Sometimes a band gets you so enthralled, puzzled and generally curious that there’s nothing else to do but to call them up. At least that’s how it goes with us journalist types. So our booking team helped me get in touch with Nathan Allen, singer and guitarist with Seryn, who’s set to close our show on Wednesday night. And my question was: How’s a band with such lush grandeur, chamber-folk complexity and tricky musical ideas making out in Denton, Texas, collegiate hub of the beer-swilling, honky-tonking Red Dirt Music movement?
“There’s so much other music that goes on in Texas!” said Allen from a break in a Denton studio where Seryn (pronounced sir-IN by the way) is recording a sophomore album. “There is a huge music scene here – a really interesting scene. In 2008 Paste magazine named it best (in the country).”
Most of this sextet were students at the University of North Texas in Denton before they opted a traveling musical life. Seryn’s 2011 debut album This Is Where We Are is a magnificent and elegant opus. Typical is “Our Love,” a six-minute epic that layers banjo, organ, strings and interlaced vocal loops. “We Will All Be Changed” throbs with accordion and finger-picked guitar before blooming into a grand chorale. It’s all gorgeous and quite sophisticated, but then these guys list among their influences “polyrhythm, crescendo and decrescendo.” That’s talking my language.
“When I was a kid dad would take us to school every morning,” says Allen about his varied musical background. “And there was a stretch of about two years when he made it his goal to listen to everything Mozart ever wrote. So for two years it was Mozart in the car every day. And he was also a huge fan of the Beatles. So I listened to those records growing up. Add a dash of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and you pretty much got it.”
And then there’s the band name, which solved that whole They’ve-All-Been-Taken problem through, if you will, composing. “We like sounds, and a band name is a sound, says Nathan. “We wanted a word that sounded like what the music sounds like.” Overtones of words like serenity, surrender and surreal are absolutely intentional. But don’t imagine their live shows are sleepy affairs. One writer called Seryn on stage “the soundtrack of a great love story, breathtaking drama, and a dark tragedy all rolled into one.”
And in our superb lineup, Seryn does not have a monopoly on the serene or sublime. Annie & The Beekeepers out of Boston’s fertile art/roots music scene will be here with their sometimes ethereal, sometimes earthy mix of folk and rock. Leader Annie Lynch is a musical lifer with a diverse background and a sweet, sweet voice. The group has played shows with Joe Pug, Justin Townes Earle and Josh Ritter, which gives a pretty accurate sort of profile of where they’re coming from. A brand new album called My Bonneville is bound to get the same kind of lavish praise that attended their first two recordings.
From closer to home, we’ll hear from Los Colognes, a diverse and exciting new project out of East Nashville by partners guitarist Jay Rutherford with drummer Aaron Mortenson. Jay plays with the Jacob Jones band, so we’ve met him before. They call their music “parched desert country blues,” which sounds thirst-quenching to us.
Brian Ashley Jones is an artist who divides his time between support work and production and his solo career, where he’s admired widely for his songwriting and his dynamic, detailed guitar work. He hails from the musically rich community of Spartanburg, SC, so he shares a hometown with Peter Cooper, Marshall Chapman and the Marshall Tucker Band, so no pressure or anything.
And the show’s going to open with the utterly unique, absolutely irreplaceable Phil Lee. One of the first artists I ever heard of in Nashville under the Americana or alt-country banner, he proved that it was a world with plenty of room for humor and quirk. Yet he can write a song that’ll sear your heart on a grill. His new project is The Fall & Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love, and with its tattooed lady cover (you need to see it to believe it) and its wicked songs, the recording shows the 60-plus-year-old as unbowed and very much on top of his craft. Can’t wait for that interview either.
So it’s another fascinating lineup with flow and diversity. We’ll see you at the barn or on the air on Wednesday.