The Farmer & Adele — get it? “the farmer in the dell” — mine a special province of actual Americana. Positioning themselves through a cowboy/cowgirl dynamic, the Ohio-by-way-of-Nashville duo performs an array of arcane styles, incorporating classic country, swing, bluegrass and other aspects of a traditional template and, in the process, recreates a decidedly down-home style.
The pair, also known by their given names Grace Adele and Keenan Wade, further confirmed their credence by enlisting the Grammy-winning Western swing band Riders in the Sky as collaborators for their debut album, “Wide Open Sky.”
“We had developed a great friendship with those guys,” Wade said. “So it seemed so natural. We had so much fun.”
Aside from the fact they make music on their own, Adele and Wade affirm their interest in this highly specialized genre by broadcasting a half-hour radio show that airs daily on WSM radio in Nashville. It’s adroitly titled “On the Trail with The Farmer & Adele.” In addition, the two serve as the station’s house band prior to the station’s featured broadcasts from the Grand Ole Opry.
The fact that the radio show begins at 7 a.m. creates another interesting additive. Most musicians aren’t known to be early risers, but Wade said real cowboys have to make it a point to hit the trail at an optimum hour.
The pair moved to Nashville from Ohio several years ago with the intention of establishing themselves as songwriters. Wade noted that Roy Rogers, the so-called “King of the Cowboys,” also originally was from Ohio.
“We’ve always loved classic country and we’ve always loved jazz,” Wade said about their musical mix. “So the focus on Western swing seemed very natural.”
Adele concurred with her partner’s assessment.
“It’s hillbilly jazz,” she said. “I discovered a lot of this music when I moved to Nashville. Plus, I was listening to Patsy Cline and a lot of classic country music. I started listening to bands like Hot Club of Cowtown, The Time Jumpers, Riders in the Sky. ... I hadn’t realized there were actually artists that combined country and swing music.”
For his part, Wade said that his first love was jazz, but that he found it hard to play within his previous musical confines.
“It didn’t seem like it really fit with the players I was meeting,” he said. “Then when I heard the Time Jumpers for the first time, it was really like a revelation. My jaw dropped, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. It all clicked for me.”
The pair also references Homer and Jethro, a classic bluegrass duo that once played with guitar legend Chet Atkins in the early ‘50s.
“They expressed what string band instruments can do in a western swing setting,” Wade said. “They called themselves The Stringdusters and the group actually originated in Knoxville before they moved to Nashville and New York to record for RCA. To me, it’s the holy grail of jazz music on string band instruments.”
Adele sums it up succinctly. “It was country jazz,” she said.
Adele said her primary instrument is “sock rhythm guitar,” a specialized style that simulates the effect of a snare drum on the guitar. She said that it’s a method of playing jazz chords while sustaining a rhythm. She learned the technique from Ranger Doug, a frequent guest on their radio show as well as a prominent member of the Riders in the Sky. Wade plays acoustic and electric mandolin, underscoring an essential western swing approach introduced by Bob Wills, the American band leader who is credited with helping to conceive the western swing sound. Both share lead vocals.
In addition, the group also includes Cole Ritter on fiddle and vocals, Chris Bauer on steel guitar and Shawn Supra on upright bass.
“We’ve always said that the great thing about what we do is that nobody else is doing it,” Wade said. “And maybe the worst part of what we do is that no one’s doing it.”
Nevertheless, Adele affirmed their feeling that the music they play is a deep-rooted style of American music.
“Once people hear it, they connect with it really well. It’s very fun and upbeat. It’s amazing to play in a room and watch the smiles happen.”
Wade said he considers it another side of country music, one that’s less weary and troubled than the genre’s typical tears-in-the-beer balladry. “It was a style that was prevalent in the ’30s and ’40s,” he explained: “It’s honky-tonk in the sense that it’s dance music, but it’s not about falling off barstools. It’s fun little ditties that are lighthearted and easy to enjoy.”
Given that they especially enjoy playing for younger audiences, it’s little wonder that their annual Country and Western Christmas Tour has proven so popular. In addition to classic holiday favorites, they add their own original material and an unlikely take on “The Nutcracker Suite,” performing it with a surprising swing arrangement. They added that they are currently recording their first Christmas album, much of which will feature some of those same live selections.
It also comes as little surprise that their band recently was nominated as Best Western Swing Group at the Ameripolitan Music Awards.
“We’re an authentic five piece cowboy/cowgirl western swing band,” Wade said.
Adele said the first song that she and Wade played together when they met was Hank Williams’ forlorn ballad, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
“After we did that, we decided we didn’t want to be lonesome anymore,” she chuckled.
It’s suggested that maybe their specific style could be construed as a kind of comfort food as far as modern music is concerned, given that it reflects a more carefree and innocent era overall.
“I like that,” Wade replied after pondering the analogy.
Adele agreed. “That’s really what we hope we can bring to people.”