Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line are a traveling Carnival of Appalachian-roots-rock. The high energy, Nashville-based quintet perform Struthers’ original story-songs with tight, three-part harmonies, fiddle, clawhammer banjo, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. Struthers was catapulted into the spotlight when she lead her band to a blue ribbon at the prestigious 2010 Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition (previous winners include Nickel Creek and The Dixie Chicks) and now her group is touring heavily in support of their April 16 release, Carnival. Struthers’ songs are as steeped in American history, and as well crafted, as the beautiful vintage dresses she wears on stage.
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NORA JANE STRUTHERS’ CARNIVAL PULLS INTO TOWN APRIL 16
Award-Winning Americana Singer-Songwriter Issues Sophomore Effort
“When you go to a carnival, you go into a sideshow tent, and on every stage you find a different person with a different story,” says Nora Jane Struthers. “That’s why I’m trying to do with this album – craft
vignettes, and in some cases more developed narratives, about imaginary people’s lives.”
Struthers’ album Carnival, which will be issued on the singer-songwriter’s own label on April 16, is an ambitious and literate follow-up to the Nashville performer’s much-praised 2010 debut.
Produced by Brent Truitt (Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Dixie Chicks), who also helmed Struthers’ self-titled bow, Carnival
comprises 14 fresh original compositions in her “Classic Americana”
vein that richly show off her skills as a sensitive and intelligent
tune-weaver and a warm and persuasive vocalist.
Recorded at Truitt’s East Nashville studio, the album marks the recording debut of Struthers’ touring band, the Party Line (which takes its handle from one of the record’s songs, about the early days of rural telephone calls). The gifted group of instrumentalists includes Struthers’
longtime collaborator P. J. George (upright bass, harmony vocals, pedal
steel guitar, accordion and banjo), Joe Overton (clawhammer banjo and
harmony vocals), Aaron Jonah Lewis (fiddle, three-finger banjo, baritone
fiddle, mandolin) and Drew Lawhorn (drums). Guests include producer
Truitt on mandolin and singers Rachael Hester and Nick Woods. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line support the album with heavy touring in theaters, clubs and festivals, including the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival and Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.
Carnival caps three years of intense work by the 29 year old
that included recognition of her group as best band at Colorado’s
prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a stint as featured vocalist
and songwriter in the Alaska-bred, Nashville-based band Bearfoot, and
touring in the U.S., France and Germany.
Struthers now re-emerges as a band-leader with a smart, affecting cycle of songs sporting a timeline that stretches from the antebellum 19th-century South to the middle of the last century. Reflecting her background in literature – she taught English before undertaking a full-time career in music in 2008 – the tunes are deftly-told stories that survey the American terrain from a uniquely focused point of view.
“I realized that I was writing a collection of story-songs from a female perspective,” Struthers says. “I was able to arrange them
chronologically, as teenagers, then women, then old women. The album has a narrative, from girlhood to death.”
The instrumentation and form of Struthers’ music draws on her
traditionalist roots – her father Alan is himself a bluegrass musician –
but with the addition of drums, this record takes a bend toward more
progressive roots-rock bands like Mumford & Sons and The Avett
“I’m really passionate about the stories in the old ballads and story-songs,” says Struthers. “I’m trying to bring that element of traditional music forward into a contemporary sonic space. I want story-songs to live on in a way that will be accessible to more people. That’s my artistic mission. When we hear another person’s story, we gain perspective and are changed; we’re able to see our own lives through new eyes.”
Virginia-born Struthers was educated at NYU’s Steinhart School of Education and taught at a charter school in Brooklyn, while cutting her musical teeth as a folk-rock performer in New York clubs like CBGBs and the Cutting Room. She decided to move into music full-time after attending such convocations as Virginia’s Galax Old Time Fiddlers Convention and North Carolina’s Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention with her father.
She made her recording debut in Dirt Road Sweetheart, a duo with her father, which released the album I Heard the Bluebirds Sing in 2008. Not long thereafter, she piled her belongings into her 1998 Honda Odyssey and relocated from New York to Music City.
She recorded her 2010 solo debut Nora Jane Struthers
with such Nashville masters as multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien and
fiddler Stuart Duncan. The album was received with ecstatic reviews: Bluegrass Unlimited praised it as “a marvel that combines brilliant songcraft, a sultry yet honey-hued voice, and an inspired sense of personal musical style,” while Dave Higgs of Bluegrass Breakdown called it “one of the most mesmerizing, haunting and hard-hitting projects I’ve ever heard.”
Shortly after taking first place at Telluride in June
2010, she and bassist P. J. George teamed up with Bearfoot and released an album, American Story, on Nashville’s Compass Records
in September 2011. The album featured six songs either written or co-written (with Tim O’Brien and Claire Lynch) by Struthers; one of them, “Tell Me a Story,” became a top-rated video on CMT. While Struthers calls her time with the group “definitely a step up for me, and a very positive experience,” she recommitted in late 2012 to touring with her own band.