(photo by Richie Wireman)
In her drawing, “Leashed Passion,” American artist, Laurie Lipton, depicts a snarling, tongue-lolling mountain lion mid-pace in a child’s playroom. Seated comfortably on its back, barely holding a leash, a boy smiles sweetly at the viewer as if to say, “Don’t you worry, I’ve got it all under control, and by the way, this is kind of fun.” And for some reason, we believe him and trust him.
Not unlike this portrayal of balance between raw power and guileless aspiration, it is clear the members of Sunday Valley are born to ride a shared passion for honest, quality, homegrown music. SV’s first full-length album, To The Wind And On To Heaven, is a prime example of controlled chaos. Their first EP released six years ago was recorded within a few months of the band first starting to drop jaws on bar floors all over Lexington. Now, thanks in part to the talents and studio space provided by Duane Lundy of Shangri-la Productions, good timing was central to tackling a project the scale of To The Wind.
Much of SV’s power comes from their live set where fans are singing along with almost every song, and a single tune can go on for ten minutes, threatening to whip the crowd into a nigh-ecstatic frenzy. And in this album, the intensity and versatility of their stage performance is harnessed in ten songs, which, from top to bottom, serve as an airtight trek through the at once intimate and universal landscape of soulful bluegrass, rock, and roots music.
There are some who might argue that Sunday Valley’s unique sonic blend and delivery defies genre; they’ve been labeled “bluegrass rock,” “honky tonk,” and even “cowpunk.” Bassist and background vocalist, Gerald Evans, thinks SV’s sound goes far beyond conventions laid down by mainstream standards, “In order to define our music, it would be best to maybe define it as diverse because we all come from three different areas.”
John Sturgill Simpson, on guitar and lead vocals, agrees that the band comes from a range of influences, “But I think the thing that grounds our sound more than anything, is as soon as I open my mouth it’s gonna sound country or hillbilly…so there’s always a core root country sound.”
Drummer, Edgar “Animal” Purdom, attributes the flexibility of sound to the years spent playing together. “We’ve had a long time to sit on some of these songs…we were excited to add a fiddle part or excited to add keys, but in the same breath, excited to take those things away and give it a more naked sound…the idea was to not compromise, to not say ‘okay’ because that’s the easiest thing.”
This methodical attention to detail and content in To The Wind is clear. According to Simpson, the band has worked diligently to retain the purity of Sunday Valley’s style, “I think we’re still the same band we were who made that album five or six years ago, we’re just better musicians now. Definitely the rawness and the intensity is intentional because that’s what we do, I just think we’re better at doing it then we were when we first started.”
Purdom echoes these sentiments, “Sometimes it just feels like we’re reading eachother’s minds up there. Just letting the songs breathe and letting the song take us for awhile instead of us taking the song somewhere…that’s what makes it so much fun.”
To The Wind includes tunes that long-time fans will appreciate, including “Sometimes Wine,” “Old Sunshine,” “I Wonder,” and “Jesus Boogie.” These songs are honed and full-bodied, reaching deeply and taking new risks. Additionally, one of the wonderful aspects of To The Wind, is at times, there is a delicacy that might not always read through the ambiance of a live show. For instance, on “Oh, Sarah,” and “I Don’t Mind,” a fiddle threads through effortlessly, a gust of raw silk alongside the denim as Sturgill’s throaty tenor colors in point-blank lyrics taking the listener from the floorboards to the rafters, sometimes within the same breath.
Upcoming for Sunday Valley is the prospect for forging further industry relationships. Evans feels that branding is a necessary next step, along with creating a solid web presence and fan base throughout the region on tour through epicenters such as Nashville and various festivals, “We really hope that somebody likes us and helps us out…we can play in front of a lot of people at a festival even if it’s on a side stage, that’s a lot more people than somewhere where nobody knows us….we’re going to try and get that kind of exposure.”
At the end of the day, Simpson maintains it’s the power of the fans and the audience that keep a working musician in business, “To get up and sing that song that you wrote about your life and see a roomful of people relate to it and connect to it and sing it back to you, I can’t put that into words. It’s a beautiful thing is the only thing I could call it.”
As for the Album Release Party for To The Wind And On To Heaven on Saturday, January 15th at Cosmic Charlie’s, fans can expect an appearance from J.D. Wilkes of the Legendary Shackshakers, who Simpson calls “one of the best harmonica players in the whole world.” Wilkes’ string band, The Dirt Daubers, will be on hand as special guests that night along with a few other surprises.
Prior to the show, the guys will be dropping off CDs to CD Central on Friday, the 14th, and making an appearance on WRFL from 12-2 PM the same day. On Saturday night, the cover will be $8 and CDs will be on sale for $12, along with t-shirts for both fellas and the ladies, so have a couple crisp Andrew Jacksons at the ready. If you can’t make it or can’t get in (as odds are, this long-anticipated show will sell out), the album is available for download on www.digstation.com, and SV’s next Lexington gig will be at the Lexington Art League’s 5/3 Fourth Friday event on February 25th.
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