Ready to play

Make It So returns with long-awaited first CD as a quartet

SUBTLE SUPERGROUP<br>Bob and Peggy Kirkland (center) have been playing together as Make It So since the early ‘90s, and have added harmonica player Bob Littell (left) and bassist/recording engineer Hugh Santos for the current lineup.

Bob and Peggy Kirkland (center) have been playing together as Make It So since the early ‘90s, and have added harmonica player Bob Littell (left) and bassist/recording engineer Hugh Santos for the current lineup.

Courtesy Of make it so

Make It So, CD-release Saturday, Jan. 24, 7 p.m.,at Grilla Bites

Grilla Bites
196 Cohasset Road

Make It So is excited about its upcoming CD release party.

The Chico rhythmic-folk/Americana band’s happiness is well-earned. It took the foursome almost two years to produce Headlights & Hubcaps (the band’s second, after 2000’s The Ride), a collection consisting largely of vocalist/mandolinist/guitarist Bob Kirkland’s laid-back originals, rounded out with the Thelonius Monk jazz gem “Blue Monk” and country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell’s beautiful “’Til I Gain Control Again.”

Kirkland’s wife Peggy’s vocals and Bob Littell’s sensitive harmonica accompaniment on the Crowell song are two of the highlights on Headlights.

The Kirklands began Make It So as a duo in the early ’90s, and later added Littell and bassist Hugh Santos. Described as “a jewel in the music community” by Darla Novak, co-host of KZFR’s American Pastimes show, Make It So has been together in its current incarnation since late 2001.

Make It So has played a lot of gigs (well-attended ones, it should be noted) over the years, and the band still gets together every Wednesday evening at the Kirklands’ North Chico home for rehearsal.

I talked to all four members on a recent afternoon at the Kirklands’ house. They chatted with an easy friendliness about their group and their music. There was an obvious feeling of camaraderie between them, and it was clear they love playing music with one another.

Santos—owner for 20 years of the now-defunct Starshine Studios—and Bob Kirkland have known each other since the early ’80s. Santos has known Littell about as long, ever since Santos first started Starshine, when Littell was first-call harmonica man “back in the Charlie Robinson days” (a reference to the local jazz guitarist). Currently, Littell also plays harmonica with local bluegrass band Mossy Creek, and is well-known locally as Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Big Room promoter and emcee.

For his part, Santos plays with the band for the creative satisfaction. “We do our own music. We get to work on songs that are ours.”

Santos, who recorded Headlights in his home and added the third part to the three-part vocal harmonies, also said that it was the first time he had ever recorded a “ninja harp player.” When asked to elaborate, he, Littell and Peggy Kirkland took turns contributing the pieces to a funny story about how Littell ended up having to have his headphones tied to his head with a necktie during recording sessions because he moves his head around so much when he plays—a sight that evoked comparison to a ninja warrior.

Littell said he chose to be a part of Make It So because “I like playing folk, and I like playing pretty. So often, when you’re a harp player, you get pigeonholed into the concept that you’re a blues player.” Plus, Littell said, he “has more freedom in this band than in any other band,” and he loves accompanying singers (he’s the only one who does not sing in the band).

Unusual for a harmonica player, Littell is all over the new album, doing everything from soloing to playing chords behind the vocals, functioning more like a combination lead-rhythm guitar player, as Santos pointed out.

“I almost think of [Bob’s harmonica] like another voice,” offered Peggy. “I don’t sing a lot of vocal theatrics, but he plays it.”

Peggy added, smiling, that when Littell asked if he could join the Kirklands’ musical group back in 2001, “Our jaws dropped, but we just said, ‘Fine!’ ”

The Kirklands have been married for 25 years, and they were careful not to elaborate too much about “serious health challenges” that they both have dealt with over the last two of those years together. Santos and Littell gave the impression that the Kirklands’ joint health crisis—which forced the band to take roughly seven months off in the middle of recording the CD—was much more dire than the Kirklands let on.

But they are both well now, and they look bright and happy and ready to celebrate their hard-fought recording.