Indiegrass songstress Sage Harrington
By Captain America
Americana is the new punk rock. Like the early ’80s when any yob with a snarl and electric guitar called themselves punk, anyone today that has a thrift store banjo and name drops the Carter Family thinks they are folk musicians, deserving of serious listening and dollar-per-song downloads. Wrong.
Why are so many of those old punk outfits unlistenable? The same reason that many new Americana acts are also unlistenable: They really aren’t very good.
Decades ago, front-porch pickers didn’t have to be all that great to carry on the folk tradition. Folks songs were of and by the people. The musicians that “made it” on WSM-AM’s “Barn Dance” radio show or cut 78 RPM sides for RCA Victor were the ones that captured the public’s attention with accomplished performances and appealing onstage personalities.
Had she been performing back then, Albuquerque’s Sage Harrington would have been one of those that made it. While she classifies her music with the modern moniker “indiegrass,” she is blessed with an antique sort of onstage personality which is charming and unselfconscious. Her caoineadh-type Irish laments sung ar sean nós (unaccompanied) are moving. At the same time, she’s effective playfully picking a ukulele—or playing any number of instruments—and singing unconventional originals with a band.
On Saturday, Harrington releases Maybe, a full-length album recorded at Santa Fe’s Frogville Studio with accompaniment by Burque bluegrass favorite the Squash Blossom Boys. In anticipation of her CD release show at the Il Vicino Brewery Canteen, Harrington and I communicated about sonic matters over email.
On instruments: “I've really been focusing on fiddle lately, learning a lot of bluegrass and Irish tunes by ear. I also have a guitar and an accordion, but I haven't been able to focus on those because I've been playing the fiddle so much. There is definitely something to be said for completely immersing yourself in one thing, and that's something that I'm apparently incapable of doing.”
On heritage: “My parents are musicians, and my grandparents too. My grandfather's grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland. I have this impression that everybody in Ireland back in those days sang or played fiddle or whatnot as a part of their daily life.”
On influences: “If you were to ask me which artists were really, really important during my formative years my answer would be Alison Krauss, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles. I can't tell you how many times my family listened to those songs. The one pop-country band I will never deny loving with my entire 14-year-old soul is Rascal Flatts. They are Ohio boys. I am an Ohio girl. We are of the same earth. Plus, they do really awesome three-part harmonies on their first CD.”
On singing with her sweetie, Squash Blossom Boy Dustin Orbesen: “His vocal style is kind of raucous, kind of wild, kind of whiskey-soaked. The focus I have is more on pretty melodies and vocal tone so when we sing together it's kind of like we have to readjust and realize what it is we're trying to do. Dustin settles down a little bit and I've been noticing in my own voice that somehow there's some twang in there when it needs to be.”
On her unaccompanied Irish laments: “There are a couple reasons I sing Irish songs a cappella. The first is that I've heard some of them performed that way, so I feel like it's OK for me to do it too. The second is much more mundane and practical: I don't have an Irish band. Dustin is an amazing bluegrass musician, but that doesn't mean he can automatically switch to playing in an Irish style, nor does that mean that I can either. As for me? I should learn the bouzouki or the bodhrán or just more Irish fiddle, pick up a few more musicians and start me up an Irish band.”
Sage Harrington CD release show
with Ms. Sage and Her Dusty Britches and Squash Blossom Boys
Saturday, April 21, 7 p.m.
2381 Aztec NE
Tickets: free, 21+ (minors accompanied by parent or guardian OK)
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