Americana trio Kelsey’s Woods to release debut CD Saturday night
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A full-length studio album from local alt-country outfit Kelsey’s Woods has been a long time coming.
For singer-songwriter Dave Kennedy, the guy who pens and sings the tunes embellished by fiddler Shawna Cyphers and stand-up bass player Russ Torbett, the delay can be attributed to the band’s decision to make the record on its own.
“Honestly, we just didn’t know what we were doing at first,” Kennedy told The Daily Times this week. “I see now why a lot of people have producers. You can do home recordings that should be just as good as a studio record, but I write and sing songs — I don’t know (crap) about anything else.
“I listen to it now, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I hear little things that I would change, this or that I would take out, but we were figuring out how to piece all of that together. We got comfortable as a three-piece, but we wanted to add other elements to make the record and the songs sound fuller.”
The members of Kelsey’s Woods trace their roots back to Chattanooga, where all three lived before coming north to attend the University of Tennessee. Like a lot of Volunteer grads, they got their diplomas and stuck around Knoxville. Cyphers and Torbett got regular 9-to-5 jobs; Kennedy took a chance and started playing music full time.
Eventually, Kennedy and Torbett — whose friendship dates back to preschool — decided to try and start a local jam session with friends. They organized it at Toddy’s Back Door Tavern on Kingston Pike in Knoxville’s Bearden neighborhood; Kennedy ran into Cypher around town and, knowing that she was a violin player, invited her to sit in.
It went well — so well, in fact, that the gatherings became more and more frequent, and Kennedy started bringing original songs to the group for arrangement. Eventually, the band was asked to play for a benefit in 2009, and the trio scrambled to come up with 45 minutes worth of material. It went well enough that they decided to keep going, and now three years later, they’re releasing “One More Heart to Break” on Saturday night at Barley’s Taproom in Knoxville’s Old City.
Around town, Kelsey’s Woods has worked its way up the ladder of the local scene, becoming a respected Americana trio that draws on the strengths of Kennedy’s songwriting and guitar playing. In fact, he added, his solo career has become a sort of testing ground for Kelsey’s Woods songs — if fans at his shows respond positively, he brings them to Torbett and Cyphers.
“My favorite artists are the true singer-songwriters — Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earle,” Kennedy said. “Those are the guys I listen to that I get inspired by.”
It’s obvious on listening to “One More Heart to Break” that the restlessness of spirit and the compelling nature of the more shadowy parts of life tug at Kennedy as well. “Americana” is a term so overused these days that it loses its effectiveness when describing good music, but it’s the only thing that fits this band. “One More Heart to Break” is the soundtrack to the American heart — restless, yearning, hungry, simmering with a little dread at the unknown highway ahead but anchored in the hope of what lies over the horizon.
“Back when we first started, we were practicing two or three times a week, so we could play for an hour and not be completely lost,” Kennedy said. “Now, if something comes up and we book a show, it can be a two- or three-hour show, and we’ll be OK. Generally speaking, I can bring in a song I wrote a couple of weeks ago, tell them what chord it’s in and to follow along, and we pull it off.
“The only way to get that way is to play a lot. I think there’s something to be said for super-duper polished-sounding records, but I don’t think that’s what roots music or folk music or country music is about. We’ve gained fans because of what we do, and I think audience members feel more connected when you lay yourself out there and say, ‘What do you think?’ People just think that’s a cool thing, because it makes them realize that we’re all kind of in this together.”