Reed Turchi’s ex-girlfriend once told him to learn how to sing or stop trying. Harsh criticism, but the Asheville, N.C.,-based blues singer and guitarist admits he has one of those voices people tend to either love or hate.
“It’s the least developed part of my music,” Turchi said. “In many ways I’m still figuring out where the vocals fit.”
Despite even his own insecurity, Turchi’s rough growl actually works quite well with his gritty hill country blues tunes. The young axe slinger, who fronts the trio he calls Turchi with Cameron Weeks on drums and Andrew Hamlet on bass, delivers primal slide runs and fuzzy garage licks that propel dirty backwater grooves. On top, he often talk-sings with a sandpaper throat that sounds like a vocal spawn of Lucero’s Ben Nichols and underground blues hero R.L. Burnside.
Turchi grew up in a musical household, raised by parents with very different interests. His dad is a Kansas City- and Chicago-style blues buff, while mom is a classical violinist. Turchi started developing his own skills on the piano but later became fascinated with blues guitar, intent on emulating rural pioneers like Burnside, Fred McDowell, and Kenny Brown, as well younger torchbearers like Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars.
“The only reason I picked up a guitar was to be able to play some really specific things—sounds of the North Mississippi Hill Country,” Turchi said. “Since then the influences have spread out. I’ve really worked on finding new sounds for the band and pushing the older musical threads in new directions.”
The band released its second full-length album, Can’t Bury Your Past, back in April. The group knocked out basic tracks during a quick half-day session while on tour at what Turchi called a cramped “cheap-ass” studio in Nashville.
“You couldn’t get to the bathroom without disassembling the whole drum kit,” he added. “But the equipment was good, so we figured we’d just treat it entirely like a live show and run through everything quickly. It captured the band in the right mood.”
To fill out the album’s sound, Turchi later added some brawny baritone sax from Art Edmaiston (JJ Grey & Mofro), as well as some chunky organ fills from keyboardist Anthony Farrell. As a result, the latest record has a broad Americana range, including the swampy, psychedelic foot-stomper “Lightning Skies,” the dusty country ramble “Bring on Fire, Bring on Rain” and the shady roadhouse rocker “(We Could Still Be) Each Other’s Alibi.”
Turchi first formed the band in 2011 while a senior at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He’s now back in Asheville, where he grew up and still gigs as a solo act when the band is not on the road. With a diligent road ethic, the group has earned a regional following around the Southeast and also gained exposure in Europe.
Last month, thanks to some underground radio play, the band booked a two-week stint in Italy and has more plans to return to the country later this summer. Turchi has noticed European audiences show particular reverence for American roots music.
“They appreciate music in a serious way,” he said. “Culturally, there seems to be more respect. It would be nice if we could get on that wavelength over here.”