Appalachian Purity From the Desert
Garrison Keillor has effectively beknighted this group, bringing them on to A Prairie Home Companion twice. They’ve been winning awards and graced the stages of many folk and bluegrass festivals, including the famed Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Now they bring their second album, Something to Someone, fresh from the rural environs of the famed Bear Creek Studios in Woodinville, WA. They are Run Boy Run.
The young quintet has been paving a musical path between the deserts of Arizona and the mountains of Appalachia as straight and direct as I-40 itself. While some modern bluegrass bands with roots in states not traditionally linked with bluegrass music have looked to bring a new angle to the genre, Run Boy Run is keeping things pure. This might explain the chorus of “I’m a long, long way from my home” on the opening track “Under the Boughs.” The song itself is beautiful and melodious and seems to make a statement that while their physical home may be Tucson, AZ, their musical home is Appalachia.
The music Run Boy Run has created for its sophomore album heavily features string arrangements in lieu of more typical bluegrass instruments. Yes, they have a mandolinist, but there is no banjo in sight for this group of songs. Rather what the listener gets is two fiddles, a cello, an upright bass and three beautiful female voices spinning harmonies worthy of Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch. Of course they use the single instrumental track “Sunday for Larks” to show off their instrumental skills and comfort with sounds that would play well at a Scottish cèilidh. But it’s the voices that tell myriad stories and parables about antiquated courting rituals, dowries, chivalrous murder, and the natural world seeking affirmation of its worth.
The voices featured on the record belong to Grace Rolland, Bekah Sandoval Rolland and Jennifer Sandoval. What’s that you ask? What’s with the cross germination of names? Well, you could also call the band a family affair. Not only is Run Boy Run a collection of old college friends, but in-laws and sibling from two different families. This may account for the chemistry in their sound. The familial bonds and the musical talent signal a group to keep an eye on. It would be nice to hear them bring some elements of the diversity of their home state of Arizona into their future music. That twist to their story was lacking considering they took time to write songs up in Flagstaff, AZ, home to stands of aspens and the sacred San Francisco Peaks. But for now they’re working on mastering their musical roots.