Sixteen songs about death don’t make a CD bleak and depressing. In the hands of this four-piece, country-hued quartet, it’s a delight. The band releases the new album Wednesday at SpeakEZ Lounge. (Story, videos)
THE BAND: Jukejoint Handmedowns
THE MUSIC: Vintage country, Americana, roots music
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THE BAND: 8 p.m. Wednesday at SpeakEZ Lounge; noon Sunday at Muskegon Bike Time
SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEOS, PODCAST AND PHOTO GALLERY
As Jukejoint Handmedowns guitarist Nathan James puts it with a smile, it’s a bit awkward to include “a song about killing somebody on an album of other songs” about love or drinking or cheating.
So, the Grand Rapids-based Americana and vintage country band decided to put a bunch of grim reaper-styled ditties all in one collection, 16 of them to be exact.
“It’s really hard to put a death song on a regular album and they started piling up. We just decided to do it all in one go,” said James, a Holland native who attended Calvin College and Grand Valley State University.
“There’s a long tradition of murder ballads in American music. We each wrote a couple of those … and we got them all together and once we realized we’ve got a pile, we started ticking off the rest of the list. Do you have a cannibalism song? No? OK, I’ll do a cannibalism song, why don’t you do terminal illness? We split them up and tried to tick off all the categories.”
The result was the group’s entertaining and powerful third studio album, “Jukejoint Handmedowns Sing Songs of Death, Murder & The Afterlife,” a mix of poignant tracks and those laced with black humor – all featuring the classic, retro-sounding musicianship of the four-piece band.
“We thought about waiting until Halloween to put it out,” quipped James.
Instead, the band – which bills itself as a “big tent American roots” outfit – officially releases the album at 8 p.m. Wednesday at SpeakEZ Lounge in Grand Rapids as part of the Local Spins Wednesdays series. Admission free. It then plays Muskegon Bike Time in downtown Muskegon at noon Sunday, Allegan’s Grill House Restaurant on Aug. 8 and Aug. 30, and Spring Lake’s Old Boys Brewhouse on Aug 28.
PODCAST: Jukejoint Handmedowns on Local Spins Live (7/8/15)
Together for about six years, James, upright bassist Tim Foley, pedal steel guitarist Paul Harris and mandolinist Craig Van Otteren channel their love of Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Roy Clark and “early Americana, folk” into a harmony-laden, twangy, authentic-sounding approach that combines clever originals with classic country songs and American standards. They’ve even started playing a Jukejoint Handmedowns take on The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
INSPIRED BY ‘HOT ROD LINCOLN’ AND HANK WILLIAMS
“It’s just what we like to play,” said James, who concedes he was initially inspired as a child by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen’s 1972 hit, “Hot Rod Lincoln.”
“I remember whenever ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’ would come on the radio, I would run and press my ear against the speaker trying to get all those words. That was maybe my first musical memory. There was a lot going on there and I tried to get every word of it.”
Foley took a different tack in his musical development. He immersed himself first in 1970s prog-rock and then punk rock, before becoming enamored of Hank Williams in the late 1990s.
And both have a soft spot for old murder ballads, so the new collection of death odes – recorded at Foley’s home studio – was bound to emerge sooner or later.
“I think one of the first songs we learned was “Banks of the Ohio” and that’s another traditional murder ballad,” recalled Foley, a native of the Flint area who splits songwriting duties with James, although Van Otteren wrote one song, “Limbo,” on the new album. (Check out a video of an in-studio band performance of that song below.)
Band members did try to stay at least a little upbeat on the new recording, choosing to stick the song, “Call My Name,” at the end of the CD, “hoping it would add a ray of hope and sunshine to an otherwise dark tunnel,” Foley said.
“But then at the end, Nate informed us that the song is meant to be a suicide note. So, so much for hope and sunshine.”
Get more information about the band and its full performance schedule online at jukejointhandmedowns.com.
VIDEO: Jukejoint Handmedowns, “Limbo” (Local Spins on WYCE)
VIDEO: Jukejoint Handmedowns, “Call My Name” (Local Spins Live)
PHOTO GALLERY: Jukejoint Handmedowns