New Bern, NC – When I think of hotbeds of bluegrass I don't think the following.
"Anya spent a lot of time in California and several of her songs mention California in some way. I write a lot about Utah, I spent some time there."
Stacey Claude talking about her background as well as that of Anya Hinkle, two-fifths of the Asheville-based bluegrass quintet Dehlia Low. It's just another example of why stereotypes can be, well, stupid, because out of those California and Utah roots have come an emerging bluegrass band now enjoying national airplay of its latest CD "Ravens & Crows." Now, out of fairness to stereotypes, Anya Hinkle is originally from Blacksburg, VA more of bluegrassland as I think of it and the band is based in Asheville which has a thriving acoustic-and-beyond music scene. The band is a product of that scene, particularly open jams that local musicians take part in. Stacey who plays guitar and sings for Dehlia Low was at one of those open Asheville sessions when she met her future bandmate.
"Anya moved to town in a February and stepped up to the mic and sang a Stanley Brothers song and it just kind of stopped the bar, and at the point I had just finished being involved in another music project and was sort of subconsciously looking for a singing partner and when I heard her sing I was like "oh my gosh I want to sing with her." So I stalked her for a couple of weeks before she agreed."
The vocal interplay between Stacey and Anya is the major selling point of Dehlia Low. They are all good instrumentalists but you can't listen to "Ravens & Crows" without being drawn to their vocal work I liken it to opposite ends of the same voice.
"We're both really interested in harmony singing but we've both worked at it pretty hard. Anya is a really unique singer and her vocal inflection and phrasing and all of the amazing stuff she can do with her voice is not very easy to follow as a harmony singer. Some of my something that is really important to me is to do the correct phrasing and to make it sound as much like one voice as possible, and that takes some work. We used to sit down and go over Stanley Brothers or Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard and try to match each other as much as we could and focus a lot on blend, just those things that you can sing harmony but when you figure out how you can blend with another person that's when it can be really good."
Those traditional influences are perhaps most heard in the CDs title track "Ravens & Crows" which to my mind sounded like a tune the Carter Family would've greatly appreciated.
"That's one of Anya's and she's had that comparison made more than once, that's she's written a song that could've been written in the 30s or 40s. You have to read the liner notes to be sure if it's an original or traditional."
But if I had to characterize the music of Dehlia Low I'd lay them more in what's become known as "new grass" music popularized by the likes of Nickel Creek and Crooked Still than I would traditional bluegrass. Stacey Claude agrees with that characterization, saying the band's latest catchphrase on their style is that they perform "Appalachiagrassicana" with its influences from the old and new.
"My primary influence is definitely Alison Krauss, I've huge respect for her, and she would probably be categorized the same way, influenced by traditional music but playing new grass music. As far as the pickers in the band, it's for them as well influenced by old players. Bryan's mandolin style is definitely more Monroe than Chris Thile but he also is obsessed with Chris Thile and listens a lot to them. It's a mash-up of all these different influences."
It's a fairly successful mash-up. Dehlia Low is a bluegrass band that lends itself more to mood than the "hot pickin'" you might get from Del McCoury's band or Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. The highlights on "Ravens & Crows" tend toward what Stacey Claude calls their "minory, depressing" songs though listening to the disc isn't bound to send someone into a spiral. There are plenty of upbeat moments including a cover of Willie Nelson's "What Do You Think of her Now" that would play just fine for those on a crowded honky-tonk dance floor. It's a fun, spontaneous moment perhaps one you'd expect from a band that in its excitement to make music sometimes forgets to check the obvious before moving forward.
"And shortly after him Bryan moved to town and we heard him play mandolin at that same jam, might've been his first or second night in town and we asked him to come to practice before anyone else got ahold of him, and we had started with a different bass player who ended up not working out and we thought of Stig who is actually a fantastic guitar player. I called him up and said would you like to play bass in our band and he said I'd love to except I don't really play bass and I don't have one."
That worked out though. The band communally bought a bass and now Greg Stiglets is one-fifth of Asheville's Delia Low. Their new CD released on Rebel Records is "Ravens & Crows." I'm George Olsen.