Roto's Magic Act


Roto’s Magic Act takes you into the unknown . . . 

“Pithy lyrics, compelling vocals, majestic guitar tones, and superb accompanists all inform this hip, seductive, and brilliantly produced CD.”  —Guitar Player Magazine

There are only two letters separating “music” and “magic,” and on the aptly titled double-album “Into the Unknown” by Roto’s MagicAct, the distance seems even more immaterial, an ace of hearts slipped between the worlds of sound, song and audio sleight of hand. Conceived and written by the former Mr. Bungle and Air (French Band) multi-instrumentalist and singer known as Roto (aka James Rotondi, the guitar ace behind the Grassy Knoll, Jettatura and the Cringe), “Into the Unknown” is a neo-classic rock album writ large, a 15-song “continuous sound” journey, blending ambitious songs and evocative sound design, in the grand tradition of ‘70s rock epics like Pink Floyd‘s The Dark Side of the Moon.

But while the seven-minute closer “Heart Stops” certainly pays homage to Floyd’s languid space-rock, “Into the Unknown” rides equally on a spirited wave of literate power-pop, tuneful alt-country and even reimagined southern rock, to emerge with a unique distillation of urbane artists like Elvis Costello, Alex Chilton, Gram Parsons, Sufjan Stevens, John Mayer, and Harry Nillsson. Shot through with Roto’s incendiary electric and acoustic guitar playing, the album is equally noteworthy for the stellar contributions of the MagicAct, a collective of top-tier players from New York, LA, San Francisco and Austin, including drummers Shawn Pelton and Matt Chamberlain, whose CVs include Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Tori Amos, Antony & the Johnsons, Dido, The Bonedaddies, Joan Osbourne, and many more.

Produced by acclaimed engineer/producer Bryce Goggin, who’s helmed similarly ambitious projects for Spacehog, Apples in Stereo, Joseph Arthur and Phish, “Into the Unknown” was constructed at Trout Recording in Brooklyn between December 2012 and April 2013, mixed in Los Angeles by Eddie Jackson (Delta Rae), and mastered back in Manhattan by Andy Van Dette at Masterdisk. Recorded with audiophiles, classic rock aficionados, progressive rock and power-pop fans, and vinyl freaks in mind, the album will be released in a deluxe package of double gatefold vinyl (with free digital download card), featuring cover art by acclaimed painter Zelda Devon, and photographs by former Morrison Hotel curator Rick Edwards.

Even with all this expertise on hand, of course, it’s the singer and the songs that need to deliver the ultimate “reveal,” and Roto’s warm, soaring voice and smart, soulful lyrics tackle territory from intimate, artful love songs (“Into the Unknown”) to brazenly smart-ass glam-rockers (“Faraway Lands”) to ironic but carefully considered takes on middle-class despair (“Happier Than Ever”), media corruption (“Hot News”), guests who won’t leave (“Strays”) and even the perils of corporate skullduggery (“The Old Trapdoor”). No wonder critic Ashley Khan applauded Roto for “a wit worthy of Warren Zevon and Ray Davies.” A member for the last three years of Bob Schneider‘s weekly “Song Machine,” a get-it-in-or-you’re-out songwriter’s cabal (recently profiled in The New York Times) that has counted Jason Mraz, Ari Hest, and Matt Nathanson among its alums, Roto turned out a whopping 150 songs in as many weeks, from which the fifteen tracks on “Into the Unknown” were culled, pruned, expanded and fleshed out.

It’s hardly odd that a collection of songs that reference Lord Byron, sweet tea, Aleister Crowley, the Mojave desert, Machiavelli, 70s sitcom “Bewitched,” and “elephants dancing on their toes” should be produced by a band and artist known as Roto’s Magic Act, but the illusion is, for all practical purposes, entirely real, and set to be “revealed” on Halloween night, October 31st of 2013.

Now you see it. . . .


About the band:

Roto’s Magic Act features a core band—and a revolving guest cast—that includes some of New York’s finest players, a mix of young upstarts and first-call veterans. Keyboardist John Deley is the former musical director for Dido; Mike Chiavaro is the bassist for Only Son, the 45s and Knights on Earth; drummer Paul Amorese has recently worked with Goodbye Motel and A.J. Croce.

“Into the Unknown” also features performances from drummers Shawn Pelton (SNL Band, Sheryl Crow), Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos, David Bowie), and drummer/percussionist Christopher Heinz (Walking Shapes, Shayna Zaid), and includes cameos from cellist Julia Kent (Antony & the Johnsons) pedal-steel virtuoso Philip Sterk (Alana Amram), string arranger Josh Fix (solo artist), and guitarists Joe Gore (PJ Harvey) and Paul Lacques (BoneDaddies). Holding down the bottom end on several of the album’s tracks are Richard Hammond (Joan Osbourne) and Brad Houser (David Garza, Edie Brickell). Good company? A musician might say “bad” company . . .