Usually a duo, the Easy Leaves appear as a full band for this concert.
When some folks talk of country music — or any genre, for that matter — there’s sometimes a tendency to over-generalize. For some, country means the watered-down-power-pop-with-a-touch-of-twang that dominates the airwaves. The Easy Leaves consist of Kevin Carducci (vocals, guitar) and Sage Fifield (vocals, bass), formed north of the Golden Gate in 2008. Initially, their intent was to form a traditionally oriented string band, but they found too many influences delightfully intruding — the towers of strength that are Bob Wills and Smokey Robinson were too powerful to be denied. Carducci’s musical fires were stoked by “Bob Dylan, Hank Williams [and his progeny], the Beatles, The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Gillian Welch, Otis Redding, George Jones,” among others, he said. As for Fifield, he said, “I was into a lot of your characteristic classic rock radio stuff: Stones, Who, the Dead, Floyd, Zeppelin, but also some mellow songwriter stuff: John Prine, Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson. For a while I lived in Northwest Pennsylvania, where a former band-mate and I began frequenting a weekly bluegrass jam. Those jams were my first foray into the world of bluegrass, and it opened my ears to a whole new world of acoustic and country music.”
The Easy Leaves’ debut album, American Times, is most definitely country music, but it’s colored and enriched by many thoroughly integrated influences. The Leaves’ harmonies are resplendent with echoes of the great “brother” acts of country music: The Louvins, Everlys, and Glasers. The chugging locomotion of opener “Get Down” could almost be a cousin of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” but the merrily debauched lyrics betray the good-time inspiration of the Dead’s and New Riders’ cosmic cowboy ethos of the late Sixties and early Seventies. The mid-tempo sunshine of “Fool on a String” reflects a strong mid-1960s R&B influence, and the loping, amiably ominous “Better Get Off” could have come from Dylan & The Band’s Basement Tapes collection.
The one aspect almost all songs on this collection share is the leanness of that Bakersfield sound, as defined by an engaging, cracking beat; the resolute twang of electric six-strings, the midnight-lonesome whine of a pedal steel guitar, and heartfelt singing with both the singer’s heart and beer stains on his sleeve for the world to see. It’s that relatively unadorned rawness that cuts across generations and genres. “I love music that has a sense of place: Memphis soul, Texas swing, conjunto, Delta blues,” said Carducci. “Each one of those styles conveys a lot about the history of its place of origin. Bakersfield is one of those sounds, one of the signature sounds of California. There is a classic quality in the rhythm and instrumentation that kind of captures that spirit of a crowded honky-tonk [barroom].”
The Easy Leaves have toured as a duo and as part of a full band. For their upcoming show at the Great American Music Hall, Carducci said, “We’ll be performing with a five-piece lineup, with Vicente Rodriguez on drums, Dave Zirbel on [electric] Telecaster [guitar], and Josh Yenne on pedal steel.” Without a hint of compromise, The Easy Leaves’ inclusive-yet-very-personal approach holds much appeal for fans of Steve Earle, Whiskeytown, The Avett Brothers, and Brad Paisley.
Trevor McSpadden was raised in the Texas Hill Country and seasoned in the clubs of Chicago, and is a genuine honky tonk song and dance man. He spent five years as the lead singer of Chicago’s most beloved country band, The Hoyle Brothers, before taking to the road as a solo act. Now working out of Southern California, McSpadden is making the most of his West Coast residency. He teamed up with Grammy-winning producer Pete Anderson to record a heartbreak album called The Only Way, followed by a Bakersfield-flavored collection of love songs called Let’s Fall Together. His latest is a groovy live album recorded in the parking lot of Grand Ole BBQ in San Diego. With a little twang from Texas, a bit of grit from Chicago, and some flash from the Golden State, McSpadden remains faithful to the eternal verities of the country tradition, but nothing if not original.