Madame Gazelle: Siren and the Storm

Paul Whyte

Madame Gazelle is primarily made up of the husband and wife duo Jesse and Jocelyn Richter. Their new debut album “Siren and the Storm” captures a unique sound that is often soothing and easily accessible. While the album has a country/roots feel to it, there’s something that goes beyond that.  
Jesse and Jocelyn are originally from the area and moved back to Duluth last year. It didn’t take long for them to start playing at open mics such as at the Amazing Grace with Jocelyn on vocals, harmonica and kick drum and Jesse covering the guitar work for the project. “Our project started around this time last year with the intention of having a set ready for Homegrown. Joce and I recently moved back to Duluth and we were hoping to take part in the music community we loved. Unfortunately with our late registration we didn’t get a slot,” said Jesse about the band’s start. Although Jesse and Jocelyn often play as a duo, they brought in several additional members for the album and they also play together live. “At the time, it was just Jocelyn, Dustin Mencel from Minneapolis and myself. We still got together anyway to play our first show as Madame Gazelle at Beaner’s a few weeks later. Later on that spring I ran into an old friend Andy Mark, who has been playing bass at a pretty hi-profile level in Minneapolis with several different acts. We got together to jam and he was excited to finally have an outlet to play his stand-up bass. Alex Galle-From plays in the band Loup Garou. When I heard his sound, I knew he’d be great for our album. He was down with helping us out, and hopefully he’ll be free for a few of our shows in the near future,” stated Jesse.
Perhaps what gives the album a distinct country sound is the instruments that are played on it. Bringing in mandolin, banjo, upright bass and viola will easily give music a roots kind of vibe. With songs like “Slow Train,” “Desert Flower,” and “Wash Me Away,” they are uptempo and the banjo and mandolin drive the songs with the thump of the upright bass behind it. When asked about influences, Jesse noted, “Tori Amos, Brandi Carlile, Ani Difranco, Phish, Yonder Mountain String Band, String Cheese Incident, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Trampled by Turtles, to name a few.” “We try not to let things get too country. Now don’t get me wrong, that old dusty blue jean country is alright, but that new rhinestone s**t’s got to go,” Jesse added.
While it’s established that the instruments play a part in the country sound, the main element that sets Madame Gazelle’s sound away from country is Jocelyn’s vocals. To use an example of female country vocals, take Reba McEntire. While a talented singer, it’s unmistakable that her voice is geared towards country and it’d be hard to imagine her doing anything else.
Jocelyn’s vocals don’t give any impression that she’s going after a country sound at all. Her vocal style is very smooth and calm yet powerful. When asked about his wife’s prior vocal training, it was not surprising to learn, “Joce was classically trained in voice at UMD, where she graduated with her Bachelor’s of Music as valedictorian in 2004. Her father, Tom Wegren, a former member of the jazz-rock band Chicago and a retired piano and composition professor from UMD was an enormous influence on Jocelyn’s musicality throughout her life,” said Jesse.
The album begins with the laid back song “Majestic,” which reveals the less country/roots side of the band. Gently plucked guitar and banjo along with some harmonica parts sets the tone of the album well. With a mix of folk, alternative and roots music, the album as a whole is quite serene. The song “About a Missing Man” brings in a light folk riff that is complimented well by mandolin and viola. A highlight on the album is the track “Ocean,” where there are instrumental breakdowns after the verses in the song, the first one in particular at the one minute mark really adds a beautifully intense aspect to the song. A very subtle piano part that is either being run through some reverb/echo or was recorded somewhere huge like Sacred Heart blends almost seamlessly with the mandolin.  
The interesting thing about the lyrics and the album in general is that it’s not particularly happy or sad. The song “Majestic” starts with an encounter with a fortune teller who reads the cards and says “you’ll never know you’ll only feel‚Ķshe whispered something about the Majestic.” The song goes on to give a message of hope, “don’t hide in your cave go find what you seek, the world out there is for the brave not the weak.” At the end of the song the lyrics admit, “I lost my way in the Majestic.” Overall the lyrics often give abstract and sometimes mystical glimpses and statements about life and love. Songs like “Coal Mining World” seem to be likening daily struggles of border line poverty and the bleakness of life to working in a coal mine.
“Siren and the Storm” is a gorgeous display of taking the melding of traditional roots instruments and weaving a unique sound with them. There is a consistent vibe of calmness and sentimental feeling between the string driven arrangements in most of the tracks besides the few uptempo country tunes and Jocelyn’s vocals stand out in the whole album.
The recording process of the album is very well done. There’s a lot of strings playing picking patterns through much of it and everything sits together wonderfully. The album was recorded and mixed with the experienced local studio engineer Rich Mattson from Sparta Sound. “Recording at Sparta Sound was a blast. Rich Mattson has created a special place up there. Inspiration breathes and that studio captures it. How it happens, no one knows. Although, I will say a lot of what we played in our recording session was very free and open. A few takes and we were good to go. As old friends, we know each other well. The energy we weave working with one another is very positive,” noted Jesse on the studio work for the album.
The art and photos on the album are very fitting. The cover is an old-time looking illustration of a siren with what appears to be a banjo. The inside picture is of a woman, presumably Jocelyn, dressed in an old fashioned dress and hat sitting in front of a window beside an olden style bird cage. The light from the window contrasts the woman so she is in the shadows of the dark room she sits in, it’s almost eerie. The back of the album is a sepia picture of Jocelyn in a coat and hat in the winter. JSB Photography is credited for the photos and they tie in the general feel of the album well.
The album is available on itunes and can be found in hardcopy by attending a Madame Gazelle show. Their next performance is scheduled for April 5 at Beaner’s Central.


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

View more of Paul Whyte's work »