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We may live in the flatlands, but Charleston still knows how to throw an Appalachian-style pickin’ party. Incorporating folk, bluegrass, and country, ours is an earthy soundtrack, created by local artists forging new paths and faithful purists keeping traditions alive
Cary Ann Hearst & Michael Trent
Successful singer-songwriters in their own rights, together, they come off with an effortless ease that belies the depth of their songs. Trent’s slightly raspy tenor seems perfectly matched to Hearst’s yearning harmonies, spread thick over stripped-down arrangements that often include little more than a few guitar chords, a tambourine, and hearty foot stomps. The married duo sings Depression-era work songs with the conviction of a Union maid.
Sounds like: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
CD: Shovels & Rope (2008)
Fame will likely sneak up on Mac Leaphart, catching him off guard. It’s not that the Greenville-bred songwriter hasn’t been looking for it, but all the Tweets and trappings of self-promotion just aren’t his style. No, Leaphart’s a working-man’s musician, dedicated to writing, honing, and perfecting every word of his songs. One of those tunes, “Confederate Roses,” spins the tale of a jealous lover driven to madness, a classic deep-woods murder ballad. It’s been enjoying local radio play and could be the track that sends him off to Nashville. Until then, we’re happy he’s here in Charleston, rocking out venues like Surf Bar and the Windjammer with his twangified country grit.
Sounds like: Steve Earle, Ryan Bingham
CD: Line, Rope, Etc… (2008)
When the evenings get brisk, Blue Plantation heats up. These bluegrass veterans are oyster-roast stalwarts, pleasing crowds with their authentic chops for nearly a decade. The quartet plays traditional foot-tapping grass, complemented by impressive original arrangements.
Sounds like: David Grisman’s “Dawg Music”
Live: November 6 at the Harvest Festival on John’s Island & November 10 & 24 at Salty Mike’s downtown
Steeped in tradition but far from stale, Roger Bellow may be our town’s most authentic country artist. A recipient of the S.C. Folk Heritage Award, Bellow is equally at ease leading his Texas-style Western swing group, the Drifting Troubadours, as he is teaching Spanish to local students through classic Mexican folk songs.
Sounds like: Bob Wills,Hank Williams Sr.
CD: On the Road to Prosperity (1990)
The South Carolina Broadcasters
World-renowned luthier David Sheppard and his wife and musical partner, Ivy, play fiddle, banjo, and guitar tunes that sound as real as the century-old songs they’re inspired by, winning them the “Traditional Duo of the Year” honor in 2009 from the S.C. Old-Time Music Association.
Sounds like: A porch jam in an Appalachian holler
CD: The S.C. Broadcasters (2009)
Live: November 3 & 17 at Salty Mike’s
One of the fresher faces on the local bluegrass radar but already one of the most well-respected, The Bushels have a gather-round-the-mic vibe that appeals to a wide audience. Behind originals with strong lyrics, members of the quartet take turns on lead vocal duties. With driving upright bass lines and rolling banjo licks, they’re no ordinary cluster.
Sounds like: Yonder Mountain String Band
CD: Wood & Steel (2010)
You’d be hard-pressed to find two harder working musicians than Jesse Pritchard and Jim Donnelly. The guitarist-drummer combo has performed together for more than a decade, first with Dunzip and now with The Hawkes (named for late musical partner Hawke Morffi). In bars from Sullivan’s to Folly Beach, Pritchard’s flamenco-tinged finger stylings paired with Donnelly’s steady rhythms have set countless patrons’ feet to dancing.
Sounds like: Roy Newman and His Boys, Uncle Walt’s Band
One of the Lowcountry’s most versatile artists, Eddie Bush exists within several personas, transforming himself from an ’80s hair-band-style rocker to a soft-spoken folk singer. Striking a chord with the country’s heartland, his country-pop efforts have popular appeal. In addition to touring nationally with vocal group One Flew South, his 9/11 tribute, “Spirit of America,” enjoyed widespread radio play.
Sounds like: Lady Antebellum
CD: One Flew South’s Last of the Good Guys (2008)
No musician has done more to put our city on the map than Darius Rucker. After taking Hootie and the Blowfish across the nation in the ’90s and early 2000s, Rucker reinvented himself as a solo country star, a move that proved wildly successful. His distinctive baritone lends itself well to modern pop country, and his 2008 debut, Learn to Live, went platinum, spawning three number one hits and earning Rucker the Country Music Association’s New Artist of the Year accolade. With the October release of his sophomore solo effort, Charleston, SC 1966, Rucker tossed his hometown another bone, even featuring our city throughout the video for his debut single, “Come Back Song.”
Sounds like: Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney
CD: Charleston, SC 1966 (2010)
Live: After selling out the Peace Center in Greenville on October 28, Darius is touring across the U.S.
James Justin & Company
Songwriter James Justin Burke claims to be deeply in love with his songs; watch him perform, and it’s hard to disagree. With a heartfelt voice and an ear for harmony, the Folly Beach-based performer released his debut album this year to acclaim he couldn’t have anticipated. Southern Son, So Far features an array of musical friends, including Band of Horses’ singer Ben Bridwell and The Hawkes, but it’s the strength of the arrangements that have earned accolades from Relix and Blue Ridge Outdoors magazines. Burke’s touring band, James Justin & Company, is an acoustic quartet with bluegrass instrumentation, including stand-up bass, banjo, and mandolin.
Sounds like: Neil Young, Pure Prairie League
CD: Southern Son, So Far (2010)
Photographs: (Leaphart) by Sarah Hinds, (Hearst & Trent) by David Sullivan, (SC Broadcasters) by Jack Alterman, (Blue Planttation) by Mark Requidan, (Bellow) courtesy of the artist, (Bushels) by Joshua Drake, (Bush) by Carvin Corporation, (Justin) by Melissa Burke, & (Hawkes) by Michelle Lee