The Sweet Water Warblers – Dave Freak talks to Rachael Davis

Sweet Water Warblers

Hailing from Michigan, May Erlewine, Rachael Davis and The Flatbellys’ Lindsay Lou have all carved successful careers as individual artists.  But an invitation to sing together left both audiences and the trio stunned, leading directly to the formation of The Sweet Water Warblers.

Specialising in three-part harmonies and with a set-list that spans gospel, bluegrass and soul, the three multi-instrumentalists (mountain fiddle and banjo, uke, guitar and double bass) released their debut EP, Without You, in early 2017, and now follow the release with their debut UK tour – which includes an appearance at Towersey Festival, Oxfordshire, on Monday 28 August 2017.

Between planning for the transatlantic trip, and her own solo dates, Rachael found time to chat to folking.com.

You all have pretty successful and distinct solo careers. So what bought you all together?

There’s a music festival in northern Michigan [Hoxeyville Music Festival] run by friends of ours. In 2014 one of the presenters of the festival, Kristen Robinson, asked if we’d all be interested in doing a trio set on the main stage. We all happily agreed and worked out a 45 minute set of some of our songs. During the set, half way through our first song, we realised that something special was going on. We decided to keep it up, so we booked a tour, then made an EP called With You that was released in January of this year!

Did you approach Hoxeyville initially a one-off performance? Or did you envisage Sweet Water Warblers has having a longer life?

When we were working up a set for Hoxeyville that first year, we didn’t envision it becoming a project until we saw the feedback that Evans received from that show. After that day we were like “Well, we HAVE to make a record now!”

For the uninitiated, how would you describe your sound?

I’d say we’re traditional roots music in three-part harmony. We play traditional folk, blues and gospel along with original songs influenced by all those genres.

You’re all based in, or have roots in, the mid-west state of Michigan – would you say that you’re influenced by the state?

Yes! There is a stronghold of traditional American folk music in Michigan. The Great Lakes have attracted so many different types traditional music from across the world throughout history. So the traditional music that thrives in Michigan comes from so many cultures that it has created its own style of traditional music. The other aspect of that is the community of musicians this tradition had given birth to. It is a family. A broad village of music connected through numerous traditional arts festivals and events. Our music comes from the Michigan tradition, as does our philosophies on music and art being an invaluable contribution to the world around us.

What’s your favourite track on the EP, and why?

That’s a tough one! I’m not sure how the other gals would answer, but, personally, my favourite is House of Amazing Grace, only because I’ve wanted to record that for so long. I got the idea to sing Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun ages ago, but never had the right opportunity to do it. And with singers like May and Lindsay, this was exactly the opportunity I was holding out for. I love how the track turned out as well. It’s raw and unrefined in the best way. Accessible and hypnotic.

You’re all accomplished singers AND multi-instrumentalists – what’s the division of labour when you play live? Who does what?

There’s a bit of a rotation of instruments when we play. On stage we’ve got two guitars, a banjo, a fiddle, an upright bass, a ukulele and various auxiliary percussion instruments and they all get passed around as the show progresses.

What strengths do you see in the other two band members as bringing to the trio?

We are all lead singers in all of our respective bands, always singing the melody and leading the band while others sing harmonies and accompany us. But each of us secretly wants to be the side guy, singing harmonies and playing back up. And I think that each of our strengths is singing harmony. It turns out that this is the perfect element for band dynamic.

I know Lindsey made an appearance at Celtic Connections earlier this year, but is this the band’s first trip to the UK?

Lindsey had toured with her band, Lindsey Lou and The Flatbellys, in the UK several times. I toured in England and recorded with a friend in Wales about a decade ago and haven’t been back since. And I think this will be May’s first trip there!

As part of your trip, you’re visiting Towersey Festival, which has its roots in traditional [UK] folk music – is it a style of music you’re familiar with?

Oh yes! One of my favourite bands is Fairport Convention and I consider Sandy Denny one of my biggest influences. I know May has an affinity for John Martyn. I know these musicians are more from the British folk revival era, though. The old British Isles music shows up in some of our individual repertoires sometimes. My mom used to play Black Jack Davey and other centuries-old folk songs from England, Ireland and Scotland on the dulcimer when I was growing up.

Are there maybe any artists on the bill who you’d be keen to check-out?

I am not familiar with most of the bands in the line-up, which is so exciting to me! I’m so looking forward to hearing music that is new to me!

What are your plans for The Sweet Water Warblers now?

We just released our EP this year and May and Lindsey both have new records that they are rehearsing within a year. May is releasing her latest in fall of this year, Lindsey is releasing the next Lindsey Lou record next January, and I’m working on my next record – due out August 2018. After that I’m sure there will be discussion about a Sweet Water Warblers full length album. And I sure do hope we get to come back to the UK again and get to share our music for a bunch of new audiences!

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ORDER – [CD]

Artists’ website: https://sweetwaterwarblers.com/

‘Tell Him’ – live:

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SINGLES BAR 18

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Having released their Death and Other Animals album to wide acclaim last year, FAUSTUS return to the well to lift ‘Slaves’ (Westpark Music 87333) to head up their new 5-track EP, their first for the Germany-based label. You should, of course, be familiar with the number, an arrangement of an 1840 call to arms against injustice meted out to the common man in England taken from the Ruth Tongue archive at Halsway Manor. Also from the album is a radio edit of ‘One More Day’, while ‘The Knife of Brian/ Bluebells and Beech Woods’ is a six-minute instrumental comprising two waltzes, the first a melodeon wheezer, the second a more stately woodwind led affair, hitherto available as an album bonus download. Meanwhile, ‘Thresherman’, the Roud 19 ballad about the rural poor, was, as long time fans will know, recorded by Sartin and Kirkpatrick on The First Cut, the 2003 album in their previous incarnation as Dr. Faustus. Here, it’s a live March 2015 recording from The Lights in Andover, as is the fifth track, a what was then work in progress preview of ‘Slaves’ itself.
http://www.faustusband.com/

THE SWEET WATER WARBLERS are an all female Michigan trio, comprising Lindsay Lou, lead vocalist with The Flatbellys and 2016 Best Vocalist nominee for the International Bluegrass Music Association and fellow singer-songwriters Rachael Davis and Mary Erlewine who, as well singing, trade such instruments as piano, banjo, uke, double bass, banjo and fiddle.

Out at the start of March, the self-released With You is a five-track collection of self-penned material and, featuring Davis on powerful gospel-styled lead, an inspired arrangement that sets the lyrics of one traditional number to the melody of another with ‘House of Amazing Grace’. Davis also contributes and plays banjo on the pure-voiced close harmony Appalachian-styled ballad ‘Lazarus’, featuring Erlewine on mountain fiddle.

Erlewine herself has two numbers, ‘Too Soon’, a number that lives up the trio’s name and is sure to earn them a new Be Good Tanyas tag, and the closing guitar and piano love song yearner title track. The remaining number comes courtesy of Lou, kicking the EP off with the bluesy a capella ‘Sing Me A Song’, herself on lead and sharing the three part harmony chorus, setting the seal on an auspicious debut and introducing a name we’ll be hearing a lot about in the months to come.
https://sweetwaterwarblers.com/

Bringing Americana closer to home, BROKEN FLOWERS are a three-piece alt-country outfit from West Yorkshire, lining up as singer Anna Mosley on rhythm guitar, Darren Gibbs on lead and Mike Brown on bass. They’ve alreadty released an album and follow that up with the self-released six-track So Many Shadows. They’ve cut their teeth on the UK country circuit and the EP reflects an awareness of the need to appeal to a range of tastes and audiences while keeping the feet on the dancefloor. Opener ‘Stephen’s Song’ is a solid mid-tempo chugger with swaggery hooks and is, in turn, followed by the slower dance paced ‘Easy On Me’, a mood echoed by the bruised heart love and loss notes of ‘Right About Now’.

But if they colour within the lines, they do so with confidence and bold strokes, prepared to challenge the quick fix approach with two six-minute plus numbers, the rolling punchy country rock of ‘Anywhere’ and mid-tempo demo closer ‘Sunday Morning’ with is Texicana guitar flavours and Mosley’s twang. And to top that there also a near eight-minute ‘I Saw A Light’, a slow burn soulful smoulder about the 1838 Huskar colliery disaster in Barnsley that shifts into a thundering, desert guitar howl climax before ending with the words “You keep the gold we pay the price,” spoken by Mosley’s seven-year-old son, the same age as her great great great uncle, James Burkinshaw, the youngest of the 26 children to drown when the pit flooded.
www.brokenflowers.co.uk

THE BROTHER BROTHERS are actually twin brothers Adam and David Moss based in Brooklyn. Adam is plays fiddle in a variety of old styles. Guitarist David is originally from Peoria – no, we can’t figure that out, either – and has two albums to his credit. Together they play a sophisticated Americana which still maintains the edge you look for in the genre. Tugboats would seem to be their recording debut, a six-track EP of mostly original songs – the cover isn’t very informative.

The title track is a slowish country waltz with a clever lyric rooted in their home city and a nice bit of philosophy: tugboats go slow because that’s the way to pull a heavy load. ‘Bird In A Tree’ is an up-tempo fiddle song that could pass as traditional. ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’ is traditional, made famous by Doc Watson and here given a rhythmic finger-style guitar part and a brief fiddle break. ‘Come Back Darling’ is a fiddle backed exercise in harmony singing – rather ponderous when compared with the rest of the set but ‘Notary Public’ restores the lightness we’ve enjoyed so far. ‘Cairo, IL’ is probably by David, Illinois being the link. It has a slightly west coast feel except for the fiddle breaks which firmly locate the song further east.
www.thebrotherbrothersmusic.com

Oft-compared to Ray Davies, following on from last year’s mental-health themed concept album, Silver Meadows, [Fables from the Institution], VINNY PECULIAR has released a new four track EP, The Fairer Sex (Shadrack & Duxbury SAD EP 012). Another concept collection, this time it centres around gender-linked identity, opening with gradually swelling piano-backed reincarnation ballad ‘I Came Back As A Girl’. Sexual exploitation provides the theme for ‘House of Girls’, a deceptively dreamy keyboards-led melody couching a lyric about porn webcams and the ‘gentlemen’s’ clubs run by the likes of Stringfellow and Hefner. Again built around melancholic piano, ‘No Reply’ is a wistful reflection on the end of a relationship (“I don’t want to be your new best friend, so I can never see you again”), while the final track, ‘Trial By Lingerie’, is a synth and percussive click track setting of a playful poem offering “a lighthearted look at male humiliation in an M&S Lingerie department.” Basque in its delights.
http://vinnypeculiar.com/