Silver age

Americana needs sincerity. It needs a chopper ’stache. Meet Silver Darling.

Left to right: Josh Ahlansberg, Kevin Lee and Jesse Phillips are Silver Darling.

Left to right: Josh Ahlansberg, Kevin Lee and Jesse Phillips are Silver Darling.


Some say Americana’s dead in Sacramento, its golden age bygone.

They’re wrong.

Silver Darling, a local alt-country and folk trio, is straight-up Americana: honest, true … even stylish. At a recent photo shoot, the trio sported Circle S polyester suits and posed for an old-school Polaroid with a rear-flash sync setup (see photo), and the result was both vintage and ethereal, a lot like Silver Darling’s delicate blue-collar anthems.

The band practices these hymnlike tales in a modest, slightly cramped space off the bathroom of a two-story Victorian in Midtown. The songs may be easygoing, but they’re stirring, imparting a vibe that could overtake the Tower Theatre.

Kevin Lee sings and plays a Martin acoustic. His voice is deep, even guttural, but not grating, which is a surprise: Lee’s chopper ’stache and penchant for boot-stomping deceives; his lyrics and vocalizations are gentle, soulful and sincere.

Bassist Jesse Phillips plays a four-string Rickenbacker through a vintage Sears Silvertone amp, which he and Lee drove to Colorado to purchase (Lee did most of the driving). He also sings backup, and when they harmonize with guitarist Josh Ahlansberg’s soaring, reverb-infused Les Paul musings, it’s an affecting crescendo—a requiem for the past, an homage to the now. It’s spirited. It’s refreshing.

Michael Leahy of KDVS’s Cool As Folk agrees. “They write and sing from a deeper place, truer and darker, and that’s what drew me in as a listener,” he says of Silver Darling’s wily melodies and genuine lyrics. “It’s rare and special.”

Lee once worked construction, so he understands blue-collar. Ahlansberg and Phillips also sweat nine-to-five gigs. But after work, when the three unite, their music’s an ode to leisure. Kick off them boots and stay a while; Silver Darling’s tracks welcome like an empty couch and six cold ones. When Lee sings, “I’ve never seen an easy day in my life,” his lyrics buttressed by Ahlansberg and Phillips’ straightforward grooves, it’s real.

But their sound didn’t come without practice. The band, whose first show was in February 2007, has an EP under its buckle and is a month out from laying down a first LP. They’ll be rehearsing five days a week until recording with (solo artist and former SN&R columnist) Christian Kiefer.

“I was on a bill with them at Javalounge and just instantly heard something moody, melodic and emotionally satisfying,” Kiefer says. “I quickly felt a kind of kinship.” He agreed to produce their album, but they’ll be doing so in an unconventional fashion.

“I don’t think this album’s going to see a computer at all,” explains guitarist Ahlansberg. The band intends to record in the sticks, using only reel-to-reel 1-inch tape, a generator for power and an outhouse to relieve themselves between sessions. Eventually Eric Broyhill will master whatever they bring back from the hills. It’s a way of doing things that’s long forgotten, but, like mining for silver, can reap untold fortunes.

Both Lee and Ahlansberg liken the process to the making of old Motown and soul records. “On old Motown recordings, when you hear instruments in the background, producers only had a certain number of tracks, so the instruments literally are in the background,” Lee says.

The result is a tangible depth—layers of harmonies, backing vocals, guitar overlays. It’s music with a pulse. It’s authentic.

“It’s interesting, because while we don’t have as many Americana acts in Sacramento as we did five years ago, in some ways the Americana acts that are around now are better defined,” observes Kiefer. “I hesitate to say they’re better bands, but they more clearly know what they want to sound like.”

“I’m excited for them,” Leahy adds. “They’ve got that special factor that bands can’t really practice or fake.”