We all need a new call to action. A new jolt of optimism. If you will, a New Reveille.
Especially those of us who know the power of music as it once was… before computers started smoothing rough edges, before writers fell into step with paeans to parties and beer and the like, songs could cast spells. They could change the way people thought and felt. They touched on life and death.
They were real — as real as the five-piece ensemble known as New Reveille.
On The Keep, their inaugural album for Loud & Proud Records, New Reveille’s distinctive talents find common ground in traditions that stretch back to and beyond early America. On that foundation, through their varied gifts, they build a unique sound that encompasses the virtues of music that came before and the promise of what it might yet become.
Begin with their sound. Amy Kamm on lead vocals, Daniel Cook on banjo and guitar, George Hage on guitar, Autumn Brand on violin — an Americana lineup so far. But there’s also Kaitlin Grady on cello, adding a classical element, combining with Autumn in mini-orchestral textures and melodies. Cook’s banjo avoids flashy patterns, instead harks back to a pre-bluegrass era. As for the vocals, Kamm dances deftly between artful interpretive solo parts and three-part female harmonies that somehow soar, caress, and electrify all at once.
Then come the songs. Darker textures prevail, mostly in minor modes. Lyrics conjure ominous visions and premonitions. “Hard days are coming, Lord,” is the lament on “Abide,” sung over a stark beat, haunted banjo, and slashing fiddle fills. Storms are evoked in the wistful “Conway Shore,” where a doomed friend “broke apart in the wind. Now you’re a drifting plume of dust, lost in a lightning storm at dusk.” Some songs tease a respite, with gentle violin and acoustic guitar heralding a story of childbirth — but then the daughter’s premature demise casts clouds across the promising sun.
Other songs are more narrative. They feel personal but also literary, like some sadness from the past preserved in the poetry of song. “Hounds,” the song that introduces the band as their first single and video, addresses karma, and how one’s past eventually converges with the present. “Savannah,” with its references to “ashes flying by, black as night smoke,” is a metaphorical odyssey of two sisters fleeing from the shadows of their Carolina home toward a more immediate doom? Did it happen when Savannah burned in the Civil War’s waning days or perhaps just recently? Similar questions arise in “Worn Sunglasses,” another allegory of flight toward real or imagined shelter and laced with the ambiguous refrain “No more lonely… lonely now.”
“We actually write plenty of happier songs in major keys,” Cook insists. “At the same time, I love early American mountain music. I get goosebumps just from thinking about it. That music might be in my DNA. A lot of Scottish/Irish people settled into the North Carolina mountains, which is where my family is. Then you add what George does on guitar, with a lot of Delta blues and folk in his roots. New Reveille comes from that place where the mountains meet the swamp.”
Growing up just outside of Raleigh, Cook started playing guitar at 15. His heroes were Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. As a high school senior, he discovered Bob Dylan’s work, and he began writing too. Even then, he sensed that by the time he was 30 years old he would migrate to the banjo as a last, essential stop while seeking his own essence as an artist.
Sure enough, Cook was 30 when he reached that milestone. “I was working as a video editor and doing some work on shows for the PBS series Folkways. On one show, this 97-year-old banjo player named Wade Mainer blew me away with his two-finger style. I picked up my banjo and learned that style, watching him frame by frame.”
After a while, he decided to look for others who might accompany him on this adventure. An ad he placed in Craigslist caught the eye of Amy Kamm. Though she’d never sung in public except in church choirs and was working full time as a nurse, something in Cook’s demos moved her to reconsider her plans.
“I love songs with emotion, where there’s some melancholy or sadness,” she explains. “I had this sense that Daniel’s songs would allow me to walk around the broken places of my heart. In fact, when I sing some of them I have to be careful because I can cry when certain memories come up. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of what he was doing.”
His response to her voice was equally immediate. “When I clicked on her response to my ad I was like, ‘Holy crap!’ I yelled to my wife, ‘Come here! Listen to this!’ We both thought, ‘This can’t be a real person.’ I called Amy right after that.”
Then the rest of New Reveille came into the picture. When he and Amy decided to cut an EP together, Daniel hired Autumn to play some violin parts. He gave her their demos to study in advance. “Then she texted me,” Daniel remembers. “She was like, ‘Hey, if you’re gonna do a live band, I’d love to be in it.’ Autumn was already friends with Kaitlin, so we all got together to record even before we had the full band fleshed out.”
George joined the group shortly afterwards. “I hired him to do the album art,” Daniel says. “Then for a promo photo we were going to take, I asked him if he wanted to be in the picture, holding a guitar, to make us look more like a real band. He hadn’t even played with us, but we posted that shot on Facebook.”
Once they experienced George’s facility as a versatile guitarist and writer, he was welcomed onboard. They shot a video for the song “Babylon,” which earned them a prestigious American Advertising Gold Addy award. They booked shows in Raleigh and surrounding areas. Reports of their genre-defying performances made their way back to Tom Lipsky, head of Loud & Proud Records. Though mostly rock bands comprised its roster, Lipsky signed them as the label’s first and so far, only acoustic ensemble.
“Tom lit a fire under us,” Daniel says. “We’d send him some new music and he’d go, ‘Great! Let’s hear some more!’”
They wrote prolifically, almost furiously, from October 2017 into the new year. Each song grew organically: A rough demo would prompt Autumn and Kaitlin to come up with string parts. Harmonies blossomed. Amy found her way into the essence of each lyric, sometimes tweaking a word or two to complete the connection. Then they made their first trip to Nashville to record final versions at Ocean Way Studios, with support from some of the city’s top session players.
“‘Conway Shore’ was the first one we did,” Daniel says. “That was also the first song we’d ever written. We heard the playback on headphones and I was on the verge of tears because it was the first time I’d ever heard the song the way it was supposed to be played.”