Sawmill Road in the studio

California’s Sawmill Road is in the studio this month as well, working on their third recording at Eric Uglum’s New Wine Studios in Apple Valley.

Despite a well-received showcase at IBMA in 2008, the band is not well known beyond the west coast and mountain states. Other professional commitments prevent them from touring extensively far from home, but their 2009 CD, Fire On The Kettle, made quite a splash with bluegrass radio.

The group is anchored by a pair of bluegrass veterans, Steve Spurgin and Dick Brown. Spurgin has a serious pedigree as a songwriter, with multiple awards to his credit, and he performed as a member of several prominent CA bluegrass bands, including Sundance and California, both with Byron Berline. He plays bass and handles much of the lead singing with Sawmill Road.

Brown is a “banjo player’s banjo player,” a stickler for consistency in tone and timing, with a knack for playing just the right thing every time. He is a renowned banjo instructor and has a long resume in bluegrass as well.

Doug Bartlett, a Quicksilver graduate is on fiddle, Charlie Edsall, another talented songwriter, is on guitar, and Mark Miracle plays mandolin. Mark also runs a bluegrass-themed business called Grassware which produces a variety of apparel and jewelry items for grassers, including a hilarious Banjo Hero line of shirts.

Spurgin gave us a sneak peek at the material they have chosen for the new CD, saying that they picked songs they enjoy doing personally, as opposed to what sort of reaction they expect others to have.

“I don’t mean to sound unconcerned with other people’s opinion by any means. We have simply thought that a recorded project should always be something that a band really feels positive about. You have to be pleased with it first, before anyone else will like it.

The new project – Sawmill Road 3 (we don’t really have more of a title yet than that) will include some things that we have been doing live. They are things that were recorded by California back in the day. A couple of mine – A Walk In The Irish Rain and Band Of Angels – plus one from my good friend John Penn, Moonlight Motor Inn. The response to those tunes is always so good, we decided to record our versions.

We also are including a couple of chestnuts, Take Me In Your Lifeboat and Listening To The Rain. Although those two are certainly familiar to folks, we do them the Sawmill Road way – whatever that is! They are just so much fun to play, we wanted to do them on a CD for the enjoyment of it.

We have a song that we got from some friends in Oregon that is a killer bluegrass tune. We may keep that one under wraps till we have it ready to release. There is a strong possibility we are going to record a Bob Dylan song that we love, Girl From The North Country. Once again, that one is not new to the bluegrass world, but we put our own spin on it. Dusty Miller will be on there, another one we get a big kick out of playing. Another song of mine, The Cora Lee (a bit of an Irish sea song) will be on the project as well.

We might have recorded another of my songs, Kodak 1955, but Josh Williams has it out on his new CD. THANKS JOSH! He told me at Byron Berline’s festival in Oklahoma a couple of years back he wanted to record it, and by golly he did. As a songwriter, the greatest compliment you can have is for someone of Josh’s caliber to want to do one of your songs.”

Steve also spoke highly of Eric Uglum and New Wine…

“Eric is a grand engineer, and a delight to work with. A really wonderful place to record. First class gear, and it’s homey and comfortable. Eric and his family are terrific hosts.”

No projected release date or label affiliation has yet been offered, but we will keep you posted as that develops. Fire On The Kettle was a superb CD, and I look forward to hearing the next.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.