CUMBERLAND BLUE’S UNIQUE NASHVILLE SOUND
If Cumberland Blue is any indication of the direction Nashville’s sound is going in, the city may soon need to embrace its Music City moniker in a more diversified way. Country music has long defined the city, but the roots of its heritage have started to spread out. Growing up in the city, and its surrounding suburbs, the younger generation of musicians has had quite a mix of influences. They’ve been immersed in the history of country music, and all the sounds that passed through town in decades past. They’ve also had a healthy dose of music made elsewhere, with a wealth of venues throughout the city that showcase all genres and host acts nearly every night. It’s no wonder that some of Nashville’s emerging bands don’t sound like they belong in a honky tonk. The members of Cumberland Blue belong on a different stage.
The first thing I read about the members of Cumberland Blue was that their combined ages barely exceed the age of one member of The Rolling Stones. This is where you’d be remiss to let their youth fool you. The band formed in 2012, but if you look at their individual music backgrounds, they could have started a garage band when they were all about four years old. Duncan King is the band’s drummer, who says he started playing drums before he could walk. He’s a fan of Led Zeppelin and the Foo Fighters. Guitarist, Hank Compton, grew up around the music business, as his father, Paul, is a producer. He started on guitar about age four, and eventually learned to play drums and piano as well. Cumberland Blue is the first band he’s played in. His favorite artists include the Eagles, John Mayer, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Grant Smith plays fiddle and mandolin, starting with classical violin when he was four. By age ten, he was playing in a bluegrass band. He cites the particular work of blues fiddle player, Papa John Creach, as a favorite, but also lists Jimi Hendrix as an influence. Chloe Kohanski is the lead vocalist, raised only on contemporary Christian music. She started singing at age five, and says it wasn’t until she joined this band that she heard the blues. She has since become a fan of Anne Wilson, Robert Plant, and Susan Tedeschi. Rocky Block was introduced to the drums early on because of his father, Billy Block, who was a drummer. Beginning as early as he could grip a stick, he gave up playing when his brother got better at it than he was. He tried out a variety of instruments before finding his comfort zone on bass a few years ago. He’s become a big fan of Pino Palladino’s work. Rounding out the band is their keyboard player, Yates McKendree. His father is a professional piano player, and he started playing at age three. He enjoys the work of James Booker and Billy Preston. Their range of influences and combined years spent learning and playing have given them a strong and diverse foundation to build on.
In 2012, the band got together to compete in the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis. It was a jumping off point from which they’ve continued to develop their sound. They released their debut EP, Awakening, in 2014, and it offers sound proof of their evolution. While it does have a bluesy thread throughout, with the guitar work holding down its roots, it strays in inventive ways that give it a modern feel authentic to its younger players. Chloe puts a soulful, melancholy tone on her vocal work here, adding a touch of sassy resolve when the song warrants such. The six songs on the EP were a collective effort, all originals, written by the band. While the first five are a mix of the influences they brought to the table, we’re reminded of the sound that brought them to the dance in “Bad Reputation.” They bring the blues full force in this composition that sounds like it could be decades old. Clearly, they can hold their own in that genre. In 2015, they released the single, “Invisible,” with a much harder edge and grittier substance. The blues foundation is evident, but Chloe puts a more mature, angrier tone on this one that gives the instrumentation some leeway. This might just be their sweet spot in sound design, paying homage to the blues while pushing the limits of how much rock it’ll hold. It reminds me of the days when Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan were blowing people’s minds with things unheard before.
Cumberland Blue is, perhaps, the best representation Nashville could have for an emerging music scene that can’t quite find its foothold. As the city continues to grow at a rapid pace, new musicians move to town every day, bringing with them a diverse music history and taste preference. Contrary to popular belief, Nashville is not just a country music town. Music City has roots in many different directions, and as the population changes, so will the sound of music being made there. This band has the talent to find their own sound, using the history they’ve been surrounded with as inspiration. Nashville is very much a solo-artist-driven town. It may take just one band emerging with a different sound, pushing the edges of rock and the blues, to open the door for a wave of new bands to form on the Nashville music scene. Great music is being made, and bands of different genres are playing all over the city. If Cumberland Blue gets the fan support and industry backing that can keep them together to realize their full potential, there is no end game to their future sound. They are what Music City needs to jumpstart a music scene that provides an alternative to Broadway. All the pieces are in place, just waiting for someone to take the lead.
Visit the Cumberland Blue page at ReverbNation: https://www.reverbnation.com/cumberlandblue
Check out Cumberland Blue on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0SAJQ5d68WbVWkSB7V2ORw
Watch Cumberland Blue’s performance of “Invisible.”
Listen to Awakening on Spotify:
Purchase Awakening through iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/awakening-ep/id899189463
Purchase “Invisible” through iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/invisible-single/id989911953
Follow Cumberland Blue on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CumberlandBlueBand/?fref=ts
See Cumberland Blue LIVE at The High Watt Nashville on Tuesday, July12!
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