There are so many conduits through which the casual music fan can discover new music: periodicals and websites like Rolling Stone or Pitchfork; internet radio; an afternoon hunched over listening stations in a record store. But here at Border Radio, we receive dozens of new titles every week. How then to pick what to sample next? As a rule, we soft-peddle the enthusiasm of publicists and other professional wags, and trust the opinions of those we truly respect: close friends and fellow musicians.
It was via the latter channel that we discovered Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck. This Portland bluegrass ensemble, who play Conor Byrne on Friday, July 29, issued a swell split CD earlier this year with the Pine Hill Haints. Border Radio was already smitten with the rustic, Tennessee mountain music of the Haints, having caught them at the Sunset a couple years back, so we figured CG&B deserved a shot, too.
Their three cuts on that EP were fine, but the band's new full-length, Cascade Serenade!, just blows our skirt up. Guitarist Erik Clampitt, multi-instrumentalist Sean "Buck" Burke, and singer Marley Gaddis all have beguiling, earthy individual voices, and when they launch into three-part harmonies, the result transcends the sum of its parts. In addition to authentic-sounding originals like "Engine Number 3" and the war ballad "Wayward Brother," the group also throws in seasoned covers by Bill Monroe and the obscure William Golden. Even the liner notes are entertaining; the comment pertaining to Clampitt's "Waitin' on Jesus" simply reads "Some people aren't comfortable with this sort of song material. We respect that."
Robbie Fulks first caught our ear when a thoughtful pal slapped "Fuck This Town," from the 1997 full-length South Mouth, on a mix tape; we've been a fan of the wisecracking "insurgent country" poster boy ever since. But a confession is in order: Border Radio initially dismissed his latest, Georgia Hard, because of a couple of gut-wrenching song title puns ("All You Can Cheat," "Goodbye, Cruel Girl"). Fortunately, our boyfriend wasn't as easily deterred, and praised it repeatedly. Upon reappraisal, we now admit a fondness for most of the disc's classic country arrangements and biographical tales of growing up down South, particularly the string-drenched "Leave It to a Loser." We'll make our apologies to Fulks in person at the Sunset Tavern this Saturday, July 30.
Speaking for savvy musicians, camaraderie, and media: If you feel like driving out to Kitsap County that same Saturday evening, you can catch Seattle roots music queen Christy McWilson at the Treehouse Lounge, above Magnolia Cafe, in Poulsbo. Christy is performing at a birthday celebration for her amigo Peter Blackstock, one of the founders of No Depression. While you're there, pick up a copy of Christy's new, self-released compilation of rarities and non-LP cuts. And buy Peter a constitutional shot—he's working his butt off this summer on the 10th-anniversary issue of ND, which hits stands circa Labor Day with a brand-new look, and an updated slogan: "Surveying the Past, Present, and Future of American Music." ■