A Beautiful Coalescence

March 19, 2013 |

Tucson is full of surprises.

In this Sonoran Desert valley are artists and musicians incubating, nurturing and growing their creative forms in living rooms and practice spaces and studios, honing their crafts until BAM – they are showcased on a national stage.

This is certainly more the exception than the rule, but it does happen and it happened this year with bluegrass quintet Run Boy Run. The 20somethings met at UofA and formed the band in 2009 but, as upright bassist Jesse Allen explains, “Most of our serious time as a band has happened since we were split between two cities.”

Members (besides Allen, include siblings Matt and Grace Rolland plus Jen and Bekah Sandoval) are divvied up between the Old Pueblo and Phoenix, creating a logistical challenge when it comes to rehearsals, performances and recording.

When asked where the band had been playing before heard by 4 million listeners on public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” (APHC) this January and again in February, Allen says, “Frankly, we haven’t been.

“We didn’t play Tucson much because we were split between Tucson and Phoenix, and our Phoenix half was keeping us busy up there. It really wasn’t until we played the Tucson Folk Festival where we met Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl (who are joining us for the release show on Thursday, March 21) that we started booking shows in Tucson; even our resident Sun Devil started falling in love with the Old Pueblo.”

It was a shock to hear, for the first time, such a wonderfully tight and talented local band being showcased on Garrison Keillor’s program. Where had they been hiding? And, how did they get a slot on the popular public radio show?

Allen explains: “Through some providential connections, we were given the right people to talk to when we found out they (APHC) were coming to Tempe. Grace was particularly persistent in contacting and following up with them. We got the call the Tuesday before the show telling us that Garrison would like to invite us to play on the show. Until that morning, we had viewed it as something we had almost no chance of being able to do. I’ve got a mental list of all the seemingly impossible accomplishments that I would dream of us being able to do, and APHC was one of the top on that list.”

The kids fit in perfectly with Keillor’s aesthetic. APHC fans know the host’s penchant for Americana music traditions and RBR’s self description as having its sound rooted in the Appalachian South made for a perfect match. Twice.

“The second time came as almost as much a surprise as the first,” Allen relays. “Garrison and the folks at APHC had been so nice, and dropped little comments about having us back, but I just dismissed them as courtesy — after all, who are we? It wasn’t until Mr. Keillor himself walked into the dressing room where we were gathering ourselves after the show with his calendar in hand, that we realized that they weren’t just courtesies, and he really did want us back on the show.”

It is an affirmation of the quality of the band’s musical aptitude, plus its dedication and hard work – the same qualities that shine through on RBR’s first full length “So Sang the Whippoorwill.” Front and center are soaring honeyed harmonies by the gals – Grace, Jen and Bekah – surrounded by a beautiful coalescence of bass, fiddles, mandolin and cello.

The album is comprised of 12 tracks, mostly penned by the musicians but it also includes three traditional songs and a cover of The Band’s “Get Up Jake.” It is a gorgeous release and very technically clean, both the recording and the playing, a result of hours and hours spent in the Jim Brady Recording Studios.

Fiddler Matt Rolland says, “The clarity is a testament to the fact that our co-producer and engineer, Jim, has great mics and knows how use them well for acoustic instruments and voices. I’m proud to say there is no auto tune or pitch adjustment on the album; we wanted this to be clean and acoustic, like you’d hear in real life.

“We spent about 85 hours in the studio tracking, from November to March. We generally played songs all together until we got a take that we liked.  Mixing and mastering took about a third of the time to track (about 35 hours).”

This attention to time, details, arrangements inform their impressive chops. Those chops landed the band a chance to open the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2012. That was a result of winning the 2011 Telluride Band Contest – a competition with strict guidelines.

The musicians seem up to any challenge, even with all the crew working full time jobs, they make time to make it happen. Flipping through the band’s blog, this striking entry by Allen seems to sum up how the group functions on a deep level of friendship to create a breathtaking ensemble.

“There is one factor in all of our work putting together the tunes we play that I feel is more important than any other: trust. We trust each other, and we do what we can to make sure we honor that trust in one another. This trust allows us to take risks, to listen critically, and to speak freely. Because we trust each other, we can play with freedom, and produce something we can all be proud of. A creation is always precious to the creator, so being able to put your creation into the hands of people you trust is a magnificent thing.”

Run Boy Run celebrates its CD release locally at Plush, 340 E. 6th St., on Thursday, March 21 at 8:30pm. Nowhere Man & Whiskey Girl open at 7:30 p.m. with Silver Thread Trio performing at 9:45 p.m. The band treats Phoenix to its tunes on Friday, March 22 at Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. 2nd Ave. at 7:30 p.m. with Silver Thread Trio in tow. Saturday March 23 sees the group performing in Flagstaff at the Museum of Northern Arizona, 7:30 p.m. Details available at RunBoyRunBand.com.