SoundTrack: Appalachian-inspired releases

Each has its own unique voice and none could be classified as bluegrass or old time, yet all use mountain music as a jumping-off place—and arrive at very different destinations.

Trunk Songs by Greg Humphreys

These dozen tracks by Durham songwriter Greg Humphreys comprise a teasingly lovely collection that comes on like a gentle breeze but contains the power to knock the listener for a loop. This is an album little excess: Lyrics are found on only a handful of songs; studio trickery is relegated only to razor-sharp sound quality. Still, Trunk is far from paired back. Instead, each acoustic number (all strings) unfurls emotive layers. “Vincent-ish” is a prime example: The finger-style piece has a light touch, but its delicate lilt is offset by an underlying sadness. This play of dark and light is a fitting tribute to the artist for whom it might be named. Another stellar cut is “All You Know is Blue,” an Appalachian-meets-blues number with pulse-raising interaction between guest musicians Ryan Cavanaugh (banjo) and John Garrison (violin).
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Appalachia by potpie vs. Krzysztof

“This may be to weird for Asheville,” writes potpie, a former New Orleans-based “High Priest of drone.” After relocating to Western N.C. last year, the musician applied electronica to mountain sounds, producing the two-part disc Appalachia. The first song is a 10-minute sampling of bluegrass recordings that falls between a radio station fading in and out and the soundtrack to a hoe-down played in halting reverse. Simultaneously jarring and entertaining, the track takes on a meditative quality. More restful is the second number, “Descending Moonshine,” performed on a live sine wave generator. It’s like bluegrass dub, a stripped-down take on hill music reduced to its core essence. There’s a futuristic-Kitaro feel to the track, which hints at spacey, bouncing dulcimers and banjos while also calling to mind the alchemic bubbling and distilling of corn liquor. Gorgeously odd.
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Carolina Songs by Chris Cates

Though written, produced and recorded at Asheville’s Mealtime Brown Studios, Carolina Songs owes a debt to the state’s coasts as well its peaks. Tracks like “Outer Banks,” “Slow Beach Music” and “Beach Beat” are obvious in their geographic loyalties. But Cates, a sentimental and romantic songwriter in the tradition of James Taylor, pays equal homage to mountain locales on the swinging, horn-soaked “Boogie in the Mountains” (“It’s just the Smoky Mountain trees and lots of farmer’s tans…”) and the smooth jazz of “Linville Caverns” (“Go down to where there is no sound except the water falling on our head…”). Carolina is a feel-good mix of dance tempos (funk, folk rock, shag) and easy, vacation-mood lyrics a la Jimmy Buffet. Much of Cates’ inspiration can be traced to adolescent adventures and the places these occurred, but even a recent Carolina transplant could relate to this album’s physical and emotional landscape.
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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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