If good things happen in threes, then this is a banner week for local music. A number of area artists are readying new albums for release, and the offerings range from roots and Americana to country and Motown-inspired harmonies. The release shows vary, too, from a listening room to a tastemaker hangout to a DVD screening.
Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work
Perhaps it's paradoxical to suggest that the best way to capture a rough-and-tumble, unvarnished musical performance is through use of high definition cameras, but that was exactly the approach taken on Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work's upcoming LIVE. “We got to make something like the live show that you can also take home when the lights go down,” says Edens. Two Asheville events this week, an advance screening and release party, celebrate the release of the new DVD and its companion audio CD. Recorded over two nights in front of an appreciative audience at LAB, LIVE presents the rootsy Edens and his band at their best.
That best really is tough to pin down: Allmusic.com classifies Edens alternately as folk-rock and psychedelic/garage. But his music can just as easily — and accurately — be tagged with the singer/songwriter label; Edens is a gritty troubadour who takes what he needs from each style, blending and bending it to suit the needs of his songs.
Raised on a steady diet of mountain music, Edens discovered punk in his teens; his original story-songs are a compelling synthesis of both styles. The mysterious and ominous strains of “Jailhouse” that kick off the show display all of Edens' best qualities: raspy, hoary vocals coupled with muscular backing that has all the power of rock 'n' roll while hewing mostly to the Americana side of the tracks. Stinging slide guitar leavens the acoustic underpinning of many of the tunes.
The careening, high-speed romp of “Pretty” is reminiscent of Elvis Presley's “Mystery Train” by way of Johnny Cash, imbued with the smoky barroom aesthetic of Tom Waits. Elsewhere, the searing bluesy ballad of “Good Man” shows the stylistic range of the group, with Matt Smith's extended lead guitar break featuring sheets of feedback that recall Neil Young at his most metallic.
A longtime fixture of the music scene, Edens has previously released two discs under his own name: 2004's Four Songs EP and a full-length self-titled album in 2012. The latter was recorded in Edens' own studio in his recently renovated childhood home in WNC, and the project was fan-financed via a Kickstarter program which raised 130 percent of the set goal within 45 days.
Concurrent with his solo work, Edens launched The Dirty Work, a band that features Smith on electric guitar and pedal steel, Jesse James Hongisto on bass fiddle, drummer Dane Rand and Jim Aaron on harmonica. The group has released a pair of studio albums, 2006's Party Dress and Long Days Above Ground in 2009. For the performances that made up the LIVE CD and DVD, the band was joined by saxophonist Jacob Rodriguez and Justin Ray on trumpet.
The LIVE set draws from all four previous releases, recasting some of Edens' simpler arrangements in a full-band style. The close-in, intimate ambience of LAB's stone-walled backroom music space, coupled with deft (and hi-def) multiple camera production gives the concert DVD the perfect balance of high-end and down-and-dirty. Edens says that recording LIVE allowed for a display of “the difference between a studio album and live music; this was a chance to get back into the stomping, sweaty grind that our live show can be — including that element of chaos that makes live music so special.” The LIVE CD contains 13 tracks from the winter 2012 shows; the DVD includes all those, plus special features and solo performances of Edens’ originals “Queen of Hearts” and “Train Tracks.”
Produced by local media production company Sound Lab Studios, the LIVE DVD will be released nationally on Tuesday, Dec. 10. But a pair of events celebrating the release will give fans in WNC two chances to preview what's in store. On Thursday, Nov. 21, the DVD will get an advance screening at the Fine Arts Theatre downtown. And the next night, Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work will perform a release party at The Isis Music Hall. — Bill Kopp
Local quartet Sweet Claudette calls itself “country-Motown.” It’s a double-take of a classification. “We like to tell people we’re number one in our genre,” jokes Dulci Ellenberger, one of the group’s vocalist/songwriters and multi-instrumentalists. But it’s not all tongue-in-cheek: Sweet Claudette includes a number of Motown covers in its repertoire because “they have such great background vocals,” says Ellenberger.
And, she continues, “The subject matter of country and Motown music is love and heartache. With our arrangement, it works.”
Vocalist Amber Simms says that if you add a banjo to the Supremes’ classic “Where Did Our Love Go,” “that’s where it turns into country-Motown.” According to vocalist/songwriter Amanda Platt, the mashup started with a cover of “Heat Wave” that she was, at first, resistant to. But the rest of the group worked it up and when they gave Platt her part, she was an instant convert.
Sweet Claudette was born of a shared love of songs with great background harmonies. And also the bond of its members, a super-group culled from local collectives. Ellenberger was one-third of Now You See Them, Platt performs with The Honeycutters, and vocalist/songwriter Melissa Hyman is half of The Moon and You. For the group’s upcoming show at The Altamont Theatre, Sav Sankaran (The Dixie Bee-Liners) and Ryan Lassiter (Uncle Mountain) round out the lineup as The Claudes, on bass and drums, respectively. “We all really love each other, and you don’t get to spend as much time with all of your musician friends as you want to,” says Ellenberger.
“So start a band,” says Platt.
When Sweet Claudette first formed, originally under the moniker For the Birds, they went to “bird camp,” a four-day bonding and practice session that laid the groundwork for the band. They went on to record an EP (which they release this week) at Dan Shearin’s Turtle Farm Studio. The end result, with two tracks by each of the band’s songwriters, is at once thoughtful and buoyant. The original songs are neither country nor Motown specifically, though they borrow the standup basslines and gravity-defying harmonies of those genres. But this is a collection of songs that is, ultimately, an inspiration rather than a tribute.
Sankaran points out that the Asheville community has fostered each of the Claudes’ and Claudettes’ individual pursuits. “To have a project that conglomerates all of that and to be able to release the EP here in town is super-special,” he says. — Alli Marshall
— Bill Kopp is an Asheville-based music journalist whose features and reviews can be found at musoscribe.com.
Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Pierce Edens and The Dirty Work
who: Sweet Claudette and the Claudes
Tina and Her Pony opens
where: DVD screening at Fine Arts Theatre (Thursday, Nov. 21, 9 p.m. $5. fineartstheatre.com)
CD release party at Isis Music Hall (Friday, Nov. 22, 9 p.m. $8/$10. isisasheville.com)
where: The Altamont Theatre, thealtamont.com
Saturday, Nov. 23, 8 p.m. $10 in advance/$12 day of show