Baseball caps touting "Free Moustache Rides." Foil packets of Mini Thins. Pine-scented air fresheners. These are things one typically associates with the words "truck-stop souvenir." And maybe even country music—in the form of budget CDs of Garth Brooks and Hank Williams Jr. But the wares peddled by Seattle duo Truckstop Souvenir are more lovingly crafted than the goods for sale at your average Gas-N-Go.
Showcasing the talents of Dennis James and Lauryn Shapter, Truckstop Souvenir's debut, Leave Nothing Behind, features five originals apiece by each, plus a mellow, homey rendition of the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man." While their voices and instruments—he plays guitars, she doubles on fiddle and guitar—intertwine with an ease that evokes both the showbiz polish of the Everly Brothers and the rustic charm of the Carter clan, the two aren't kinfolk. But they are family: They're married.
While Shapter's contributions, like "Mama's Debt," conjure up the melancholy side of Appalachia ("I like to make people cry," she admits. "It's good for the planet"), her husband's—"Leave Nothing Behind"—hew closer to the Texas school of songwriters. "Dennis's songs tend to be a bit edgier," Shapter opines.
That system of checks and balances spills over into their interaction as performers, too. "We keep each other honest," observes James. "Lauryn's all about the music, all of the time. She picks up an instrument and plays every chance she gets... which means I better be improving my chops in order to keep up with her." Shapter has more formal training, while James emphasizes an intuitive approach ("I've always been a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy; my aim's a lot better now," he jokes). Neither shies away from giving the other a gentle tug in his/her respective direction.
Or, as James says, "I think perfection is a lie, and a little barbecue sauce on the chin can be sexy, so I remind her to let go when she's holding too tight."
The result is a full-length that is charismatic and distinctive, yet never willfully quirky. "I've always said that I hoped our music would fall somewhere between a lost field recording by Alan Lomax and outlaw Nashville fare of the '70s," says James. Shapter frames her vision of their record in less genre-specific terms. "We wanted to make a record that pulled the listener in, that seeps in the more you listen to it, rather than one that hits you over the head."
The intimacy that enriches Leave Nothing Behind is also the backbone of their live show. But if you miss their CD-release party this Wednesday, July 26, at the Sunset, your chances to make up for it will be few. Truckstop Souvenir are pulling up stakes later this year. "If we're going to pursue this full-time, we need an affordable home base that offers an easy launching pad for touring, so we're heading for Iowa," says Shapter. Well, okay... just promise to stay away from the trucker speed when you're crisscrossing the U.S., kids.