New Bern, NC –
INTRO - To say the Siler City bluegrass band Nu-Blu got off to a rocky start is an understatement. But now the quartet is starting to get widespread recognition as their debut CD enters the top-40 of national Americana airplay charts. George Olsen spoke with the group's founders and has this.
The Siler City-based Nu-Blu was initially formed in the fall of 2003 and that's where the story almost ended. On Thanksgiving weekend shortly after the quartet came together, one of the band's two founders Carolyn Routh suffered not one but two strokes that initially left her without speech and the use of her right side. With a push from then-bandmate & friend and now bandmate-and-husband Daniel Routh she made it all the way back.
(D) "Thank the Lord that her speech came back very quickly. It became one of those things before it was we're going to do this because this is what we're going to do and then it became an even greater need, if you will, to continue on with Nu-Blu. (CR) It was therapeutic. (D) It was. A lot of therapy was involved and music is therapy too, so if you can combine that with therapy you have to do it just works. (CR) A common goal."
You can hear evidence of Carolyn Routh's complete recovery with the recent release of the band's first CD release "Nights."
The disc is a nice mix of traditional and contemporary bluegrass sounds, leaning a bit toward the traditional but fans of so-called "newgrass" artists like Alison Krauss will almost certainly find the disc to their liking. That could come from the Routh's eclectic background Carolyn started singing in church, did musicals in high school, loves the music of Pat Benatar, sang contemporary Christian music, and performed rock before forming Nu-Blu. Daniel is a banjo player turned rock band bassist in the same band as Carolyn turned guitar player in Nu-Blu who says he's as likely to be listening to Van Halen as Flatt & Scruggs.
(D) "Just about anything that we can come up with we usually find a way to make it fit. Let's try that song, let's bring this new song in from whatever genre and see how it works and we end up molding it and working it around until it sounds totally different and it sounds good and everybody says it's a great new sound and we say thanks, but its really just what comes out of trial and error."
That "trial and error" method of moving songs from outside the bluegrass genre isn't too much in evidence on "Nights." There's one tune co-written by 80's country/pop singer Juice Newton and another from the contemporary folk genre by Nanci Griffith but otherwise everything fits very comfortably under the bluegrass tag. "Comfortable" also describes how the Routh's feel about their decision to leave their rock band days behind
(CR) "When we stopped playing rock, we just let the band go because we decided as much as we loved rock, we loved the music but some of the venues that were available and the whole persona we weren't comfortable in our own skin always doing that. Bluegrass being a music we already loved and being that I looked at it then and now as a family music you go to festivals and there's families and kids and it's just a music that transcends all age groups. Bluegrass is such a relatable music, a fan friendly music, and once we turned that corner and decided that's what we were going to do."
One thing firmly in the bluegrass tradition on "Nights" a couple of train songs. For Daniel Routh, the train songs came before the train he says this year he experienced his first long-distance train travel. While travelling he thought of all the train songs he knew but can't put his finger on what makes this mode of travel such as inspiration for songwriters.
(D) "We're one of the few towns that is lucky enough to still have a train come through our little town, and you get a sleepless night or something and I'm bad to go out back on the deck and I've been outside at 2:00 am when the train comes through. It's still, there's nothing going on, and you just hear this train whistle in the distance, and there's so many emotions rolling up. I have no way of explaining it."
If why trains make excellent songwriting fodder remains beyond Daniel's grasp the inspiration for one of "Nights" Daniel Routh-penned tunes is not. In fact, she's sitting right beside him.
"It all started with there are several Carolyn songs out there and there's one in fact the Lonesome River Band did called Carolyn the Teenage Queen and it's a tragic story. She said all the Carolyn songs all end bad so I said I'll write a good Carolyn song. The whole idea was to have a happy Carolyn song, not a sad or mean Carolyn song."
Writing a "happy Carolyn song" is probably a bit redundant nowadays when you consider where Nu-Blu is now after their near-tragic beginnings in 2003 following Carolyn's stroke. She describes herself and Daniel as "all-or-nothing" type personalities. Given where she started from that Thanksgiving weekend, she's gone from nothing to all and is grateful for every opportunity.
"The amount of time it took me to get use out of my side and to be able to function again was remarkably short compared with what all predictions had been and, there's no other way to explain it than it was a miracle, and I do feel blessed every time I go on stage and perform or go into a studio and record, and just be out there and be able to do what I love to the extent I'm able to do it now."
Carolyn and Daniel Routh are the co-founders of the Siler City bluegrass quartet Nu-Blu. Their debut CD is "Nights" and is available on their own Red-Squared label. I'm George Olsen.