I always love when my iSPY assignments lead to me a “Eureka!” moment, and that is exactly what happened about 15 seconds into the music video for Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line’s “Carnival.”
The five-piece band led by Nora Jane’s undulating vocals is a self-described “traveling carnival of Appalachian roots-rock,” which sums up the band’s enjoyment of their music. Tracks like “Bike Ride” combine a sunshiney simplicity with intricate string instrumentals and seamless vocal harmonies.
Blue Ribbon Finalists at the 2010 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line have been touring the country to promote their upcoming album “Carnival,” to be released through her own label on April 16th of this year. The album will be a follow-up to Struthers’ 2010 solo debut which gained critical praise and a
burgeoning nationwide fan base. Elaborating on the album title, Struthers says: “When you go to a carnival, you go into a sideshow tent, and on every stage you find a different person with a different story. That’s why I’m trying to do with this album – craft vignettes, and in some cases more developed narratives, about imaginary people’s lives.”
Struthers, 29, worked as an English teacher before dedicating her time to being a full-time musician, and those who have listened to her music can tell. Her original lyrics are story driven and poetic, often from the perspectives of young women. Struthers describes herself as, “primarily a storyteller.” Along with her talent for writing, Struthers provides a vocal range that is as agile and complex as the myriad of instruments behind her.
Speaking of the instruments, let’s introduce the The Party Line (a name which references old-timey telephone calls): backing Struthers with solid string slapping are four multi-talented musicians. P. J. George, longtime friend and collaborator of Struthers plays the upright bass, pedal steel guitar, accordion, banjo, as well as provide
harmony vocals. Also providing harmony vocals is Joe Overton on the clawhammer and banjo. Aaron Jonah Lewis plays the fiddle, three-finger banjo, baritone fiddle, and mandolin while Drew Lawhorn keeps the gang in rhythm on the drums.
Besides their obvious talent and contagious exuberance, Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line make bluegrass accessible with a modern vocal sound and simplistic themes that make for a universally appealing musical brand.
Wolverine State Brewing Co. uses its intimate and laid-back venue to promote talented musicians on Tuesday nights, and I hope we see Nora Jane and her band back for many repeat performances.
Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line will perform at 8:30 p.m. on February 19 at Wolverine State Brewing Company in Ann Arbor. Entry is free.