Truckstop Souvenir
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Truckstop Souvenir

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About the riskiest thing to do is to open a debut album a capella, but Truckstop Souvenir takes that step, and when the guitar walks up three notes to set things in motion, you're with them on a vivid, soul-stirring journey. Leave Nothing Behind is a smashing debut for Dennis James and Lauryn Shapter, a husband and wife duo that has a sound all its own. The two have written some absolutely terrific songs, all of which they perform with their spare but chillingly effective guitar and lonesome fiddle accompaniment. Guitarist James sings the bouncier numbers in a light Texas twang, putting the ache into that opener, "Pretty Woman (You Walk On My Soul)," the title cut, and the dark "Horse and Rider." Fiddler Shapter, meanwhile, has a dry, Midwestern sound suited to her many harrowing suburban nightmares. She's borderline Country Noir with "Mama's Debt," her backstory for a teen murderer, and the epic, Springsteen-esque "Memorial Day" which closes the album. Shapter will joke onstage, after something fun like their cover of the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man," that it's time to get back to the death and murder, but she does have a certain knack for it. She can also write beautiful, wistful love songs, too, though, as "Front Porch and You" attests. The album's "hit" is the uncharacteristically speedy "Bootlegger's Daughter," James's funny song of bachelor party mayhem and marital wisdom that is wonderful by itself but is screaming for the full Bluegrass treatment -- someone call Del, quick! Meanwhile, you all go out and get this CD by these new stars.

(Tom Petersen) - Victory Review


by Tom Petersen

These are heady times around the Sound, with some of the best songwriting talent to be found anywhere living right here. Recent releases by the likes of Datri Bean and Joy Mills have refreshed old traditions and have staked out new ground in ways no one else around the country is doing. Making a big splash in the talent pool this summer is the husband and wife duo called Truckstop Souvenir, whose resent club dates and debut album (see Reviews) reveals powerful, rich imagery and superb songcraft.
The happy couple is Dennis James and Lauryn Shapter, an attractive pair that somehow seems to write most convincingly about breakups, ill-considered unions and tragic endings. This makes for some wry patter on stage as the two keep reassuring their audiences that songs like “Leave Nothing Behind” aren’t really about them...though they’ll admit to some past experiences and harrowing observations while on their separate ways to 39-And-Holding. “We’re not exactly high school sweethearts, and we’ve both been around the block a few times ... our experiences before we met have given us more than enough heartbreak songs,” says Shapter.
The songs are pouring out. In Shapter’s case, it’s a release: she’d written exactly one song in two decades as a professional musician, before she met James. The expected love songs followed, notably “Front Porch and You,” which is getting a lot of airplay, and the crowd pleaser, “Texas Boy” that will be on their next album. What has attracted the most attention, however, is her grim tale of a murderous, avenging teenager, “Mama’s Debt,” a haunting, fictional tale inspired by a two-sentence blurb in David Schmader’s “Last Days” in The Stranger. “I just keep my eyes open, hear what the world has to say, the stories it tells, and translate them into song,” she says. “You can’t help but be somewhat autobiographical as a songwriter but there are so many other songs and stories to be told; if you just listen, they are there for the taking.” James, meanwhile, has a theory: “All songs are already there - your job as a writer is to shut up and listen.” The Truckstop Souvenir repertoire include some old songs from James’s trunk, but he’s writing with the same fury as his wife. His new song “Rodeo” is already Shapter’s favorite, and judging by audience reaction, a future hit, while another new composition, “One More Kiss” could have come off of Kris Kristofferson’s new record, it’s that good (and in The Pilgrim’s gruff, frank Style).
The two had established musical backgrounds before teaming up. Shapter, a classically trained violinist, is a highly regarded tutor here, and over the past several years has played with Bluegrass bands in Colorado, the Federal Way Symphony, and has done session work (she appears on the Starlings’ recent album, among others). James, a Texas troubadour, first fronted a Cowboy Junkies-style act called Fresh Coffee in his native Fort Worth, but left music for more remunerative employment about fifteen years ago. After ten years out of the music scene, during which time he moved to the northwest, he got out his big Guild and started appearing locally as a solo act. The two met at an open mic when Shapter, moved by his song “Nobody,” introduced herself.
Romance and a musical partnership quickly followed. They chose their name after brainstorming ideas that evoked life on the road, America on the move, and “the midnight truckstop diners, with tacky knick knacks for sale, you know, little air fresheners, tractor caps and velvet Elvis paintings,” recalls James. “And Lauryn said, ‘Why not Truckstop Souvenir?’” It’s a name that resonates with Shapter, who started in New York, spent time in the New England and in the Rockies, and ended up here. Her latest song, in fact, gets its title from a highway caution sign: “Rough Road, No Shoulder”.
The duo debuted at Conor Byrne’s Pub in 2003, and were off, gigging all over town. With a solid set of material, some timely advice from friends like Nancy K. Dillon, and lots of help, teaching, guidance, and sympathy from their engineer Garey Shelton, Truckstop proceeded to make Leave Nothing Behind, which was officially released at a packed appearance at Ballard’s Sunset Tavern July 26. “We’re learning so much so fast,” they both say. “We’ve added banjo, mandolin, and now piano, and Lauryn learned to play guitar,” says James. “I went into the studio a songwriter, and came out a musician.” With their star rising, they secured a spot opening for alt country superstar Corb Lund, when he comes to the Tractor at the end of August.
With success and ambition has come a realization about the limits of the Northwest market. Talent-rich and vibrant as it is, the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland axis is isolated, unable to support very many wanting to make a living playing music. There’s teaching and a smattering of session work to fall back on, but otherwise, overexposure can come quickly on the I-5 corr - Victory Review


Truckstop Souvenir help you leave it all behind

Truckstop Souvenir are songwriting duo Dennis James (vocals, rhythm and lead guitars) and Lauryn Shapter (vocals, fiddle, viola and guitar) and they share the songwriting duties plus one cover of Dickie Betts's 'Rambling Man'. The duo take their inspiration from the American landscape and the sound is heavily influenced by traditional country music - Hank Williams looms large over this record. The songs take us into heart of the country and the sound is augmented by mandolin, drums, upright bass and harmonica - it's a sparse stripped down sound with many of the songs dealing with living, dying, working,family, hometown, leaving home and finding love - all are tiny vignettes of American living away from the hurly burly of life - the Interstate is nowhere to be heard.

The slow tempo of most of the songs allow the listener to immerse themselves in the intimate songs and you feel better for listening. The title song moves along at a quicker pace, and 'Rambling Man' is an acoustic take on the Allmans' classic song - it's a clever cover and the stripped down sound works really well. The best song on the record can be found at the end - 'Memorial Day' which clocks in at 8 minutes 27 seconds - story telling at its very best - the Memorial Day Parade that passes through some small towns for lives lost thousands of miles away.

by Andy Riggs - American-UK


by Kurt B. Reighley

Baseball caps touting "Free Moustache Rides." Foil packets of Mini Thins. Pine-scented air fresheners. These are things one typically associates with the words "truck-stop souvenir." And maybe even country music—in the form of budget CDs of Garth Brooks and Hank Williams Jr. But the wares peddled by Seattle duo Truckstop Souvenir are more lovingly crafted than the goods for sale at your average Gas-N-Go.

Showcasing the talents of Dennis James and Lauryn Shapter, Truckstop Souvenir's debut, Leave Nothing Behind, features five originals apiece by each, plus a mellow, homey rendition of the Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man." While their voices and instruments—he plays guitars, she doubles on fiddle and guitar—intertwine with an ease that evokes both the showbiz polish of the Everly Brothers and the rustic charm of the Carter clan, the two aren't kinfolk. But they are family: They're married.

While Shapter's contributions, like "Mama's Debt," conjure up the melancholy side of Appalachia ("I like to make people cry," she admits. "It's good for the planet"), her husband's—"Leave Nothing Behind"—hew closer to the Texas school of songwriters. "Dennis's songs tend to be a bit edgier," Shapter opines.

That system of checks and balances spills over into their interaction as performers, too. "We keep each other honest," observes James. "Lauryn's all about the music, all of the time. She picks up an instrument and plays every chance she gets... which means I better be improving my chops in order to keep up with her." Shapter has more formal training, while James emphasizes an intuitive approach ("I've always been a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy; my aim's a lot better now," he jokes). Neither shies away from giving the other a gentle tug in his/her respective direction.

Or, as James says, "I think perfection is a lie, and a little barbecue sauce on the chin can be sexy, so I remind her to let go when she's holding too tight."

The result is a full-length that is charismatic and distinctive, yet never willfully quirky. "I've always said that I hoped our music would fall somewhere between a lost field recording by Alan Lomax and outlaw Nashville fare of the '70s," says James. Shapter frames her vision of their record in less genre-specific terms. "We wanted to make a record that pulled the listener in, that seeps in the more you listen to it, rather than one that hits you over the head."

The intimacy that enriches Leave Nothing Behind is also the backbone of their live show. But if you miss their CD-release party this Wednesday, July 26, at the Sunset, your chances to make up for it will be few. Truckstop Souvenir are pulling up stakes later this year. "If we're going to pursue this full-time, we need an affordable home base that offers an easy launching pad for touring, so we're heading for Iowa," says Shapter. Well, okay... just promise to stay away from the trucker speed when you're crisscrossing the U.S., kids. - THE STRANGER


-- Gene Stout

WHAT: Acoustic-country duo featuring Dennis James (vocals, guitar and mandolin) and his wife, Lauryn Shapter (vocals, fiddle and guitar)

CAREER DEBUT: The duo began playing together in January 2003, when Shapter played backup fiddle for James during his first Seattle show, at the Conor Byrne pub.

SOUND: The duo's live shows feature a sparse but powerful blend of acoustic instruments and harmony vocals that fuse old-school country with modern Americana. "We have such a variety of country-music influences, from outlaw country to old-school harmony duets that it's hard to pinpoint our sound," says Shapter. "We might easily go from a dark and brooding murder ballad to an unabashed tear-jerker. The songs take on a life of their own, and that life is what dictates our sound, always."

RELEASES: "Leave Nothing Behind" (debut album to be released Wednesday). The album includes five original songs each from James and Shapter, as well as a favorite cover tune. Joining the duo are guest musicians David Keenan on mandolin, Tom Parker on harmonica, Chris Leighton on drums, and Chuck Deardorf and Matt Weiner on bass. Keenan has played with Jo Miller and Her Burly Roughnecks, Ranch Romance and others, Deardorf with Chet Baker, Larry Coryell and Bud Shank.

QUOTE: "It all starts with our love of the song. We try to take the listener on a journey along the roads of the rural American landscape, with stories common to the human condition and spirit, to give them an intimate presentation of these stories and leave them with a sense of a simpler place and time when the show ends."

WHERE TO LISTEN: www.truckstopsouvenir.com (includes bio, music, news, calendar, photos and guestbook)

NEXT SHOW: Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave. Admission: $7. Information: 206-784-4880 or www.sunsettavern.com. - Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Eleven tracks. Each one a story. A memory. A souvenir from a moment. Their sparse country-folk tales of love, cheating, regret, and murder showcase Lauryn Shapter`s songbird of a voice (like a less-breathy Margo Timmons of the Cowboy Junkies) and husband Dennis James`s easy going delivery. This Seattle duo draw comparisons to the sound of a young, developing Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Together James and Shapter provide an earthy sound even when there are moments when the music is heavenly. -- Jeff Weiss, Miles of Music (self-released)
- Miles of Music


Check out our interview with Megan Sukys on KUOW's, The Beat

http://www.kuow.org/defaultProgram.asp?ID=12718

- KUOW


Discography

Debut Album titled "Leave Nothing Behind" has several tracks currently receiving local airplay as well as internet radio exposure.

Photos

Bio

"... story telling at its very best ..." American-UK

“... their voices and instruments ... intertwine with an ease that evokes both the showbiz polish of the Everly Brothers and the rustic charm of the Carter clan ...” Kurt B. Reighley, The Stranger

The songwriting duo of Dennis James and Lauryn Shapter was born out of a chance meeting in December of 2002. Old-school country music junkies, the two share an undying passion for music that matters, as well as a profound respect for life and all its myriad emotions, stories, and characters. They began melding their sound into what would eventually become Truckstop Souvenir, drawing inspiration from the rural American landscape and the open road, as well as from the musicians who traveled the highways and back roads before them.

From rousing fiddle-guitar leavin’ songs to sparse takes on the darker side of life, Truckstop Souvenir is about pure and honest music: two voices, two acoustic instruments, and songs that are best taken straight up, no chaser.

A native Texan, Dennis James sings his heart out on lead and harmony vocals, bangs away at the rhythm guitar, plays some choice lead guitar, and occasionally stomps his feet in a barn dance fashion. He's recently added mandolin to his musical arsenal.

Born in the country music mecca of New York City, Lauryn Shapter has spent just about a lifetime with her fiddle. Singing harmony vocals led to the discovery that she actually liked writing and singing her own songs and now no one can get her to shut up. Truckstop Souvenir's arrangements find her on fiddle, guitar, piano, and lead and harmony vocals.