geared towards showcasing the range and stylistic shifts in Josh’s voice. From bluesy to soul and back to authentic acoustic ballads, Josh’s voice centers the music. His ability to shift to falsetto, like a Corvette shifts gears, is effortless and smooth.
It was during an unreleased song where the line “I will be right here to bring you back” snagged my imagination. Listening to Josh spill his lyrics to a crowded brewery, I knew there had to be a story behind that line.
Josh shares that influences like Amos Lee, Martin Sexton, U2 and Eddie Vedder taught him to see everyday life through the eyes of music. His joy in writing music is learning to find the gems, the memorable elements in sometimes unexpected parts of life. Whether these moments are funny, sad, profound or seemingly random, his mission is to capture something familiar and essential.” It is this storytelling ability that allows him to cover distinct artists like Ray Charles, Sting, Ray LaMontagne, Gnarls Barkley, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen all in one night and make his version unique. Each cover he selects is reborn in his voice and style, allowing you to listen more to the story in the song than the notoriety of the artist.
This intention is found throughout his own songs as well. One example is “City,” a track that quieted the audience halfway through his third set. It feels like the audience recognized there are stories behind his voice, that it’s deeper than just a song.
Philip and Dusty make great supporting artists as they embellish the message without stepping in the way. Phillip plays his upright bass like a drum, beating and pounding along, while Dusty changes instruments throughout the night. As a trio, they sonically shift each song to fit Josh’s voice.
“Fair is Fare,” another original, is a prime example of their craft. It was during this song that heads once again turned. A blend of darker vocals, gritty guitar, and groovy bass saturated the senses.
There’s something to be recognized when you see Minnesota artists working full-time jobs, playing 2-hour gigs, and putting every effort into perfecting their music. It’s the root of working musicians and what we all should be supporting in our communities. Grizzled veterans Josh Cleveland & The Cedar Street Band continues to find ways to broaden their audience, record new music, and connect heart to heart, beat for beat. It’s this spirit and goal that everyone can attach to, no matter our profession.