Out of the woods

Will Grass Roots Record Co. become the Sub Pop of the foothills?

Mariee Sioux graces the <span style="">Family Album</span> release show at the Grass Valley Center for the Arts. See her live with Brightblack Morning Light on Thursday, March 1, at Delta of Venus.

Mariee Sioux graces the Family Album release show at the Grass Valley Center for the Arts. See her live with Brightblack Morning Light on Thursday, March 1, at Delta of Venus.

Catch bands from Grass Roots Record Co.'s Family Album live this week! Them Hills play Delta of Venus on Saturday. Kings & Queens play the Magic Theatre in Nevada City on Friday and Club Pow! on Monday. Alela Diane plays Fools Foundation on Thursday, March 1. For more information visit www.grassrootsrecordco.com.

A few years ago and about 50 miles south of here, an old roommate came home from the county library with something called the Oahspe Bible. Published in 1882 by the Essenes of Kosmon in Montrose, Colo., the blue leather-bound book spent an entire summer on the coffee table next to the house bong, which was used to help translate its high-country notions of cosmology and other strangeness.

I only saw that book again once, in 1997, in a shop on Broad Street in Nevada City.

Indeed, there’s something altogether haunted about those hills northeast of Sacramento. A person sensitive to such things could describe the ghostly overlay in muslin-shrouded detail. And one might expect that music emanating from those spectral hollers would be shot through with Gold Rush-era ectoplasm and old mountain cemetery goofer dust.

In this case, one would be correct. A sprawling, 18-song compilation released last November on the new regional indie label Grass Roots Record Co., plainly titled Grass Roots Record Co.’s Family Album, is as good a marriage between latter-day indie-rock and Americana maneuvers and long-lost E Clampus Vitus backwoods rituals as you’re likely to find.

“There’s a crazy talent pool up there,” said Marc Snegg, Grass Roots’ proprietor. Snegg was in the process of establishing Grass Roots as a Mother Lode version of such better-known regional indie record labels as K, Kill Rock Stars and Sub Pop in Washington state, and he got the idea of putting together a sampler of the area’s finer musicians. “All of them are associated with Nevada City,” he explained.

Snegg rented out a flatland studio, Deathray’s Brighton Sound on Folsom Boulevard, which since has been relocated to just outside the Nevada City-Grass Valley metropolitan area. “We recorded up to three bands a day,” he said, with “we” including Brighton’s Dana Gumbiner, who manned the boards.

“A lot of people didn’t have any experiences in a recording studio,” Snegg added, “and so a lot of discoveries were made.” There is a freshness on many tracks, a kind similar to what Ralph Peer must have had when he hooked up that first time with the Carter Family for a Virginia storefront recording session.

Family Album really is all over the map. Just past midway through is a Lennon-esque track called “Let the Hate In (I Won’t)” by Lee Bob Watson, one of the more familiar names to us flatlanders. It sounds like it might have been recorded in 1972, had the former Beatle stumbled out of a VW Microbus in the Santa Cruz mountains, only to turn up saucer-eyed at Neil Young’s La Honda ranch a few days later. It’s followed by the concise but brittle pop of Golden Shoulders, which demonstrates what happens when you turn David Bowie’s Hunky Dory loose on a mountain town.

But most of the disc is a long and far stranger trip, the rambling, unspoiled-yarn kind that evokes such landmark albums of decomposing consciousness as Big Star’s Sister Lovers. Many of the sonic daguerreotypes on Family Album shimmer with terrible mountain moonlight, with a similar luminous quality to the nocturnal moon that likely inspired early 20th-century Auburn writer Clark Ashton Smith to contribute to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. A post-midnight ramble up Highway 49 toward the San Juan Ridge with such songs as Mariee Sioux’s “Two Tongues at One Time,” the Snegg Band’s “Fallen Color,” Alina Estelle Hardin’s “Cotton White” and Jessica Henry’s “The Moon Veiled,” for example, might be every bit as chill-inducing as a first time in a darkest room watching the weirdest low-budget post-Manson hippie slasher film from the ’70s.

The record closes with a spoken-word piece by a well-lubricated old-school folkie named Biff Rose, which swerves between references of Idiocracy and “Kumbaya” and vodka-induced glossolalia.

Family Album got what Snegg called a “soft release” last year, with performances in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Nevada City. The label has since signed Lee Bob Watson, Aaron Ross, and Sioux, and will release records by those artists later this year.