I hear some of the most wonderful music on my local radio station, KBCS. One afternoon, I heard a cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ while listening to the car radio. It’s a song I’ve always been partial to. But this cover was something else. It was gorgeous with smooth, shimmering harmonies. The song tempo had been slowed down considerably to allow the harmonic texture to come to the forefront. You’ve got to hear it (hear Free Fallin’–AAC format) to believe it. They’ve made Free Fallin’ into a song with gossamer wings.
As we were listening to the DJ recite the song credit, I told my wife: “Remember that–True North.” I promptly forgot both the group’s name and the song title that had so enchanted me. Then my wife reminded me of the group’s name and I looked up their website. I listened to every piece of music there and didn’t find what I’d heard on the radio. But I did notice that True North’s address was in Salem, OR where my brother lives. I called him and asked if he’d heard of the group. He chuckled and said: “Heard of them? They’re my neighbors! And the lead singer works at Willamette as the president’s assistant.” My brother teaches chemistry at Willamette–so this indeed was a small world.
Last Memorial Day, True North played Seattle’s NW Folklife Festival and I had an opportunity to hear them live. What an extraordinary experience. They’re great musicians, with a great songwriting style. They call it bluegrass, but definitely in the expansive style of Union Station. You could also call it alt country or progressive country. My brother and I are Jewish and the first thing we noticed about their song choices were that every song made a reference to Jesus. I have nothing against the guy, but I definitely felt that we were listening to songs about characters who lived somewhere outside of the urbane sophisticated realm of Seattle. And that was good. The problem with music and reality in general in this country is that we don’t come into contact much with people outside of our social strata, class or geographic region. I appreciate being introduced to characters I might otherwise never meet, through the bridge of music, literature or film.
I liked the manner of the lead singer, Kristen Grainger and her multi-instrumentalist husband, Dan Wetzel. They were wittily self-deprecating in a sly, slightly mischievous way. The characters in the songs and the band members themselves came in for gentle, good natured ribbing.
This is a group that should be better known outside its Pacific NW home. They should have a major record contract (this is, if they even want this). They’re damn good. And buy their record, Pluck.