Review of Willie Sugarcapps – “Willie Sugarcapps”
Take five talented, experienced musicians/songwriters/singers coming from the same area, let them play together and see what it turns out. Things like these probably happen almost every day and aren’t often worth much attention, unless we’re talking about Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, Corky Hughes, the Sugarcane Jane duo Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford.
Everything started with some kinda Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble jam sessions called The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm in Silverhill, Alabama, where local pickers, troubadours and touring bands have been gathering and sharing the stage in a typical Southern laid back setting for a couple of years. The result is an excellent rootsy, blues rock and folk sound that openheartedly reflects the true rural spirit of the Gulf Coast, with its magic, places and troubles.
Named Willie Sugarcapps, what really makes this ensemble so special is that it seems like they’ve known each other for decades. Each one naturally and effortlessly bringing in enthusiasm, conviction and some songs, it’s practically a real Americana supergroup in which the members are mostly multi-instrumentalist performers that switch up between acoustic and resonator guitar, lap steel, pedal steel, mandolin, banjo, bass, piano, harmonica, fiddle, percussions and even ukelele,all masterfully played, while four of the five alternate the vocals.There are all the ingredients to give the album’s ten tracks those fluid harmonies and a twangy, familiar, relaxed attitude for a full organic project. As Will Kimbrough explains in his own words, it’s a sort of homecoming.
The immersion in a rural folk scene starts immediately and intensely at the first tune, the title track “Willie Sugarcapps”, with Grayson singing, to some extent, a band mission statement: “Now pick up your lap steel, pick up your mandolin, give us a little bit of banjo, some sweet violin”.
The segue is an even more blues-rocking “Mr. Lee”, and same foot-stomping fun is present in other tracks like “Energy”, a vivid romper showing the Sugarcane Jane mature blending as well as in “Up to The Sky”, while in his “Poison” Grayson Capps reinterprets and readapts the lyrics to upgrade the public awareness about sad truths.
Absolutely standing out is Will Kimbrough’s “Oh Colorado” written with Sara Jean Kelly, here the stirring Savana Lee voice haunts the listener with that particular homesick sweetness, so that I found myself with tears in my eyes. Kimbrough’s mandolin and Hughes’ guitar match brilliantly with Capps’ rough voice in the beautiful Grayson’s love song “Magdalene”.
Also Will Kimbrough’s “Gypsy Train”, a song about life on the road with a gorgeous harmonica on the background, and “Trouble” about sickness, dying, and death are powerful examples of great songwriting skills. In the melody of “Mud Button”, another Kimbrough’s one, blows gently the true attachment to the country-style way of life.
Recorded with the help of Trina Shoemaker (Capps’ longtime partner and Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer) this record is a genuine, authentic piece of work of traditional inspiration, a winning collaboration between artists whose familiarity and freshness , though keeping their respective solo careers well going on, leaves space for hope in new enchanting musical adventures.