With a unique blend of acoustic folk, jazz, classical, rock, humor, and the avant-garde, New Haven, CT duo Prester John has a sound that is entirely their own. Formed in 2008 by underground guitar-hero Shawn Persinger, Prester John also showcases the musical talents of David Miller on mandolin and harmony vocals.
The Chicago Tribune once said, “Prester John has made a career out of balancing technical prowess with pop accessibility (and) a dash of punk-rock rawness.” One minute you’re hearing a pop/rock song in the tradition of Cat Stevens or Jack Johnson, the next you’re listening to music that could have been composed by Stravinsky or Frank Zappa. When it comes to traditional and mainstream styles Prester John’s authenticity is also difficult to match; their bluegrass repertoire sounds straight out of Appalachia (no doubt due to Persinger’s West Virginia roots) and their swing tunes recall the bygone days of The Hot Club of France. The ease and flexibility they display traversing and transcending genres is practically unheard of in this day and age (if ever).
Prester John have released two “sister CDs,” with Desire for a Straight Line showcasing the instrumental side of their repertoire while Rise O’ Fainthearted Girls focuses on their singer-songwriter skills. Both recordings have garnered considerable popular and critical acclaim. The Village Voice described Desire for a Straight Line as an”eclectic assortment of slipstream compositions touching on prog-tinged jazz, classical, manouche, and newgrass idioms. It’s a lot of fun.” Desire… also found it’s way onto the 2010 Grammy nomination ballot for “Best Contemporary Jazz Recording,” though Prester John are the first to point out, “it’s not really jazz. More a mix of jazz, classical, and contemporary acoustic instrumental music.”
Critical reception of Rise O’ Fainthearted Girls has been equally complimentary, with Premier Guitar stating that Prester John are “remarkable instrumentalists and engaging singers [with] wildly entertaining, funny, clever and smart songs. The melodies are strong, catchy and unique, with a pop sensibility running under the clear influences of everything from Dawg music to heavy metal to the Beatles to gypsy jazz to bluegrass, with the occasional neo-classical flight of fancy thrown in for good measure.”
“This duo started with a backlog of Shawn’s songs but the future of our sound is wide open,” says Miller. “We both have an interest in different types of music and we also have the ability to play many styles. Whether it’s the simplicity of a two and four backbeat or the complexity of an atonal melody. Nothing is dismissed.” It is that eclectic taste and skill that makes Prester John a force to be reckoned with.