The latest instalment for season two of The Magnolia Sessions in 2021 sees the delightful Appalachian folk tones of Western North Carolina residents, The Resonant Rogues. Centred around the core songwriting pairing of Sparrow (vocals/banjo/accordion) and Keith Smith (guitar and vocals), the band are often filled out with double bass and fiddle, but here the intimate nature of this live recording focuses on the chemistry between the two band and soulmates.
Having crossed America from coast to coast, travelling on highways and freight trains, this session reminded me of the Lost Dog Street Band in the sense that the pair are living the spirit of the American Troubadour and walking the talk by singing about their real-life experiences, heartfelt songs of sorrow, endurance, and wistful happiness.
Recorded early in the process of creating the series, the performance was not dogged with the issues that plagued the first attempted The Hill Country Devil session, but the trademark insect noise is comparatively muted in compassion to some of the other recordings. Despite this Anti-Corporate Music head honcho and Black Matter Mastering engineer Dan Emery still manages to capture the stripped-down, raw atmosphere that allows this session to banish the outside world and let the listener drift away to that fireside by the Magnolia Tree that marks this unique setting.
The musical performance itself suffered from no trouble at all and was expertly executed by the two seasoned musicians whose chemistry is evident from the gentle, lilting refrain of opener Ridgelines lead by Sparrow’s banjo and her haunting voice, ably backed up by the harmonies of Smith.
It sounds derogatory to describe the music as lazy, but the spirit conjured from the gentle rhythmic plucking is as light as a summer’s breeze and there’s a hopeful, uplifting, and positive feel to the track as they sing of traveling and the anecdotally inspired events they are telling tales about.
Switching lead roles, How Far We’ve Come sees Smith take the lead with a blue-collar tale of urban life. Delicately sung with deceptively poetic honesty, the picture of the simple life, regrets and hardships endured by ordinary people in pursuit of the American Dream. It’s a reminder in this high-tech age to slow down and enjoy the life we have, despite our yearnings to build future happiness.
Misery Is My Company is an urgent, desperate ditty built on speedy picking on the banjo, a heady rush of duelling strings and a vocal melody that will resonate with anyone who has had a brush with depression through incisive lyrics that is instantly catchy and emotionally stirring.
the ability to surprise you and combine their talents, both in terms of musical dexterity and how well their vocal styles complement each other…
The strength of The Resonant Rogues, apart from their near telepathic connection when performing, is the ability to surprise you and combine their talents, both in terms of musical dexterity and how well their vocal styles complement each other, Smith with the, pardon the pun, resonating baritone and Sparrow’s elegant, unique and quirky style that sets them apart from other acts. Not only that, but as the tracks rush by, in what feels like no time at all, they show that despite the old timey association with folk and bluegrass music, they are thoroughly modern. How many country songs would you expect to hear the lyrics ‘the tumultuous relationship between time and space’ sung by Smith on one of the sessions highlights What Makes Me Think?
It would be doing The Resonant Rogues a disservice to describe the music as simplistic, given the evident skill and dynamics of Fool Of The Rules, but the laidback feel, a trademark of not only this style of music, but of Emery’s ability to capture the feel of the moment when collaborating on these sessions, gives the album an overarching feel of comfort that reaches the soul.
Things I Said is another late highlight that encapsulates the band, a delightful mixture of blues and When the World Slows Down heavily features a woozy accordion refrain and off kilter vocal that gives you pause before The Blackest Crow ends on a sombre lament of tender downbeat harmony.
Ultimately with The Magnolia Sessions, you’re going to connect with them musically or you won’t. It is easy to look at the output and group them together stylistically, but with each act that is invited to Nashville, Emery builds a catalogue that shows the depth and flavour of the genre, whilst retaining the live setting and a true honesty amongst the artists he’s recording. The bands all have subtle nuances, whether it’s the range of musical instruments, the dynamics between the members, or the way they approach their song craft.
This latest session is no different to any other in that, via the setting and nature of the performance, it taps into a raw and personal vibe that pushes the boundaries of music beyond the simple mechanics of performing and channels something far more powerful.
A complete set of new and original tunes written during 2020 as ‘the light that kept us going’, The Resonant Rogues The Magnolia Sessions is as soulful and as special as the ones that preceded, and showcases a style of music that is an underrated art form in this modern age.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden