The new millennium has been kind to Bluestring thus far. Formed in 1998 in Athens, Georgia by Clay Evans (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) as a bluegrass project, Bluestring has continually evolved over the years with the addition of new players and an influx of new influences.
Near-constant touring of the Southeast and the 2001 self-released album Overthinking showed off the group’s powerful live presence and song writing abilities. Overthinking was a mixture of bluegrass, funk, Latin jazz, and rock with Evans’ heartfelt lyrics at the core.
One important new fan the band’s live shows and Overthinking won over was Allman Brothers band drummer Butch Trucks. Trucks signed the group to his Flying Frog Records label (the label has included releases by Schleigho, the Slip, Deep Banana Blackout, and Frogwings) which paved the road for the June release of the Bluestring’s self-titled album.
‘They gave us complete artistic control,’ Evans said. ‘In fact, nobody from the label ever stepped foot in the studio. I was very surprised at that, we enjoyed the freedom, but I was surprised they trusted us that much. I had a lot of faith that we would do something good and we’re really happy with it.’
While recording, Ted Pennington (violin, mandolin) left the group and Bluestring faded out its bluegrass influence. The finished results on Bluestring finds the group’s sound delving more into soul-rock. From melodic ballads to driving rock songs to funky, Latin-spiced groovesthere’s always a solid lyrical song at the core and the album more than lives up to its claim of carrying ‘more hooks than a tackle box.’
More song-based than most jam bands and more capable on their instruments than most pop bands, it’s safe to call Bluestring a jamband but they’re still much more.
‘It’s a scene that allows for different fusions of things which is good for us because I think we’re going to become more and more diverse as we continue to play,’ says Evans. ‘I don’t think we’ve classified our music yet so I hope nobody else does either.’
‘It starts with a song and we always try to be mindful of that and not stray to far from that. There are definitely places for improvisation, but in a live show if you stretch out every song you’re going to lose a lot of people’s attention. I guess we fall somewhere in between, but it’s just about the players in our band. I’m a songwriter, that’s what I do and the other guys are players and improvisers. It’s great to be able to make a song come alive in a show with good playing.’
The songs definitely come alive on stage for Bluestring and each member of the quintet is given a chance to show off their own unique contributions to the group’s sound.
Chuck Thomas (bass, vocals) is definitely a major presencecapable of supremely funky grooves and dazzling solos. ‘Chuck has been impressing me a lot,’ Evans said. ‘He’s been so inspired lately and that kind of inspires us all further. He’s really on fire for our music right and is playing great. He has such a key role in our band and the way we all play. He’s a lot more than just a pocket player but at the same time that is the key thing he really is. He’s a great soloist and improviser and his ear and sensibilities improve with every show.’
Thomas and Jason Jones (drums, vocals) lock in to form a tight and explosive rhythm section. ‘Jason is the groove and also really good with melodies,’ said Evans. ‘He sings bass harmony on most of the songs and is really solid. He’s become so much more consistenthe kind of had to learn how to be a rock drummer and has learned that roll really well. He lays down really good grooves and he and Chuck are in the pocket a lot. They make a really good rhythm section.’
Bluestring’s rhythm section is polished off with the percussion accents of Nick Prince. ‘Nick and Jason make a ton of eye contact the whole show. The Latin percussion is an accent to the rhythm and that’s something Nick has picked up really well. He’s become a percussion a playerjust like anyone else in the band has become their own musicianbut I think Nick has really learned a really cool roll. It adds a really cool twist. It makes me always think of the album ‘Graceland’ how he’s learned to fit in nicely with whatever sort of groove we’re playing.’
The melodic sensibilities and fiery solos of one-man horn section Brad Thomas (baritone, alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones, flute, vocals) add another variable to Bluestring’s sound. ‘Brad is and for so long has been the primary soloist in the band,’ Evans said. ‘What that means it that night after night he has to pull interesting melodies out of his ass. I don’t know how he does it but he does. It definitely baffles me and it’s just a really cool gift.’ ‘I’m the only lyricist in the band and I like it like that,’ Evans said of his role. ‘That’s the part that I hold most dear even though at times I get really frustrated. But I think that’s the essence of it, the goal is to write a perfect song and I don’t know if that ever happens. It’s a difficult thing but I can’t stop doing it. I’m always writing stuff down and the more people listen to lyrics the more they get to know someone on a personal level. A lot of the songs are hopefully really open to interpretation. They were written at times for very specific reasons, but there’s an abstract nature a lot of the songs where you can draw different things from.’
Their new album is getting play from college radio stations across the country, giving Bluestring well-deserved attention. The quintet is also touring just as hard as everif not more so. In August Bluestring will be playing three side-stage shows with the Allman Brothers Band and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. The fall will bring on a return visit to Colorado and plenty of new cities on the East Coast.
‘That’s our job right now,’ Evans said, ‘to hit every location possible.’
The strong album on Flying Frog Records and a budding reputation as must-see live band should allow Bluestring to carve their own niche in Athens’ rich musical legacy. So catch Bluestring when they come to your neighborhood and go ahead and reserve a spot your CD shelfit’s hard to resist the hooks.