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Americana’s jailbreak from sleepy town squares and the scratchier bands of the AM dial has been a welcome development in American music. And the renegade traditionalists of Mipso — Jacob Sharp on mandolin, Joseph Terrell on guitar, Libby Rodenbough on fiddle, Wood Robinson on double bass — are doing their part to take three-part harmony and Appalachian influences into new territory. The three North Carolina songwriters have wandered off the path blazed by Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson to find a new clearing for their southern string band sound.
In the process, they’ve kicked up a fuss. IndyWeek heralded the band’s role in the reemergence of southern roots music in North Carolina, crediting Mipso with “expanding the vocabulary of common touchstones” for bluegrass. WUNC hosted live previews of the band’s second album, Long, Long Gone. [While still undergraduates at UNC, the group sold out the historic Cat’s Cradle -- four times.] And all over the southeast, Mipso has been busy playing raucously fun live shows that veer from up-tempo original melodies to madcap acoustic covers of Michael Jackson. The group puts all the energy of a college club show into a form of music that predates clubs. And most colleges.
Mipso has become known for sly original lyrics as much as a distinctive sound. The group’s writing brings fresh wit to old themes. Red Eye To Raleigh, for example, presents a classic tale of heartbreak -- with a twist. “My broken heart, every injured ventricle, every aching atrium,” Joseph grins. It’s a songwriting style that is both earnest and knowing, dispensing wisdom with an undercutting wink.
For their October 2013 release, Dark Holler Pop, the group enlisted local hero Andrew Marlin of Mandolin Orange as producer and proceeded to assemble a team of other North Carolina mainstays in the studio: members of Chatham County Line, Town Mountain, and Megafaun add a dash of virtuosity to a rich and well-crafted release. Mipso will join other North Carolina luminaries on stage to support the album, such as four-time Grammy winner David Holt, as well as the recently Grammy-honored Steep Canyon Rangers. While making waves across their home state, it’s clear Mipso will be keeping good company.
The idea for Mipso arose out of freshman year daydreaming at UNC Chapel Hill. After the usual band-making delays — Jacob took a year off to study winemaking in New Zealand, Joseph detoured to Argentina for Tango guitar lessons, Libby took sabbatical in Chicago and Ireland to study fiddle, Wood earned his chops in the Carolina jazz department — Mipso quickly went from idle picking to a campus staple. By junior year, UNC’s Chancellor was a regular guest on keyboard. By graduation, Mipso sold out Carrboro’s legendary Cat’s Cradle — four times.
Now, after a whirlwind tour through Japan’s bustling bluegrass scene and a host of sold-out shows across the east coast, Jacob, Joseph, Libby, and Wood are making the happy adjustment from local favorites to global emissaries for a decidedly new sound. As for the name of their particular sound, well, they call it Dark Holler Pop--with a wink and a grin, of course.