Every once in a while, you stumble upon an album that unexpectedly sets your soul on fire. Rising Appalachia’s newest release, “Leylines,” is one of those albums.
With a mix of tribal beats, dreamy dance acoustics, deeply layered strings, reverberating vocals, gospel-infused rustic folk flair, and lyrics about independence, politics, hopefulness and inspiration, “Leylines” will have you bopping your head and moving your feet, while also pushing you to take action and explore the bigger things in life.
“Leylines are thought to be magnetic points around the globe that connect places of great spirit, power and relevance,” the band’s co-leader Chloe Smith said. “In our many travels, we have picked up on that same notion, that across country lines and borders and politics, there are real deeper artistic and cultural connections between the people and the places we witness. Music has been our tool to express that idea.”
The group will perform two shows Friday and Saturday at the Sheridan Opera House, bringing their eclectic mix of Appalachian roots, folk and global influences to Telluride. Shows start at 9 p.m. each night. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the main floor and $35 for balcony seats.
Rising Appalachia was formed in 2005 by sisters Chloe and Leah Smith. The two grew up in Atlanta surrounded by hip-hop culture and different musical influences. Their parents were heavily involved in the study and practice of Appalachian music, but it wasn’t until Leah was traveling abroad and missing home that she decided to pick up a banjo and connect with her roots.
Later, Leah taught Chloe how to play the clawhammer banjo. Together, the duo recorded an album in a basement studio with the goal of selling records at farmers markets where they performed live. Word spread quickly about the talented sisters and their popularity grew. Since then, the sisters have managed, produced and marketed themselves independently, only recently bringing in a producer for their latest album.
“We had a producer for the first time with this album, the incredible and dapper Mr. Joe Henry,” Chloe said. “His well-versed knowledge and background in folk and jazz music pulled out some depth to our sound that we were seeking to accent.”
The new album features Chloe on vocals, guitar, fiddle and banjo, and Leah on vocals, banjo and bodhrán, along with bandmates David Brown on baritone guitar and stand-up bass and Biko Casini on world percussion and n’goni. The band also brought on West African-native Arouna Diarra on n’goni and talking drum, and Duncan Wickel from North Carolina on fiddle and cello for the album.
“It’s a bigger sound, technically, with six musicians, but I think we also managed to not cover up that mysterious and important space in between all the notes that allows the listener to breathe into the music,” Chloe said.
Chloe explained how the addition of Diarra and Wickel helped elevate the band’s sound.
“We have always wanted to create a sound that sturdily represented the roots of Appalachia, while also exploring original songwriting territory,” Chloe said. “Appalachian music was very much a mixing of the sounds from these centers of the world, and we are honored and excited to bring that to the table with this new work.”
Chloe reported that audience members can expect “ballads and blues and soul songs and storytelling and whimsy and traditional mountain tunes and hip-hop and a cacophony of celebration” for the beginning of the biggest tour they have ever taken on.
Evidence of the group’s activist involvement is present throughout the music, with lyrics that speak to a purpose, a drive to make a change and improve relationships as human beings.
“I believe music finds people where they need to be found, and I just hope this album reaches whoever needs it, wants it, is surprised by it, and is welcomed by it. I hope folks simultaneously take away a sense of peace and a call to action,” Chloe expressed.
This is the band’s first time playing in Telluride.
“Unlike most of our stops along this tour, we have a fresh slate with which to experience your high altitude beauty,” Chloe said. “Come one, come all. We are excited to meet you.”