- Reporters Desk
By Larry Wines, RLn Contributor
Susie Glaze puts “international award-winning Folk-Americana music” and “Broadway star” in the same sentence.
Her band’s latest album, White Swan, was No. 1 for three months on Roots Music Report and is still charting in the Folk Category’s Top 50, more than a year later.
The Hilonesome Band has enjoyed steady bookings since its debut CD, Blue Eyed Darlin’, won the Just Plain Folks award, with 40,000-plus people voting, worldwide for Best Roots Album in 2006.
Early on, Entertainment Weekly declared, “She can blow the roof off any joint lucky enough to book her.” And yes, her music career began on Broadway, in Big River.
Susie Glaze and The Hilonesome Band arrive May 25, for their first time at Alvas Showroom, having played the Grand Annex three times to enthusiastic San Pedro audiences.
After building a strong reputation in bluegrass, they’ve blazed their own path in contemporary and traditional folk-americana, including pre-bluegrass Appalachian string-based, a cappella songs and plenty of originals with contemporary sensibilities. There is no longer a banjo player and that’s ’purt near unheard of in bluegrass land. Mark Indictor, a rocket scientist — literally — with many TV music credits, was added as fiddle maestro after they met playing the Concert for Haiti benefit in 2010.
Musical innovation flourishes on our stretch of coastline. Both the Long Beach Bayou Festival and Crawfish Festival draw huge attendance for Cajun, zydeco, and blues. So why not Americana with a soaring, crystal-clear voice, fine pickers, some down-in-the-hollar nimble-fingered picking and a contemporary feel?
Blending classic folk music with rough-edged stories of tragedy and fate, they craft it with orchestral arrangements akin to string-band-folky chamber music. Sometimes it’s lush newgrass Americana, sometimes a folk-fusion quintet’s eclectic blends – or mountain folk, or Celtic-inspired originals. With that, they also cultivate comparisons to classic British bands Pentangle and Fairport Convention.
Roz Larman, host of radio’s FolkScene, helped submit White Swan for a Grammy nomination. It received shining reviews in the Acoustic Americana Music Guide, FolkWorks, No Depression, Pop Matters, M Magazine for Musicians, Music News Nashville and FolkWords UK.
Susie hasn’t rested on the band’s laurels. The past year, they’ve added songs from their upcoming album due this summer and anchored a 4-month series hosting award-winning guests and introducing their own new songs.
Surprisingly, Susie, the Broadway veteran speaks of “Some terrifying moments with song debuts” at each of those “woodshed sessions,” then beams as she realizes “they were all well received” by the audience.
Anxiety comes with changing directions.
“Why we got out of bluegrass,” Susie mentions.
Bluegrass is a genre with rigid conventions like the round of solo instrumentals in the same sequence, song after song. Clearly, she’s more liberated working on originals with band member and master songwriter Rob Carlson.
New roads, yes, but some old ones maintained. Appalachian music legend Jean Ritchie has endorsed Susie as her heir apparent. The Hilonesome Band keeps the folk icon’s music in today’s ears. They add musicians from the Ritchie family, when playing back east. When speaking of her friendship with Ritchie, 91, Susie shows humility. It was Ritchie who collected songs, wrote more and brought the music of the barely accessible coal-dusty region to Greenwich Village, playing them alongside a neophyte Bob Dylan and unknowns like Barry McGuire, who would star in Broadway’s Hair.
Too young to have been there, Susie developed a feel for that scene and a show rich in a variety of good music. Her band’s live sets feature some cover songs, J.D. Souther or Steve Earle, along with several by Ritchie.
Moreover, Susie gets everything she can from her talented band, doing what musicians call “being generous” on stage. Each player gets the lead on “their” songs, while everyone else, including Susie on guitar, becomes the back-up ensemble. Few band leaders do it so well and so easily.
“It’s a better show when the audience doesn’t keep hearing the same singer, song after song,” said Susie, with no false modesty about her own vocal prowess.
All that writing, woodshedding and audience testing leads to something. Herb Pedersen is producing the band’s next album, due for release this summer. He was lead guitar on their 2008 CD, Green Kentucky Blues, produced by Grammy-winner Laurie Lewis. Pedersen’s involvement always creates that “buzz factor” that entertainers chase. His recording sessions and tours include Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, the Dillards, John Denver, Kris Kristofferson, Chris Hillman of the Byrds and many others.
“He’ll regale you with stories of everybody from Doc Watson to Sergio Mendes!” Susie added.
It makes Pedersen the perfect choice, as Susie and her band continue to move away from bluegrass.
The new album with her Hilonesome Band will have company. Susie and band member / husband Steve Rankin played on Dear Jean, a much-anticipated two-disc Jean Ritchie tribute album due in August on Compass Records, produced by Joan Baez and Dolly Parton. Susie’s track joins others by Judy Collins, Janis Ian, Kathy Mattea, Pete Seeger (one of his last recordings). They’ll go to Berea, Kentucky, Jean’s home, for a gala CD release concert.
Those attending the show at Alvas won’t have to wait. Susie will have a limited number of pre-release copies of the Ritchie tribute album, three months early.
That’s icing on the cake. Susie said.
“We really enjoyed being in San Pedro before and we’re looking forward to presenting favorites and our new unreleased songs,” she said.
With Americana music a hot commodity in venues nationwide, Susie is eyeing the success of Edie Brickell with comic-turned-banjo-master Steve Martin and Bonnie Raitt and her 3-year tour with her five-piece band. Clearly, it’s not a phenomenon limited to Old Crow Medicine Show and Mumford & Sons.
Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band play at 4 p.m. May 25, at Alva’s Showroom, 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro.
Details: (800) 403-3447; alvasshowroom.com
Larry Wines is editor of the Acoustic Americana Music Guide. He writes for several other music and entertainment publications. You can find the Guide’s mobile-friendly edition at acousticamericana.blogspot.com.