LJ Fennell Makes Debut with Brilliant EP


By Diane DiMemmo

December 7, 2020

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Look up musician LJ Fennell on Spotify and you’ll see that he has seven songs hosted there (with many more coming, by the way)! Pick ANY ONE (or click on the video to the right), give it a listen, and you’ll get goosebumps as you become immersed in some of the best blues rock you’ve ever heard. The eighteen-year-old Monroe Twp (NJ) native recently debuted his first EP – Whereabouts – which presents itself as a brilliant body of work you’d expect to hear from an experienced musician two to three times his age.

It’s not too often that you come across a young artist who possesses the coveted trifecta of talent every musician aspires to have: superior aptitude for an instrument, intuitive/lyrical songwriting skills backed by an understanding of music theory, and a voice that’s distinctively rich and resonating. Yet Fennell has already accessed those wells of talent and is intensely focused on developing all three to the best of his abilities.

Listen to "Elevate" ... you'll get goosebumps at the 20-second mark!

I recently connected with Liam online to discuss his background, musical aspirations, and his new EP- Whereabouts. Currently attending The Berklee College of Music (his “dream school”) and studying guitar performance, Fennell is trying to make the most of his studies from a distance due to the pandemic restrictions placed on college students. “I always wanted to have that college experience of going on campus for the first time, meeting all the new people and jamming out with a bunch of my friends,” he stated. “We're pretty much all at home, and it's especially not ideal for music school, because the whole point of a music school is to play music with each other. You can learn music theory as much as you can at home, through remote learning. But that's not really the essence of Berklee.”


Refusing to let that deter him though, Fennell is immersing himself in his studies and soaking up all he can from his Berklee guitar instructor, Norman Zocher, whom he calls “an incredible jazz guitarist.” He’s fascinated by the doors Zocher is opening for him to “a lot of new genres” even though he considers himself, first and foremost, a guitarist with a blues/rock/funk focus. That focus comes, in part, from his three biggest musical influences: Gary Clark, Jonn Mayer, and Joe Bonamassa. “Those three guys, I feel, are really pushing the envelope for what you can do in the modern industry with the genre of Blues Rock. They're introducing blues rock to a whole new generation of people and really pushing it into the mainstream, which is really cool.” He continued, “One of the last concerts I went to was Joe Bonamassa at the Beacon Theater in New York and I have to say he's just one of the cleanest, fastest players I’ve ever seen ... EVER. There's just no one quite like him. And after I saw that show, I was immediately inspired to go out and buy a Gibson Les Paul and started writing songs.”

Thank goodness for that! On October 30th Fennell released his debut EP – Whereabouts - through Bean Street Records (founded by Jordan Chesebrough of Thelonious Funk) and recorded/produced by Nick Brucato. After working on the project for the better part of a year, there were unfortunate delays compliments of the pandemic. Fennell chose to use that “period of nothing” to also help with the production of the EP.

“Just recording the EP itself was an incredible experience, because I managed to get together a group of musicians who are insanely talented, and they just made everything so much easier," he said. "They made what I had planned in my head for my songs come to life, which is not an easy thing to do in any musical situation.” He added that he hopes to work with them again on future projects. “It was all just friendly musicianship playing off of each other, vibing off each other, and just bringing all the songs to a new level; and that was really cool to experience. Those guys gave me a run for my money; I had to keep up with them on most of the recordings.”

Those musicians are Rob Grande (organ, sax, backing vocals), Alex Siegel (drums), and Nicho Santos (Bass) and their names are worth calling out due to the fact that they played as equals to Fennel’s sick chops as opposed to just “backing” him. Siegel (also of Thelonious Funk and signed to Bean Street Records) is a percussive “artist” who varies his rhythms and techniques throughout every song so that the beat never gets redundant. His playing brings the music to another level and you find yourself thinking, “man this guy is GOOD” when listening. Grande’s organ vignettes and bookends add a rich, luscious layer of sweetness that embellish the songs even further; and his sax duet with Fennell in “Meet Me On The Other Side” is nothing short of exceptional. Santos’ bass lines are woven expertly throughout every song, and often without accompaniment so that they shine through and are given the attention they truly deserve.

All of this musical nirvana serves as the foundation to Fennell’s infinite supply of super cool/unique riffs, catchy melodies, and technically advanced guitar solos that either sing sweetly, or rock hard and loud, depending on the song. He doesn’t hold back and limit his guitar solos to short 2-3 line runs, but instead includes jams within his songs that you hope to hear live one day on a hot summer night at a music festival.

And then there’s that voice. Fennell only started singing recently (with the help of vocal lessons) for this EP, but what you experience the moment you hear his first line in “Elevate” (with his thick, raspy tone and the power behind it) is a "WOW" moment. His voice has a distinct “signature” sound that will set him apart from others and literally elevate his career (pun intended) beyond that of a solo guitarist. It's exciting to think what he'll accomplish with future projects if he continues to hone his vocals.

Not willing to commit to just one genre, Fennell characterizes Whereabouts as an EP “that is blues, rock, folk, R&B ... all that stuff mixed up into one, with a little bit of pop music sprinkled in.” His songwriting usually comes about from “noodling around on my guitar and finding something cool to turn into a riff,  then a chord progression. Next come the lyrics and a melody and it just snowballs.” Once in a while a song just hits him like a bolt of lightning which happened on “Devil On My Mind.” He laughed, “The main melody came to me while I was a class so I had to run to the bathroom and quickly sing it into my phone so I wouldn't lose it.”

Meet Me On the Other Side” has an ethereal  beginning and ending with church-like organ solos that bookend a heartfelt story of a song. It’s worth listening to every minute of the 9-1/2 minute long song and the call-and-response duet of sax and guitar is a thing of beauty. Fennell explains, “So, when I was writing that song, I definitely wrote it from a much more musical standpoint. I wanted to think about how each instrument on the song would play off each other and how the song would continue to build and grow. So, when we recorded, we played it as a big jam towards the end of the song.”

Lead single “Elevate” was the first song recorded and it was chosen for the EP’s official music video. Fennell stated, “After we recorded it, I knew that I had something good going. It has a lot of meaning to me because it's basically about overcoming different obstacles that I've had to overcome in life and just kind of rising to the occasion. And being like, ‘Hey, I'm here. I'm going to keep doing me and there's nothing you can do about it.’”

Even though Whereabouts just came out, Fennell has various new projects already in motion. He’s currently working on a collaborative album with vocalist Alec Demello (Vendetta Rose) who will also be his roommate at Berklee once they’re allowed back in the dorms. He’s excited for Demello to take the lead on the vocals, so he can really concentrate on the quality of his guitar playing. They’re hoping to record it this summer. Following that will be Fennel’s second album which he hopes to release in 1-2 years. Of the album, he states, “I’ll be taking a more professional standpoint on that one, considering I already have all of the songs written for it.”

There is no time for slowing down as Fennell seems more determined than ever to make a name for himself. He’s willing to work hard for it and has his eyes set on the end game. “I feel like it [Whereabouts] is kind of a glimpse into what I have planned for myself in the future ... what I'm going to be doing with my next releases that I already have planned. So, I definitely see it as more of a teaser, rather than a final product.”

There's no telling just how far this bright, young musician will go. Stay tuned!!!

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Diane DiMemmo stumbled into and fell in love with Asbury Park and photography a few short years ago. An avid concert fanatic and former musician, she recognized the need for a Jersey Shore music publication to highlight the accomplishments of local and national musicians through photos and press. Asbury Park Vibes has been her labor of love ever since, along with her Golden Retriever – Cooper – who you’ll often see walking Diane through the streets of Asbury.


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