This is an entry in an ongoing series for 303 Magazine, which will provide a range of local album reviews. It is our intention to highlight the talents of local musicians, whether veterans to the industry or newcomers. Like the bands, the album can be fresh or something we just haven’t had the power to take off repeat in the past few months. Check out previous entries in the series here.
You know the story, the one that taught us the importance of sharing a little of what we have to make something everyone can enjoy. “Stone Soup” — a European folk legend that calls on each member of a village to put in a few scraps of food to make a generous meal for an entire community — is now embodied in the Denver music scene thanks to Denver Jamgrass. Denver Jamgrass, a charitable organization that exists solely to elevate the platform of Denver’s fantastic local bluegrass talent, has taken this model to create a bluegrass compilation album for fans — also titled Stone Soup.
The group captures and reviews live performances for fellow fans, provides a podcast discussing local acts, and has raised money for local artists afflicted by COVID-19. Made up of Executive Director Max Paley (also of local band That Damn Sasquatch) and directors Kimberly Gregory Burke, Amy Martin and founder/chief of operations Kirk Hubbard, Denver Jamgrass has worked on these ideals since 2014. The organization received its tax exemption in December of 2019.
Denver Jamgrass wanted to record some of our incredible artists they have featured on their podcast, to help spread the good tunes further. “I was able to contact everybody individually and out of the 15 people I reached out to, nine committed,” explains Paley regarding the selection process. “Mostly, it was just connections that we’ve made being an amplifier for small bands in the Denver scene. Also, I wanted to embrace diversity in any way that I could. I originally wanted it to be half women and half men, but three are women fronted projects, and six are men.” The album was recorded at Swallow Hill Music in South Denver, which offers a home for the people of Denver to learn about and form a community in music, and each song was tracked in just 60 minutes or less.
“To be honest, I also wanted to find people with the most reach,” Paley continues. People with the most fervent fans and things like that. I definitely think I was relatively successful there.” Stone Soup consists of a collection of covers and original tracks from professional local bands, including Meadow Mountain, Thunder and Rain, Chain Station, Lonesome Days, That Damn Sasquatch and more. “This album, which is either going to come back annually or semi-annually, will always include at least one amateur,” cites Paley. “The amateur that I got for this one is one of our directors, Kimberly Burke, she is an amazing vocalist. Watching her in the studio, she was blown away by what it takes to make a record and what the producer can do and what having a good producer can do to the overall product.”
The album kicks off with “Cajun Moon,” by Spencer Erik Crawford, also of That Damn Sasquatch. The track is a twangy take on folk-country that croons of a life away from Colorado until Mardi Gras ends. The easy beat will kick anyone out of their seat to groove. In “Pancho and Lefty,” both the second song on the album and the second single, Thunder and Rain spin a beloved Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson cover to appease fans of all ages. Dave Pailet of Turkeyfoot follows with another original, the deeply reflective and sway inducing “Dark as Trouble.”
“Refugees,” an original by Jon Pickett of Chainstation, was released as the first single for the compilation, and Paley says that was not an accident. “It’s easy to gloss over the international political upheaval that is happening right now. In a lot of ways, the refugee issue is a race issue and a religious issue and an identity politics issue,” he explains. “I was moved by his song and his performance. He plays in a bluegrass band. he thumps away on the bass singing about whiskey and girls, and then here comes this international plea asking, please everybody pay attention to this, these are people.” The song is accompanied by a video of Pickett playing next to a river, which brings the international message back home to Colorado, calling on us to act.
Track five brings in the ladies, with Jackie and the Racket playing “Six Feet,” a saucy tale of escape and living fully. J. Robert Miller of Lonesome Days brings the next cover, “Muddy Waters” by Nick Cave, and David Burchfield (featuring Sam Armstrong-Zickefoose of Meadow Mountain) plucks to “Let Me Go,” an entrancing melody calling for freedom. Kimberly Gregory Burke breaks onto the scene next, to perform Gillian Welch’s “Tear My Stillhouse Down” along with Paley. Stone Soup finishes out with Summers Baker of Denver’s Meadow Mountain belting “Astronaut,” a song by a fellow Denver musician, Gregory Alan Isakov.
The album’s nine tracks are a true showcase of the eager strings in Denver and serve to fans both current and future. Hopefully, with the next installment of the compilation, there could be a live performance for everyone to come to support the project further. Paley says the idea is there. “Basically it could just be a seven or eight-person supergroup up there, and they could have passed around the songs. It could be a big bluegrass family reunion.”