SIDE A: LIVE REVIEW
Urban shaman and fellow psychonaut Loic Monerat, asked me if I’d like to cover a band he was interested in named Rising Appalachia. Sure, I’ll come check them out, I might look like a cliché punk but I’m open to all and any styles of music, and an expert in quite a diverse cross-section of genres. So, I was more than happy to go along and indulge in discovering some new music with him and gonzo videographer Foxoza.
Upon looking them up I discovered they were a traveling band from just outside New Orleans, honing their skills between that historic city and the Appalachian Mountains and spreading it all over the world. (I asked the band how Appalachia was pronounced and they said ‘like throwing an apple at’cha’. So not like apple-asia after all, as Brits seem to think).
Two pulchritudinous sisters Leah and Chloe front a band creating equally beautiful music. Masters of a wide range of instruments, from banjos, fiddles and a plethora of drums, to everything from didgeridoos and tablas to even washboards and spoons. Creating a diverse and varied concoction of heady, harmonic, emotive sounds that range between folk and world music to celtic and soul and everything in between.
The vocals are a great strength in the group, but there is also a solid backbone of percussion and bass from Biko Casini and David Brown respectively. And that tight quintet of musicians which have taken their travelling music show all over the planet (from America to Europe and everywhere in between) have gained a well-deserved cult following anywhere they play.
I nestled in tightly behind the packed crowd in the Hug & Pint in Great Western Road that Wednesday, and I settled back for a glorious set delivered with skill and precision and with a weaving narrative in between. The band like to tell their stories, and they are wonderful to hear.
I took along filmmaker Foxoza and we interviewed the band after the gig during an impromptu fiddle/guitar jam that went on right up until everybody was kicked out long after the gig had ended. That video is due for release soon and is looking really good as always with Foxoza Media.
I knew the band were good, I had watched some of their music videos, but I was still struck as to just how good it translated to the live experience, exceptional! Dancing, singing, laughing, and plenty of conviviality made a great night with a soundtrack of incredible music.
Nobody wanted it to end, this was evident by the reluctance of everybody to leave. The band mingled with the crowd afterwards and even drank some “scotch” with us. They loved Glasgow, and Glasgow loved them.
They made huge fans out of me and my comrades. They are impossible not to like, they make amazing music from a great many angles and they seem to soak up the culture and vibe of every place they set foot. They are open-minded people who are humble and sagacious in their attitude and it reflects in the music they create.
Their tour is not over yet, after getting intoxicated on the cultures of England, Scotland, France, and Belgium, they are (at the time of writing) due to do a series of dates in Ireland culminating in the Pachamama Festival in Switzerland on the 23rd. So catch them if you can, they are probably one of the best live bands you’ll see this year.
SIDE B: ALBUM REVIEW
I return home from the gig with the Psychedelic Merde and put their album ‘Wider Circles’ on while we skin up.
‘Novels of Acquaintance’ starts us off with a plucky guitar intro, that builds plangently into a countrified, celtic-vibed, bassy but slow and relaxing tune. With heart-rendering good vocals and luring lyrics of poetic perfection. Each verse tells a chapter in a story that seems to stretch across infinity.
Just hearing the girls singing is enough to satisfy, with their amazing voices, but with all the wonderful musical accompaniments it enriches a vast embroidery of emotions. ‘Lean In’ starts slow and soulful and escalates into banjo with trumpet - they like to surprise you, sometimes songs go in different directions than you expect, and for all the better.
‘Fall On My Knees’ is a traditional Appalachian tune laced with fiddle and banjo and sonorous harmonies. Giving us a taste of the music of their hilly homelands, and it sounds like valleys and streams and mountain ridges and tastes like sweet highland air.
‘Rivermouth’ has a rootsy, earthy, organic feel to it, and flows like a brook into some more traditional tunery in ‘Oh Death’, laden with spoken word and poetry. Every song has a very strong undercurrent of soul music, reflecting their time in New Orleans perhaps, and gives the music a lot of fine body. Every track like a sip of good wine, aromatic, flavoursome, varietal, and you’ll be drunk on melody by the end of the bottle.
‘An Invitation’ is an invitation to dance with its stomping rhythms, booming percussion and catchy vocals. It is a call to action, a very melodious one. ‘Medicine’ is an infectious track and there’s my auris vermis of the week. An ode to “the traditions of folk medicine. Plant, root, stone, earth-based medicine as a tool for empowerment and healing”. Some of those earth-based medicines, certain seeds and fungus and vines and cactus are pretty mind-opening too, I’ve ate a few myself.
Every song has a message, every track tells a story and every offering turns a page. ‘Find Your Way’ is an uplifting slice of Americana, with the now trademark mellifluous vocals and fine-honed string instruments carrying it along through many peaks and troughs, like a verdant valley as they sing the vicissitudes of life.
The pure, powerful, roots-orientated sound that defines the album continues through ‘Synchronicity’ which culminates in some brilliant percussion (I think maybe the tablas?). Like a woodland trail traversed on mushrooms the next few tracks take you down a myriad of meandering paths, all natural and possessing great beauty and spirituality, while conjuring up magnificent visuals. ‘Cripple Creek’ has a very celtic feel to it, all fiddles and romantic lyrics, comely and warming, like a bottle of bourbon by a bonfire. Fast-paced, yet slow, subtle and soothing at the same time.
‘Condensation’ is “recorded originally as part of an instrumental for Climbing PoeTree’s poem ‘Condensation’”, an unusual tune with slight aboriginal influence to it. ‘Spirit’s Cradle’ is a poignantly worded stab at the US justice system. Most so-called justice systems are corrupt and flawed, but the US incarcerate more citizens per capita than any other country in the world, and in some parts have replaced black slavery with the penal system.
The more the album goes on, the more I fall in love with Chloe and Leah’s voices, so powerful and invigorating, but also calming and comforting. “Let’s form a great salvation, through harmony and sound, we’ll know the shape of progress, like nature is always round”. Title track ‘Wider Circles’ is the signature sound of the band, with some great trumpet accompaniment from Maurice Turner.
‘Bright Morning Stars/Botawok’ is a traditional Appalachian tune, featuring the chant of the Bri Bri Tribe. “Botowat was learned in conjunction with LEAF International and Proyecto Jirondai Cultural Arts Exchange in Costa Rica”. http://www.theleaf.org/costa-rica/
The whole album is rounded off nicely with Stromboli, the deep, sculptural rythms I’ve come to expect from the band are going strong. The track was “written on the Aeolian island Stromboli during Festa Del Fuoco, beyond the coast of Naples. With reference to old-time tune ‘Lonesome John’ and the potent, spiritual ‘Amazing Grace’”.
Rising Appalachia are a compelling, creative and cultural musical tour de force. It’s very difficult not to fall in love with their work and their energy. I suggest you see them live at any given opportunity as they are a rare treat. Their live show overwhelmed me, and their album inspired me. A must-have for lovers of world music, folk, roots, country, multi-instrumentalism, Americana, pop, soul, and Celtic or just great singing. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long until their next visit to Scotland, otherwise, we’ll have to go to them. In the meantime, I have their album and great memories of the night to keep me going.
Seeya’ in the pit
C.T Herron (NHC Gonzo Div.)