By & By String Band
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By & By String Band

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States | SELF

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States | SELF
Band Americana Bluegrass

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“ In a town known for the rumble of rhythm and the roar of young jazz lions, the By & By String Band offers a deep-down Americana alternative. This quintet includes multi-instrumentalist Kiyoko McCrae who shares lead vocals with guitarist Gregory Good, bringing together strands of bluegrass, country gospel and timeless folk ballads, reminding us all that there’s as much heart and soul in the company of banjos and fiddles as there is in a room full of blazing horns. Sometimes (and I would argue more often than not) a soft, sweet melody is just what you need.” - George Ingmire, Programmer/Producer WWOZ


Gregory Good’s vintage oak Lyon & Healy parlor guitar is slightly smaller than a full-size instrument. At the turn of the last century, the less expensive, higher-toned guitars were popular with rural musicians who played country and blues; strumming traditional country and folk tunes with it during the By and By String Band’s weekly performance at Yuki on Frenchmen Street, it looked and sounded like an heirloom.

“I actually got it on eBay,” he said.

In their way, the By and By String Band came to their signature style in a similar manner — mixing the old and the new into their brand of Americana.

Good hails from North Dakota, and vocalist and banjo player Kiyoko McCrae was born in Atlanta, grew up in Tokyo and studied at New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts. Fiddler Daron Douglas is the third core member of the band; most often heard alongside cellist Helen Gillet in the French chanson project Wazozo, Douglas is By and By’s bona fide link to mountain-music tradition. She learned folk songs from her great-grandmother, who was a source for pioneering field recorder and musicologist Cecil Sharp almost 100 years ago.

McCrae first visited New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and became one of many post-storm volunteers who still remain, 5 1/2 years after. Though she’d studied opera and classical music, she hadn’t worked as a musician until moving to New Orleans, and hadn’t much listened to Americana — the mountain folk music that blends hundreds of years’ old English, Irish and Scottish songs with African-rooted instruments like the banjo.

It was the easy, open community of local musicians she found here, on Frenchmen Street and busking in the Quarter, she says, that drew her to stay. Listening to old records, particularly the Carter Family, piqued her interest in the music, and the prospect of creating the band with Good inspired her to learn the banjo.
“I had studied opera, so in a way I had to unlearn the way I’d learned how to sing,” she said. “But it felt right.”

Good, who has played with the catchall old-timey ensemble the Loose Marbles, was also a musical transplant, converting to Louisiana resident after a road trip down Highway 61 landed him in Lafayette during Festival Internationale in 2003.

“Seeing on Frenchmen Street, the culture of the way musicians will just walk down the street and sit in — that was completely new to me, the whole atmosphere of music down here,” he said.

McCrae and Good continued the band’s travelogue last summer, when they traveled to Scotland and Ireland to perform.

“We got to trace the roots of the music that we play, and actually found a lot of the ballads that we sing in their original form,” McCrae said.

By and By’s November release “Little Darling Pal of Mine” was a tribute to the Carter Family, one of the first acts to record and popularize their own versions of mountain folk tunes. McCrae’s voice — accentless, honeyed, clear and low, and reminiscent of Gillian Welch — is the central pole around which the band’s musical ribbons twine. Douglas’ fiddle and Good’s guitar weave in and out amid soft harmonies, exuding a warmth and strength of tone that seems to echo from deep and far away in both time and distance. Even in the larger recording and performing lineup of the band, which includes at times mandolin, dulcimer, dobro and upright bass, the sound remains full and spare, welcoming and lonesome at the same time, and gorgeously authentic to the style’s original hardscrabble sincerity.

The band’s few originals, written by Good and McCrae, stay faithful as well to the sonic soul of American mountain music — the roots of which are, in their way, as scattered and disparate as the By and By String Band’s own. Which is, after all, kind of the way the folk tradition works.

– Alison Fensterstock, Times Picayune - Times Picayune


“McCrae’s voice — accentless, honeyed, clear and low, and reminiscent of Gillian Welch — is the central pole around which the band’s musical ribbons twine. Douglas’ fiddle and Good’s guitar weave in and out amid soft harmonies,
exuding a warmth and strength of tone that seems to echo from deep and far away in both time and distance... the sound remains full and spare, welcoming and lonesome at the same time, and gorgeously authentic to the style’s
original hardscrabble sincerity.
— Alison Fensterstock, Times Picayune - Times Picayune


There’s never a shortage of surprises in New Orleans. A day has yet to go by without my jaw dropping at one thing or another– sometimes pleasant, sometimes radical, sometimes naked. And like any walk down Frenchmen Street, the music wafting out of the Japanese tavern Yuki Izakaya will call you off the street for yet another surprise, of the amazing-band-playing-low-key-in-the-corner-on-a-weeknight variety.

I’ve preached other weeknight music activities: Treme Brass Band at Candlelight Lounge on Wednesdays, Sarah Quintana at Mimi’s on Tuesdays, Dave Jordan and the Neighborhood Improvement Association at Banks Street Bar on Thursdays. And now, By & By String Band at Yuki on Wednesdays.

By & By String Band was born into and fed by the New Orleans old-time street music scene, and you can feel it. Their sound is cohesive and air-tight, but floats somewhere above your head space due partially to the amazing microphone the band uses, and due mostly to the incredible sound being pumped into it. The band is led by the thick, magical voice of Kiyoko McCrae, who also plays guitar and banjo. Gregory Good holds the sound down with lead guitar, harmonizing on vocals. Impressively rounding out the 4-piece is Daron Douglas on the fiddle, dulcimer, and ukulele, and Jeff Boston on lead banjo and vocals.
By and By String Band New Orleans

The By and By String Band recording their latest album. (Photo Credit: By and By String Band)

Before hearing the band, it was described to me as “old-time country.” But after spending a couple Wednesdays in a By & By trance, their music is so much more. It’s paired-down bluegrass, lightly woven, tightly sung gospel and a tad blues. And Kiyoko’s voice! It’s that good. It’s present today with roots in yesteryear. I guess it’s like so much New Orleans music, a gumbo of sounds, all evoking the same guttural, joyous emotion.

While you can and should see By & By String Band weekly at Yuki (leave a HUGE TIP), you can also purchase their first album released in the spring of 2010, Little Darling Pal of Mine: Songs of the Carter Family at Euclid Records and Louisiana Music Factory. The song I’m playing on repeat is Are You Lonesome Tonight– a familiar tune interpreted into another musical language.

by Sunny Dawn Summers on December 20, 2010 - Go Nola


The first song on Little Darling Pal of Mine is “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” and with it the band announces its intention to turn the listener’s clock back past 1960,when Elvis Presley released the version most of us know best, to the late 1930s, when the Carter Family recorded it. In its arrangement and performance, the band is successful. This collection of Carter Family songs does nothing to date itself to the present. This is not to say that Little Darling Pal of Mine plays the studio tricks that other retro recordings do to synthesize a dusty, archival sound. Rather, the By & By String Band’s approach to the songs themselves demonstrates its thorough understanding of the idiom that inspired the album.

For many listeners, the album will function as a showcase for lead vocalist Kiyoko McCrae. That’s probably good enough. She sings beautifully throughout, and the band’s harmonies and occasional call-and-response vocals emphasize and echo her easy, warm tone. If those listeners overlook, though, the precision and quality of the instrumental performances that provide the album’s foundation, it’s their loss. Rhythmically and melodically, the band leads us through the compositions in a way that opens up new ideas in some of the oldest songs we know.

Little Darling Pal of Mine eschews the loose, good-time feeling common to so much contemporary bluegrass in favor of casual understatement. In their approach, they manage both reserve and emotion. “This album,” the liner notes read, “is a nod to the Carter Family.” One imagines Maybelle, Sara, and AP would nod back. -Jacob Leland - offBeat


Discography

Little Darling Pal of Mine: Songs of the Carter Family

Photos

Bio

By & By String Band combines stripped down acoustics with rich harmonies in their interpretation of Americana, Appalachian old-time country, gospel and blues — the roots of which inspire the creation of their original songs. The band grew out of the New Orleans street music scene in the fall of 2008. They first came together when invited to play the Abita Springs Opry, a musical institution dedicated to the presentation and preservation of Louisiana roots music. They have been featured on New Orleans All The Way Live, a program of New Orleans Community Radio Station, WWOZ, and invited to play festivals in Spain, Italy and Ireland. Their first album, Little Darling Pal of Mine: Songs of the Carter Family, is a collection of songs inspired by original Carter Family recordings. It was recorded in the winter and released in the spring 2010 and was nominated by OffBeat Magazine’s Best of the Beat Award for Best Country/Folk Album. By & By String Band, likewise, was honored as being nominated for Best Country/Folk Band.