Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line
I used to write music reviews for a weekly Baltimore newspaper in the early 1970s (Performance was its name). Only got $5 an article, but I received free records, free concerts, got to sit in an empty movie theater and watch a film before it opened, and sat and talked with people like Tiny Tim and Paul Williams, and got stoned with Alice Cooper and the better half of The Turtles, so there were multiple perks. Plus I saw my by-line in print every week.
So I wasn’t surprised when my wife asked if I’d write a few articles on some of the performers at this coming Saturday’s 3rd Annual Blue Sky Festival for possible press releases. My Ma-in-Law is on the festival committee, so I had an in.
My first was on their national headliner Nora Jean Struthers & The Party Line. They released their new album “Carnival” last month, and the single of the same name debuted at #24 on the Americana charts, and this week moved up two positions to #22.
Here’s my raw write:
Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line
Fresh from performing at SXSW 2013 in March and the April release of their new album “Carnival,” the acoustic Americana quintet Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line are headlining the 3rd Annual Blue Sky Folk Festival May 4, 2013 in Kirtland, Ohio. Out of Nashville, the group weaves three-part harmonies with fiddle, claw-hammer banjo, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums.
The Party Line take their name from the album’s song about the old-time rural practice of several farms sharing one telephone line, and includes Struthers’ longtime collaborator P. J. George (upright bass, harmony vocals, pedal steel guitar, accordion, banjo, mandolin), Joe Overton (clawhammer banjo, harmony vocals), Aaron Jonah Lewis (fiddle, three-finger banjo, baritone fiddle, mandolin), and Drew Lawhorn (djembe, drums, percussion, washboard), all played excellently with gusto.
Nora Jane, who taught English for three years and writes the songs, says she sees herself as a storyteller: “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.”
As for the new album (her third), “I realized that I was writing a collection of story-songs from a female perspective,” Struthers says. “I was able to arrange them chronologically, as teenagers, then women, then old women. The album has a narrative, from girlhood to death.”
The 29 year old has some serious chops in her corner: she won best band at the 2010 Telluride Bluegrass Festival; her new album is produced by Brent Truitt, who’s produced Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, The Dixie Chicks; and NPR’s All Songs Considered chose her band as one of their SXSW Day 4 Highlights. She’s also been a featured vocalist and songwriter in the Alaska-bred, Nashville-based band Bearfoot.
More importantly, she writes good songs, has a great voice, a humorous sense of play, and the music is fine infectious fun. You can catch their joy in these three videos:
“Barn Dance – youtu.be/r2UBDxeIK1M
“Bike Ride” – youtu.be/J6NuihAlRSM
“Carnival” – youtu.be/7fvw77lt6m8
There’s a ton of positivity in her lyrics, even an occasional hint of sweet sex with lines like “Twirl me round Johnny, twirl me round Joe” and “I hope you kiss me my lips have been whispering for your touch all night”, but it’s all in innocence. She treats death the same way when she croons “I am not afraid of travelin’ on.” NJS describes her sound as Appalachian folk rock. Whatever it is, I’m a fan.
Dave Higgs of Bluegrass Breakdown writes, “Her lyrics are simply spectacular and have achingly beautiful melodies to boot. This is one of my favorite all-time albums and certainly the most arresting music I’ve heard in a long time.”
Nora Jane says her sound has elements of Mumford and Sons, Gillian Welch, The Avett Brothers, Emmylou Harris, and Old Crow Medicine Show.
P. J. George will also be giving a workshop on hamboning, a style of dance or musical accompaniment that involves stomping your feet and slapping your body. You can get a smiling taste of PJ and drummer Drew Lawhorn hamboning in “Travelin’ On” at youtu.be/k5Y8kB_enF0 .
Nora Jane & The Party Line are touring heavily from coast to coast, border to border to support the album, playing 18 concerts in April, with five more in May, nine in June, and eight in July.
You can read more on Nora Jane Struthers on her web page at norajanestruthers.com/ . Her blog has a fashion segment since she is into buying vintage clothing, a lot of which she wears performing.
Nora Jane Struthers is on Facebook at facebook.com/pages/Nora-Jane-Struthers/78199484806 and you can hear three more songs at reverbnation.com/norajanestruthers.
The 3rd Annual Blue Sky Folk Festival Saturday, May 4, 2013 is a day-long folk music jam with workshops, great food, and an inside main stage. New this year: more tents for jammers and a dance floor near the main stage. More details at >blueskyfolkfest.com. Bring your blankets & lawn chairs. There is a playground and storytelling for the kids. Bring your instrument to jam and get a $5 discount. Come enjoy local artists playing original music.
On the grounds of the East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, 10848 Chillicothe Rd / SR 306, 1/4 mile south of SR 6 in Kirtland, Ohio. Tickets $10 at the door, $8 seniors 65+, kids are free! 11:00am until 7:00pm. Service dogs¬ only at¬ the festival, please.
— Steven B. Smith, 4.2.2013 for Blue Sky Folk Festival
Nora Jane Struthers