by Nick DeRiso
A Fragile Tomorrow builds out from the country-rock synthesis of pathfinders like the Band and the Byrds, starting with the new-wave attitude and propulsive rhythms of descendent bands like R.E.M. and the dBs. But there’s something else, lodged in amidst the brailing mandolin and stamping beat, this heartfelt gravitas.
Turns out, this South Carolina-based group is one of those classic five-year overnight success stories.
“I Just Never Said Enough,” the featured track on “The Song of the Fortnight” (a terrific new online showcase from the Chucktown Music Group, founded by Mark Bryan of Hootie and the Blowfish), is actually from A Fragile Tomorrow’s third full-length release Tripping Over Nothing, recorded at South Carolina’s Awendaw Green with producer Danielle Howle. AFT has since issued a follow up, The Palmetto EP, that’s available for free download on the quartet’s website. Originally a family band featuring a trio of brothers out of Montgomery, New York, A Fragile Tomorrow added Shaun Rhoades on bass after its 2006 debut Wishful Thinking.
Along the way, AFT has dealt with some shattering health issues, produced great records that more people should have heard, and steadfastly refused to give up on their dream. “I Just Never Said Enough,” should it become their long-deserved breakthrough, perfectly outlines both the skirling jangle-pop twang and the age-defying depth that makes A Fragile Tomorrow so intriguing.
Sean Kelly sings with an inquisitive melancholy, but he’s not resigned — offering, fair enough, that he should’ve opened up more in order to jumpstart a relationship but yet remaining painfully aware of how empty some of those things, if fact, can be. “All the stupid things I know I should have said,” he muses, “all the pick up lines running through my head.” Wise beyond his years, this kid.
That deep sense of intelligent expectation, and a band name that seems to point to dark portent, came the hard way for A Fragile Tomorrow. Sean and third brother Dominic Kelly, who plays percussion in AFT, both have cerebral palsy. A third brother, Paul, died when they were youngsters. In keeping, dramatic personal narratives dominated the group’s early songwriting. Tripping Over Nothing, however, finds Sean Kelly widening his scope.
AFT’s connection with the dBs, by the way, is made manifest by the appearance on “I Just Never Said Enough” of co-founder Peter Holsapple, who adds a slide guitar in the introspective, hiccuping style of George Harrison.
Fans of the Indigo Girls should already know these guys. A Fragile Tomorrow is coming off an opening gig on the Indigos’ most recent tour. Singer Amy Ray can also be found singing backup on two tracks from Tripping Over Nothing. Producer Howle, a singer-songwriter herself, has toured and played with the Indigo Girls, too, along with Hootie, Ani DiFranco and Bob Dylan, among others.
If you’d like to dig further back into their catalog, AFT’s second album, 2008’s Beautiful Noise, was produced by Malcolm Burn, a collaborator with Daniel Lanois who won a Grammy for his work on Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl. “Walk Through Water,” from A Fragile Tomorrow’s initial release, was written in tribute to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and was part of a benefit collection for the New Orleans Musicians’ Relief Fund.