New funk/rock outfit The Ninth recently shared their album Olympic Dream/Nightmare. A musical explosion combines rock & roll, funk and soul as it scoops listeners up for a unique dive into the story of one of the world’s biggest sports scandals: the 1994 skating controversy between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. It was a dramatic, immersive case that mesmerized the world at the time, and The Ninth bring it all back to life – 25 years later – in their theatrical inspired release.
The brainchild behind the project is guitarist Ben Halperin. “I always thought that Nancy versus Tonya was the greatest sports story of all time. How is it that the highest profile attack on a competitor in sports occurred in women’s figure skating?? There’s also a classic underdog, mustachioed super villain, improbable comeback and a bittersweet ending that’s often overlooked.” He credits his wife Elissa for the spark of the idea; when discussing the story, she mentioned it’d make an excellent musical. Halperin began writing songs, but then learned of an existing “Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera” theatrical production. That, combined with the more recent “I, Tonya” movie prompted him to turn the project into concept album, which Halperin brought to his funk-rock band The Ninth. The existence of other projects doesn’t bother him. “After all, there have been like five Spiderman movies recently,” he said, “and this story is at least as good.”
He explained that the “album loosely follows the story, focusing instead on the cultural themes it implicates and the emotions he suspects it provoked, which go far beyond figure skating. “Among other things, ‘Nancy versus Tonya’ is really about dreams versus the reality that dreams rarely come true; confidence versus self-doubt; succeeding versus failing when it matters most; and complexity versus pigeonholing.”
In a soaring musical explosion the album doesn’t forget its musical theater roots, while pulling elements of rock, funk, soul and R&B for a moving, groovy masterpiece. Impeccable musicianship and a driving storyline fuse together for a truly original and outstanding production. Clocking in at 44 minutes, the ten-track album is sonically alluring and entertaining, while the lyrics pull listeners in for an immersive dive into the drama and emotions of both sides of the story. Throughout the release, two lead female vocalists are ‘cast’ into the roles – Anna Salmon (Halperin’s sister) as “Nancy” (also contributing piano/organ) and the Ninth vocalist Stephanie Genito as “Tonya.” It also features lead singer Tim Russell as “the narrator/Jeff Gillooly.” Listeners should be sure not to miss “Watch Ur Back” – a three-part funk/rock opus featuring a Hamilton-esque vocal duel by Salmon and Genito and a soulful guitar solo by Halperin. Other highlights include theater rocker “Trailer Park,” heavy-hitting jazz/funk tune “Pipe Dream,” emotional R&B ballad “The Jump,” and explosive finale “Bad Guy.”
“Everyone’s so talented in the group and one of the best parts is seeing how people come up with their own parts and put their own spin on the original ideas,” reflected Halperin. “That especially includes trumpet player Jeff Ostroski, who arranged all the horn parts – an indispensable part of the record.” The Ninth recorded at Boomtown Studio in Brooklyn, with engineer Eric Elterman, who also co-produced. Halperin described the sessions as the “best music experience of my life,” sharing how Elterman masterfully managed the magnitude of the project. He explained that Elterman was “super tolerant of my nitpicking,” and that the best part of the recording process was all the amazing performances the singers and musicians turned in.
Recognizing the project’s unique angle and specific focus, Halperin said: “I hope people take some time to explore it. Anyone who does will find a ton of nuance – musical themes that recur, a ton of excellent playing, and lots of wordplay. It’s a very much not a 2019 album. I like to think of it as ‘behind the times.” I understand that people won’t really be chomping at the bit to give a deep listen to a concept album by an obscure band, but in my extremely biased opinion, it’s worth it.” One listen and it’s impossible to deny the impeccable musicianship of the release, with plenty of groovy, fun hooks to return to time and time again.
Olympic Dream/Nightmare is out everywhere now, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, and Bandcamp. The Ninth recently performed the album in full at a sold out Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. The band will return to the studio this winter for work on a new album of funk/rock originals.