Whether they’re tilling a field or digging deeper into their unique blend of rock and bluegrass, the members of Acoustic Syndicate have a distinct way of reaching back in order to move forward. With their evocative new album “Rooftop Garden” the quintet takes a giant leap into the next chapter of their 20-year history of making unforgettable music, working the family farm and advocating for the environment. If there was ever a band that could capture the universal truths of life from the roots up, it’s Acoustic Syndicate.
“The tunes on this album were written with an essentially positive message, one about humanity, earth, responsibility and peace,” said singer/guitarist Steve McMurray. “And not saying ‘Baby’ too much,” he joked.
“It’s been eight years since we made our last record,” Steve added. “With the passage of time, if we are paying any attention at all, we see just how fragile and tenuous human life really is. It gives you a strong sense of the incredible importance of community, family and love. These feelings come out in our writing.”
The band revisits topics of love, kinship and the natural world on this album but in other ways this disc marks a creative shift for the Syndicate. While McMurray has long been Acoustic Syndicate’s charismatic lead singer “Rooftop Garden” captures the rise of another distinctive voice in the band, cousin Bryon McMurray. On this disc Bryon’s familiar, funky banjo often takes a backseat to his Fender electric guitar that along with his warm and even vocals create a sound somewhere between Bruce Hornsby and The Samples.
“I could sing harmonies all day long but I never felt the confidence to sing lead so much until this record,” said Bryon. “My head has always been full of melodies but this time the lyrics just came so naturally. I knew these were songs that needed to be sung.”
In addition to Steve and Bryon, drummer Fitz McMurray (Bryon’s brother) and bassist Jay Sanders create the core of Acoustic Syndicate, with the deeply accomplished dobro playing of Billy Cardine now rounding out their sound.
A favorite of dobro heavyweight Jerry Douglas, Cardine’s music gives the Syndicate a bigger, richer feel. “What Acoustic Syndicate does is so honest and homey it allows me to be this ribbon tying it all together and adding spice at the same time,” said Cardine. “They have such a down to earth quality to their music that in their own way what they do is virtuosic.”
Raised in a valley of the world’s oldest mountains, brothers Bryon and Fitz, along with cousin Steve, still farm the land in Cleveland County, N.C. that has been in their family since the 1700s. The impact of the years spent with their hands in the soil, growing wheat, soybeans, tomatoes and sorghum, has informed their music as much as the hours spent with their hands on their instruments.
“We are farmers,” said Steve about the McMurray men in the band. “We have a strong ancestral tradition and we will never give it up. In many ways it’s what gives us purpose and has much to do with who we are.” And it’s also why the band can bring such genuine home grown music from the field to the stage.
“But the truth is, the concern for the land can not just be important to us,” says Steve, “the folks who work it, grow food on it for others to eat, tend it from one generation to the next. Even the most apathetic and uneducated citizen might one day wonder why the rain burns their eyes or why there is a hole in the sky – why they can’t breathe or escape the heat. For some of us, only then will we truly realize the seriousness of our situation. And then it will be too late.”
And so the band plays on. Jamming and grinning and singing these deep and hopeful tunes encouraging people to think as they dance, expand their minds and open their hearts to the good that can be done around them.
“Through our music, we have tried to maintain a consistent message, a reminder, that this Earth is the only one we will ever have. And though we speak of some lofty ideals in our music, my most fervent hope is that when people listen to us or come to our show, they leave with a laugh and a smile and the satisfaction of having been a part of something positive.”
Now that sounds like seeds well planted.