Steep Canyon Rangers and Head for the Hills

UMB Bank Presents

Steep Canyon Rangers and Head for the Hills

Sun, July 27, 2014

Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 7:00 pm

Denver Botanic Gardens - York Street

$49.00 - $54.00

Steep Canyon Rangers
Steep Canyon Rangers
When the time came for the Steep Canyon Rangers to record the follow-up to 2012's Nobody Knows You, they headed north to Woodstock, NY, to Levon Helm's famed studio with Grammy-winning producer Larry Campbell and engineer Justin Guip. This was a departure from their previous albums, where they chose co-producers from within the bluegrass community. Instead of having Campbell co-produce, the band gave him full control.

Over the months before they started to record Tell The Ones I Love, they sent him several dozen new songs to consider. And while the Steep Canyon Rangers were certainly open to recording songs by other composers, or to dip into traditional material, Campbell ultimately had them record all original tunes, based both on the strength of the songs, and the band's arrangements. This seems fitting for a band whose stellar reputation is based on performing original material, and who had just won the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy Award for Nobody Knows You. There's a backstory here, too: last year, the band played Levon's Midnight Ramble, and impressed Helm enough that he invited them to come back and record at the barn. Unfortunately, that didn't happen before his untimely passing, but they still felt his joyful, creative spark and subtle influence while working in his studio.

The band wanted Tell The Ones I Love to reflect the spirit of their concerts—an original, freewheeling, high energy approach to bluegrass that rests mainly on the songwriting of Graham Sharp and Charles Humphrey. They recorded the album almost entirely live, using few overdubs. "We wanted it to be different from our last album," explained banjo player Graham Sharp, "and create something more raw and immediate." Guitarist Woody Platt added that they headed into recording with "more confidence and momentum" from both their Grammy win and their unrelenting touring schedule.

Campbell, a highly sought after musician and producer (Bob Dylan, Levon Helm), was often down on the floor with the band so he could feel what was being performed. His strategy to have the music sound organic – "where you can hear the environment of the barn" – fit well with the band's performances. Sharp praised Campbell for being "exactly what we needed in a producer. Larry took us through arrangements from a little different perspective."

Tell The Ones I Love actually is the first bluegrass album Campbell produced, although as a big bluegrass fan, he has heard, in his estimation, "20 million bluegrass bands." When he saw the Steep Canyon Rangers play at the Ramble, Campbell was attracted to how they respected bluegrass without being constrained by its conventions. Getting into the studio with the band only enhanced Campbell's appreciation of their collective and individual talents. He admired that they "held on to the essence of what makes bluegrass viable, and subtly reinvented it to make their thing unique."

One way that the band stretched bluegrass boundaries was with their use of drums and percussion on Tell The Ones I Love. "We didn't want something that was just a bluegrass track with drums laid on it like an afterthought," said Sharp. "We wanted something that was really integrated." They enlisted Jeff Sipe (Leftover Salmon, Susan Tedeschi, Aquarium Rescue Unit), whom Sharp described as "one of the best drummers around." His propulsive playing helps to drive the title track as well as injecting some funky rhythms into "Camellia."

Tell The Ones I Love showcases the Steep Canyon Rangers' myriad talents— nimble instrumental agility, tight harmony vocals, and inventive songwriting. The 12-song set ranges from full-band workouts like the title track to the haunting, tight "Hunger." On "Las Vegas," the band displays jazzy touches while Mike Guggino's instrumental "Graveyard Fields" is a bluegrass tour de force. Tell The Ones I Love, in fact, affords each Ranger opportunities to shine, whether it's Graham Sharp's expressive banjo intro on Charles Humphrey/Philip Barker's plaintive "Bluer Words Were Never Spoken," Nicky Sanders' soaring fiddle on "Boomtown" or Humphrey's walking bass that anchors his "Mendocino County Blue." "It's a record that doesn't stay on the same plane," Platt, who contributes dynamic lead vocals on nine of the songs, explained. "It has interesting contours, like our shows."

These days, it's hard to talk about the Steep Canyon Rangers without mentioning Steve Martin. After meeting at a party and clicking immediately, Martin invited the band to tour and record with him. 2011's collaboration Rare Bird Alert was nominated for a Grammy, and later that year, they won IBMA's Entertainer of the Year Award. They average about 50 dates a year together, touring as Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, and most recently with the addition of special guest Edie Brickell. What has emerged is a real collaboration of seven consummate musicians—creating music that they are passionate about, and blending it with humor to form a sophisticated show. They are proud that it has exposed legions of new fans to the bluegrass genre. These collaborations have stretched the Steep Canyon Rangers musically, and definitely broadened their horizons and experiences, which include recent appearances on Austin City Limits, the Late Show with David Letterman, and the Today Show, and performances at Carnegie Hall, the Grand Ole Opry, MerleFest, Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit, as well as their own Mountain Song festival and Mountain Song at Sea cruise.

The release of Tell the Ones I Love finds the Steep Canyon Rangers in a unique situation, and one they don't take lightly: "It took a lot of work for us to nose our way into the bluegrass world and become a de facto representative," Sharp acknowledges, "and we think it's a real responsibility." With this new record, "we can be a bridge between the bluegrass crowd and a wider audience that may not be die-hard bluegrass fans." Yet.
Head for the Hills
Head for the Hills
Head for the Hills has a simple but continuing dilemma they can’t seem to resolve. Specialists have been hired to no avail and the predicament persists: how does one describe the multifarious music of Head for the Hills? Among the top contenders are catchy turns of phrase like post-bluegrass, progressive string music, modern acoustic noir, and bluegrass bricolage. “On top of modern string music,” (Bluegrass Today), “Cutting edge,” (Drew Emmitt) or “Best in Colorado Bluegrass” (Westword Showcase Readers Poll)—those are up there too. Strip away the artful descriptors and you have a forward thinking group of {mostly} acoustic musicians drawing on eclectic influences, tastes and styles. They didn’t grow up immersed in bluegrass music but came to it later in life, with each other.

The result is a sound based in bluegrass that reaches into indie rock, jazz, hip hop, world and folk to stitch together fresh songs that bridge the divide between past and future acoustic music. Head for the Hills—Adam Kinghorn on Guitar and vocals, Joe Lessard on violin and vocals, Matt Loewen on upright bass and vocals and Mike Chappell on acoustic and electric mandolins—has been bringing their music, whatever you’d like to call it, to audiences from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival to South by Southwest and a multitude of stages in between since 2004. The band has independently issued two studio records and one live, been featured on NPR Ideastream and eTown, co-released a beer with Odell Brewing Company in May 2013 and charted on the CMJ Top 200 (Head for the Hills, 2010). Blue Ruin, an all-new album of original material is slated for release on July 9th, 2013.

Meta-fictional sea shanties. Pop-infused newgrass murder ballads and urbane lyricism. Twang and punch. Head for the Hills’ fourth record, Blue Ruin, fuses bluegrass, jazz, hip-hop and indie rock into songs inspired by love and misery and comic books. Featuring twelve new original songs marked by moving narratives and stellar musicianship, Blue Ruin showcases the quartet's contemporary take on acoustic music; embracing the bluegrass pedigree while looking forward. Recorded and mixed in Fort Collins, Colorado at Swingfingers Studios with ace engineer and banjoist Aaron Youngberg (Martha Scanlan, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West), Blue Ruin features contributions from Andy Hall (The Infamous Stringdusters), James Thomas, Gabe Mervine (The Motet), and more. Renowned screen print artist Timothy Doyle (Muse, The Black Keys, Lucas Films, NASA) created the stunning cover art and Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer David Glasser rounds out the production team. This is Head for the Hills at their most artistically fulfilled: self-produced and in top form. Blue Ruin is more than just a “bluegrass” record—it’s a Head for the Hills record.

A quintessentially Colorado band, Head for the Hills has been fortunate to work with many of the area greats, starting with Grammy Award winning Dobroist Sally Van Meter, producer of 2007’s Robber’s Roost. Legacy Colorado musician and Leftover Salmon mandolin player Drew Emmitt came in to produce 2010’s Head for the Hills. The list goes on, with a bevy of talent from Colorado and beyond surrounding 2010’s Head for the Hills; including Grammy Award winning mixing engineer Vance Powell (Jack White, The Raconteurs), technical wizard and Pink Floyd re-master engineer Gus Skinas, Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass), Kyle James Hauser (Sonablast! Recording Artist) and keyboardist James Thomas, with String Cheese Incident guitarist and Colorado mainstay Billy Nershi rounding out the lineup as studio host and collaborator. In 2012 Head for the Hills released their first live record (Live). Captured in high fidelity sound & culled from 5 great nights in Colorado, Live is just that; the band live and unadorned, performing favorite original material and select covers.

Here are a few of the things people all over the country have been saying about Head for the Hills: “Cutting edge. Listeners will fully enjoy this unique sound,” Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon); “Head for the Hills possesses that secret ingredient,” Ryan Dembinsky (Glide Magazine, Hidden Track); “Critics Picks-What we think you should hear at SxSW,” (Austin Statesman/360.com); “Summer Stars” (Relix Magazine); “Fiery and precise – what modern bluegrass should be,” City Weekly (Salt Lake City, UT); “A very modern indie rock approach to bluegrass,” Daily Herald (Provo, UT); “Colorado Neo-bluegrassers Head for the Hills combine old and new and carry the torch for a new generation,” Ryan Heinsius (Flagstaff Live); “Rising stars of the acoustic string scene,” (BluegrassLA); “The band is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with many of their predecessors, and in the process creating their chapter in the ever-continuing story of bluegrass,” (Marquee Magazine); “Reshaping the genre as a whole,” Sam Sanborn (Oregon Music News); “The name Head for the Hills connotes hightailing it, running away. Yeah right. From the growing crowd of fans in hot pursuit,” Susan Viebrock (Telluride Inside & Out); “Supremely satisfying,” Eric Podolsky (Jambase.com).