Small Town Lights
'Small Town Lights' EP

 by Johanna B. Bodde

Small Town Lights
'Small Town Lights' EP
(Elk Garden Music, 2015)

Small Town Lights introduced themselves to me as a new Americana band from Asheville, North Carolina.

Their line-up:
Stephanie Barcelona - Vocals
Mark Jackson - Guitar, Vocals
Wes Ogden - Upright Bass
Liza Flood - Fiddle, Vocals
Christian Funk - Pedal Steel.

A bit more INFO:

Small Town Lights's self-titled debut EP is a mix of original songs and obscure covers from '50s and '60s country music. The band has created a distinctive blend of honky-tonk, country roots, folk and Americana that explores classic country themes and life in Southern Appalachia.

Though Small Town Lights is relatively new on the Asheville music scene, they have been recognized for their distinct sound which conjures up the past while also embracing a modern aesthetic. Their rich vocal harmonies - intertwined with fiddle and pedal steel - call to mind seminal artists from across several decades, including Loretta Lynn, Gillian Welch, Ray Price and Ryan Adams.

Small Town Lights has shared shows with national touring acts such as Lindi Ortega, Carolina Story and Lera Lynn, and quickly generated a buzz by playing in and around their Asheville, NC home at popular venues like the Grey Eagle, Jack of the Wood, Altamont Brewing, the Purple Onion, and the Mothlight, to name a few.

The EP

They call the disc modestly an EP, it contains indeed 23 minutes worth of music, but it has eight tracks! As it is probably more of a limited, mostly digital release, I appreciate it very much that the band sent me a real promo to work with. Let's give it a spin!

1. "Long Time To Forget": It takes courage to start off a debut with a George Jones cover. This is a lesser known song by the famous country star. Uptempo, great vocals in flawless harmonies, very nice acoustic guitar and the fiddle shines throughout. I love this stuff right away!

2. "Poor Appalachia": Original song, written by Mark Jackson, who also sings the lead vocal. A touching, heartfelt ballad. Big companies poisoning the rivers and cutting the trees, greedy bankers versus poor families, who already live in the area for centuries. Very impressive!

3. "Floodwaters": This is also an original, written by Stephanie Barcelona and the vocal is hers too. Full attention for her gorgeous voice, adorned by the abundant fiddle.

4. "Small Town Lights": The title track, a country song written by Mark. Many singers like to compare themselves to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Mark and Stephanie don't, for a change, but they are exactly the ones who can REALLY pull it off!  Mark even has almost the same vocal timbre and Stephanie's harmony blends seamlessly, like they were born to sing together.

5. "Hinges On The Door": An obscure song, written by Thomas Knight. Even Google couldn't find anything about the original. Wow, I appreciate it, when artists know how to pick their rare covers! Sung by Stephanie again, she works it into a Loretta Lynn type of song. I love Christian's 
pedal steel parts. The pedal steel is such an exuberant instrument, that it tends to take over songs completely, but not here, it accompanies beautifully. 

6. "I Let A Stranger Buy The Wine": This is another well-chosen cover, written by Kay Adams. A country singer, who made several singles and albums between 1965 and 1978, but was painfully unsuccessful, except for her only charting single 'Little Pink Mac'. As a songwriter, she co-wrote with a young Merle Haggard. Small Town Lights know their vintage country LP's for sure! Stephanie does a Tammy Wynette thing here, there's a beautiful fiddle solo and the remarkable rhythm is almost Caribbean, wonderful arrangement!

7. "Ellen": Mark wrote this song and sings lead vocal, David Flood plays banjo on this track. Catchy uptempo bluegrass, showing that this band feels at home in a variety of roots music styles.
8. "Dry Town": A lovely, fiddle-driven version of this song, written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Miranda Lambert covered it too, by the way, proving that she has some taste. I prefer this one, though, with Stephanie singing the lead vocal.

That was a very pleasant meeting with Small Town Lights! I absolutely love all the eight tracks and I actually can't wait to hear more... Strong originals as well as obscure covers, I am so curious what they come up with next?
Written by Johanna J. Bodde - February 27th, 2015.