Roots trio/sextet Pirates Canoe places its name in a lyric of the song “Guitar Blue”: “When the night falls it’s a place of hope and dreams / That still survive Pirates Canoe / If a melody is a bird riding a tune.” The track, from the band’s 2014 release, One for the Pain in My Heart, is parts Alison Krauss and Union Station, parts Gillian Welch, parts something generations old and part something completely new. The dusky, world-weary vocals feel instantly familiar; the dulcet harmonies, nimble fiddle and fleet mandolin are as charming as they are well-rehearsed.
But there are also hints that this isn’t a typical Southeastern Americana collective. The eerie, experimental sounds of strings and hints of electronics on “Rainmaker,” for example. Or the fact that the band is based in Kyoto. “Pirates Canoe is sometimes [a] sextet, sometimes [a] trio Americana roots band who began performing together in the summer of 2009 in the Kansai area of Japan,” says the group’s bio. “While their individual musical tastes vary — rock, blues, bluegrass, Irish and American folk, funk, soul, pop — together they are magic.”
The band “hosts a monthly show at Coffee House Jittoku, Japan’s oldest and most respected live house. This monthly show, coined ‘Pirates Canoe’s Hyokkori Party,’ features the full band sound and invites other talented guest musicians, including Tim Easton and Matt the Electrician from across the ocean.”
That Americana and roots music has a following in Japan is probably not a surprise. Asheville’s own Akira Satake comes from that aesthetic. Still, there are few opportunities in Asheville to catch Japanese Americana. Here’s a chance: Pirates Canoe is in the U.S. heading to SXSW. The band plays Jack of the Wood on Sunday, March 8. 9 p.m., free (donations encouraged).