When music is played in the right way, listened to with the right ears, it can evoke a whirlwind of emotion in any given person. Haunting melodies and evocative lyrics combine for an unforgettable experience, eliciting anything from happiness to melancholy. In that sense, there isn’t much that compares to Mother Merey & The Black Dirt. Merey Kimbrough, Eric Witthans and Kevin Allen combine their talents for something unforgettable. Their new album, Down To The River, does all the things a good album should do to a human being, and does so with incredible ability.
I spoke with the band recently about their upcoming tour, which will see them traveling from Austin, Texas, up to Boston, then heading back down, taking a day to record in Nashville, the birthplace of some of music’s biggest names.
A band’s name is a special thing, drawing in new listeners and occasionally giving back-story to their beginnings. Mother Merey & The Black Dirt are no exception to this rule, taking their name through a combination of happenstance and the existing nickname they had for Merey.
“I had been working a long day, and pulled into this gas station on my way home,” says Kevin Allen, who plays harmonica in The Black Dirt, “I had this crap on my shoe, this black dirt caking the bottom of it. As I was walking in, this grizzled looking guy looked at my shoes and said ‘The black dirt on them shoes is worth a million dollars!’ and on the way home I got to thinking about it, and it just seemed fitting.”
On top of the million dollar dirt, the guys in the band, Eric Witthans and Kevin Allen, thought about it in another sense.
“Well, Merey, or Mother Merey, which was already our nickname for her, is like the heart and beauty of the group, with her voice and everything. Kevin and I are the black dirt that she rises from,” said Eric, the dobro player.
It’s that dirt that’s worth the million though, and combining all of their forces together makes for an unforgettable album. One of the things that catches my interest is how close they seem to hold to old-school folk and bluegrass music. Eric on the steel guitar, Kevin on harmonica accompanied by Merey’s vocals as well as the washboard she wears around her neck. Spoons and whiskey jugs would feel right at home in their medleys.
It’s the folky feeling of their music that makes it hit so close to home, that makes it so hauntingly beautiful. Their lyrics both uplifting and sorrowful at the same time, their harmonies are goose-bump inducing, but in the good way. It’s incredibly easy to fall in love with their sound, and the music grabs you inside yourself, making you want to sing, dance, or generally get down in some way.
On Friday the 13th, Mother Merey & The Black Dirt played the second show of their tour at Smoke & Barrel on Dickson Street. It was an excellent performance, and seeing the passion they have on stage only reinforces the joy they have for the music. Merey’s vocals soar, and Eric and Kevin unify the sound on dobro and harmonica, dancing as they play and engaging with the audience. The palpable connection they make with their fans, encouraging the crowd to dance and taking the chance in between songs to talk with them.
Mother Merey & The Black Dirt’s aforementioned new album, Down To The River, is available streaming on their website, www.theblackdirt.com. Physical copies are also available, including vinyl. Digital copies are available on iTunes.