You call that acoustic?
Last year saw the quartet play both Street Beat and Hot Summer Nights. The self-declared “outside boys” are moving the party inside to the bouncing floor.
Despite their acoustic name, the band’s clearly rocking presence is a force to be reckoned with. Thumbing their collective nose at music stereotypes, they take traditional newgrass instrumentation and push it into an electric realm. They are touring in promotion of their recent double-disc album, “Live From the Neighborhood.” It plays like a festival, united in theme but diverse on a track-by-track basis. Primarily original material with the occasional cover (“Powderfinger” and “Who Are You?” to name two), it’s high energy and indicative of their live show.
“It was the last one we could do before we began our Sugar Hill contract,” said Fitz McMurry (drums, congas, vocals).
The group has committed to three albums with Sugar Hill, which carries such bands as Sam Bush, Nickel Creek, Del McCoury and Railroad Earth. Fitz is joined by his younger brother, Bryon McMurry (banjo, vocals), his cousin Steve McMurry (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and city boy Jay Sanders (acoustic and electric bass).
The McMurrays grew up on the family farm, and learned to play a variety of strings at the same time. They began with straight-up bluegrass. Listening to the Haitian and Jamaican migrant workers with whom they worked side-by-side, they incorporated world beats into their sound. It was their first experience with reggae, which has since served as a jumping-off point for their anything-goes attitude.
“The music, it’s evolving all the time,” explained Fitz. “We’re just really getting comfortable with who we are, and on stage it feels good.”
They associate more with rock than anything, but Americana and roots run heavily through their music. They worried about their name, Acoustic Syndicate, as they’re rather electric these days. But identity is everything, and after several years of playing for crowds, they’d be fools to retire the recognized name.
“So in record stores, we’ll be found in the rock section, right next to AC/DC,” he said, laughing.
They’ve just finished recording their next album, “Terra Firma.” It won’t be released until this spring.
“”Terra Firma,’ the title track, is about all things returning to
the earth,” said Fitz. “People squabbling over land, wars, destruction of the earth – it all folds back into itself. But it’s not a slow song – it’s a rocking song.”
Traveling in a 15-passenger van, the group is likely to listen to Mark Knopfler, Little Feat, King Crimson or Tony Rice. Fitz outright refused to share too many on-the-road stories, chalking them up to “unprintable.”
They met Herman years ago, just as Leftover Salmon was breaking into the national market. One of Acoustic Syndicate’s first gigs was playing at a festival Leftover put on, Romefest, in North Carloina.
“Vince is basically opening for us, doing a solo,” said Fitz. “He’s a great entertainer and songwriter. Of course, then he gets up and we all play together.”
Acoustic Syndicate and Vince Herman play tonight at 8150 in Vail at 10. For more information call the club at 479-0607.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.
Among Vail’s volunteers, we tracked down Bob “Buckwheat” Buckley, Tony White and Brooke Franke Gagnon. They all said it was tough, that they loved it and suggested that if you try it you’ll love it too.