We spent part of our lunch hour today visiting with Carrie Hassler and the folks at Rural Rhythm Records.
One of the hardest things about trying to keep to a schedule at IBMA is the fact that any trip from point A to point B will take you past a half dozen people you are eager to see. Three or four chance meetings and brief conversations in the hallway, and you’re running behind.
And so we arrived at the Rural Rhythm suite after Carrie and her band, Hard Rain, had finished their performance. We apologized for being late and missing the show, only to see Carrie round up her boys, and sing a few just for us. We certainly appreciated that kindness, and were prepared to enjoy some good music.
I don’t think that either of us were expecting to see and hear such a powerful performance, and knew from the first few bars that these folks had something special. Carrie has a strong and expressive voice, and a comfortable manner before an audience. Her band, Hard Rain (twin brothers Keith and Kevin McKinnon on guitar and mandolin respectively, Josh Miller on banjo and Travis Anderson on bass), are dynamic and driving, with a keen sense of what should be played – and when.
Watching them go from socializing and eating to a thoroughly professional performance in a matter of moments really cemented my impressions. They did it live, with no amplification, and it was even more engaging than the versions on Carrie’s debut recoding, Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain.
The music was all from the CD, and I found both the material and the arrangements to be clever and original – not always a given with “new” songs. When we spoke after her performance, Carrie offered much of the credit to her producer, Mountain Heart fiddle man Jim VanCleve. She said that Jim helped her find the songs and put the arrangements together. Jim, who was standing nearby, deflected all the credit back to this talented young singer, saying that with a voice like hers, his job was an easy one.
One thing that caught my eye at their suite was a big stack of Moon Pies on the table. It turns out that they have struck a sponsorship agreement with the company, and give out free samples at all their shows. Carrie said that lines for the free chocolate and marshmallow snack cakes at their shows are often the longest in the park.
“I love Moon Pies, and I think it’s something fun that people remember. If people remember me as ‘the Moon Pie girl,’ well that’s alright by me.”
This is a very entertaining bunch, and I expect that they will find an appreciative audience among younger fans of acoustic music, who love the drive and power of bluegrass, but also prefer songs that have a newer edge. Big things should be ahead for Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain.