The story of the Bristol, Tenn.-based Annabelle’s Curse begins, as so many band origin stories do, in the vicinity of a college campus.
“I had a mutual friend who invited me over for a party,” says guitarist Zach Edwards. There, he met singer-songwriter Tim Kilbourne. “We ended up playing music together, and I kind of just never went home.”
Kilbourne had already graduated from Emory & Henry College, where Edwards was currently attending, but the two just clicked. “For whatever reason we just enjoyed playing together,” he says. “Before we knew it, we had written several songs, and it just kind of naturally evolved from open mics to shows at local bars, which turned into gigs at out-of-town bars. It just kind of kept growing.” Annabelle’s Curse, the end result, performs at The Grey Eagle Sunday, Dec. 6, in support of The Black Lillies.
Starting as an acoustic trio with bassist John Warren (who would eventually be replaced by Tyler Cuttrell), the band superficially resembled in-vogue groups like Mumford & Sons and The Head & the Heart, thanks to a pop-leaning folk sound and Kilbourne’s mournful and earnest singing style. The comparison was fairly apt, even as Annabelle’s Curse morphed into a louder and rangier full band with the addition of drummer Travis Goyette and mandolin player and vocalist Carly Booher for its 2013 sophomore LP, Hollow Creatures.
It was Booher’s contribution as a co-lead vocalist in particular that seemed to shift the band. She brought a sound reminiscent of the soft-glow twang and soaring romanticism of The Everybodyfields, even as the musicians began trying out decidedly post-folk arrangements that distanced them from the Mumford box. “We were introduced to her through a mutual friend,” Edwards says. Like Kilbourne, “she just kind of came over, and it went well, and she never left.”
Booher’s background as a bluegrass player might seem at odds with the band’s shifting focus, but Edwards points out that the group never bought into a particular structure or sonic template. “We both try to bring different things, musically speaking,” he says. “Neither of us has ever been taught how to play, so we both, you know, do whatever sounds good to us.”
He continues, “She had been out on the road with the David Mayfield Parade, but [singer-songwriter Mayfield] had given her all the parts to play. So she asked us, ‘What do you want me to play,’ and we were like, ‘Well, whatever you want to play. We don’t know how to play mandolin, we can’t sing harmonies. Just do what you do.’”
As it turns out, Booher shines in the more wide-open format, something particularly apparent on the recently released Annabelle’s Curse LP, Worn Out Skin. Working with seasoned Dr. Dog producer Bill Moriarty, the band crafted a dynamic sound that often recalls the more ethereal work of Canadian songwriter Kathleen Edwards’ (no relation to Zach) post alt-country efforts, along with the layered retro-pop aesthetic Moriarty is known for.
“We picked Bill based on [Dr. Dog’s] Fate,” Edwards says. “That’s hands down one of the one of my favorite albums, and one of [Kilbourne]’s favorite albums. It sounds great, and because [Dr. Dog is] one of our favorite bands, we’ve always looked up to them. They were always working with this guy, and they keep doing it, so there must be something there since these records they are putting out are pretty great.” The Annabelle’s Curse musicians reached out to Moriarty about working on their new LP, and the producer agreed without much of a fuss.
“It’s weird hanging out with a stranger and letting them get involved in a very creative, vulnerable process. Kind of cool, but kind of scary too,” Edwards says. Working at a frenzied pace, Worn Out Skin was recorded in just five days.
The band, long on a slow-building upswing, is happy with the critical reception of the record and has toured heavily behind it this year. The Grey Eagle show will be No. 80, the final performance of the year.
“The Grey Eagle is probably our favorite venue to play,” Edwards says, promising that the group “will be bringing a good show.”
WHO: Annabelle’s Curse, supporting The Black Lillies
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 6, 8 p.m. $12 advance/$15 at the door