For Coyote Kolb, the roots come together

State of mind
By BARRY THOMPSON  |  January 24, 2012

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DUE PROCESS “The more we got to know each other, the more interesting the songs got,” says Coyote Kolb bassist Owen Beane (top, second from left with, clockwise from left, Noel Coakley, Matty Maybruck, Sonny Jim Clifford, and Chadley Kolb). 

Johnny Cash's baleful self-portrait "Ain't No Grave" oozes into my skull through a Sailor Jerry haze. On a dreary Sunday night in Jamaica Plain, I'm slumped in a corner listening to Coyote Kolb rehearse in the eclectically decorated living room/practice space they call home. Practically every band whose music could be called "rootsy" or "bluesy" has a Cash cover or nine in their repertoire, but it's unusual to hear justice done to the originals. Also, it's cool Coyote Kolb know a Cash song that is not "Ring of Fire" or "Folsom Prison Blues."

Nobody should be allowed to do Cash unless they can absolutely kill it. Coyote Kolb — who celebrate the release of their sophomore record United State Saturday at Great Scott — understand this, which suggests advanced rock-and-roll acumen. Also, considering our conurbation's counter-intuitively high quantity and caliber of "bluesy" and "rootsy" outfits, there's hardly a point to twanging unless you can distinguish yourself. Coyote Kolb keep themselves conspicuous via Chadley Kolb's ghoulish wail, an outstanding harmonica player named Sonny (I know, right?), and the varying degrees of epic facial hair unofficially required for membership.

"To tell you the truth, I can't grow a real beard," jokes ringleader Kolb. "My beard envy is so thick that I insist these guys grow as much as possible." After daydreaming about forming a band for years, Kolb realized he'd have to isolate himself, Walden-style, to get any worthwhile writing and recording done. Back in 2008, he trekked to a renovated room above his grandmother's garage in southern Maine to fashion the embryonic Coyote Kolb demos.

"It's such a cliché, but it's true for anyone doing anything that takes some creative output," he notes. "You've sometimes got to remove the distractions."

Before his current musical pursuits, Kolb underwent a hardcore phase, tried his hand at experimental electronic sounds, and took a hiatus from performing. But sequestered in the woodland milieu, he found himself cultivating an approach that "sounded the most familiar," harvested from the classic country his grandfather introduced him to when he was just a wee Kolb. "It's funny how things come back around like that with style, and how you end up in a certain place, but 10 different people can end up in that same place coming from 10 completely different places."

In this case, it's more like five people coming to the same place. During subsequent years of lineup jostling, Kolb asked mouth-harpist Sonny Jim Clifford to join after Clifford had invited himself onstage to jam on a Howlin' Wolf song. For a while, Coyote Kolb was an acoustic trio. But when the lineup dust settled, the current five-piece constructed the upcoming United State. Whereas Kolb probably could've gotten away with marketing 2010's Massachusett as a solo offering, this one is a definite gang endeavor.

"As soon as we started playing together, songs were coming out really quickly," says bassist Owen Beane, a/k/a the brains behind A Wish for Fire's glistening alt-rock. "The more we got to know each other, the more interesting the songs got. The album is for sure the audio journal of us getting to know each other."

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