Alan Barnosky: Lonesome Road EP release show

Saturday, Jan. 25, 8:30 p.m., $10 suggested

Nightlight, Chapel Hill

Alan Barnosky, a folk-festival regular who’s also opened for the likes of Robbie Fulks, already started making his name in the conglomerate of bluegrass, country, and popular music known as Americana with his 2017 debut album, Old Freight. Now the Durham-by-way-of-Michigan flatpicking guitarist and songwriter is building on his early acclaim with the Lonesome Road EP, which has a release show at Nightlight on Saturday, Jan. 25 (with Grand Shores and Omar Ruiz-Lopez, who blend American folk and West African kora music). After a stripped-down debut, Barnosky’s EP is a full-band affair that should be ready to ride. We recently emailed with him about being an Americana musician in Durham versus Detroit, the competitive burn of music school, and the Beer & Banjos series he hosts at The Pit in Durham.

INDY: You’re originally from Michigan. What brought you to Durham, and how do the folk and old-time music scenes in the two areas compare?

ALAN BARNOSKY: I moved to North Carolina in 2012 for a grad program at UNC-Greensboro and then bounced around a little bit before getting a job in Durham and moving here five years ago. While folk and old-time music are definitely more prevalent here in North Carolina, it’s not unheard of in Michigan. I got into it in my late teens growing up in the Metro Detroit area, and later found out there’s a pretty rich acoustic music scene throughout the state if you know where to look. I started to find other like-minded musicians and spent several years playing upright bass in bluegrass groups in Michigan. That being said, the local bluegrass and old-time scene here in Durham and the surrounding area is incredible. It is an amazing place to be a musician right now.

How did you get into flatpicking guitar, which is sort of as much of a culture as it is a technique?

I started on guitar at age 12 playing rock and blues, and then later got into classical guitar and focused on that pretty intensively for several years. My first semester in college was as a classical guitar music major, and the seriousness and competitiveness of the music school culture completely drained my love of playing. I changed majors, set down the guitar, and started playing bluegrass bass on the side for fun. Several years later I made the move to North Carolina, and unfortunately, a huge upright bass didn’t make the cut as I squeezed my most essential belongings into a four-door car. However, I did fit in an old steel-string guitar, and once I was in a new place with no bass or other musicians to play with, I started working on flatpicking and songwriting.

The Lonesome Road EP is the follow-up to your Old Freight LP—what did you do the same and different this time around?

Old Freight was an intentionally stripped-down folk songwriter record. The entire thing was recorded live, and the tracks at most had two people on them, myself and mandolinist Robert Thornhill. It represented who I was then as a songwriter and captured how I perform my solo material. Everything you hear on that record is how Robert and I played it, side by side in a small studio room, and there are very few recording studio tricks involved.

I love how Old Freight turned out. However, some songs I write are just better suited for a band setting, so the songs on this new EP feature those specific “band” songs. I gathered up a few great musicians who also happen to be good friends and had them help out on this recording. The focus on this new record is still on the song, but it also adds in a little more instrumentation and variety.

“Might Be a Call” was inspired by Bill Monroe—tell us about what Monroe means to you and how his inspiration can be felt on that song.

Every so often I’ll take a deep dive into certain musician’s recordings and history. Around the time I wrote this song I was doing that with Bill Monroe, who is known as the father of bluegrass. His songs that are most memorable to me have strong modal melodies and themes of grief or loss. I feel like “Might Be a Call” borrows from the ideas in some of those songs he would play. When I wrote this song, I didn’t really intend to mimic that sound, and I think the end result is a bit different, but listening back I can hear that the influence is there.

Tell us about the band you put together for this record, and will they be with you at the Nightlight release show.

The band on this record includes Robert Thornhill on mandolin, Jack Devereaux on fiddle, and David Kinton on bass. Jack recently moved away, so he won’t be at the release show, but everybody else will, and we’ll also be joined by Tatiana Hargreaves on fiddle. The four of us play together often at a weekly music series I host called Beer & Banjos that features roots music at The Pit in downtown Durham every Monday night. We open up that series playing bluegrass tunes before the headlining band takes over, so we’ve had a ton of experience over the past year or so getting comfortable performing together. It will be a blast playing my original material with these three great musicians. We also have other local shows planned for later in the year, so stay tuned for those.

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