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Published: 2013/09/14
by Sam Robertson

Willie Sugarcapps
Willie Sugarcapps

Royal Potato Family

While listening to the debut album from newly formed super group Willie Sugarcapps, take a moment to consider the band name. Not only is it a silly amalgamation of the band members’ names – Grayson Capps, Will Kimbrough, Corky Hughes and Sugarcane Jane (a duo featuring Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford) – but also one of those brilliantly weird, stereotypically Southern names that Robbie Robertson could have crafted endless stories about. Just like Robertson created Virgil Cain and Crazy Chester, these songwriters bring Willie Sugarcapps and Mr. Lee to life. Storytelling is not their only connection to The Band, as Willie Sugarcapps formed over late night collaborative jams modeled after Levon Helm’s midnight rambles. On the opening title track, Grayson Capps sings, “Now pick up your lap steel, pick up your mandolin, give us a little bit of banjo, some sweet violin,” the band does just that, and the result is an album that mixes a loose campfire spirit with phenomenal songwriting for what could be the best slice of freewheeling Americana heaven since Music From Big Pink.

Grayson Capps, Will Kimbrough, Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford trade off songs throughout the album, but even with different singer/songwriters, Willie Sugarcapps is remarkably fluid. The Capps’-penned title track feels like a band biography and intro, with “Folks are suffering all across this land, Woody Guthrie’s long gone, won’t you give us your helping hand” serving as a mission statement of sorts. After the timeless “Willie Sugarcapps” kicks off the rural folk album, larger-than-life tales of “Mr. Lee” follow with Kimbrough’s upbeat mandolin powering the song along. Savana Lee makes a stunning entrance on lead vocals for “Oh, Colorado,” with a voice that sounds as fresh as those Colorado mountain streams, and the others join in for absolutely perfect, soothing harmonies on the chorus.

Grayson Capps returns to the songwriting seat for “Magdalena,” a mysterious love song that is a certain highlight. “Magdalena” finds Capps’ coarse voice at its most tender and haunting, and his singing is beautifully embellished by Kimbrough’s mandolin, Corky Hughes’ electric guitar, and near-whispered harmonies from his band mates. With each gentle twang from Capps’ acoustic guitar and stirring line sung in his world-weary, poignantly gritty voice, “Magdalena” slowly builds into one of his finest ballads and serves as a melancholic break from the lighthearted, rootsy fun that dominates the rest of the album. After gorgeous vocals from Savana Lee and Capps on their respective originals, Kimbrough brings everyone together in harmony for “Mud Bottom,” an affectionate celebration of life in the rural south.

“Energy” and “Up To Sky” find Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford of Sugarcane Jane channeling that fresh Southern air on two upbeat rompers as they show off their vocal harmonies forged from years of singing together. But it’s Grayson Capps’ “Poison,” a previously recorded favorite, which best captures the carefree spirit of Willie Sugarcapps. The band recorded the take in loosely rehearsed folky fashion with a few updated lyrics, and Capps can’t help letting out a hearty laugh while singing “Liar liar with your pants on fire.” Just like “Poison,” the debut album from Willie Sugarcapps may not be utterly groundbreaking, but their update on a traditional sound is so damn comfortable and fun that it feels positively refreshing nonetheless.

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