I’ve been writing for the pulse for ten months now and I have enjoyed every moment of it. Almost. The truth is that every so often I get an assignment that leaves me struggling to find something to say about what I’ve just heard. Some folks make music the way McDonald’s makes hamburgers, and trying to write about the good in that is…taxing.
Fortunately, I’ve had a hot streak the last several months. Every band I’ve written about has had some unique, outstanding quality that makes listening and writing a pleasure. The latest entry, Rye Baby, is no exception. The folk duo from Chattanooga has its mojo workin’.
Jennifer Brumlow and Callie Harmon were rockers when they met, each with their own band, doing their own thing. They hit it off instantly through their mutual love of Dick Dale and Dolly Parton, old-school country, folk music and, apparently, the movie “Rhinestone”. A bevy of mutual interests and influences meant it wasn’t long before their Wonder Twin powers activated in the form of the folk duo The Quote Unquotes, which served as a stepping stone to their latest (and greatest) incarnation, Rye Baby.
The kids are currently finishing up their first EP at Red Crow studios here in Chattanooga, which means that in the meantime I had a scant two tunes to review, but man, oh, man, the tunes are HOT.
“Twitchin” evokes imagery of a shack in the woods wherein a beautiful country girl sits, plotting vengeance with the aid of some dark and unseen forces. Well, that’s what I see anyway. Results may vary, but this banjo-driven minor key tune is a great introduction to Jennifer’s voice, which ranges from sultry to hard-edged. Beautiful, but not “I’m a diva” beautiful so much as “I’ve had to fight for everything I have and I’m not about to back down now” beautiful. You know, the good kind. There is power, strength and confidence with just enough of a snarl to it to serve as a warning: Don’t piss this lady off.
Callie’s banjo work on the tune is haunting and the scratch and scrape of the autoharp lends itself to the delightful eeriness of this Appalachian witchery. However you look at it, they are making magic with this song.
The second tune is “Ramblin’ Papa Blues”, and as the name implies, it is a good old-fashioned Southern “pickin’ on the porch” blues tune in which Callie is able to demonstrate some tasty guitar chops while Jennifer shares her “banjer” pickin’ skills. I don’t know if a hound dog was present at the recording or not, but one certainly should have been.
The duo has described their modus operandi as a “back to the basics” approach. I have to agree with that assessment. The big spaces are filled in with tinkling guitar and banjo strings, the small spaces are taken up by washboard, autoharp, melodica, kazoo, clapping hands and whatever else isn’t nailed down, and the whole thing is topped off with Jennifer’s vocals, which proudly proclaim, “Watch yourselves, boys, mama is here and she ain’t takin’ no lip.” The result is a raw, lean kind of music that makes the most of what it has and doesn’t waste notes.
It takes talent to pull off a duo act, more so even than a single singer/songwriter, but Jennifer and Callie have it in abundance (Porter and Dolly would agree) and I for one am eagerly anticipating the release of their EP. In the meantime Rye Baby has a number of upcoming gigs, all conveniently listed on their Facebook page. If you like roots music, you’re going to love Rye Baby.