Interview: The Dixie Bee-Liners

This month US act The Dixie Bee-Liners play their first concerts in the UK with appearances at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in Oxfordshire (13th), and at Cold Dog Soup’s mini-festival in Reading (14th). We spoke to the band’s singer Brandi Hart about their upcoming visit and the group’s recent release Susanville.

The Dixie Bee-Liners are a modern, dynamic bluegrass band whose sound may remind you of Alison Krauss and Union Station or Nickel Creek. They have been gaining a strong following in the States over the past few years and were named the Roots Music Association‘s Bluegrass Artist of the Year in 2008.

The band’s members come from various parts of the country, and now reside in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina, coming together to tour. “I’m originally from Kentucky,” Brandi tells us. “Fiddler Rachel Johnson’s originally from Tennessee. Our banjo picker, Casey Henry is originally from Virginia. Bassist Sav Sankaran and Buddy Woodward [mandolinist] were both born in Pennsylvania.”

The band’s two albums – 2008’s Ripe and 2009’s Susanville – were both released on Pinecastle Records. Susanville has earned strong critical acclaim and is often described as a “concept album”. So, what exactly is a bluegrass concept album?

“When I think of the term ‘concept album’, I immediately think of The Who,” Brandi explains. “A story, set to music, with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. This is why Tommy works so well as a theatrical production.”

Susanville is actually a different sort of project, in that, rather than telling one long, cinematic story, it’s more of a collection of short stories. Think of it as musical vignettes with the over-arching theme of the open road weaving through every song. Each track on the cd tells the story of a person on America’s highways – where they’re going, what they’ve left behind. It’s sort of a musical road trip, allowing listeners to peer into the cars and trucks in these songs and learn a little bit about their fellow travelers.”

Whilst the band is very much a bluegrass act, it seems all sorts of music has worked its way into the DBL sound.

“Personally, I’m a huge fan of Dillard Chandler, Jean Ritchie, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Cocteau Twins, Kay Adams (who makes a guest appearance on Susanville), Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, Wynn Stewart, The Sundays, Sam Phillips, Ray Charles, Big Mama Thornton, Dillard & Clark, and many, many others,” says Brandi. “My bandmates might mention names like Small Faces, Leadbelly, the Zombies, Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, Martin Denny, George Strait, James Brown, the Byrds, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the list goes on.”

“As to how this multitude of influences comes together in our sound, golly, your guess is as good as mine! Of course, everything we hear influences us, whether we like it or not. We seldom consciously pull from our influences (although careful listeners will discover a nod to James Brown in the song Find Out). I’d say, like most artists that actively work to come up with their own sound, there’s a synergistic thing that happens at some point. Hopefully, we’ve become more than the sum of our parts, but ultimately, that’s for the fans to decide.”

Mandolinist Buddy Woodward has performed in Britain before (with the Coal Porters), but this will be the first UK visit for the band as a whole. Asked what they are looking forward to Brandi says, “Fish, chips and lager! No, seriously, we’re looking forward to meeting as many fellow music lovers as we possibly can. It’s going to be a fantastic trip.”

Audiences should “expect a healthy dose of the band’s original repertoire – bluegrass barn-burners, ballads, and instrumentals – as well as Appalachian standards that have become true American classics.”

This won’t be the DBL’s last visit to these shores, with Brandi hopeful they will be making more festival appearances next summer. “Our secret plans for world domination might just pan out, after all,” she says.

Further info

Find out more about the Dixie Bee-Liners at their official website or on myspace, Facebook and Twitter.

The band’s music is available at in both CD and mp3 formats.