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Not quite a bluegrass fan? 

Packway Handle Band will take you there

click to enlarge Those sweet retro clothes you found at the - Salvation Army last weekend? They probably once - belonged to these guys.
  • Those sweet retro clothes you found at the Salvation Army last weekend? They probably once belonged to these guys.

It's one thing to record an album from home.

It's another to record it on the back porch.

And it's yet another thing entirely to allow the inherent background noises from such a session bird songs, cricket chirps, you name it to seep onto the recording. But that's exactly what the Athens, Ga., bluegrass outfit, the Packway Handle Band, chose to do with its 2005 sophomore album, (Sinner) You Better Get Ready.

Vocalist and banjo player Tom Baker laughs when he talks about recording what was just supposed to be a lazy Sunday afternoon band practice on his bandmate's back porch.

It was a beautiful day, Baker recalls fondly. Well, for the most part.

"We got yelled at by a neighbor which you can hear on the album," Baker says. "It was approaching midnight. It was our last take when the girl from next door says, "Sounds great, but we're trying to get some sleep over here!'"

Sure, the whole process was a little unconventional, but so is the five-piece, which consists of Baker, Josh Erwin (guitar and vocals), Andrew Heaton (fiddle and vocals), Zach McCoy (bass) and Michael Paynter (mandolin and vocals).

"There is a lot of positive creative energy that has a lot to do with us being good friends," Baker says.

Most of the members have shared this friendship since high school. Oh, and they share something else, too: None of them grew up listening to bluegrass. Which might explain their unique take on their genre.

PHB, which has played together since 2001, showcases an extensive list of progressive, original tunes. It plays "packed" tightly around two condenser mics, and specializes in three- and four-part vocal harmonies. The harmonies helped the guys decide to load up (Sinner) with traditional gospel tunes.

"The roots of our interest in gospel are the vocal harmonies," he says. "It's about the music, and also the subject matter. It's compelling music. Some of them are just beautiful songs. Some of them, the message is kind of twisted."

But, mostly, it's a good time. The last song on (Sinner) is a cover of Madonna's "Like a Prayer."

PHB's energy-filled concerts appeal to both bluegrass traditionalists and those who aren't bluegrass fans partially due to the group's energy, but also because it doesn't shy away from grassing up and tackling covers from the likes of the Material Girl, David Byrne and The Cars.

Nor does it shy away from travel. Touring the nation has brought the Packway Handle Band through Colorado before, and so far, it's been a symbiotic relationship. Colorado was the state that gave the band "a big jump-start," Baker says. PHB is a three-time finalist at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition.

It seems, in fact, that the five can't stay away from the Rocky Mountains. Their current tour takes them through 10 cities in Colorado, ranging from Vail to Rollinsville. This tour also debuts a new disc from PHB, Live in 2006 EP Extreme.

Too long to be a traditional EP, yet too short to be a true album, EP Extreme features seven songs, five of which were recorded yep, you guessed it in Colorado.

kakens@csindy.com

Packway Handle Band

Front Range Barbeque, 2330 W. Colorado Ave.

Saturday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m.

No cover; call 632-2596 for more.

  • Packway Handle Band will take you there

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