Americana trio Cosmo’s Dream sings original tales of foggy-mountain megamalls, trailer-park guns and guitars, big black cats, Iditarod sled dogs, rising rivers, grandmas online, dark days ahead, beautiful beer, and Superman’s dilemma. This Tacoma-based trio, which features Gen Obata on flatpick guitar and mandolin, Steve Nebel on guitar, and Kristi Nebel on bass, blends acoustic musicianship with solo vocals and dynamic three-part harmonies. Cosmo's Dream released their first CD, Big Sky Blues, and toured the US in February, 2016. They will be touring the United Kingdom in August 2016.
Steve and Kristi Nebel (“KNEE-bull”), both raised in the Pacific Northwest, first honed their troubadour skills during ten years on the road performing cover songs in dives and cocktail lounges, and then, in more recent years, performing their own songs in folk clubs and at festivals throughout the United States, the UK, and Japan. Because of their vast and versatile experience, each is an accomplished instrumentalist and vocalist with great facility in many styles of music. Kristi plays bass guitar and Steve plays guitar.
Kristi’s focus on harmony singing comes from a family background of barbershop singers, which she has shared with Steve. Her outstanding voice so impressed a concert promoter at the 2011 NW Folklife Festival that he attempted to recruit her for one of his projects. (Of course she was singing one of Steve’s songs, which may be part of what attracted the promoter’s attention.)
Kristi and Steve also perform with Tacoma based country swing band Cowgirl’s Dream, which showcases Kristi’s love of this genre of music. She is a finalist for vocalist of the year by the Academy of Western Artists, as well as having one of the songs off of her solo album “Detour” nominated for best song of the year by the same organization.
Frank Gutch, Jr., of Folk and Acoustic Exchange described the extraordinary vocals and music of Steve and Kristi Nebel this way:
“Folk festivals feed off of people like Steve and Kristi Nebel. Not only does their music reflect the ethics and values of that time long past which is the core of the Folk Life movements, but the Nebels have that ability to update without destroying the essence of what that music means to those simpler times . . . It is made to be played on small stages and between crafts exhibits at Folk Life Festivals and in living rooms with small groups of friends looking on. It is offspring of The Weavers and The Brothers Four and The Kingston Trio and their predecessors. But it is all Steve and Kristi Nebel.”
Steve and Kristi Nebel have recorded ten CDs and worked eight tours in the United Kingdom. Steve and Kristi’s CD "Raven Speaks" was selected by prize-winning radio producer Bob Sherman of New York City for his top ten CD picks in 2011 for his show on WFUV, "Woody's Children."
St. Louis native Gen Obata has been writing songs and playing flat-pick guitar since the 1970s. Gen writes songs that are, as Nicky Rossiter of Rambles.net online magazine wrote, “Tales of infidelity, lost love and longing.” He displays “a clean, unshowy flatpicking style,” according to online music critic Ken Renick. Roy Kasten of the St. Louis Riverfront Times described Gen’s exceptional vocals and guitar-playing this way:
“[H]is guitar playing has the emphatic muscularity of Lester Flatt and the illuminating melodicism of Doc Watson, who, like Obata, developed his style on old fiddle tunes transposed to guitar. . . . Over the years, Obata has managed to capture the best of the American singer/songwriter tradition and the best of the country instrumental legacy.”
Before relocating to the Pacific Northwest in 2011, Gen performed with several St. Louis-based bands including two bluegrass bands, The Seldom Home and Raven Moon (named the best area bluegrass band by the St. Louis Riverfront Times in 2007), and an eclectic-acoustic band, City Folk. Gen has played with the Tacoma-based bluegrass band, Barleywine Revue, since early 2012, and also performs with an acoustic duo, The Unassuming Beekeepers, and an alt-country band, Road Work.
Gen has produced two solo CDs, Take Me Don’t Take Me and Better Off On The Run, and performs on two Raven Moon CDs, one Seldom Home CD, and one Barleywine Revue CD. Two of his original songs are featured on Elbow Grease, a CD compilation of several St. Louis songwriters.
Cosmo’s Dream Set Cascade Alight: “My, they are very good!” Steve and Kristi Nebel and Gen Obata, the Americana band Cosmo’s Dream, rode into Cascade Idaho last week, following a month-long tour covering more than three thousand miles in several states, as far east as St. Louis, Missouri. We were grateful to have their final stop in our mountain town; they stayed three days to perform in two community venues. Cosmo’s dream set up with little fanfare in less than an hour and played for two hours before a fully appreciative audience at the Cascade Cultural Arts Center, a community art room capable of seating fifty bodies. This was March 3rd, a chill Thursday night, with the icy snow of winter piled along the roads and alleys by the city and county plows.
As the opening song started to rise in a triad of the phrase “River rising, river rising, river rising,” the audience began immediately to move to higher ground, realizing the professional musicianship, the sure three-part harmonies and the depth of experience expressed in the lyrics. Heads turned as the song closed with the same stirring harmonies, and I observed smiles and nodding affirmations: “This is going to be good!” Cosmo’s energy was bright and constant, the songs opened minds and hearts, more beaming smiles grew as the lyrics spoke of mega-malls founded upon the grounds of a poor soul’s Carolina Blue Ridge Foggy Mountain cabin home. And a great evening it was for us lucky mile-high mountain dwellers who came to hear the diversity of these modern-day troubadours. One song “Sunny Day,” with its refrain “Oooh Ooh-Ooh Ooooh Sunny Day!” really does bring the sun out. Believe me.
The Nebels have been composing songs and playing together for many years and these days are a well- known and beloved duo to various communities in the Northwest. As Cosmo’s Dream, to the Nebels’ repertoire of fine songs, portraits of working folk and troubled souls surmounting the obstacles of love and life, Gen Obata has brought his own songs of the American scene. He adds the string virtuosity of bluegrass idioms on guitars and mandolin, his witty, even comical, lyrical songs being apt complements to the wit and verve of Steve’s compositions. Kristi Nebel plays bass so subtly and skillfully, it is well worth paying attention to her rhythms, and her voice is something to behold, so clear and beautifully toned. It is hard to typify the range of their songs for splendid, melodic lyrics are set to waltzes, rhythmic reggae, and pop/rock beats. Insightful social commentary is at the heart of much of their music.
My own impression was that they set Cascade afire with their lively rhythms and melodies. Following the hummable, and naturally danceable, waltz “Wish You Were Here” with its refrain “Wish you were here, Waltzing under the stars, The stars are so bright, The night is so clear, How I wish you were here,” how appropriately the clear night sky sparkled with the phantasmagoric magic-lantern galactic display when we left the hall. This was the dizzying effect of song after a rather gray overcast day.
Their concert performance on Friday night, March 4th, at the historic Roxy Theater was a major contribution to the community project “Valley Home Companion,” produced by Steve Herzog with the aid of local talent. On opening night, Cosmo’s Dream gave a heap of good spirit and love to the citizens of Cascade. They will be on people’s tongues for some time to come and in demand for future visits.
The duo of Steve & Kristi Nebel has been performing in the Northwest, Alaska, and Great Britain for decades. Their mix of folk, originals, swing, humor, and protest/causes songs is well known and documented on a host of recordings. They were comfortable in their own skins and as a couple were able to achieve a niche for themselves over several decades. A couple of years ago, they met Gen Obata, another Tacoma musician and songwriter who also plays guitar and mandolin. They jammed together and a year ago formally formed Cosmo’s Dream as a trio. There was obviously some chemistry working, and after six months they were in the studio and now have their first recording as Cosmo’s Dream. Obata adds an upper middle range vocal, a smooth, clean lead guitar and solid mandolin chops, and a big bag of his songs. As you will hear, they work well together. l have seen them three times in person, and they have grown and tightened the sound, and it deserved to get recorded.
They open with Obata’s upbeat, humorous look at today‘s technology in "Grandma’s Always Online.” Kristi’s vocal bites on the verse, and the bluegrass harmonies are perky and full of life. Obata's guitar break is smooth, and the mandolin break is sharp and clear. Obata's “Big Sky Blues” is a traveling song mixing a touch of western swing and a lazy western Obata vocal which, here, is in a kind of lazy Willie Nelson mood. The harmonies, holds, and clean guitar touches make this a relaxed delight. Steve Nebel’s “We’re Comin’ In” is a celebration of coming in off the sea and has Steve on lead vocal and solid guitar leads by Obata. This is a joyful contemporary song that would be great for traditional folk musicians to pick up a joyful celebration in music.
Next, Obata opens with bluegrass guitar licks on the almost talking blues with a look at the modern changes to historic landscapes occurring everywhere. He takes us on a trait ride to Carolina from Arkansas, and where his old cabin and hunting grounds used to be, there is now ‘The Blue Ridge Lonesome Pine Back Home Foggy Mountain MegaMall." This is a superb song for any bluegrass band. Obata’s vocal and guitar push this focus on modern life.
Steve Nebel’s “Jesse” is a plaintive look at loss of love, and at the distance in that loss. Kristi Nebel has the lead vocal with harmony by the men. Obata's mandolin gives spark in the midtempo song of loss.
Obata’s “Plastic Heart” Opens with a warm guitar and his ability to punch and cleanly snap the lines. The song of loss of love and the sparsely used soft harmonies are arranged thoughtfully.
Steve Nebel’s ‘Doublewide’ is a harsh look at single life and the cold choices of a tough life. Steve’s vocals are rougher, an edgy folk, and they fit perfectly for this tough, meaty song.
Obata’s “Don't You Touch This Old Guitar” is the marriage of player and his instrument in the most emphatic way. The guitar wins over money, car, and gal friend so that he can sing and play more songs. This is taken in upbeat bluegrass style with Obata’s guitar taking high-speed lead and the breaks, another song for bluegrass groups.
“Sunny Day” by Steve Nebel has sprightly mandolin loping along to drive Kristi Nebel’s vocal. This is a sort of Latin-pop beach song mood. lnteresting progressions and approach. Obata takes another bouncy mandolin break. Fun Song.
Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times” has Kristi Nebel on lead vocal with clean, crisp mandolin leading the song. This is a strong three-part vocal and harmony. Solid push and drive with clean vocals carrying the day. This song begs a bit of low-end harmony, and I would bet a nickel that Steve Nebel will start developing and using his lower baritone/bass vocal for some of the harmonies.
Steve penned “River Rising “ way back in the late 70s. Again, harmonies open and carry the song in a snappy movement. Kristi Nebel brings the lead vocal, clear and sailing. The theme of pack up and move out is the label of the day as floods take out folks’ homes, railroad lines here in the Northwest and all over the country.
Solid CD and representation of Cosmo's Dream going into 2016. They took this new CD to lnternational Folk Alliance in February in Kansas City as we went to press, and they will take it and the new trio to Great Britain later this year. The recording is simple, direct, and clean. The instruments have decent distinction. The packaging is a four-panel told over with slots on each internal side to slip in the CD on one side and the lyric sheet on the other. Tune list and length of each song are on both the CD jacket and CD itself, as are all web site, email, and mailing contacts. Binding has data for shell retrieval. Very enjoyable.
A review of Cosmos Dream by a musically challenged miscreant…….
Late 1960's early 1970's, you wander into an urban coffee house/ night club.
San Francisco? New York? Seattle? It does not matter where. These are restless times. There is an ill wind blowing out of the east. There is trouble on the horizon in the form of a republican presidential candidate. All you want to do is escape for a few hours, listen to music and have a drink with friends….drown your fears with the music of three very talented musicians.
If this does not sound familiar or enjoyable, you missed an incredible evening with Cosmos Dream at the Focal Point in St. Louis. Yes, time went backwards by several decades. I felt like I was in the presence of "The Weavers", Peter, Paul and Mary and any of the other musical poets from that era. It could have been a scene or a snippet from "A Mighty Wind", the stage of Garrison Keilors Lake Wobegon show on NPR. I really had to shake my head and pinch myself to make sure I was in St. Louis and this was 2016.
Mind you, Bluegrass, folk and country music was never part of my make up, I cut my teeth on Deep Purple, The Clash, The Talking Heads. I listen to Opera, Classical Music, i dance in my head to Techno and Industrial. But a three piece band..accoustic? No drums? Thanks but no thanks….
Well, consider me a convert. Steve, Kristi and Gen changed my mind. I was stunned, I sat there for several hours with a big smile on my face, listened to the words that were sung, and felt something change in me. I could see, hear and feel the love that Steve and Kristi have for one another. It was there in the songs that they sung. The intensity of Mr. Obata's playing got my feet moving, I could feel his passion for what he was playing. I honestly did not think that fingers could move that quickly, and at one point, I think I heard the mandolin let out a groan and plead for Gen to be gentle.
My favorite? The waltz that was played (I do not recall the name). Hearing Christy's voice gave me goose bumps, I wish that they had played it again. And again…I was amazed. All the songs were amazing, funny, heartfelt….Who knew that a song about a mall in the hills of Tennessee could be that good.
It was a great evening, one that I truly enjoyed. 3 adults of questionable age, playing like they were kids…..Look past the grey hair, they are damned good.