Like its namesake, bluegrass-fusion band Root River Jam (RRJ), plays music that bounds over rapids, collects in deep pools, and skims over shallow sand bars, but it always keeps its forward motion with a swift current of creativity.
The latest adventure in the band’s six-year voyage is the release of its debut, self-titled album at Kinney Creek Brewery on March 25.
Fiery frontman Dave Wilson, RRJ’s lead vocalist and guitarist, describes the band’s music as fusing genres: “We have an improv style that has a jazz approach, yet we happen to be playing something that sounds like bluegrass. We also have a crossover classical sound.”
RRJ also includes David Beyer’s avian-like fiddle soaring over the foundation put down by Blake Bonde’s classically-trained, jazz-inspired upright bass and veteran Miles Johnston’s jazz and blues infused drums. In addition, Beyer and Johnston deliver backing vocals.
Carl Stephenson guitarist for local bands Incognito and LP & The 45’s, appreciates how RRJ’s “straight forward music” combines “elements of bluegrass, old time, and country” and then mixes in “a little bit of Sting and bebop” creating a sound “that anyone can enjoy.”
Eight of the album’s tracks are written by Wilson who “has a commitment to co-writing with the band,” and says he’s currently “influenced more by string parts and orchestrations.”
Both Beyer and Johnston single out “Don’t Let It Slip Away” as one of the album’s stand out songs. “Sometimes you can have a eureka moment when playing a song onstage, and this is one of those Root River Jam songs…one that’s hard to get through without tearing up sometimes,” says Beyer, who describes the song as a “warning…about love and the finite nature of life.”
Bonde, who also served as the album’s recording engineer, points to the track “Start from the Beginning” as one of his favorites: “My favorite part of the song is how we all are so well matched in how we let the last note die out.” Bonde is glad the song made the album because its initial recording included a corrupted audio stream.
The album’s lone cover, “Ashokan Farewell,” composed by Jay Unger, came about through a fan’s intersession. “Someone came up to us and told us that she had to walk down the aisle to our version of Ashokan Farewell. She said specifically that she wanted to walk down the aisle to our version. That really meant a lot to us, to know our music had touched her in this way,” says Beyer.
The CD release will include an opening set from Jailhouse Payback and will also help bolster the local music scene. “We want to help [Rochester] grow positively for groups like us which is why we approached the MN Music Coalition about a workshop or discussion on energizing the scene,” explains Wilson. The discussion kicks off at 5:30 p.m.
RRJ’s album promises to be a winding tributary making a significant contribution to the musical sea it feeds.
Jawing with the Jam: Dave Wilson (lead vocals and guitar), David Beyer (fiddle and backing vocals), Blake Bonde (upright bass), and Miles Johnston (drums and backing vocals)
How long have you been working on the CD, and what was the song writing and recoding process like?
Dave: The CD has been a long time in the making. The process was a progressive series of improvement from something that was great already to tremendous with Blake’s techniques and equipment.
Blake: Looking at my archives, the first recording that I did of Root River Jam with the thought that something might end up on CD was a gig we played way back on July 1, 2012. Since then, there were several attempts to get something we were happy with. We tried recording in a church, recording in our drummer’s basement and on numerous gigs. We got interrupted by a year I spent in Canada playing with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra. We had always kept the belief that what we wanted was best achieved with us all recording live together in one room.
Where can your fans find the CD other than at the release?
David: The best place to buy our CD is in person at one of our gigs. We love getting the chance to meet new people and we’ve made a lot of great friends at our gigs.
Dave: You can purchase it through our web site www.rootriverjam.com and look for it on iTunes and Spotify and some other distro outlets. We use DistroKid for all of this.
Your members are diverse in their playing experiences with some having studied classical music and others well-versed in jazz and blues. How does this effect your music?
Blake: For me personally, it gives me a much wider sonic pallet. I can make my bass growl as it should for jazz, thump as it should for bluegrass, or have the pillowy roundness of a proper orchestral pizzicato, just by changing the angle of how I pluck the string. That’s not even mentioning what I can do with the bow on bass. I can take a song I normally play pizzicato, and then play it with the bow on a particular night for something completely different.
Miles: No matter the background of the musician, given his playing has become a natural part of him, his thoughts are in the music and he responds accordingly.
What’s the strangest place you’ve played or the weirdest thing you’ve witnessed an audience member do?
David: Once when we were playing at the Half Barrel, a woman flashed us through the window.
Blake: The strangest location we have played was at lawn chair night in Decorah. The first time we played there was at the rain out location: the underground parking lot beneath the public library. It actually worked pretty well, but when you want to hear music, a parking garage is not necessarily the first place that would come to mind.
What musical accomplishment from Root River are you most proud of?
Blake: Our ability play softly and listen and react to each other. Dynamics have become somewhat of a lost art in today’s music. You can tell people aren’t used to it. Sometimes a hush will fall over the entire restaurant if we get really quite during a solo.
Dave: I’m proud of how the group has grown together to realize our potential as a presence in southeast Minnesota. There was a good deal of faith at the start of it all.
What advice do you have for other bands trying to record a CD?
Miles: “ave your songs down cold before you go into the studio.
Blake: Shameless plug: hire me to record you.
Dave: Be positive, supportive and creative.