Clubland: Salvation Alley String Band brings tangy roots, existential angst to new CD
Country music is big on tradition, and old-school country clearly inspires the Salvation Alley String Band. The local quintet often dresses to the nines in Western regalia for shows and mentions luminaries like Buck Owens, Ernest Tubb and Bob Wills as influences.
But the group’s twangy world has its own personal spin, with room for zombies, robots, long lines at the post office and good ol’ modern existential angst.
The group just finished its new CD, “The Space Wanderer,” and will celebrate with a release party at the Iron Horse in Northampton Sunday at 7 p.m.
“If you love me,” vocalists Ryan Quinn and Brandee Simone sing over a loping gait on one song, stretching out “meeeeee” as their harmonies stack on top of each other, tension building, until Quinn finishes the thought — “there’s somethin’ wrong with you.”
“Mailman Mike” finds Quinn waiting patiently in line, happy about the dependability of the postal system, unhappy about the non-responsive addressee: “For 44 cents my letter gets there / no matter where you may be / you can buy a stamp at Richdale / so why the hell won’t you write me?” In the background, Simone sings an urgent refrain of “USPS!” The title track sounds ripped right from the reverb-soaked universe of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape circa ’66-’67, a jangling rocker about the question of a higher power.
The Salvation Alley String Band, which also includes multi-instrumentalists Andy Goulet and Matt Silberstein and drummer Matt Jugenheimer, recorded “The Space Wanderer” themselves at their Easthampton practice space (Quinn and Jugenheimer have sound engineering experience). It has a raggedy, clubhouse vibe.
“We weren’t striving for perfection when we were recording it,” Goulet said. “We wanted the songs to have energy and life. This album really captures us as entertainers. We’re at our best when we’re drawing people in and making them laugh, dance and enjoy themselves, and this album has that feel.” Goulet said that making the record on their own gave them time and space to stretch out and take risks, including his own big one — learning to play pedal steel guitar.
“It has been a harrowing, invigorating and exciting change to my musical life,” he said. “I have never fallen so deeply in love with or been so fascinated by an instrument before. Ryan and I have been working on our harmonized steel guitar/Telecaster licks, à la Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant.” Simone gets a spotlight on “Christian Heart,” pushing her soulful voice to bluesy heights, surrounded by Ventures-style space-twang guitar and mandolin, and throughout the album Simone and Ryan harmonize to great effect.
“To me, they sound like a classic duo,” Goulet said, “like Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, or Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn.”
The record does not go quietly, ending with “The Dead,” a stomping, bashing rocker (featuring a solo by Goulet on his new instrument) with Quinn and Simone wailing together, “You say you love me but you don’t know what that means.”
“The Space Wanderer” features a fantastic mind-altering cover painting from Invisible Fountain artist Luke Cavagnac (as did the Salvation Alley String Band’s debut CD) and will be available at the Iron Horse show.
Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons (from Providence, R.I.) and the folky Easthampton duo Beatrootband are the two opening acts.