Whether it's our Behind the Music-smitten culture or just innate human nosiness, music fans are often inclined to wonder whether artists' songs are based on their own life experiences. Keep Your Suitcase Packed, Finders and Youngberg's debut album, is compelling, in part, because of this tension between fact and fantasy. The newly formed Colorado group is comprised of two married couples that hail from differing regions of the U.S. and separate genres of American roots music.
Mike and Amy Finders are an established folk act from Iowa City; Aaron and Erin Youngberg are veterans of the Colorado bluegrass scene and also play in the Billy Pilgrims, a Fort Collins-based classic-country-slash-traditional-bluegrass band. Combined, their sound falls somewhere between RockyGrass and Folks Fest, with husky-voiced Mike Finders writing most songs against traditional bluegrass backing (primarily acoustic, no drums). But it's also part honky tonk (via Aaron Youngberg's deliciously whiny pedal steel) and blues (thanks to Amy Finders' powerhouse, often-sexy wail).
Superb musicianship aside, the subject matter of Keep Your Suitcase Packed begs investigation. On the surface, Finders and Youngberg both attractive and talented couples seem primed to sing rustic covers of "I Got You Babe" all the way to the bank. But more than half their songs detail nuptial doom.
"Ball and Chain Blues," a Mike and Amy Finders duet, describes a couple whose sex life has all but dehydrated. "Perfect Little Life," an Erin Youngberg tune, paints a couple who, by all appearances, look happy, but are in fact miserable. "Same Old Me, Same Old You" portrays a bored pair who admit in defeat: We can't change, this is how it is.
Amy Finders explains that their dark storytelling seeks to break up the myth of eternal romantic bliss.
"I think for the four of us, for our generation, it's like, "Come on, let's be serious. This fairy-tale thing is a bunch of bologna.'"
"It's work," adds Mike. "Amy and I just had our 10-year anniversary a month ago, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. But we are a lot more savvy about what it takes to make a relationship work. Like Amy says, it's not all butterflies and flowers and love songs all the time. It's work and compromise and sacrifice and keeping yourself under control."
Still, despite the challenges of marriage and its documentation through song, Mike Finders says that mixing romance and music is natural, and joining with the Youngbergs has only enhanced the experience.
"I do think that making music with somebody else is very intimate. And you don't have to look very hard in American music history to find affairs that happened because people started playing together.
"It's kind of a cool thing," he says. "It just kind of celebrates how close you get to somebody when you play music."
Finders and Youngberg, with Spring Creek
2032 14th St., Boulder
Friday, Aug. 22, 9 p.m.
Tickets; $10, 21-plus;
bouldertheater.com or 303/786-7030.