Three Asheville-based groups release new albums

GETTING HOT: Firecracker Jazz Band is back with ‘Return to the Twenties,” its first album in nearly a decade. The current lineup includes, from left, Jason Krekel, Billy Seawell, Andrew J. Fletcher, Craig Kellberg, Jerome Widenhouse, Earl “The Pearl” Sachais and Leo Johnson. Photo by Sandlin Gaither

The creative output of Asheville-based performing and recording artists continues apace in 2020. This month alone marks the release of new albums by several of them. In the country idiom, Sweetheart of the Radio is the debut release from the Christy Lynn Band. Perennial Asheville favorite Firecracker Jazz Band is back with Return to the Twenties, its first release in nearly a decade. And rootsy bluegrass crossover group Fireside Collective is releasing Elements as it kicks off an East Coast tour. All three acts have scheduled hometown concerts in celebration of their new recordings.

Checking in with The Christy Lynn Band

Christy Lynn Barrett describes her music as “meaningfully kitschy.” She laughs when asked to explain what that means. “I like songs that have a little hook in them,” she says. “But at the same time, we have some songs on the album that are very sad. They’re not just surface-y, poppy songs; they have deep, underlying sadness to them.”

DIALED IN: The Christy Lynn Band launches its debut album, ‘Sweetheart of the Radio,’ on which “Lynn’s heart-wrenching lyrics and deft storytelling ability [combine] a hearty dose of catchy refrains and campy, throwback country charm,” according to album notes. Photo by Izzy Nelson
That mix of contrasting styles still results in a cohesive collection of songs on Sweetheart of the Radio, The Christy Lynn Band’s first record. Lynn and partner Ryan Schilling — the two also own and operate American Vinyl Co. in Biltmore Village — launched the group as a vehicle for Lynn’s songs of heartbreak and adventure. They performed together previously as rock duo Triumph of the Wild. “We played everything ourselves,” Lynn says. “This time, we’ve got other people playing instruments, too. This is the first time we’ve had other people’s input, and it was fun.”

That sense of fun comes through both in the songs — even the sad ones — and in the record title’s play-on-words reference to the Byrds’ pioneering country-rock album from 1968. “I guess that’s where the ‘kitschy’ comes in, too,” Lynn says. “I do really like ‘clever.’ I love songs to come around in a circle, maybe have a line at the end that makes you laugh.” But ultimately, she says, “I need a song to have something to it that interests me.”

WHO: The Christy Lynn Band
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road,
WHEN: Friday, March 12, 9 p.m. $8 advance/$10 day of show

Rebirth of the Firecracker Jazz Band

As the 21st century enters its third decade, the Firecracker Jazz Band is doubling down on a music style that enjoyed its heyday a century ago. But guitarist and banjo player Jason Krekel believes he knows why 1920s-style jazz maintains its appeal. “People have been looking to the past for cultural inspirations for a while now,” he says, noting that the art and culture of the Jazz Age is characterized by “a little more care because people had to make their entertainment. They couldn’t just push a button and get a Spotify playlist.”

He also points to a sense of optimism that flourished in post-World War I America. That freewheeling, upbeat sense was captured in the music of jazz giant Buddy Bolden. “He took music that was kind of ‘in the parlor’ and brought it to the streets,” Krekel says. The Firecracker Jazz Band’s new album, Return to the Twenties, includes the New Orleans legend’s signature tune, “Buddy Bolden Blues.”

The group began in 2003, releasing a string of albums and playing a featured set at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in 2007. But nine years have passed since the group’s last release, The Firecracker Jazz Band Meets the Wild Man. Still, Krekel emphasizes that the band has remained active. “There hasn’t been a year that has gone by without Firecracker having some gigs,” he says. He credits much of the group’s renewed vitality to pianist Andrew J. Fletcher. “He learned from Reese Gray, the band’s founding piano player. And Andrew has really risen to the occasion.” Krekel left the group for several years to focus on other projects, including Mad Tea Party and the Sufi Brothers; he returned in 2016. “We’ve been going through a little bit of a rebirth,” he says.

Krekel has plenty of optimism of his own regarding the future of hot jazz. “It makes people want to move. It’s all about simple melodies and danceable grooves,” he says. “Who doesn’t love that?”

WHO: Firecracker Jazz Band sharing the stage with The Screamin’ J’s
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road,
WHEN: Saturday, March 14, 8 p.m. $10

Fireside Collective brings it on home

Jesse Iaquinto released 2014’s Shadows and Dreams using the name Fireside Collective, but it wasn’t really a band project. “It was a solo album to kind of jump-start some of my original songs,” he says. But by 2017, and the time of Life Between the Lines, Fireside Collective had taken form as a proper group, featuring guitarists Joe Cicero and Tommy Maher, plus Carson White on upright bass alongside mandolinist Iaquinto. While he remains proud of that album, Iaquinto admits that it was made in a hurry and sounds like it. “It was more like we had the charts, we went in and played them,” he says.

FEELING IT: Fireside Collective release “She Was An Angel,” the first single from new album ‘Elements’ last fall. The group signed to local label Mountain Home Music Company in August. Photo courtesy of the band

Things were very different for Fireside Collective as the band made Elements with Infamous Stringdusters’ bassist Travis Book producing. “He really pushed us on the preproduction side,” Iaquinto says. “And that allowed everybody to bring in their original ideas.” Elements also features the band’s newest member, banjo player Alex Genova.

Underscoring Iaquinto’s wide-encompassing musical style, he credits inspiration from some very unbluegrass sources. “I’ve always loved The Beatles’ and Pink Floyd’s approach to albums,” he says. “The thought and the flow of their albums, and what they put into it. On this album, we were able to do an intro and a reprise; we had a little bit more fun with it.”

Iaquinto notes that a larger, Kickstarter-funded budget helped as well. “We still went over budget, of course,” he says with a chuckle. “But it allowed us to really stretch out in the studio, and it made such a huge difference just to give us a little bit more time and space.”

In addition to the Grey Eagle album release show (details below), amid a run of festival dates, Fireside Collective will make another swing through Asheville on Friday, April 24, opening for The Jerry Douglas Band at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre.

WHO: Fireside Collective
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave.,
WHEN: Saturday, March 14, 9 p.m. $12 advance/$15 day of show


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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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