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People seem to have gotten the idea that if you go on national television and sing bad karaoke, start a band that'll make a classic rock DJ blow his brains out with excitement, or autotune a sexy lady's questionable grunts and moans into something you can pass off as listenable, then you are on your way to being a music super star. Sad, but true. Fortunately, there are still bands like the Deadstring Brothers that believe in road dogging around the country, making meaningful, heart-felt American music while letting us all in on the celebration—the way it’s meant to be done! Deadstring Brothers are bringing their celebration into Chattanooga at Rhythm & Brews on Wednesday, June 5 in support of their newest release, “Cannery Row.” I was able to catch up with front man and Deadstring Brothers co-founder, Kurt Marsche, to talk about the band’s relocation from Detroit to Nashville and the new release.
When I spoke with Kurt, the band was, of course, traveling, and giving the heartland a triple bypass through some flat valley road. The voice on the other end made me feel like I had accidentally dialed up a friend for a drink at the bar. Kurt’s voice, like much of the Deadstring Brothers music, is humble, vaguely familiar, and invites you to listen. The wind from the road came crackling through the phone as we talked about the band’s move from Detroit to Nashville. I asked Kurt, “How did the transition from Detroit to Nashville inspire you and did it affect your approach to songwriting?”
“I felt like being at home around all things familiar softens you a bit and my art was losing some of its edge,” he said. “I felt like a part-timer because we had trouble staying on the road sometimes. Your personal life changes too.” When I asked him about how living in Nashville was impacting his approach to his music, he told me, “It certainly did change my approach to the songs. Being in a city for a few years whose primary industry is music heightens your artistic sense.”
“Cannery Row” is the Deadstring Brothers’ fifth with Bloodshot Records. Bloodshot Records is a DIY-style label established in Chicago in 1994. It has been home to artists such as Whiskeytown (Ryan Adams’s first band), Neko Case, Alejandro Escovedo, and The Legendary Shack Shakers. These days, artists Bobby Bare Jr., Justin Townes Earle, The Bottle Rockets and Murder By Death are part of the current roster. For this record, Deadstring Brothers brought together a stellar group of musicians to capture the sounds and inspirations that had drifted down from the ceiling in Kurt’s apartment, appropriately located on Nashville's Cannery Row. Co-founder of DSB and fellow Detroit brethren J.D. Mack (former member of Whitey Morgan and the 78s) plays bass on “Cannery Row” with Brad Pemberton on the drums (Ryan Adams and the Cardinals), Mike Webb on organ/ piano/mandolin (Poco), Pete Finney on steel guitar/dobro (Dixie Chicks, Hank Jr.), Kim Collins on vocals (Smoking Flowers), and Willie Nelson’s long-time harp player Mikey Raphael rounding out the band.
This line-up really brought to life a snapshot in time topically centered on that Nashville neighborhood, with echoes of rhinestone cowboys mixed with the future shades of Nashville's current musical melting pot. Much like the neighborhood, the record emanates notes of a rich past in the midst of a modern facelift.
The first track on “Cannery Row, “Like a California Wildfire” is also the album’s first single. It’s a really catchy, laidback groove that sounds as if DSB rode the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” through a remote California field to chill with their friends and have a beer around the campfire. Track five is the title track, “Cannery Row.” Kim Collins layers vocal harmonies above a flowing piano riff like tasty trinkets meant especially to accompany Kurt’s vocal vantage point, which drifts down from high above the Cannery to your ears. Track nine, “Just a Deck of Cards,” feels like The Band covering a Foghat tune with Ryan Adams on vocals. It's a really solid tune and perhaps my personal favorite on the record.
Deadstring Brothers blend tasty classic influences together to create a strong but vulnerable sound. From the first notes. “Cannery Row” makes you want to hear it, know who it is and if you don’t find out you’ll be pissed. Ladies and gentlemen, please get on down to Rhythm & Brews, grab a drink, open your ears, and get ready for the celebration that is a Deadstring Brothers concert.