The cities of Atlanta GA and Asheville NC are connected by I-85 and a ton of great music. Some of the best music touring between those cities is made by Atlanta band Waller, Asheville songwriter Ryan Sheffield, and Sheffield’s collaborator, an artist in his own right, the New Mexico/Minneapolis-based Bryan Highhill. My very first Ninebullets review was of their debut CDs. They each took big steps in their respective careers with their sophomore efforts and I’d be remiss if I didn’t, even belatedly, alert you all of this awesomeness. Think of this article as a continuum, with Waller on the countryside side and Lumpy on the dancehall-jambalaya side, with Ryan Sheffield nesting in the middle.
Waller—Stoke the Fire
In a sense, every artist to come after The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams is a revivalist. But in a truer sense, Waller is one of the few bands carrying that torch that actually keep it lit. They’re the real deal. They’re hard to describe because they make it seem so easy, because it’s so obvious that this how much ass country music at its fighting weight is supposed to kick. They’re like Glossary in their facility. Like Freakwater in their harmony. Like home to most of us here. This is one of those “I guarantee you, no matter what bands you like otherwise, if you’re on this site, you will like this band” bands. The whole half-hour of Stoke the Fire is scorching, warming Essential Listening.
Ryan Sheffield & the Highhills—The Shadowbox EP
The first song on Sheffield’s EP, “Jeremy Ray’s Front Yard,” is an homage to The Shadowbox, a beloved Atlanta art space run by Jeremy Ray. It’s a great song about communities surviving while landmarks come and go. Sheffield’s take on folk is straightforward and endearingly personal. His lyrics are so welcoming and conversational that when Bryan Highhill comes in with horns, they just lift the song up into brass-beaming intimate joy. It feels similar to the way Red Clay River plays behind Tim Barry. Highhill plays horns on all of Sheffield records and he always kills it. The two met at University of Redlands in California and have collaborated ever since. This EP sparks instant fondness.
Lumpy—Life, Man (2011)
Bryan Highhill’s solo project is called Lumpy. Life, Man is like an anti-folk carnival, a cavalcade of organized chaos. It’s like a desert-coast version of another band-geek-turned-bedroom-virtuoso, Jeff Rosenstock of Bomb the Music Industry! This is a really cool album–it’s dense but not at all impenetrable, really fun if you give it a chance. Like Sheffield, Highhill’s songs appear confessional and they’re generally about fitting in and having problems communicating and keeping your sanity. That’s the method to Lumpy’s madness: the music is a counter-schizophrenia that propels the listener past his/her doubt, far enough to nod and enjoy trumpet solos.