Dallas Baker is bursting with energy. It’s not merely the euphoria of launching a newly minted album and upcoming Pour House release party (Feb. 11 @ 6pm). It’s the kind of confidence that comes with being a native Charlestonian and legitimate renaissance man. “Get in the kart,” he yells! We’re going on a delivery. Quickly, we’re off down St. Philip Street in an unconventional golf kart delivery truck, with Dallas dodging cones, shouting jokes out to road workers, and celebrating loudly with friends that are delighted to spot him. It’s February and the off-season for marsh tours and kayaking, so we’re delivering Brown’s Court bread to local groceries and restaurants. The renaissance man title is earned: besides being the front man for Charleston City Paper’s 2016 bluegrass band of the year, Dallas Baker is a baker (yes, seriously!), a delivery man, a naturalist, a kayak guide, a general manager, a husband, a father of three, a surfer, and as demonstrated by a new album release and a steady 2017 gigging schedule, a man on a mission to bring you along for the ride.
“They’re looking for that thick sound,” Dallas refers to modern bluegrass fans, “That Americana, country, western, deep bass, warm guitar, close harmony sound.” Alternative bluegrass, new grass, jam grass, or whatever you decide to call it: Dallas Baker and Friends perform with a respectful nod to traditional roots, and move quickly to delivering grassified covers and “thick” originals. The new seven-track album, Albemarle Blues, contains the best examples to-date of the group’s original repertoire.
The long-awaited new album was recorded on James Island in early 2016, in a three-hour live session at Fairweather Studio. Live recording? “It’s so unpredictable. Things come out that you’ll just never get recorded with a metronome.” David Vaughan and Omar Colon’s mastering brings out the best in those things – with an authentic flavor of James Island.
Each track on Albemarle Blues except one (a solo track) features the talented band. All four musicians co-wrote and sing on every track in close and gritty harmony. David Vaughan picks the mandolin brightly and cleanly, and he has a good ear as the technician who mastered most of the tracks on the album. Brad Edwardson (guitar) displays some excellent cross picking chops on songs like “Now That You’re Gone”. Fuller Condon (Double Bass) holds down the rhythm and tempo, and performs a noteworthy break on the syncopated and gypsy grass tune “Jacksonville” – a song that’s guaranteed to get wedding parties and crowds stomping along.
The solo track “Birds” is a neatly packed finger-style tune with a deep message. Dallas’ allegory of native birds flying in forever changed, unfamiliar landscapes – marred by development and searching for a lost home, presents a tale of warning for the Charleston community in a way that’s unique and thoughtful.
Why name the title track “Albemarle Blues”? “A lot of the lyrics you’ll hear are about Folly beach, where I’ve spent a lot of good time. And the name Albemarle is for Albemarle Point there by Porter Gaud. I’ve been told it was an important place in native tribal culture.” The connection, as those who know the band will tell you, is the band’s local and naturalist roots. “The blues part of it, well it’s like when you’re asking yourself what’s this all about? Why am I doing this or that? What am I doing with my life? You can’t choose when that happens – which is why I say ‘If there’s one thing I don’t want to choose/it’s those Albemarle blues.’” It’s an introspective wrapped in up-tempo and harmonica driven celebration about local people and places.
You can catch Dallas Baker & Friends next on the Pour House deck Saturday February 11th from 6-9pm. The Albemarle Blues album release party is sure to be a raucous celebration and who’s-who of local musicians, folly beach-ers and Johns & James Islanders. “Free show, no excuses!” Dallas jokes. “Yeah, man, the Pour House. I got my start at the Pour House, about five years ago. I love playing there, just as much today as I did when I started.”
What’s next for Dallas Baker & Friends after the album release? Besides a short upcoming run through Greenville and Asheville in April, they enjoy sticking close to home. “We love gigging in Charleston and want to keep playing great places like Charleston Music Hall – we play there twice a year, and I look forward to Charles asking us every year. Also, Tattooed Moose is a big favorite, and Awendaw Green – Eddie White is the man! – and festivals like bluegrass ones at Palmetto Brewery.” Dallas Baker & Friends often performs weddings, where the band has found a great niche. “It’s our radiant, infectious energy. I want you leaving here remembering this night for the rest of your life – and that’s why people book us for weddings.” Remembering the good times, and celebrating the ones at hand. Albemarle Blues is an album worth the wait, and cause for a big release party. Catch Dallas Baker & Friends on Saturday February 11th on the POHO deck, starting at 6pm, y’all.
Submitted by Julius Siler – Scout, writer & radio guy. Owner – Jaybird Entertainment.