Hot Buttered Rum – The Kite and the Key: Part 2

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“Ralph Stanley is an inspiration to me on so many levels. My dad has a dozen of his albums on vinyl and I grew up listening to these on Sunday mornings, his lonesome mountain tones contrasting with my warm suburban Californian childhood. Out of all the bluegrass music founding fathers, his is the sound that makes my hair stand up on end. There’s the driving groove, and the soulful, tuneful way the songs are put together. It was a pleasure to have to listen though hundreds of Stanley tunes and a struggle to decide which to record with HBR.

“I’ve always wanted to do a straight-ahead bluegrass album. This 3-EP project was our opportunity, and Erik and I jumped on it with fervor. Sally Van Meter was the obvious choice to produce us and our first call. Sally worked with us a lot on how to sing this music. There’s a fine line between imitating the Southern accent of Ralph and Carter (we’re all from the Bay Area!) but also singing the tunes “right” with the correct inflection and intonation. We learned a lot. I’m pleased with where we got with this, it feels real to me.

“We did this as a stringband, with no drums, and had old pal David Thom come play mandolin. HBR began as a stringband, so it was exciting to return to this format and get our chops up. Even with drums, we always try to be informed by what we’ve learned as a stringband. Every instrument has to groove and fill a small part of the fabric of sound.

“Ralph’s story is as inspiring as his sounds, as I recently read in his autobiography. He was the shy brother of the Stanley Brothers. His older brother Carter could fill a room with his personality, but Ralph was more back-of-the-beat. They were a hard-touring stringband throughout the 50s and 60s. Carter died in 1966 and Ralph had to set out on his own, and eventually found his biggest success with “O Death” and the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack and tour in 2002. He finally found the success he deserves, but it was a long, hard-fought struggle with years of uncertainty and grueling work. I find inspiration in this story for my own efforts in music. Ralph kept doing the music that inspired him and wasn’t influenced by trends, and eventually the world came to him.” — Nat Keefe

“There were so many reasons to let the music of Dr. Ralph Stanley do its work on us, as players and listeners and lovers of all things lonesome. It was an easy choice. Stanley’s tone, taste and timing, as both a player and a singer, have been a defining force in bluegrass music since the music emerged in the 40s. And he’s still gigging! I’ll be thanking my stars if I have half his longevity. I think there’s something in him that won’t quit, that never has, a kind of rawness that chills me every time I hear it. He’s a hero of mine, and I’m glad to’ve been able to play both some of his best- and lesser-known numbers with this band. David, Sally and Laurie were great guides on this journey, and Jacob’s analog engineering was flawless.

“In my ideal world, Hot Buttered Rum would do a trad EP every year or two to keep us honest, get us not only listening more keenly to what the founding fathers of this music did but trying to record that sound, to go all the way through it and see what we bring out the other side. Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Doc Watson, Reno & Smiley . . . I’d love to go right down the list! For now, Dr. Ralph it is, and if we never get the chance to try something like this again, I’ll’ve been glad to’ve done it once in my life, to walk into a studio with an archtop Gibson banjo and try and pick and sing like Ralph Stanley. Damn. Falling short has never been so rewarding . . .” — Erik Yates

“The Kite And The Key- Part 2 is one of those wonderful recordings where you will come to know the Bluegrass roots that Hot Buttered Rum relied upon for inspiration for their more progressive musical leanings that have now brought them full circle with their music. As the second of a three-disk project, HBR brings home for me and for all listeners what Bluegrass music- real Bluegrass- is. With such strong commitment to the Stanley Brothers recordings of nearly 60 years ago, Hot Buttered Rum give the old songs a new spirit, playing with such passion to keeping it real in the mountain style of bluegrass so exemplified by the Stanley Brothers themselves.” — Sally Van Meter

 

Recorded: Sept 11-14
Mixed: December 2-3
Recorded and mixed at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco, CA
Nat Keefe: guitars, vocals
Erik Yates: banjo, vocals
Bryan Horne: upright bass
Zebulon Bowles: 5-string violin, vocals
David Thom: mandolin, vocals
Produced by Sally Van Meter
Engineered and Mixed by Jacob Winik
Mastered by Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering, Boston, MA
Assistant Mastering Engineer: Maria Rice
EP Artwork & Design: Pumpernickel