These days, that familiar expression “What’s old is new again” seems especially apt. Communal combos like the Punch Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Donna the Buffalo have proven that axiom time and again by combining a traditional sensibility and reverence for their roots with a modern, energized approach that’s brought them a devoted following of fans.
The Appleseed Collective ought to be considered among that number as well, and though the band's organic sound can’t quite be considered bluegrass, it is both frenzied and familiar. As demonstrated over two studio albums, Baby to Beast (2012) and Young Love (January 2014), and a recent live effort, Live at the Ark, Appleseed’s is a potent mix of old-time fiddle music, sprightly jazz, gypsy tunes, ragtime, funk, country, and plain old rock ’n’ roll.
"With a strong basis in pre-World War II Americana music, we have been taking that aesthetic and applying it to more modern examples of songwriting,” guitarist Andrew Brown explains. “By infusing tinges of those varied styles into the foundation, the new songs feature a lot more vocal harmony and more progressive arrangements.”
The fact that they procure such varied strains of Americana doesn’t necessarily make them unique, but it does make them a popular concert attraction, and indeed, since their formation in 2010, the band — Brown, violinist and mandolin player Brandon Smith, multi-percussionist Vince Russo, and bassist Eric Dawe — have proven themselves to be constant road warriors, journeying coast to coast. Purists in more ways than one — they manage their own affairs and buy only from local merchants — the band provides the ultimate definition of what it takes to be a populist combo.
Or, as Brown describes it, “It's like Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Django Reinhardt, and Bob Wills all got together and couldn't decide where to go to lunch.”
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If that seems a bit obtuse, a quick listen to Live at the Ark, recorded last December in the group's hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan, ought to provide a quick primer. An upcoming EP tentatively titled The Tour Tapes is also planned as a prelude to the next studio set, which Brown says will be recorded in March.
For now, however, the best way to get a taste of what the Appleseed Collective has to offer is to witness it in person. Indeed, being that it’s rare to find string-band music getting a live showcase here in South Florida, it's best to sample it while you can. Sure, they’re quaint and a bit old-fashioned. But taking a step back in time can be a fruitful experience, and clearly the Appleseed Collective provides all the proof needed.
The Applessed Collective. 9 p.m. Wednesday, January 6, at Lagniappe House, 3425 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-576-01085; lagniappehouse.com. Admission is free.