Seattle Music 2014: Americana/Alt-Country Bands

From Shelby Earl to Star Anna, these are the bands rocking the Americana/Alt-Country genre
Shelby Earl, in the soundboard room at Columbia City Theater, July 8, 2014

What’s your favorite current Seattle band? If you have trouble answering (or if you draw a blank after Macklemore), we’re not going to judge. But we are going to suggest it’s time to check in with the city’s thriving indie music scene. New local bands are exploring sounds, blurring genre boundaries (though we’ve wrestled them into categories here) and playing vibrant live shows all over town (see our Live Music Venue guide). Even with this sampler of 50 bands, we haven’t scratched the surface of Seattle music. Listen right here—where you can stream songs from all 50 bands—and also try tuning in to KEXP (the city’s unsurpassed discovery engine for local music) for a whole week. Soon enough, you’ll have an answer to the above question—and you might just go on and on. Access our full Seattle Music 2014 story, including the other music genres, here.

Country Lips

Gateway Band: The Band
Using traditional Americana rhythms and adding a swagger all its own, Country Lips always has crowds swinging and twirling in their boots. Keys, fiddles, accordion and slide provide the honky and the tonk in this band, which on the new album, Nothing to My Name, sounds part Allman Brothers, part Old Crow Medicine Show. Experience the sweet sound of the vocal twang at a live show—and come ready to cut a rug. countrylips.bandcamp.com

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The Maldives

The Maldives (clockwise from bottom left: Faustine Hudson, Chris Warner, Kevin Barrans, Tim Gadbois, Jesse Bonn, Adam Bily, Jason Dodson)

Gateway Band: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
This group has the distinction of being a tremendous alt-country band in its own right, as well as being an entire session band that can be called upon in a pinch to back up rock stars such as Ken Stringfellow of The Posies (which they have done). A combination of Tom Petty (his voice) and Dave Eggers (his writing), lead singer Jason Dodson creates songs that reflect his amorous side. But don’t let the love in the room fool you—this band can hit the stage hard and will have the room drenched in sweat in no time. themaldivesmusic.com

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Lonesome Shack

Gateway Band: Robert Johnson
Lonesome Shack released a new album, More Primitive, this summer on Alive Naturalsound Records—the label that broke The Black Keys—which makes sense, given how rugged and bluesy the LP is. Ben Todd, the lead singer and songwriter, spent years in, well, a shack all by his lonesome outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving to Seattle. He built the shanty himself and went inside until he learned guitar. The result is a gritty, retro sound and song titles such as “Wrecks,” “Big Ditch” and “Die Alone.” lonesomeshack.com

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Inly

Gateway Bands: Fiona Apple, The Be Good Tanyas
Bursting onto the scene in the spring of 2014 with a debut self-titled EP, Inly immediately caught the attention of local music literati, including KEXP-FM. Lead singer Mindie Lind has one of those voices that flutters effortlessly from her lips—and in the video for “Mississippi Misfit,” she reveals an essential aspect of her life: She was born without legs. No matter, she uses a skateboard to get around town and uses her experience to inspire such lyrics as “She’s a clever little kitten who can climb, climb, climb for miles.” inly.bandcamp.com

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Vaudeville Etiquette

Gateway Bands: Tom Waits, The Lumineers
Perhaps the most vaudeville thing about this band is that with each song, they seem to be a new act with a new sound—from country stomp to sweet alt-folk to something that can only be described as crazed-kazoo-cabaret (on the intoxicating “F. Scott”). The new album Debutantes and Dealers reveals how singer Taylor Lynn’s voice can sweep from Neko Case to Stevie Nicks, as she harmonizes with Bradley Laina. Allow them to swing your mood and your expectations at the Chinook Music festival in Naches, Washington (9/12–9/14; chinookfest.com). vaudevilleetiquette.com

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The Moondoggies

Gateway Band: Traveling Wilburys
One of the most laid-back bands in Seattle, The Moondoggies hypnotize with eerie harmonies, catchy choruses and expert playing. (Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton is a fan, and included them in her MTV $5 Cover series.) A little bit Grateful Dead, a little bit Traveling Wilburys, they sing about dusty roads and lost loves. There’s a particular rhythm to their sound, akin to rolling down a hill on a summer afternoon, and front man Kevin Murphy’s guitar licks are hook sharp. moondoggiesmusic.com


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Damien Jurado

Gateway Band: Neil Young
Over the course of his impressive career (he recently collaborated with Moby on the song “Almost Home”), singer-songwriter/producer Damien Jurado has shown a willingness to stretch beyond the folk realm and try new sounds and ideas—as evidenced by his latest record, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, which was based on an elaborate dream he had and floats along on a trippy guitar-scape that echoes The Byrds. Using his beautiful falsetto, he implores us to fall back into the person we always were for the sake of our own joy. damienjurado.com

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Star Anna

Star Anna (and pal Forest), backstage at Tractor Tavern, July 15, 2014

Gateway Band: Janis Joplin
Not yet 30 years old, Ellensburg-born Star Anna has already played live with backing by Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and none other than the Seattle Symphony. Her voice rocks the shingles of every establishment she graces (and her beagle–fox hound, Forest, can often be found at her feet, listening loyally). Her 2013 solo effort, Go to Hell, is propelled by raw emotion and powerful pipes. And she can do Patsy Cline proud, too—hear her pay homage during the annual Sweet Dreams showcase (9/6–9/7; thetripledoor.net) staranna.com

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Shelby Earl

Gateway Band: Neko Case
With a voice often compared to Neko Case’s—it shares the same full-throated call—Shelby Earl has a tall, powerful presence that radiates from under her unassuming bangs. Prominent Seattle producer Damien Jurado (page 97) worked with her on her latest album, Swift Arrows, which showcases her gift for poignant lyrics (“How was your day / I’m almost afraid to ask…”). There is a simplicity to her writing—simple like a door frame that allows her beautiful songs to walk right in and sit with you for a spell.
shelbyearl.bandcamp.com

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