- June 25, 2020
- Henry Carrigan
- Hear It First
by Henry Carrigan (@henry.carrigan), Folk Alley
Roll the Tapes All Night Long is a perfect title for Mile Twelve’s energetic, affectionate, and rambunctious new album. The organic sound of the music grows out of the band’s musical flexibility and its inspired flights of following the music where it leads and letting the tapes roll to capture those sounds. As Bronwyn Keith-Hynes points out, the band “has always been a DIY entity. We jokingly refer to ourselves as bluegrass punks, because while many of our peers have signed to labels, we’ve remained independent. This means that when we get inspired, we have the ability to record and release songs quickly.”
On this collection of six covers, Mile Twelve—David Benedict on mandolin, Catherine “BB” Bowness on banjo, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes on fiddle, Evan Murphy on guitar and lead vocals, and Nate Sabat on bass and lead vocals—pays tribute to some of their influences, dwelling within each song long enough to reshape it and make it their own.
Keith-Hynes’ lighting fast fiddle runs and Benedict’s mandolin strums and arpeggios propel the rollicking, rocking “Whiskey Trail.” With echoes of Old and In The Way, the Grateful Dead, and Newgrass Revival, the song romps along on Sabat’s crystalline vocal whines. Mile Twelve turns Los Lobos’ rocker into a propulsive bluegrass punker.
“Cold Wind,” written originally by Joe Val, scampers off the grooves, skittering and careening around musical corners, propelled by Bowness’s lighting fast banjo licks and rolls, Benedict’s dashing mandolin licks, and Keith-Hynes’ nimble fiddle runs. The layered call and response vocals echo down the hills in a high lonesome bluegrass harmony. Guitarist Billy Strings brings, according to the band, “a lot of fire to the track” with his guitar licks and his vocals. Mile Twelve selected this song for the album because they were very influenced by Joe Val and The New England Bluegrass Boys, “who were one of the most famous bluegrass acts to come out of New England. We heard this song on a Joe Val album and thought it would be a cool way to pay tribute to this influence,” says Keith-Hynes.
Mile Twelve jumps right off the grooves with the dance hall rounder “Hopkinsville,” written by Darrell Scott. Brittany Haas joins Keith-Hynes for some burning-down-the-barn twin fiddling, while Chris Eldridge guests on lead vocal and lead guitar. Eldridge’s evoke the longing of the song’s narrator to head on back home and the pull of that place, in spite of its flaws. As Keith-Hynes recalls, “Chris Eldridge (Critter for the Punch Brothers fans) has been a huge musical hero to all of us for ages, so it was a real treat to get to record with him, and he ended up kind of producing this track, too. He had so many cool arrangement ideas and even though we started at 10am, we ended up working late into the evening on this song, getting it just right. Brittany came in after we'd tracked the song and then she and I worked through it with Critter section by section to record the twin parts. She's one of my favorite fiddlers to get to play with.”
Propulsive down strums of the guitar kick off “Complicated Man,” a minor chord folk ballad reminiscent of the best of Harry Chapin. Sabat’s bass lends a jazz undertone to the song, and as the song blossoms into a tarantella, it blends Celtic tones with echoes of It’s a Beautiful Day’s soaring “White Bird.” Mile Twelve’s version of Cy Wynstanley his duo Tattletale Saints’ original recalls some of Fairport Convention’s ringing and enduring music.
“Rocky Island,” the old Ralph Stanley song, opens with a high lonesome shout and then scampers off in a rousing ramble. The band pairs the Stanley song with an old-time fiddle tune, “Hell Broke Loose in Georgia,” and Keith-Hynes’ fiddle runs hurtle madly along, careening madly here and there and breaking down any obstacles in her way. The band “arranged this one last summer up in British Columbia Canada while we were teaching at this really cool acoustic music camp called Nimble Fingers.” Given the nimbleness of the band’s fingers on their instruments on this song, they couldn’t have found a more appropriately named camp.
The album closes with the haunting Jason Molina song “The Old Black Hen.” Bruce Molsky’s somber lead vocals float along his and Keith-Hynes’ plaintive twin fiddles and Benedict’s mournful mandolin. “It was kind of a dream come true to get to record with Bruce,” says Keith-Hynes.” He's a legend of old-time music who's also our friend and we were stoked that he was down to record a song with us when we were passing through Brooklyn back in February. We arranged the whole thing in the studio right before we recorded it and I think the recording has this cool kind of raw energy from that.”
Roll the Tapes All Night Long showcases Mile Twelve’s restless creativity, their ability to inhabit a song and turn it inside out to make it their own, even as they preserve the spirit of the original. Mile Twelve embraces every twist and turn in the musical terrain, showing us around the nooks and crannies of bluegrass, folk, jazz, and even rock, revealing the glimmering facets of each style.