MUSIC BOX: Canyon Kids Tap American Poets

By on September 22, 2015

Duo delves deep with second album and steps in as featured artist for open mic night

“Out where the sun is a little brighter/Where the snows that fall are a trifle whiter,
Where the bonds of home are a wee bit tighter/That’s where the West begins.
Out where the skies are a trifle bluer/Out where the friendship’s a little truer,
That’s where the West begins.”
– Excerpt from the poem and song, “Out Where The West Begins”

Canyon Kids (left) take on Songwriter’s Alley Wednesday at Haydens Post; Under the Willow blends folk and grass at the Tavern Saturday.

Canyon Kids (left) take on Songwriter’s Alley Wednesday at Haydens Post; Under the Willow blends folk and grass at the Tavern Saturday.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The creative collaboration of vocalist/guitarist Bo Elledge and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Dusty Nichols, Canyon Kids, released their sophomore album, “Best Loved Poems of the American People,” last Friday. The 11-month project was tracked at Teton Artlab with the help of a grant from CSA Jackson Hole. Using only four microphones and a modest recording setup, Nichols engineered the recording. The range of local studio guests included John Wayne Harris Jr. (drums), Jake Green (drums), Adam Woolley (electric bass), Matt Herron (fiddle), Bobby Griffith (trumpet), Leif Routman (upright bass), Sheena Dinesh (bassoon), Madelaine German (keys), Wyatt Lowe (lap steel) and The String Lake Quartet.

The album’s concept involved interpreting American poems by composing music to complement the words. The hooky album single, “Out Where The West Begins,” is borrowed from a poem that was first published in 1917 by Arthur Chapman. On the track, Herron delicately weaves fiddle around Elledge’s husky croon. A rollicking outro allows Nichols to cut loose on a searing lead while being supported by punchy trumpet lines from Griffith. The harmony-centric duo has a vocal sound that equates to the smoothness of several coats of fine varnish on an old wooden boat.

“We really wanted to make an album when I moved back to town last spring,” Elledge said. “We had chord progressions but not many lyrics, so I rediscovered this poem book that my mom had given me and cherry-picked all of these great lines. My family had a tradition to pass this poem book around the table with my grandparents, laugh and cry while reading them aloud. The project really came together quickly and easily. To encompass a family tradition with early American folk was a great way to bring these words back to life.”

Elledge explained that two more songs will be added to the album for a winter re-release. The current seven-track album is streaming online at Canyonkids.Bandcamp.com, and more information about the band can be found at CanyonKidsMusic.com. Canyon Kids will play a 25-minute featured set at Songwriter’s Alley, a songwriter-focused open mic that recently changed venues from Haydens Post to the new Silver Dollar Showroom. The event is open to songwriters, non-songwriters and small acoustic bands. Performers receive half off of food from the bar menu and are entered to win a $25 gift certificate to event sponsor Jackson Hole Music store, located at 975 Alpine Lane, No. 5, behind Sears.

Songwriter’s Alley Open Mic featuring Canyon Kids, 8 to 11 p.m., Wednesday at the Silver Dollar Showroom. Sign-up begins at 7 p.m. Free. Open to all-ages performers until 9 p.m. Facebook.com/SongwritersAlley.

Under the Willow heads West

Not only is it uncommon to have a double-female presence in a band, but two couples in the same band is simply a rare arrangement. There was Fleetwood Mac’s famous double couple of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks with Christine and John McVie, and ABBA sported both brunette and blonde couples. The fate of each group is not great odds for anyone gambling in their favor, but that’s water under the bridge to progressive folk-grass quintet Under the Willow.

“We can accomplish goals faster but it can be difficult to turn off work mode at the necessary times,” said vocalist/fiddler Erin Donovan when asked about the pros and cons of functioning as a married couple in the band.

Along with Erin, The Chicago-based band consists of Pat Donovan (guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo), Hayley Skreens (vocals, mandolin, banjo, guitar), Joe Lenza (mandolin, banjo, guitar), and newest member Trevor Clark (upright bass, electric bass, beatbox, vocals). The bluegrass instrumentation, earthy vibe and folksy offerings brings to mind Colorado band Elephant Revival, though with more aggressive playing and vocals that go bigger.

The Donovans originally formed the band in 2008 before adding Skreens and Lenza. Together, they have released a breezy four-song EP, “Under the Willow,” that the band describes as “raw yet polished.” Social issues of education, equality, poverty, religious beliefs and hunger can be heard in their lyrics.

As of late, the band has been road warriors. Having driven 25,000 miles in 2015 so far, the band has dipped into the Midwest festival scene and is making their first journey out West. For the last two years, they have split time between Florida and Chicago. PJH

Under the Willow, 10 p.m., Saturday at Town Square Tavern. Free. 733-3886.


About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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