That old country sound
Local duo adds some new dust to Americana tradition
“It’s music, but me and Matt are kind of like movie makers.”
J. Everett is sitting in the cozy band room at the back of his Chapmantown home on a recent toasty summer evening, trying to explain his band Broken Rodeo’s approach to its version of stripped-down Americana.
It’s “just the feel,” the guitarist/vocalist adds, letting mandolinist Matt A. LeMond complete the thought: “The music just kind of happens, and then the music leads us somewhere.”
That all might sound a little vague, but listening to the Chico duo’s just-released second CD, Beginner’s Luck, you can hear that, however the songs got their start, where they’ve ended up is an album with a definite cinematic quality. The scene that comes to mind is of two cowboys sitting around a campfire at night on a desolate prairie. It’s pitch black in every direction, and the fire is spitting and hissing and glowing orange on their trail-weary faces as the duo sings lonesome-sounding tunes to the stars—Everett with his dusty Dylanesque twang and LeMond with the bright and brittle voice of his mandolin.
The recording was done at local Origami Lounge Recording studio, and engineer Scott Barwick has added plenty of reverb to Everett’s vocal twang to give an airy quality to the proceedings that makes for a sound that conjures up the ghosts of country past. And, in simplified terms, Beginner’s Luck is a country album, and the opening track, “Rite at Home,” announces as much, as it longs for the time when Hank, Waylon, Loretta and Emmylou were on the radio:
“What ever happened to that old country song?/ That song that made us feel like we were right at home/ What ever happened to that old country sound?/ That sound that made us feel like our feet were on the ground.”
Everett goes on to sing about those “lost songs” being made today by artists working in relative obscurity who won’t make it to mainstream radio and get their chance to become a part of a bigger shared experience.
“The musicians who are really motivating me right now are people on the verge of making it, or they haven’t made it and they don’t care,” Everett explained, adding, “I don’t know if their songs will be around—I don’t know if ours will be around.”
He mentions Charleston, S.C., duo Shovels & Rope, with their “driving rhythm with old-school country flair,” as a current favorite and example of writing songs in the old traditions.
When Everett and LeMond came together a year ago, they were each on the heels of finishing up stints in other local Americana-inspired bands—Everett in the folk/country duo Trail Ninety and LeMond in the bluegrass/folk super group the Poa Porch Band.
“I saw Matt play at Origami [Lounge] with Poa Porch Band, and I was taken aback at how he stood out.” Everett said that initially he was curious about how a mandolin would sound with his tunes.
After realizing the sound was a good fit, they started writing songs together, and Everett soon discovered another quality in LeMond that added flavor to the band.
They were playing in a pickup basketball game on the outdoor courts behind the Dorothy Johnson Center, and “I accidentally elbowed [Matt] really hard on the chin,” Everett said—so hard that, had it happened to him, he would have gone home. “But it didn’t even faze him. I thought, ‘Whoa, this is who I’m looking for.’”
Heading into their CD-release show this weekend (Friday, Aug. 3, Café Coda), the guys are motivated to continue to progress as a band by playing out of town more (with a slot at the Callahan Music Festival in Siskiyou County already booked in September) and making connections with other artists and putting on some bigger shows in Chico. But they also say that they want to remain judicious with their local show selection and not play out too often.
“I don’t want to ruin the mystique,” Everett said.” “We want to make it special for us and people who listen to it.”