5 Regional Acts to Catch in the New Year

Cris Jacobs, Baltimore, Md.

Back in the fall this Baltimore singer-songwriter and former member of popular regional jam band the Bridge unveiled one of last year’s most satisfying Americana statements with his second solo album, Dust to Gold. On the new effort Jacobs, a skilled guitarist and introspective lyricist, moves through a seamless blend of rootsy styles, from the dusty highway cruiser “Kind Woman” to the aggressive blues-rock charge of “Bone Digger.” It’s all delivered with a veteran troubadour’s command through a smooth, soulful voice similar to that of Lyle Lovett. Jacobs has already opened for Steve Winwood and Sturgill Simpson and with this batch of songs in his arsenal he’s primed for even bigger stages. He’s also planning to release a collaborative record with New Orleans musical ace Ivan Neville later this year.cris-jacobs_katjacobs1_fixThe Wooks, Lexington, Ky.

New faces in the progressive bluegrass world, the Wooks earned widespread attention last summer when the nimble-fingered quintet took first place at the prestigious band contest at Colorado’s Rockygrass Festival. The band exhibits reverence for the traditional sounds of its home state but also branches out to include rock edge and modern singer-songwriter aesthetic.

“We try to use our music to reflect the sights and sounds of the creeks, farms, horses, and people of the inner bluegrass region of Kentucky which we call home,” says mandolin player Galen Green. “We’re lucky to have five guys from five completely diverse musical backgrounds in this group, and we come together with a common goal to make good music with the traditional bluegrass instrumentation that we use, regardless of what genre that happens to fall in.”

The band rips through bluegrass standards and a range of additional covers, including a great take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” It’s also building a stable of originals, heard on the impressive debut album, Little Circles, that was released last fall and produced by banjo great Alison Brown.

Jon Stickley Trio, Asheville, N.C.

Asheville-based flatpicking wizard Jon Stickley first surfaced in the jamgrass world, playing in the short-lived Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band with Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon, Travis Book of the Infamous Stringdusters, and Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass. These days he leads his own trio, an experimental outfit that takes acoustic string sounds to the outer limits through dynamic instrumental compositions. Stickley’s fast fingers are the centerpiece, but he’s well supported with inventive violin work from Lyndsay Pruett and driving drum beats by Patrick Armitage. The band’s last full-length album, 2015’s Lost At Last, was produced by drummer Dave King of jazz trio the Bad Plus, and King is back at the helm on a follow-up, due this spring.

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The Southern Belles, Richmond, Va.

Versatile groove quartet the Southern Belles finds a sweet spot between tuneful rock song craft and psychedelic exploration. The band has spent the last five years hosting jam throw downs at many of Richmond’s small rock rooms, but recently the group has been embarking on regional tours and earning slots at big bashes, including the Lockn’ Music Festival. Led by the fluid guitar work of Adrian Ciucci, the band has the chops to incorporate bits and pieces of various genres including jazz, funk, and blues. “Jungle,” from the band’s latest release, Close to Sunrise, is a standout shape-shifter that blends soulful Floydian space and head-spinning prog freakouts.

Mothers, Athens, Ga.

Fans of Bjork and more recent success Angel Olsen need to check out Kristine Leschper, who fronts indie rock up and comers Mothers. Leschper has a voice that pierces the senses with pure emotional rawness, often undulating in pitch as it shivers softly or soars intensely. Leschper was first found singing around Athens by herself with just a mandolin, but a few years ago she added a backing band, which gives her confessional lyrics a boost of garage rock grit. The group’s debut album, last year’s When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, was produced by Drew Vandenberg, whose resume includes work with Of Montreal and Deerhunter. It’s a primitive first effort that documents a new band finding its footing, but throughout Leschper’s singing is hauntingly powerful; just as much in the skeletal ballad “Too Small for Eyes” as it is in the fuzzy stomper “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t.”mothers-credit_kristin_karch1fix

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