It all started in Athens, Georgia in 2001 during a most peculiar
spell when 5 or 6 bluegrass bands circulated the town. The famous Athens, which had once spawned the B-52s, REM, Widespread Panic, and countless other indie, pop and punk acts, was now the home to a competing minority of bluegrass players. The Packway Handle Band emerged from this small scene, finding national acclaim first as finalists at the Telluride bluegrass competition in 2002 and 2003, then taking 2nd place in 2004. The band’s 2003 debut album, “Chaff Harvest” was produced using prize awards from a local Battle of the
Bands when they beat out 72 other rock bands for first place.
PHB was on a roll and has continued to win over fans and rack
up awards. In early 2006 the band went on the road full time, wowing audiences across the country with close 4-part harmonies and their dance around two tightly-spaced condenser mics. Packway Handle Band has emerged at the national forefront of bands that use a gather-around-the-mic style. Theirs is not a mission to preserve historical styles-- it's just how they do what they do the best. And what they do best is rooted in thought provoking songwriting, clever choice and arrangement of bluegrass traditionals, and totally unexpected (even totally inappropriate) covers, all delivered with a crackling energy. If you get an idea of what Packway Handle is early in a show, you’ll probably change your mind several times before they’re done.
The band now plays upward of 200 shows a year in the
United States and in 2008 Packway embarked on an overseas tour to play the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, Scotland as well as a string of other dates throughout the UK, Belgium, Holland, and France. It's obvious their enthusiasm and sense of humor are honest, and that what they do appeals to broad audiences, even those who don't normally listen to bluegrass. You're not going to say you've heard this band before, unless you actually have. Since 2003 the band has released four full length albums and one live EP, the most recent album entitled, "What Are We Gonna Do Now?", was released in February 2010.
2002-2008 consecutive Reader's Choice Flagpole Bluegrass
band/Americana band of the year awards
2002 4th place Telluride Folk & Bluegrass Festival band competition
2003 3rd place Telluride Folk & Bluegrass Festival band competition
2003 Winner Miller Light Battle of the Bands-- Athens, GA
2004 2nd place Telluride Folk & Bluegrass Festival band competition
2009 2nd place Rockygrass Bluegrass Festival band competition
2009 Winner Podunk Bluegrass Festival band competition
Here's a sampling of the press:
"This is how I like my bluegrass served up – dark and passionate, with a side of blood." -jambase.com Sarah Hagerman 3/20/10 SxSW review
"One thing is obvious to all: The Packway Handle Band is not your father’s bluegrass band.” -Bluegrass Now Magazine
"The Packway Handle Band mixes dark themes and old-time religion with a uniquely modern folk aesthetic that pins down just what American music is all about." – Splice Today
"Packway Handle's strength is in its cohesiveness. Vocal Harmonies and string syncopations lock together like Legos.…" – Aspen Daily News
“Where can we go in our labeling of bands when bluegrass isn't quite right and neither is the passé term ‘newgrass’?…Call it ‘ubergrass.’"– Idaho Mountain Express
"If you like Chatham County Line and/or The Avett Brothers, then you should catch this perpetually touring five-piece for a trad-absurdist experience delivered from exceptionally seasoned youths." – Flagpole Magazine
Tom Baker - banjo, vocals
Josh Erwin - guitar, vocals
Andrew Heaton - fiddle, vocals
Zach McCoy - bass
Michael Paynter - mandolin, vocals
"What Are We Gonna Do Now?" - 2010
"Packway Handle Band" - 2008
"Live in 2006 EP Extreme" - 2007
"(Sinner) You Better Get Ready" - 2005
"Chaff Harvest" - 2004
Album Review: Packway Handle Band [Self-Titled]
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Between this new, self-titled release and the band's 2003 marvelous debut, Chaff Harvest, they’ve re...Between this new, self-titled release and the band's 2003 marvelous debut, Chaff Harvest, they’ve recorded a rustic collection of traditional gospel and old-time apocalyptic tunes (2005’s (Sinner) You Better Get Ready) and a live disc, 2007’s Live in 2006 EP Extreme. So with five years between original recordings, will the band find a way to expand on their blend of inventive bluegrass, impossibly tight harmonies and deliciously frantic picking? The short answer is yeah. If asked to expand on the, I’d say hell yeah.
The first four songs are a full-throttle speedboat ride, from the high-speed whisky anthem Gets Me Every Time to the instrumental Spanish Scissors, to the more traditional Strangers and another fiery instrumental Tossin’ the Beefcake before you slow down with the quirky and endearing Earl the Duck, the most unlikely original song to show up on a bluegrass album ever.
The quintet of Michael Paynter (mandolin, vocals), Zach McCoy (bass), Andrew Heaton (fiddle, vocals), Josh Erwin (guitar, vocals), and Tom Baker (banjo, vocals) recorded the tracks the same way they play them onstage: clustered around a pair of condenser microphones. The sound on the self-produced record is clear and clean, the instruments and vocals are distinct pieces of the whole.
The second part of the record begins with what is probably the best track here, The Story, features another instrumental (Tuggin’ at the Corn), a country tune (Can’t Win For Trying), two water songs (the bluesy Downpour and River Delta featuring guest vocalist Jessica Horwitz) and Satan’s In Space, a theology question in four-part harmony.
Packway Handle Band delivers on record what anyone who has seen the band live already knows: This is one of the most exciting and entertaining young acoustic bands anywhere.
The year is just barely half over, yet my Top Ten list is almost full…what does that bode for the rest of 2008?
5/23/2007 Bluegrass For The Masses: The Road Reveals the Faces of the Packway Handle Band
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Unfortunately for most music fans, all-access badges are not issued indiscriminately, and it’s diff...Unfortunately for most music fans, all-access badges are not issued indiscriminately, and it’s difficult to find stories - even in the age of information overflow and overload - offering a proper fly-on-the-wall perspective of grass-roots performers. Instead we’re inundated with unauthorized biographies of unavoidable pop stars and the curiously famous, penned by gossip columnists and packed with revealing paparazzi photos, littering magazine racks and bookshelves.
To gain a better and more personal understanding of emerging artists these days, fans must cross fingers and hope that MySpace friend-requests are honored, or have uncomfortable (often inebriated) conversations at merch tables or in back alleys, as the trailer-toting getaway vehicle idles and the set is being struck.
Flagpole asked local bluegrass quintet Packway Handle Band for the ultimate fanboy experience, complete with the right to piggyback and the luxury of having a designated driver. In exchange they’d receive a glorious piece of real estate here in the pages. Thankfully, the 2006 Flagpole Athens Music Award-winning band held up its end of the bargain. Three of the band's many faces were revealed over eight days and several hundred miles within the intimate confines of a plum -colored passenger van and on stages of varying sizes and levels of import and prestige.
For those keeping score and painting mental pictures at home, here's who the Packway Handle Band is.
The swashbuckling, charismatic de facto frontman Andrew Heaton (violin and vocals) is an engaging storyteller. He's also the lone South Carolinian and non-lifer, having been in other bands before, most notably the increasingly scarce Calliope Fair.
Josh Erwin (guitar and vocals) is the lone non-Athenian, but his flat-picking makes his inside-the-perimeter Atlanta address more tolerable. He's a Harrison High School (in Kennesaw) alum like the next three dudes.
Ray-Ban invented its Aviator line of sunglasses for the former (nearly literal) tree hugger Tom Baker (banjo and vocals), but even if you’re unable to look him in the eye all the time he’s instantly familiar, cerebral and engaging.
Every band should have its quintessential rock star like Zach McCoy (bass), unafraid to call it like he sees it (on the record), with a penchant for good grooming, not afraid to share a smoke or admit to the band's innermost (albeit limited) dysfunctional tendencies. As the least organic element and the furthest removed from the performance semicircle, his job on stage seems toughest - and we don’t think he’d argue that.
The prolific and private songwriter Michael Paynter (mandolin and vocals) provides astute commentaries on and evaluations of everything from doomed relationships to the personalities of weathermen.
En route to Augusta, McCoy is at the wheel, blaring Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage and performing a variety of air-instruments while Baker plants the first seeds of doubt (or expectation) in our minds, mentioning the hit-or-miss nature of the band's previous experiences in town, and the fact that the group has never before performed at this evening’s destination, The Mission. He laughs about the fact that the music calendar on the venue’s web site was not as obviously updated and maintained as the section advertising the fact that the place is for sale. During load-in the band collectively notes the proximity to a Mellow Mushroom, and it is agreed that that can’t be bad… perhaps it’ll help draw a crowd?
The gutted and converted former thrift store has been stocked with bizarre works of art and heady brews. After soundcheck the band feeds at the Mexican joint recommended by the bartender when he learns that palettes will be satisfied only by cheap food. "Cheap " generally influences most culinary decisions, advises Heaton before the conversation turns to talk of the opening band, a roots-rock four-piece from Columbia, SC called American Gun, and the size of the keyboard they hauled in. “I thought we were playing with one of those Guitar Center bands,” confesses Heaton.
Ready to view Packway’s first face at the club, a space that would not be uncomfortable in downtown Athens east of Lumpkin (and not named Tasty World); the youth of Augusta have converged. They are an eclectic mix of the unshaven and exceptionally shopping-mall chic, taking the night off MySpace to drink paychecks, shoot pool and - naturally! - absorb bluegrass music.
Obviously, with their self-admitted many visages, the bandmembers have become mobile musical chameleons who can please even the most discerning or oblivious listeners. It’s just a question of which bluegrass camp will be represented when they roll through your town.
On this evening they, at least according to Heaton’s introduction, would premiere “Earl the Duck,” a song that will undoubtedly be a set-list staple regardless of venue or circumstance for years to come, and one that begs the questions: is this face of the band a beer-goggled version of bluegrass? Does the Packway bar show resemble shorts-on-stage jamgrass? While the subject matter (ducks enduring a gender identity crisis) may stray from the genre’s standard love/livestock/Lord formula and veer toward the surreal, the musicianship is never compromised. These Packway guys are professionals who rarely surrender to ill-moderated dalliances - their solos are tasteful, tight and for the most part concise. Thankfully so. Listeners can revel in the fact that they’ll be entertained, regardless of chemical ingestion, for as long as the club owner, festival time-slot or wedding reception allows - and they’ll play dozens of songs, culled from a canon of choice covers, clever originals and timeless traditional compositions. If doing it in flip-flops in front of drunks makes it jammy… meh.
On the way home we watch The Complete Truth about De-Evolution, a DVD that features dozens of Devo music videos, while the band discusses which of these criminally underrated songs might fit comfortably in their repertoire. Once again, if that’s jammy - sure, we’ll take it.
We continued to gather evidence a few evenings later on Legion Field in Athens where Packway was sandwiched on an interesting bill featuring Hope For Agoldensummer and Modern Skirts. The boys are dressed to the nines and unfortunately the weather is not quite as handsome, but even in a steady drizzle - which could not be coaxed into more as the band played “Downpour,” but ironically intensified during “Keep on the Sunny Side” - the band had feet tapping and children spinning.
Essentially, the five Packway Handle boys had the patrons as much in the palms of their hands as a getting-wet crowd could be in an alcohol-free environment. More than 100 miles from Augusta and 180 degrees from The Mission, the band is once again right at home. It is evident in their countenance.
The road goes on forever, or so it seems for this touring band - presently on the road in support of the recently released Live in 2006 EP Extreme, as less than 24 hours later it’s dusk in Dahlonega. Soundcheck for Heaton and Baker takes the form of an informal busking session a stone's throw from a fudge shop and this evening’s venue The Crimson Moon. The sun sets behind the west end of the town square, and the old Lumpkin County courthouse casts a shadow on a park bench, where an old-timer watches impressed, as the duo swells to a trio and then a quintet as Paynter, then Erwin join the fray.
Inside the Crimson Moon, a quaint and historic space - the second oldest building in downtown Dahlonega, equal parts general store, coffee shop and dinner theatre - the bandmembers prepare to reveal yet another side of themselves. The stage is ideally cramped and crowded; Heaton slips off the lip and almost into laps a few times early on, but soon enough everyone is comfortable. They joke of the small boulder that anchors the band's dual-condenser mic stand. Paynter suggests that this is what happens when a pet rock is overfed. The crowd eats it up - along with their salads, entrees, dessert and coffee, as the Packway sound captivates them for two sets featuring more than 30 songs, all throughout five courses.
A quick survey of those in attendance and we find a rather conservative collection of personalities. Given the choice, they may have passed on the chance to see Packway perform at The Mission or Legion Field, or honestly any place that wasn’t as simultaneously historic and sterile as The Crimson Moon. These are God-fearing folks, which begs another question: with an album like 2005’s (Sinner) You Better Get Ready, which features a slew of inspirational gospel tunes, can it be presumed (or perhaps, to a lesser degree, argued) the group represents the old guard of players performing on the less than secular tip?
Not so fast, flat-picker. While there's no question where Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder is on Sundays, there are plenty of questions and dashes of mystery, intrigue and progressive thinking in this Packway camp. Again, thankfully so.
Without belittling the merits of faith and piety, Packway performs with tongues that are firmly yet playfully placed in cheek. Listen to their earnest and exalting interpretation of that sophomore album’s title track and then seek out the delightful “Satan’s in Outer Space,” and you’ll understand and agree immediately - it doesn’t matter how you feel about something if you can aggrandize it with such skilled (yet humble) aplomb.
If they aren’t exactly jamgrass, grungegrass or old-guard traditionalists, then where, as is our journalistic duty, can we pigeonhole them? How's the following if/then statement: If you like Chatham County Line and/or The Avett Brothers, then you should catch this perpetually touring five-piece for a trad-absurdist experience delivered from exceptionally seasoned youths.
Get A Handle On The Packway Boys
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THE Packway Handle Band, described as one of the world's top bluegrass bands, fly in to Scotland thi...THE Packway Handle Band, described as one of the world's top bluegrass bands, fly in to Scotland this month to headline their own show at Celtic Connections in Glasgow (Friday, January 25, at Oran Mor, with Harem Scarem).
And music lovers in Perthshire are in for a treat as the five-piece, described as “white hot”, have kept a promise to play here as well.
They play the Birnam Arts Centre on Saturday, January 26, the evening after their Celtic Connections gig.
UK audiences have been treated to a great diversity of roots music talent in recent times as interest in Americana has peaked to new heights.
Young, energetic and multi-talented bands such as Old Crow Medicine Show and Nickel Creek – both from bluegrass and mountain music backgrounds – led the initial charge and a new wave, including The Hunger Mountain Boys and The Avett Brothers followed to keep the momentum going.
The Packway Handle Band are seen as the latest act to be turning on the masses.
The UK tour has been organised by the Brookfield-Knights agency – the same promoters who brought the hugely successful Master Musicians from The Crooked Road show to Scotland last year.
Bren Haldane of the Brookfield- Knights agency told the PA: “We put that package on in Birnam too and it attracted a big turnout, all of whom fell in love with the young bluegrass band, No Speed Limit.
“Well, The Packway Handle Band are definitely in the same league as them, except, they are much more experienced and have a better- established following in America.”
Bren explained that it is seven years since the five-piece exploded on to the US scene from their base in Athens, Georgia. Since then, their reputation has continued to grow and, in the intervening period, they have shone at major gatherings and been finalists on three consecutive occasions at the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival – probably the single most important event of its kind.
“Just like many of their contemporaries, much of their appeal rests in an ability to bring a fresh vitality to the performance while honouring the past. In the process, they have built a huge “teens and twenties” fan base as well as keeping old-school aficionados happy.
“The band’s signature sound is based around tight three and four-part vocal harmonies and crisp playing, bolstered by an impressive brand of original material and well-considered covers.”
Album Review: Packway Handle Band - "(Sinner) You Better Get Ready"
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When was the last time you listened to a recording that drew from sources such as Bill Monroe, the L...When was the last time you listened to a recording that drew from sources such as Bill Monroe, the Louvin Brothers, and Roy Acuff, while also featuring a flute among the instrumental credits? Listeners have come to expect such eclectic sur-prises from the Athens, Georgia-based Packway Handle Band. In the year and a half since the band’s first disc “Chaff Harvest” was reviewed in these pages, the group has followed up that impressive debut with a busy performance schedule, and they’ve also found time to get back in the studio—or rather the back porch—(more on that in a minute) to bring us their second CD.
“(Sinner) You Better Get Ready” is a sat-isfying mix of well-known and more ob-scure gospel songs from the bluegrass, country, and spiritual fields. From the first cut, “Talk It All Over with Him,” the band’s distinctive sound is much in evi-dence; the PHB’s brand of acoustic music is marked by a combination of adventur-ous instrumental work and a vocal ap-proach that differs notably from the tradi-tional bluegrass style with warm, open harmonies that are reminiscent of groups like the Red Clay Ramblers closer to the old-time end of the spectrum.
A dark, brooding treatment of the spiritual “Wade in the Water” is fronted by the stunning lead vocal of guest Leah Calvert (who also contributes some fine fiddle work) and the hypnotic flute of Bill Oglesby, supported by Tom Baker’s sinis-ter chromatic banjo lines. We’re back in somewhat more traditional territory with “Somebody Touched Me,” distinguished by handclaps and enhanced by the twelve-voice “’Somebody Touched Me’ Choir.”
The band’s style is well-suited to the Lou-vin Brothers’ Cold War period piece “The Great Atomic Power,” which the PHB arranges effectively using a quartet with the lead vocal traded from one singer to the next. Now about that back porch—one of this project’s more interesting as-pects is that, while there’s no audience, it was recorded live on the back porch of fiddler/vocalist Andrew Heaton with a relatively simple mic setup reminiscent of that used by the band on stage. Listen for the birds singing before the first guitar chord of the title cut. These ambient sounds are a low-key presence throughout the recording, adding to its quirky charm.
The spiritual “You Don’t Knock” is fa-miliar to bluegrass audiences primarily through the 1984 recording by the New Grass Revival, and the PHB honors that band’s pioneering spirit while making the song their own, with Michael Paynter and Josh Erwin’s typically tasty mandolin and guitar work. “Cold Jordan” is the second cut to feature Oglesby’s flute. “This World Can’t Stand Long (For It Is Too Full of Hate)” is a seldom-heard selection from the catalog of Roy Acuff, memora-ble for its odd timing and catchy chorus.
Another guest vocalist, Jessica Horwitz, is heard to great effect on the southern Gos-pel-flavored “I Wonder How John Felt (When He Baptized Jesus).” The band works up to a fever pitch on the driving “There’s Something Going on in the Graveyard (Like You Ain’t Never Seen)” with its arresting falsetto har-mony vocal. If anybody was wondering if the PHB had a sense of humor, I be-lieve that question is answered by the presence of the final cut, “Like a Prayer,” which is not actually a gospel song at all but a cover of the early Madonna hit. Leah Calvert delivers another powerhouse lead vocal and I found myself coming back to this track over and over.
As I said in my review of “Chaff Harvest,” this recording is not for those who insist on strict adherence to the tradi-tional bluegrass model. For those with open ears and a willingness to be en-gaged by the Packway Handle Band’s witty synthesis of diverse influences, there’s a lot here to like.
- Greg Earnest
Album Review: Packway Handle Band - "Chaff Harvest"
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The Athens, Georgia-based Packway Handle Band comes highly recommended. Together only since 2001, ...
The Athens, Georgia-based Packway Handle Band comes highly recommended. Together only since 2001, they have certainly been attracting a lot of attention; in 2002 they placed second in the Athens Music Factory's Batle of the Bands-no small feat considering that they performed acoustically, through a single microphone, against a field consisting mostly of highly electrified rock bands. The summers of 2002 and 2003 found them traveling to Colorado where they were finalists in the venerable Telluride Bluegrass Festival's band competition, and last year they were the southeastern winners of the Miller Lite Locals Only band competition and were also named Athens' best bluegrass band by Flagpole magazine.
Obviously, something is going on here. That "something" is a convergence of five musicians who, after spending their teen and college years exploring other styles of music including rock and jazz, have recently fallen in love with bluegrass and acoustic music and have begun making it with a vengeance. Their debut recording, "Chaff Harvest," showvases their engaging, creative-some may even say quirky-approach to the music.
"They are not a traditional bluegrass band," Mike Warga told me in his e-mail asking me to review this recording, and he was right. This is not a recording for those who would like bluegrass to remain frozen in 1953 with the music of the great first-generation performers. Their original material is nontraditional in its lyrics and its chord structures, the instrumental performances sometimes push the boundaries of the genre, and the band's vocal sound is not high and lonesome, but contemporary and folk-flavored. From my first time through the disc it was apparent that this was a band with its own identity, and I have found that identity more engaging and appealing with each listening.
The set kicks off with "All the Time in the World," and original by mandolinist Michael Paynter, who contributed five of the album's eleven tracks. The medium-tempo song takes the listener by surprise when the band seamlessly speeds up into a breakdown-speed extended jam section, then drops the tempo once again for a couple more breaks before a final vocal verse. Paynter's lead singing is smooth and easy, and the band's harmony blend is a satisfying one, sometimes reminiscent of the doubled-tracked sound employed by west-coast bands of the country-rock movement such as the Byrds and the Dillards.
"Shelva Ann" is one of two songs on the disc penned by guitarist Josh Erwin. This minor-key composition is ably delivered by Erwin's smooth baritone vocal with strong high harmony on the choruses.
The third track is an instrumental rendition of the pop standard "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise," the Packway Handle Band's version of the tune embodies the adventurous spirit of the Country Gentlemen's seminal recording from the 1950s. Of that track which heralded the arrival of jazzy improvisation within the bluegrass idiom, John Duffey said "it came from the realization that you cannot play like somebody else and expect to create anything that's your own." One suspects that Duffey would approve of the Packway Handle Band's interpretation, which highlights the inventive instrumental work of Paynter's mandolin, Erwin's flatpicked guitar, and Tom Baker's banjo. Paynter and Erwin both elicit beautiful tone from their instruments and their aggressive improvisation sometimes contain startlingly dissonant passages. Baker's banjo work is one of the more traditional elements in the band's mix, but his solid Scruggs style interspersed with tasteful melodic and chromatic licks serves the band's sound well and provides an earthier counterpoint to some of the other instrumentalists' more exotic flights of fancy.
"Totz, Kentucky" is another Paynter original, a fond recollection of an idyllic Appalachian hometown featuring extended instrumental breaks. Chris Holliday, who provides rock-steady upright bass work throughout the recording, uses a bow to excellent advantage here.
"Mac the Weatherman" and "Inverted Umbrella Parachute" show off Paynter's considerable knack for writing catchy, memorable choruses, as well as the group's smooth vocal harmonies. The band has a reputation for great live shows, and it's easy to see why with such energetic material.
"Cryin' Sorrows" is Josh Erwin's second contribution to the disc, a gentle waltz dealing with the time-honored bluegrass theme of lovers seperated by death.
It's great to have such a wealth of original material, but we also get to hear what the band does with the traditional fiddle tune "Red Haired Boy." Fiddler Andrew Heaton is turned loose here, and his fluid playing is helped along ably by a tight rhythm section accented by Erwin's driving guitar bass runs. Breaks get traded all around and the tune ends up with a nice solo twinned by the fiddle and mandolin.
"Throw Away the Key" is the album's last original by Michael Paynter, and again we're treated to an infectious, "hooky" chorus, staggered harmonies, and virtuosic picking.
Two traditional songs round out the collection: "Tell It to Me" is one of those old-time songs populated by characters like Cocaine Bill and Morphine Sue, and for some reason it sounds to me like it could have been a lost track from the New Grass Revival's 1973 debut "green" album. The old chestnut "In the Pines" gives all the instrumentalists, including guest dobroist Matt Stoessel, a chance to stretch their blues chops, and ends with a nifty modification of the vocal harmony.
"Chaff Harvest" is a welcome breath of fresh air from an innovative band that shows even more promise for the future. You can keep up with the band and its active tour schedule at www.packwayhandle.com.
Club Notes: Snorting Liquor
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Flute, fiddle, banjo, upright bass, mandolin and guitar: it’s not the Five Eight acoustic set, that’...Flute, fiddle, banjo, upright bass, mandolin and guitar: it’s not the Five Eight acoustic set, that’s for sure, but due to a perceived flip in the order, the Packway Handle Band is up first in the 40 Watt on Thursday, Dec. 8. This local six-piece bluegrass phenomenon constantly enthralls me with its finely intertwined Kentucky bluegrass melodies ranging from the deepest of baritones to the warmest amber tones, all backed by truly authentic pluck and fiddle work and that bopping bass line that puts a little jiggle-and-roll throughout the early-show crowd.
While the Packway Handle Band effervesces with an original, often gospel-bluegrass vibe relying heavily on traditional tunes like “Talk It All Over With Him,” they also slip in tongue-in-cheek humor courtesy of the razor-sharp wit of Andrew Heaton, which educates us to the fact that Satan exists in space and of a place where people inhale alcohol. On a friendlier note though, Packway also pulls off inspiring adaptations of pop classics from the likes of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed” and Talking Heads “Psycho Killer,” and I’ll be damned if another top-notch sizzling set from these troubadours hasn’t convinced me to let the moths out of my wallet to buy their new album (Sinner) You Better Get Ready.
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The first moments of The Packway Handle's latest CD, "(Sinner) You Better Get Ready", carry all the ...The first moments of The Packway Handle's latest CD, "(Sinner) You Better Get Ready", carry all the reverence of Sunday morning gospel music. That all ends when the General Lee busts through the church wall in a hail of banjo pickin' guaranteed to transport you to somewhere in Hazzard County
The dexterity displayed on that track, the traditional tune, "Talk it all over with Him", pervades the band's music; top-notch musicianship runs through everything I've heard from this act.
"Sinner" is an homage to Packway Handle's influences-traditional songs dominate the album with dashes of Bill Monroe and the Louvin Brothers, as well as an unlikely appearance from M. Ciccone thrown in. Each song is executed with enough skill to make the remakes worthwhile and enough vigor to push any listener into Packway Handle's first CD, "Chaff Harvest", just to see what Michael Paynter (mandolin) and Josh Erwin (guitar) can write on a blank slate. The pickin' is less frensied on much of "Chaff", but makes up in earnestness what it lacks in energy.
If you're a bluegrass fan, don't miss Packway Handle; your friends will be talking about it for the next week. After all, there's a reason these visitors placed second in last year's Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition and first in the 2003 Athens (GA) Battle of the Bands. On the other hand, if you've ever wondered what draws increasing numbers of young people into the mountain music of long ago, The Packway Handle Band might just open your ears.
-Jason Wiener, A & E
The Ethereal Beauty of the Fine Art of Cat Dancing...
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Admittedly, the allure of cat dancing may escape all but an ardent few. Done wrong, and both partici...Admittedly, the allure of cat dancing may escape all but an ardent few. Done wrong, and both participants are left scarred for life. But done right, nothing short of transcendent beauty. And a terrific way to start off a weekend. My good friend John Wallingford is the Roger Clemens of cat dancing, a veritable interpretative genius.
So, when the Packway Handle Band sings, "Oh glory, glory, Somebody touched me," I can't help but envision Mr. Wallingford, perhaps on a slow Saturday morning, a strange startled smile crossing his face, reaching for that cat crouched in the corner with the ears laid back, and claws clinging to the carpet. Because the cat knows. He always knows.
For the appeal of Packway Handle Band, a bluegrass music quintet, lies not only in its tight four-part harmonies, its impressive straight-up musical chops, oddball lyrics, nor even its squirrelly interpretation of old traditionals.
Listen for a few minutes, and you're overcome with an urge for silliness. For there remains something ethereal, joyful in this music.
I have to thank Randy Stewart, my husband's mandolin teacher down at the wonderful Campbell's Music Store in Spry, Pa., for turning the Lebo household onto PHB. Apparently, musician Chris Warner, former banjo player for Rhonda Vincent, who repairs instruments at Campbell's, turned Stewart onto them. And so it goes. When I was in the store last week, waiting for Jeff to finish his lesson, it seemed everyone behind the counter was talking about the band.
The Packway Handle Band originated seven years ago in Athens, Ga., a town which has nurtured the indie rock sounds of the B-52s and REM and the jam-band groove of Widespread Panic, but is not exactly known for its bluegrass scene.
The band, which has been a finalist at the Telluride bluegrass competition three times, consists of Josh Erwin on guitar, Tom Baker on banjo, Andrew Heaton on fiddle, Michael Paynter on the mandolin and Zach McCoy on bass.
Some interesting tidbits about the band from their bios: Heaton, also dubbed "the Carolina Heatwave," plays fiddle on a more-than 150-year-old Austrian violin made by the Thier family; Paynter plays the mandolin upside down; In performances, band members play old-style, clustering around two stand-up mics.
Most of the band members cite Bela Fleck as their source of bluegrass inspiration. Like their hero, there is more going on with PHB than just adherence to a traditional sound. For even as their playing belies a love of traditional music, these guys are decidedly nontraditional in their approach.
The band's self-titled latest release, which I haven't yet heard, includes the song Earl the Duck - a tender ode to a man's gay-agenda promoting pet.
You say that some ducks come in disguise.
Some of them are girls.
And some of them are guys.
For some reason, I'm drawn to straightforward religious lyrics of ambiguously subversive intent. The band's self-released 2005 CD (Sinner) You Better Get Ready - a collection of traditional gospel and bluegrass hymns - is exactly what I'm talking about.
PHB's terrific cover of Roy Acuff's This World Can't Stand Long (For it is Too Full of Hate) begins with the sweet strains of a fiddle bouncing over the strings, but the bellicose vocals are downright goofy, estranged from the earnestness of the lyrics.
If we only give our hearts to GOD!
And let him take us by the HAND!
We'd have nothing in the world to FEAR!
He'd lead us beyond the burning SAAAANNDD!
Sure the song's theme is brutal, but it's still fun as hell, leaving you with the impression that the band members aren't really wasting too much time concerning themselves with the approaching Apocalypse.
On the final track, special guest Leah Calvert sings Madonna's Like a Prayer to the accompaniment of some mighty fine fiddle and mandolin playing. And, get this, this version doesn't sound dirty at all.
But my favorite remains the traditional There's Something Going On In the Graveyard. You can practically envision the rotting dirt-covered corpses, celebrating their resurrection, spinning around to the bouncing mandolin and fiddle playing with pissed-off skeleton cats clutched in their arms.
There's something going on in the graveyard like you ain't never
The saints are coming up out of the ground.
Oh can't you hear them sing...
More info and merchandise from the Packway Handle Band can be found here.
UPDATE: Tips for cat dancing. Mr. Wallingford says, "Really, the key is the cat. You gotta have a pliable forgiving cat."
CLARIFICATION: The Roger Clemens comparison to John Wallingford in no way implies that Mr. Wallingford is "the biggest cheater in the competitive world of cat dancing." Indie Twang & Roots Music regrets the confusing analogy.
Packway Handle Band helps to send off brother and Boulder’s musical mayor
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Packway Handle Band is a bluegrass five-piece that calls Athens, Georgia home. That is why it’s a bi...Packway Handle Band is a bluegrass five-piece that calls Athens, Georgia home. That is why it’s a bit odd that their honorary sixth member lives in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.
The sixth member in question is none other than Doug Baker, who has been an integral part of the Colorado music scene for the past few years. Working as the box office manager for the Fox Theatre in Boulder, he has become known as one of the biggest enthusiasts of music in our area. His brother, Tom Baker – banjo/vocals - is Doug’s connection to Packway Handle Band.
“The genesis of the band was in Athens and Doug just happened to be visiting during the formation,” Tom Baker told The Marquee in a recent interview. “He comes down pretty often and we are able to work together during those times.”
Packway Handle Band — rounded out by Josh Erwin (guitar/vocals), Andrew Heaton (fiddle/ vocals), Michael Paynter (mandolin/vocals) and Zach McCoy (bass) — is a group whose roots began with an interest in vocal harmonizing, which is why Doug’s efforts are so appreciated by the quintet. “Doug’s biggest influence is with our harmonies,” Baker mentioned. “We sing four-part harmony a lot and Doug will sneak into the thick of that and contribute a fifth harmony that we didn’t think was possible. We’ve even rearranged a few songs because of his input at times.”
With a recent release, Live in 2006: EP Extreme, under their belt, Packway Handle has been touring fairly frequently. While Colorado tends to be relatively receptive to bluegrass music, unfortunately, people are often a bit skeptical when they hear the term bluegrass.
Tom assured The Marquee that they shouldn’t be, as far as The Packway Handle Band is concerned. Although they are ‘technically’ classified as a bluegrass group, they don’t really think of themselves as traditional bluegrass. All of the members come from different musical backgrounds and most actually played rock and roll in their previous projects. They simply believe, like many artists, that good music is good music.
“We do a lot of weird covers like the Violent Femmes or INXS, influenced from our past. We want to be eclectic and entertaining … a bit of a freak show, if you know what I mean,” Baker said about their performances. “I mean “Nine Pound Hammer” is enjoyable, but you can only take it for so long.” That peculiar stage presence, coupled with the lyrics on many of their new songs such as “Earl the Duck” — a song about ducks and gender confusion — should make even the biggest skeptic a little curious to see what this band is all about.
When the band isn’t touring, the five-piece has been furiously working on two more new releases, one slotted for the fall of this year and the following one coming next spring, if everything stays on track. Packway Handle Band’s main songwriter is so prolific that these songs have been written long ago. It’s just a matter of the group finding the time to get into the studio and record. As for the material, Baker told us that it was increasingly progressive and may not even be classified as bluegrass on these albums.
Doug Baker is a man who doesn’t really mind how the music is classified. He simply enjoys being a part of it. Enough so that he has been called the Musical Mayor of Boulder in the past.
Sadly, it is a title Doug has relinquished. In a few short weeks, he will be moving to the Northeast. Doug, who recently hosted a farewell concert at the Fox Theatre, complete with nearly two dozen pickers on stage, plans to return to Colorado briefly to play with Packway Handle for their July shows before returning to the Boston area. As an unusual bonus, or perhaps a parting gift, Baker will not only be singing, but also plans on standing in for the guitarist who won’t be able to make it to Packway Handle Band’s Colorado shows in July.
:: Packway Handle Band ::
:: Avogadro’s Number :: July 26 ::
:: Oskar Blues :: July 28 ::
:: BB’s on Pearl :: July 29 ::
:: Dulcinea’s 100th Monkey :: July 29 ::
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Yonder Mountain String Band
• Hackensaw Boys
• Hot Rize
We play 1-3 set shows, sets lasting 45 minutes to 2 hours. We play our extensive original material, bluegrass traditionals, gospel, and some strange ones....The Cars, Talking Heads, Violent Femmes, Stevie Wonder, INXS.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.