Dear Creek – So It Goes

Dear Creek is a home-grown Appalachian 2-piece founded by Kate Potrykus and Alex Salser.  They put together the band in 2009, on campus at the birthplace of many a musical phenomenon, Shenandoah University, in Winchester, Virginia, in between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the wild Alleghenies.  Since that time, the pair have taken this creation across the country as a five-piece, and produced two albums.  In a move to get back to their roots of Appalachian folk, 5 years on, they perform as a duo, and have produced this exciting 11-track work which highlights the very best of two accomplished hill-country musicians.  I’m delighted to review it in advance of their album launch in May 2014.

Dear Creek Cover

From the look and feel of the album cover, to the song titles, to the knowledge of their roots, “So It Goes” lives and breathes nature and country-folk music.  With a beautifully stylized cover, owlish and wise, I’m excited to hear how they are going to tell the story.  They’ve set an expectation, and I’m pretty sure – based on their previous work – that they won’t disappoint me.

The opening bars of “Would You Let Me” assure me; Kate’s voice, beautifully clear and raw over a simple brush snare, sets the tone for the song, with a flighty melody.  By the time that lovely national guitar sound comes in, I’m already drumming enthusiastically on my knees as I write this piece; with Alex’s voice in counterpoint, there are shades of slide guitar which make this song as powerful a lead-in as I could ask for.

“Would you let me lay you down?
Would you let me stay around?
Would you, would you, would you?

Wrapping the track with a beautifully mixed harmony of their two percussive vocals, it’s strong, happy music, and perfect for this sunny Sunday morning. It’s an introduction to the pair which makes me want to brew a strong cup of joe, sit on the stoop, and push this out to this suburban landscape  at some ungodly volume.

Picking up the pace a little with “Breathin’ Steady”, it’s nice to hear the start of a clear musical theme to the album. They are comfortable with their instrumental style, Kate’s voice is strong, and well complements Alex’s guitar. I’m starting to realize that this album is a lyric listener; one of those in which the backing is so neatly and professionally put-together, that it feels natural, organic, in some way. It simply lets you get on with enjoying the listen; and that’s what this song is, to me; a song of “getting on with it”. The octave removed melody between the two is noteworthy and I’m hoping to hear more of it as we journey through.

On to the title track, and I can see why it is; “So It Goes” has a heavy heart, but draws from the deep emotional well of Dear Creek, a stark cry to the lonely winter hills:

“He felt the tears run down his face,
Until they reached where he could taste the grief…
So it goes, so it goes, so it goes on, and so on
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where time’s gone”

It’s beautiful, and strangely reminds me of the feelings I had listening to Grace Pettis‘ “Abilene” (Grace and Kate are friends); a well-told story, which reaches right into your chest and grabs your heart with that voice from the very start.  There are some lovely variations on the melody in the chorus toward the end of the song as it builds to its mournful conclusion.  Wonderful.

“Turn to Dust” is the festival track of the bunch; I could see myself at a bluegrass event in West Virginia, with a crowd clapping and lapping up this anthem. They move this number on like a midnight express, with vocals to match its lonely wail. It’s indicative of their roots, and having lived many years in the Shenandoah Valley, it tells the story of the folks who truly call themselves “country”.  I was reminded of the freight trains blowing through Harpers Ferry on a cold but sunny spring evening.

At this point I’m loving the nuances of the turns they are taking with the musical direction. As before, it fits to a theme; “Radical” is very banjo, very uke, very guitar, yet stripped down once again to Kate’s voice leading out the mood. It’s a happy feeling song, the guitar part picked out carefully, artfully, and beautifully. I must say I loved hearing Alex’s vocal (finally) leading a verse in this song. His voice suits their sound, and from this single verse, I can see why he’s such a good foil to Kate as the lead.

“Coming Down” is an interesting choice top place after “Radical”, I find it musically sounding very similar, (although I’m sure Dear Creek themselves would string me up for saying so). It’s not a bad thing; it’s just a nice lead on, subtly different (to me), and keeps the rhythm moving. There’s a decent vocal push from Kate half way through the track:

“I’ve got a little bit of something,
and it’s growing deep inside of me,
I’ll take that little bit of something,
lift me up, get you down on your knees”

There’s also a surprise acoustic “floating” little bridge which was the high point of this song, followed by a sweet almost chime-like section of guitar picking which I was envious of as a guitar player, and eager to learn. They’ve done their homework, these two, and perfected and polished their playing. So, I realize, it’s a musicians album for their peer group, as well as for the down-home outdoor bluegrass shindig crowd.

Up next is “New Orleans”; it has beat, it has heart, and it’s an unexpected favorite from the album for me. It’s a chance for Alex to lead out with the vocals again, but it’s the call-and-response with Kate which is so appealing:

“This old car, running through the night,
My only company, the flash of headlights;
My body aches, and I haven’t slept in days,
But the thought of you, is keeping me awake”
“One more drink, was as long as I stayed,
When you sat by me, and asked for my name;
You told me of how you came and how you went,
A stranger that night, a night well spent”

The instrumentation is lovely, and the verses continue in the same fashion as the above. From the initial verses, I couldn’t quite quite tell how it was going to go (love lost or love found), which adds to the intrigue. Unbelievably, unexpectedly, at 1:45, their complete change in tempo brings a warm smile, and also cements the positive light in which the song is written; just as “So It Goes” was desperately sad in its way, this song is happy romance, it’s belief in love, living, music, and the warmth of the right person being next to me always: “You’re here with me…down endless highways, a life well spent”. It’s an absolutely winner, simple, emotional, and happy enough to make me smile and cry out loud with joy. This…this is what music is about, in my world.

“Fit for Better Days” is a lovely showcase of Kate’s vocal more than anything, an intriguing melody which wouldn’t be out of place in an Irish pub. The next, “Songbird”, brings a memory of the late great Eva Cassidy with the title.  It’s a song not to skip over, in that interesting part of the album, the three-quarters mark, which needs to be strong to keep the momentum to the last.

“Every good songbird needs a ballad to sing,
This is mine;
And though I’ll be mourning,
Though I’ll be mourning the night,
Let it be morning, let it be morning my love”

The lyric is clever, thoughtful, and makes “Songbird” a captivating listen throughout.

The album is wrapped with two folky numbers, which would both very much at home in a live set with a full band. “Starvin’ Heart” is the kind of music I’ve grown used to in the Shenandoah Valley; yes, it’s unique to Dear Creek, but it’s got that “Valley sound” about it. I could equally hear Christal and Pete from Chatham Street singing this one at a winery in the North-Western part of Virginia. The highlight for me, funnily enough, was the quirky last 44 seconds, with beautifully picked strings – I can’t quite make out the instrument, it’s not quite a viola, and not quite a cello – but it’s lovely nevertheless. “Undone” is a strong finisher, with a couple of nice changes of pace again (now firmly a Dear Creek trademark for me), and story-wise, it’s an appropriate ending:

“He’s gonna love me,
Until I come undone…
I’m done, I’m done”

Sporting a beautiful guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a rock number, it’s short at 3:11, and ties off “So It Goes” in a neat little bow made of Kentucky blue grass.

I’ve heard some well-respected musicians (notably Ricky Furr of Shenandoah University and Grace Pettis) say that Dear Creek are a great quality band. After hearing this, their latest work, I can only agree. They’ve stayed true to their valley style, they’ve written strong songs, with unique identifiers which establish something that’s theirs. Above all, Kate and Alex have super voices which they use to excellent effect, are well mixed, and are put to good use next to the capable instrumentation. In “So It Goes”, you have dynamics, feeling, and some very catchy songs indeed. The Shenandoah Valley should be proud.

The album will be released on Friday, May 2nd. Their release show will be at the Bright Box in Winchester. It will be for sale on their website and digitally on iTunes and Amazon, or on their Bandcamp page.

You can find out more about Dear Creek at their website here, or here at their Fish Pond profile;

One world, one family, one musical heartbeat.

David Mark Smith
Founder, Global Musicians Fish Pond
Singer/Songwriter, My Lucky Fish


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