(a portion of this piece was published by Planet JH Weekly)
Local up-and-comers Wood Smoke Rising have been woodshedding this winter, working on a debut LP of original material slated for a June release. Like several of the local traditional bluegrass outfits before them (Anne & Pete Sibley, The Flannel Attractions, Random Canyon Growlers), Wood Smoke Rising cut its teeth at the Jackson Hole Hootenanny jamming crowd favorites like “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” and “How Mountain Girls Can Love.” Guitarist/vocalist Mike Swanson, banjoist/vocalist Andy Gabel and Josh Metten founded the band in 2012, rounded out in 2013 by mandolin player Lucas Nash and followed by the addition upright bassist/vocalist Rob Sidle in 2014.
The progression from campfire stringband to gigging, writing and recording a full-length record has been a long time coming for the group. The album will be split between instrumental and vocal tunes, and is currently about half finished. Contributions from each band member are helping to make the ten or so tracks come full circle.
“Originally, myself and Andy wrote most of the material and I’ve written all the lyrics so far,” Swanson said. “Before Lucas joined the band, we were pretty loose on arrangements, but with his expertise we have really tightened our sound and we are hard at work on one of his instrumental tunes that’s pretty technical called “Release the Hounds” that will be played at Dornan’s. Rob has really added the tight rhythm we needed. We’ve sort of turned the corner recently in the process of recording and writing the second half of the album and instead of ‘OK this sounds like bluegrass’ it’s starting to turn into ‘whoa, this is pretty cool and different sounding!’ so it’s been really fun.”
For a taste of what the quintet has been working on, check out the album’s first single, “Tony’s Blues,” now streaming at WoodSmokeRising.com. The song was crafted via Gabel’s video exchange banjo lessons with his idol, Tony Trishka. They worked up part of the song’s melody together during a session, and then lyrics were added later by Swanson. Gabel can also be heard playing a distortion-soaked harmonica on the track. The band also ventures outside of the traditional box occasionally depending on the environment.
“For covers, we do have a good mix of traditional bluegrass fiddle tunes and singing songs,” Swanson said, “but we also experiment with taking rock tunes into the bluegrass form, a lot of Rolling Stones and Grateful dead and even some choice 80’s covers like Tears for Fears’s “Shout,” some Guns N’ Roses and Phil Collins. It makes for fun songs to play at weddings and more dance-floor oriented gigs to get people moving. Dornan’s is a great because it allows us to play original material that is more suitable to a listening room audience.”
Wood Smoke Rising, 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday at Dornan’s in Moose ($12 at Valley Bookstore, The Liquor Store, or by calling Dornan’s at 733-2415), and 7:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday March 13-14 at the Silver Dollar Bar (free).