Artist: Willie Sugarcapps
Album: Paradise Right Here
Label: Baldwin County Public Records
Release Date: 04/15/2016
This band may be turning out the best harmonies since the vintage days of Crosby, Stills and Nash. This is the sophomore release from the singer-songwriter aggregation of Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, Sugarcane Jane (Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford) and Corky Hughes, most of whom live or grew up on or near the Gulf Coast of Alabama. They met while performing at a songwriter’s gathering at the increasingly popular Frog Pond on Blue Moon Farm in Silverhill, Alabama. Unlike their acclaimed self-titled 2013 debut, which was recorded in just one day, the band hunkered down in the hallowed confines of Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals for three days, again calling on Capps’ long-time partner, the Grammy-winning producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker. The band delivers a rich gumbo of all forms of Southern music from country to blues to folk to southern gospel, blending acoustic instruments with just the right touches of electric guitar and lap steel from Hughes.
Kimbrough (four tracks), Crawford (four tracks), and Capps (three tracks) share the songwriting, while all members except Hughes sing. Kimbrough’s opener, “Dreamer’s Sky,” features Crawford’s violin and Kimbrough’s banjo behind gorgeous harmonies. Savana Lee’s crystal clear alto is front and center in “Faded Neighborhood,” which has some nice lap steel from Hughes. Capps, who has the most soulful voice in the group, delivers an epic tale that easily could be associated with southern Gothic literature, homage to a cemetery florist in “Mancil Travis.” The dynamics, choruses and bridges in this tune change constantly even after building to a crescendo in the middle accented by Hughes’ electric guitar lead. Kimbrough’s “Highway Breaks My Heart” lies somewhere between bluegrass and rockabilly as his mandolin picking and strumming guitars kick up breakneck rhythms. “Find the Good” is vintage southern gospel. Capps’ makes an urgent plea for peace in the gentle “May We Love,” and uses clever wordplay in his self-deprecating love song “Rosemary and Time.” Kimbrough offers jaunty blues in “Magnolia Springs,” and makes an even stronger tribute to the region in the seven minute banjo-driven title track, a tune which reminded me more than any of those glorious CSN harmonies and approach.
Often supergroups fail, mostly due to over-hyped expectations or competing egos. On the contrary, Willie Sugarcapps seem to follow that adage of “leave your egos at the door.” They work together seamlessly for warm, inspired and uplifting results. The depth and quality of these songs and the textures in the voices and instrumentation will have you listening repeatedly.
– Jim Hynes