Grinning at the Reaper 

Bone Orchard digs into darkness to find the light

Editor's Note: This show, along with the Pikes Peak Arts Fest, has been cancelled due to the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Being in a string band means something much different than it used to. So while Bone Orchard is definitely a drummerless group informed by both bluegrass and Americana, the band's music is filtered through the tint of the '80s Los Angeles punk scene.

In fact, that's where Bone Orchard bandleaders Daniel Pretends Eagle and Carol Morgan-Eagle first met. How that translates into music is a lot of low-riding drone underscoring those banjo parts, a dark desperate tribal vibe cadged from the Gun Club, and an Ennio Morricone-scored spaciousness that suggests a desert prairie landscape replete with tumbleweeds.

"That not only comes from our recording ethos but our cinematic ethos," says Carol from their Taos, N.M., home. "We're both big fans of [director Sam] Peckinpah, spaghetti westerns, and the writings of [No Country for Old Men author] Cormac McCarthy, where there's always that idea of the spaciousness of the landscape being a character in the story or the song."

The same dark, incipient violence lurking in the work of those artists seeps from the corners of Bone Orchard's songs. There's the humid homicidal surfabilly of "Dancing With the Ghost of William Bonney," the mesmerizing slow-fuse pursuit of a spiritual panacea in "Snakeoil Salesmen," and the haunting murder ballad, "One Cut, One Kill," which was inspired by a friend who committed suicide. Yeah, they're not exactly "Walking on Sunshine."

"Okay the stories are a little dark but we go for this transcendent beauty that makes it liberating and fun at the same time," Daniel explains with a chuckle. "Like McCarthy's The Road — that was incredibly bleak at times, but there's a beauty to the expression that makes it transcendent."

Though Carol and Daniel met in the late '80s they never played in bands together while in Los Angeles. But about two decades ago, mired in a typical L.A. traffic jam, they decided to move to the country and wound up in Taos. Only after individually exhausting the musician pickings in the area did Daniel finally relent and sing a song with his wife around the campfire on the shore of New Mexico's Chama River. That night a band was born.

"I'm pretty sure I read that commandment in the rock 'n roll bible: Thou shalt not rock with one's wife," Daniel says.

But perhaps if you're friends, then lovers, then bandmates, it can work? "Yeah, it never really works when you just start sleeping with the lead singer."

Bone Orchard has since released a self-titled album in 2002, and A Romance of Ghosts in 2007. They've been anxious to follow up that album, and have accumulated a large collection of new songs, but had trouble making it into the studio. They finally decided earlier this year to simply start recording all their live shows, with the intent of taking the best moments into the studio and embellishing them.

"We'll redo some vocals and add some layers," says Daniel. "We're not so interested in having it sound completely live. It's about capturing that energy."

As for the tone of the new songs' lyrics, the darkness won't be disappearing.

"That's the dichotomy of what we do," Carol says. "Life and death — you can't separate them. But the knowledge that death is somewhere down the line or all around us can really enhance the beauty of living life and seeing it as a precious gift."


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