The South Carolina Broadcasters
Can You Hear Me Now
There's an earnest beauty to the South Carolina Broadcasters. While some new listeners might find the singing and picking by the Charleston band to be a bit stiff, nasally, or overly heartbroken, those who appreciate old-time mountain music will fall in love with the rich texture of the Broadcaster's guitar/banjo/fiddle instrumentation and their warm and aching harmonies.
It's barely been a year since the Broadcasters released their debut A Thousand Miles Away From Home, but they've already followed it with another terrific full-length collection of vintage Appalachian songs and originals. Can You Hear Me Now sounds like a tight folk trio playing live in an acoustically ideal room. There are no overdubs, fancy audio effects, or multi-tracking. They prefer a frill-less style of production.
Last winter, Ivy Sheppard (fiddle, banjo, guitar, vocals), husband David Sheppard (guitar, vocals), and Grace Kennedy (banjo, vocals) returned to Eastwood Studios in the Virginia mountains (where they tracked the previous album). Bluegrass songwriter Johnny Williams and recording engineer Wesley Easter handled the straightforward production duties.
Can You Hear Me Now's rollicking title track doesn't refer to a cell phone catchphrase; rather, it comes from the name of an old country song penned by Tom T. Hall and Dixie Hall. It's one of many renditions of classic mountain tunes in the set.
The album's lead-off track, the guitar-driven "Pretty Little Raindrops," is one of several respectful and enthusiastic covers of Carter Family classics. Ivy sings lead on the verses, joined by her bandmates on the choruses. David's deep voice takes the lead on the fiddle-driven Flatt & Scruggs song "Roustabout," one of the more bluegrass-styled numbers on the disc.
There's a healthy dose of gospel scattered across Can You Hear Me Now. David and Grace seem full of the Holy Spirit as they harmonize on "Take Away This Lonesome Day," a 1930s-era tune by the Delmore Brothers. Their take on the Carter Family's version of "River of Jordan" features tricky arrangements, rhythmic turnarounds, and an rural pronunciation of "Jordan" (it sounds like they're singing, "I'm going down to the river Jerdin!"). Later, the trio belts it out with genuine joy on the chorus of "When God Dips His Love in My Heart."
There are a few sad and lonesome stand-outs as well, including the banjo-heavy "Can't Feel at Home in this World Anymore," another Carter Family tune, on which Ivy sounds convincingly blue. "When You're Not Looking," one of the few originals in the collection, tells a story, set in the 1930s, of a poor, "true-hearted" young couple whose love and marriage plans take tragic twists and turns. Dave's other composition, "Home to Stay," maintains the same lonesome vibe, although within a quicker tempo and a couple or more optimistic and slightly happier verses.
There are a couple of fun stragglers in the mix. Ivy's hearty fiddle work propels the mesmerizing instrumental "Train 45," an upbeat traditional with a chugging rhythm. The closest thing to rock 'n' roll on Can You Hear Me Now is the closing track, "Mobile Boogie" a rockabilly romper about the coastal Alabama city. It bounces with a boogie-woogie bass line on the guitar and lively fiddle work that resembles the complexities of Texas swing music more than the droning old-time Appalachian style. (scbroadcaster.com)
The South Carolina Broadcasters play a free show on the Pour House deck on Thurs. May 3 at 5 p.m., and they hit the stage at the Brick House Kitchen at 6 p.m. on Fri. May 4.