Rising Appalachia begins six-stop Colorado tour leg at Belly Up Aspen
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
Who: Rising Appalachia
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Sept. 27, 9 p.m.
How much: $35-$70
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
The folk band Rising Appalachia is rooted in the southern musical tradition, as the name suggests, but anybody who has experienced their live show knows they’re more than boot-stomping revivalists.
Across eight albums and years of tours, the group — founded by sisters Leah and Chloe Smith — both excavates the world music origins of American folk and integrates fresh sounds from across contemporary genres. Their shows include mountain-music banjo and acoustic blues, yes, but also beat-boxing and tinges of Celtic fiddle tunes and slam poetry and African drumming — all of it overlaid with the Smith sisters’ enchanting dual harmonies.
“Our work has always been in musicology, really,” Leah Smith said in a recent phone interview. “We consider ourselves students of all the roots of Appalachian music.”
For the six-piece band’s latest album, “Leylines,” released in May, Rising Appalachia recorded outside of the South for the first time. They decamped for 10 days in a live-in studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Marin County, California.
“We wanted to see what would happen if we were out of the South, what the material would pull out and what perspective we might get,” Smith said.
With two new bandmembers coming aboard, they wanted a communal creative experience in an incubator-like environment.
“It’s not like a 9-to-5 where you just meet at the studio and then split off,” Smith said. “We wanted to be living and breathing the work. … There are only a few of those in the country where you can rent the space, live in the space, live and breathe and eat in a space that is also a recording studio.”
The Atlanta-based band’s ongoing “Leylines” tour includes six more Colorado stops, beginning Friday at Belly Up in Aspen. The band set up shop in the Roaring Fork Valley to rehearse before this six-week run of western shows, which runs through late October.
Through their many stops in Aspen, the bandmembers have made many local friends and, in recent years, began coming for extended stays.
“We have such an amazing community of fans and friends in Aspen and Carbondale,” Smith said. “It really feels like a home base for us.”
Rising Appalachia’s two new members help accentuate the world music roots in the band’s eclectic sound. Bringing in the n’goni and talking drum player Arouna Diarra, of Burkina Faso, and Irish fiddle player Duncan Wickel have helped the Smith sisters realize their vision for the band’s sound.
“It felt like a dream come true,” Leah Smith said. “It’s been a long-term goal of Rising Appalachia to tell a lot of the ancestry of this music.”
The result, in their newest material, is a fully realized Rising Appalachia evidenced in compositions like the anthemic single “Resilient,” the folk call to action “I Believe in Being Ready,” the good-time party tune “Cuckoo” and the heart-melting love song “Harmonize.”
The “Leylines” sessions also connected Rising Appalachia with Ani DiFranco, the neo-folk legend who cleared the way for them in pop music. She joins the Smiths on vocals for “Speak Out,” bringing the sisters full circle on their creative journey.
“It was a huge threshold to cross to hear her music as a young woman,” Leah Smith recalled. “I grew up in a fiddle- and banjo-playing family and I thought that was the music for old people — I listened to hip-hop. Ani Difranco was the first person to provide a bridge for me.”
Marilu Henner won’t be able to appear in Theatre Aspen’s production of “Love Letters” on Saturday at Paepcke Auditorium.