Gritty songwriting and the ‘broke-ass dream’
Soul-grass. Dark Gospel. Or maybe you can call it Gothic swing. You can pair together many words to make two-word descriptions of music that will work when you talk about a band like Sunny and the Whiskey Machine. The trio (and sometimes bigger) does an acoustic take on soul, old-time, rock, swing, and country via the murder ballad or sordid tale. Sunny and the Whiskey Machine will perform next week at Ska Brewing for their Thursday night Ska-B-Q.
It’s the vehicle for the songwriting of Sunny Gable, who sings and plays guitar. She’s joined by Jeff Moorehead on dobro and Guy Ewing on bass, and, on occasion, the band also features Mark Epstein on banjo and Cindi Trautman on fiddle.
Gable has always been a writer, one inspired by ones who wrote song lyrics instead of writing books of short stories or poetry.
“I was always interested in the human condition. I’ve always been a writer, my dad’s a writer. He always made me write poetry when I was little,” said Gable. “So I wasn’t so much writing songs, as I was writing thoughts. As I became a teenager and started playing the guitar, I started writing songs. I grew up listening to and was inspired by Bob Dylan and Guy Clark. I think where a lot of my inspiration comes from is the storytelling aspect. Connecting us all through common emotions and stories we all maybe feel on a deeper level.”
She’s quickly joining the ranks of some of the area’s best songwriters. The stories found within her songs are colorful and sordid tales of love, sadness, and going from having everything to having nothing. All of this is brought to life via characters as real as your friends and enemies, along with rural references of gritty and scrambling living, what Gable refers to as the “Broke-ass dream.” Songs that make casual mention of methamphetamine, whiskey, and old cars certainly can bring a laugh, but there’s a beauty in the simple reality.
Its music that’s subtle; the arrangements playful and up-beat or fit for crying in your beer. The lyrics are void of ambiguity. And Gable has a voice that packs a punch, a sound reminiscent of the works of Gillian Welch. And she’s as strong a front-woman as the major players in the independent circuit as she belts out an indie-rock take on gospel, blues, and country.
“I don’t like to write the same song over and over again,” said Gable. “It’s boring to play it and it’s probably boring to listen to it.”
Gable’s picked around with various musicians in the area; Ewings been a steady companion holding down bass duties, and this configuration with Moorehead played its first show earlier this year.
They’re not a bluegrass band. The presence of a dobro, acoustic guitar, and occasional banjo makes for great instrumentation in any number of genres, including bluegrass. But bluegrass this isn’t.
“We actually make a conscious effort to not step on bluegrass toes. I make a conscious effort not to play bluegrass bass lines. Just get that out there: We’re not bluegrass,” said Ewing.
“There’s always that person that comes up to you and says, ‘I love bluegrass; bluegrass is great’ because of the instrumentation people assume,” added Gable. “I call us bona fide Americana.”
Sunny and The Whiskey Machine is currently recording its debut with Doug Eagle at Eagle Sound, due out later this year.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.