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December 10, 2016 @ 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm$25,35
No two Session Americana shows are alike. They’re rowdy, freewheeling modern hootenannies that surprise the audience as much as they surprise the Somerville, Massachusetts sextet. Session Americana has innovatively recast the live show experience as a familial gathering of musicians seated at a round table swapping songs and instruments. Although the musicians face each other, the audience feels drawn into the circle, engaged by the joyous camaraderie, playful musicality, and charmingly original music of this all-star cast of characters.
Session Americana has received numerous press plaudits for its inventively entertaining live show as well as its revelatory recorded work. The Boston Globe has praised Session Americana for its “fun, fresh take on old-fashioned, and timeless, music.” Alt-country arbiters of cool, No Depression, has called them: “The cream of the Somerville/Cambridge roots music community.” Bill Janovitz, of seminal alt band Buffalo Tom, has enthused: “Every set is that magical night at the campfire that you experienced when you were a kid and never forgot.” Session American has won Improper Bostonian’s “Best Roots Act” and “Best CD,” and won Boston Music Awards’ “Best Folk Act” and “Best Live Residency.” The band has also been nominated for Boston Music Awards’ “Best Americana Act” and “Best Live Act.”
Pack Up the Circus is the most complete, collaborative, definitive expression of the spirit of Session Americana captured on an album to date. It is a celebration of camaraderie, community, songcraft and, at moments, an unabashed raucous party. This is a band that knows how to have fun, but it is also a band that enjoys chasing down the essence of the song — whether it’s a country-tinged reflection, a rowdy debauch, or a cinematic pop landscape.
Producer Anais Mitchell seems to whisper in every corner of this album. She holds the sprawling mass of Session Americana to task; with this many people wandering in and out of the studio it would have been easy to lose the plot, but Anais keeps the record feeling whole and honest.
In the opening title track, the band deeply ponders identity and mortality, and these are themes that recur throughout the record in lines like “time is ticking and I’m Philip K. Dick-ing, unstuck in time” and “the anticipation leads us up to the mark, but the realization broke our hearts.” It seems fitting that those sentiments could be reflected in the album’s title as well as in what lies ahead, as the band prepares for its most rigorous touring schedule since its inception. In “It’s Not Texas,” “just another pretty face, a decent voice, a beat up case” tells the story of a disillusioned young musician, while “Pack Up the Circus” ponders the loneliness of the performer’s art: “In the concrete room he sings through the bars, far from the lights, the stage and the stars.” Both songs are ultimately ambiguous — but more celebratory than discouraging.
Except for an old Mills Brothers standard, all the songs on Pack Up the Circus are drawn from the communal pens of the Boston folk/rock scene with many co-writes, songs by friends, and songs finished in the studio with the help of the whole collective. Stories from long years on the road by the band’s veteran musicians end up as vignettes, all telling a tale of madness, disturbance, greed, and confusion, as mentioned in Dennis Brennan’s “Mighty Long Time.” And though unresolved, those stories remain hopeful, which is reflective of the very core of Session Americana’s ethos: the group defies the odds and matures slowly and naturally into a truly great band or collective. Whatever you call it, it’s inspiring music.
The group was assembled eight years ago around the idea of applying a traditional Irish music session approach—where musicians sit around in a circle and play fiddles—to Americana, hence the name “Session Americana.” The sextet began a Sunday night residency at Toad in Cambridge, Mass. The initial patchwork of a band stayed together for four years and made the highly esteemed 2005 debut, The Table Top People Volumes 1 And 2. Today, the core band is Ry Cavanaugh, Billy Beard, Dinty Child, Jim Fitting, John Bistline and Kimon Kirk along with Laura Cortese and Jefferson Hamer. These charter Session Americana members have worked with such diverse and respected artists as Treat Her Right, Patty Griffin, Lori McKenna, The The, Dennis Brennan, and Kris Delmhorst, to name just a few.
Session Americana started haphazardly with no rehearsals, doing traditional country songs, Band songs, and Boston community songs by songwriters like Jimmy Ryan, Mark Sandman [Morphine], and Dennis Brennan. Over four records, however, Session Americana has grown into writing its own well-crafted vibrant take on traditional Americana.
The group’s 2005 debut, The Table Top People Volumes 1 And 2, influenced many other bands that adopted Session Americana’s distinctive live configuration and its motley assortment of instruments, like drums fashioned from an old suitcase and field organs. The six-piece also became highly sought after as a vibey backup band. In this context, they’ve done sessions with J. Geil’s singer Peter Wolf, Patty Griffin, Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, and many others.
The group has grown from a rag-tag jam at a local pub to a regional institution, playing gigs from coffee houses to urban nightclubs; regional, national, and international festival tents; and theaters. “We do this thing in front of people, share ideas, do spontaneous work, and collaborate with whoever is available. There is an everything goes/anything can happen energy,” Cavanaugh explains. “People recognize this is not just a band, but a prehistoric experience that doesn’t translate to youtube or video, it happens in a very analog way.”