STEEP CANYON RANGERS

Neighborhood Theatre & MaxxMusic present

STEEP CANYON RANGERS

MANDOLIN ORANGE

Sat, November 16, 2013

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Neighborhood Theatre

Charlotte, NC

This event is all ages

This event is all ages ($2 surcharge @ door for under 21).

STEEP CANYON RANGERS
STEEP CANYON RANGERS
“True bluegrass, when done well, is a thing of art and the Steep Canyon Rangers are the genre’s current Rembrandt.”
-Examiner.com

When the time came for the Steep Canyon Rangers to record the follow-up to 2012’s Nobody Knows You, they headed north to Woodstock, NY, to Levon Helm’s famed studio with Grammy-winning producer Larry Campbell and engineer Justin Guip. This was a departure for the band, and they gave Campbell full control over the recording rather than act as their own co-producer.

Over the months before they started to record Tell The Ones I Love, they sent him several dozen new songs to consider. And while the Steep Canyon Rangers were certainly open to recording songs by other composers, or to dip into traditional material, Campbell ultimately had them record all original tunes, based both on the strength of the songs and the band’s arrangements. This seems fitting for a band whose stellar reputation is based on performing original material, and who had just won the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy Award for Nobody Knows You. There’s a backstory here, too: last year, the band played Levon’s Midnight Ramble, and impressed Helm enough that he invited them to come back and record at the barn. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen before his untimely passing, but they still felt his joyful, creative spark and subtle influence while working in his studio.

The band wanted Tell The Ones I Love to reflect the spirit of their concerts—an original, freewheeling, high-energy approach to bluegrass that rests mainly on the songwriting of Graham Sharp and Charles Humphrey. They recorded the album almost entirely live, using few overdubs. “We wanted it to be different from our last album,” explained banjo player Graham Sharp, “and create something more raw and immediate.” Guitarist Woody Platt added that they headed into recording with “more confidence and momentum” from both their Grammy win and their unrelenting touring schedule.

Campbell, a highly sought after musician and producer (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm), was often down on the floor with the band so he could feel what was being performed. His strategy to have the music sound organic – “where you can hear the environment of the barn” – fit well with the band’s performances. Sharp praised Campbell for being “exactly what we needed in a producer. Larry took us through arrangements from a little different perspective.”

steep canyon rangersTell The Ones I Love actually is the first bluegrass album Campbell produced, although as a big bluegrass fan, he has heard, in his estimation, “20 million bluegrass bands.” When he saw the Steep Canyon Rangers play at the Ramble, Campbell was attracted to how they respected bluegrass without being constrained by its conventions. Getting into the studio with the band only enhanced Campbell’s appreciation of their collective and individual talents. He admired that they “held on to the essence of what makes bluegrass viable, and subtly reinvented it to make their thing unique.”

One way that the band stretched bluegrass boundaries was with their use of drums and percussion on Tell The Ones I Love. “We didn’t want something that was just a bluegrass track with drums laid on it like an afterthought,” said Sharp. “We wanted something that was really integrated.” They enlisted Jeff Sipe (Leftover Salmon, Susan Tedeschi, Aquarium Rescue Unit), whom Sharp described as “one of the best drummers around.” His propulsive playing helps to drive the title track as well as injecting some funky rhythms into “Camellia.”

Tell The Ones I Love showcases the Steep Canyon Rangers’ myriad talents— nimble instrumental agility, tight harmony vocals, and inventive songwriting. The 12-song set ranges from full-band workouts like the title track to the haunting, vocally tight “Hunger.” On “Las Vegas,” the band displays jazzy touches while Mike Guggino’s instrumental “Graveyard Fields” is a bluegrass tour de force. Tell The Ones I Love, in fact, affords each Ranger opportunities to shine, whether it’s Graham Sharp’s expressive banjo intro on Charles Humphrey/Jonathan Byrd’s plaintive “Bluer Words Were Never Spoken,” Nicky Sanders’ soaring fiddle on “Boomtown” or Humphrey’s walking bass that anchors his “Mendocino County Blue.” “It’s a record that doesn’t stay on the same plane,” Platt, who contributes dynamic lead vocals on nine of the songs, explained. “It has an interesting contour, like we try to develop in our live shows.”

These days, it’s hard to talk about the Steep Canyon Rangers without mentioning Steve Martin. After meeting at a party and clicking immediately, Martin invited the band to tour and record with him. 2011’s collaboration Rare Bird Alert was nominated for a Grammy, and later that year, they won IBMA’s Entertainer of the Year Award. They average about 50 dates a year together, touring as Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, and most recently with the addition of special guest Edie Brickell. What has emerged is a real collaboration of seven consummate musicians—creating music that they are passionate about, and blending it with humor to form a sophisticated show. They are proud that it has exposed legions of new fans to the bluegrass genre. These collaborations have stretched the Steep Canyon Rangers musically, and definitely broadened their horizons and experiences, which include recent appearances on Austin City Limits, the Late Show with David Letterman, and the Today Show, and performances at Carnegie Hall, the Grand Ole Opry, MerleFest, Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit, as well as their own Mountain Song festival and Mountain Song at Sea cruise.

The release of Tell the Ones I Love finds the Steep Canyon Rangers in a unique situation, and one they don’t take lightly: “It took a lot of work for us to nose our way into the bluegrass world and become a de facto representative,” Sharp acknowledges, “and we think it’s a real responsibility.” With this new record, “we can be a bridge between the bluegrass crowd and a wider audience that may not be die-hard bluegrass fans.” Yet.
MANDOLIN ORANGE
MANDOLIN ORANGE
"Mandolin Orange carries an understanding of tradition and shape it into a thing of beauty. They craft simple songs that go beyond chord progressions and vocal harmonies, leading somehow toward something pure. Using acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin and a hand-me-down fiddle, Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz allure with a heart-worn sensibility. Last year's Haste Make/ Hard Hearted Stanger combines bluegrass, rock and country for lullabies that swoon." —Ashleigh Phillips, Independent Weekly


On Mandolin Orange's third release, This Side Of Jordan, there's a Lightnin' Hopkins lyric, "If fate's an old woodpecker then I'm an old chunk of wood." "I love the imagery that creates," Andrew Marlin, the duo's lyricist says, "You just picture death as this woodpecker that lands on your shoulder and starts chipping away at you until there's finally nothing left." In 2011 around the release of Mandolin Orange's acclaimed Haste Make/ Hard Hearted Stranger, Marlin had a near fatal accident. "It was scary," Emily Frantz, the other half of the North Carolinian duo says, "But ultimately it brought us together during a time when we needed a nudge in that direction."

This Side Of Jordan is the story of that healing process, with tales of love and loss, told honest and bare. The opener, "House of Stone," quietly fades in with the hush of Frantz's fiddle then Marlin's guitar joins her, blooming. This moment of beauty is a gentle easing into the record that's drenched deep in the traditional music of Southern Appalachia. Since meeting at a local jam in Chapel Hill in 2009, Marlin and Franz have intertwined gospel, folk, and bluegrass but never so seamlessly as now.

Recorded at the Fideltorium in Kernersville, North Carolina with bassist Jeff Crawford and a backing band, This Side Of Jordan still maintains Mandolin Orange's modest aesthetic with pure and calming sounds. It's a fitting juxtaposition to Marlin's undeniable lyricism. Religious faith and fable thread throughout the record with Biblical references used to "convey a different point," Frantz says. "In the south especially, we hear the Bible construed in any and every way to justify people's comforts and discomforts," Marlin further explains, "and it's so frustrating to watch those stories be used to limit people's happiness." This sentiment inspired "Hey Adam," where Marlin and Frantz urge in unison during the chorus, "Our Father loves you all ways."

But this is not strictly a lyrical record. The duo's understanding of classic country, rock, and blues naturally appears. "Waltz About Whisky" swings like a honky tonk thanks to Nathan Golub's bending pedal steel as Marlin and Frantz plead, "Won't someone dance with me to a waltz about whisky and turn my sad songs to lullabies?" When Marlin's busy guitar weaves "Black Widow," Josh Oliver's sparse piano chords frame the track until its eerie conclusion. And "Morphine Girl" lazily trudges to James Wallace's drum while Ryan Gustafson conjures on electric guitar.

The closer, "Until The Last Light Fades," was written before Marlin met Frantz. With just Marlin's mandolin and Frantz's guitar, it's the most fragile track on the record. Although it's always been one of the duo's favorites to play, it didn't feel right on either of their previous releases. "It was so rewarding to have held out and have it come full circle," Frantz explains in choosing the track to end the record. And as Frantz sings, "Born to die, born to die, darling you'll live no longer than your years," it comes across like an old adage, something faintly familiar.

Marlin and Frantz have rambled through the dark and came out together on This Side Of Jordan more confident than ever. They've made simply structured songs with easy chords and humble harmonies. These are the hymns that Mandolin Orange was meant to offer.

-Ashleigh Phillips


Haste Make was recorded with bassist Jeff Crawford and drummer James Wallace in winter 2010/2011 at Arbor Ridge Studios West in Franklin, NC and at Arbor Ridge Studios in Chapel Hill, and was produced by Crawford and Mandolin Orange. Hard Hearted Stranger was recorded in summer 2011 at Rubber Room Studios in Chapel Hill and features Andrew and Emily alone, produced by Andrew Marlin.

Quiet Little Room was produced, recorded and engineered by the duo at Rubber Room Studios in Chapel Hill. Independent Weekly's Rick Cornell states that "all across the record is the sound of voices and instruments in the dark, finding light." Swampland.com's James Calemine likens the album's harmonies to those of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Muzzle of Bees notes that their "focus moves from the instrumentation to the melody and ethos of songs … a little bit grassy, a little bit country-folk, a little bit something else."

Over the last few years, Mandolin Orange has shared bills with Rosanne Cash, Chatham County Line, the Steep Canyon Rangers and Abigail Washburn, and traveled as far as the UK to perform at festivals, including Ulster's 21st Annual Bluegrass Festival, Shakori Hills Grassroots, and Hopscotch Music Festival.
Venue Information:
Neighborhood Theatre
511 East 36th Street
Charlotte, NC, 28205
http://www.neighborhoodtheatre.com/