By Brian F. Johnson
When Whitewater Ramble released its debut studio album All Night Drive in 2010, the group, which had been formed in 2004, did what lots of bands do. They gathered tons of musicians from a wealth of national bands and had them shred all over their disc.
“The last record was all about those superstar moments,” said mandolin player and band founder Patrick Sites, during a recent interview with The Marquee over beers at City Star Brewing in Berthoud. The tactic worked on one hand, as the other players brought some street cred and glowing critical reviews to the group’s first full release. Not suprisingly, considering the band was joined by players from Railroad Earth, Tea Leaf Green, Particle, the David Grisman Quintet, and Hot Buttered Rum. But on the other hand, all of those guests, all going so big, also overshadowed the foundational songwriting behind the tunes.
So in early to mid-January 2013, when the band returned to the studio, the theme was restraint. “We’re still babies,” said a humble Sites. “Just because we’ve made a studio album before doesn’t mean we’ve made all the right choices. So while last time we brought people in to shred, this time it was more subtle and it ended up adding more to the songs.”
The 11 track Roots & Groove, Sites said, was, in a way, molded after the famous and star-studded Nashville Sessions by Leftover Salmon. “To us, this album is a statement. The jammy grassy band market is an over-saturated one and it’s a highly competitive landscape. So what we wanted to do with this was to truly present these ideas and songs and not just pick, pick, pick or jam, jam, jam. These are focused ideas and the guests that we brought in aren’t there so much for the fire power, but to really compliment the material,” he said.
Sites, who said that the album is a step forward for the band, also explained that in one particular regard the disc shows quite literal growth. The band’s fiddle player, Ben Blechman, wrapped up his tenure with the group at the end of 2012, but both Blechman and Whitewater’s new fiddle player Zebulon Bowles play on the record. “It worked out nice that we were able to get both guys to play. It’s a way to say goodbye to Ben and that Zeb is our guy moving forward,” Sites said.
Ironically, Railroad Earth fiddle player Tim Carbone, who produced not only this most recent album, but also All Night Drive, plays on the album, but he does not play violin at all, instead picking up electric guitar and adding a slew of background harmonies. “Tim has always been a good friend and mentor to the band and when it came time to make another record everything came back to him. There’s very little risk with Tim. You’re not going to screw it up with him,” Sites laughed.
The group — which also includes bassist Howard Montgomery, guitarist Patrick Latella and drummer Paul Kemp — recorded the album over eight days at Silo Sound Studios in southeast Denver, and upon completing it Whitewater went out for a last-minute five night run across the midwest with Railroad Earth. After they returned, Sites and Montgomery flew to Carbone’s hometown in Pennsylvania to mix the record in his local studio.
In addition to Carbone’s guest appearance on the record, the group is also joined by keyboardist Bill McKay, Grammy award winner John Macy lending pedal steel, Andy Hall of the Infamous Stringdusters playing Dobro on three songs, and Leftover Salmon banjo player Andy Thorn, who joins for another three tracks. There is also a string chamber, and on one song a horn section provided by Euforquestra.
Sites said that he couldn’t be more pleased with the album’s end result. “Our existing fan base will love it and it’s going to be very inviting to new folks. When you stack the two records together, there’s just no comparison. This is a great record,” he said, adding that it’s all a function of the band’s slow, steady growth over the years.
“The band has grown and evolved with better players and better musicians,” he said, while pointing out the group’s modest beginnings around open mics and bluegrass picks in 2004. “It’s at the point where when I add up all the experience in the band, I’m the least experienced player in the group. I didn’t grow up playing. I was 25 when I bought my first instrument, so I’ve learned to step back and trust these guys. There’s tons of collaboration on the songs. It was really a team effort.”
:: Whitewater Ramble ::
:: Wildflower Pavilion :: March 29 ::
Recommended if you Like:
• Leftover Salmon
• Railroad Earth
• Greensky Bluegrass