With their charming three-part harmonies and dynamically-charged songwriting, all-female Asheville trio Underhill Rose are one of the best-loved touring acts on the endless Americana trail. Their latest album, The Great Tomorrow is streaming at Spotify. They’ve got an enticing New York show coming up on November 11 at 9 PM at Hill Country, a rare chance to see guitarist Molly Rose, banjo player Eleanor Underhill and bassist Salley Williamson join voices for free.
The album is a lot more sweeping and lush than you would expect from an acoustic trio – imagine the Dixie Chicks left to their own devices, without any meddling from the suits in the Nashville boardroom, and you get a good idea of what this sounds like. Cruz Contreras of the Black Lillies returns as producer, bringing in half of the Steep Canyon Rangers (fiddler Nicky Sanders and drummer Mike Ashworth) as well as the Honeycutters’ Matt Smith on dobro and steel guitar; Mike Seal of the Jeff Sipe Trio also contributes on guitar.
The album’s first track, Our Time Is Done has a bittersweetly Calvinistic, tightlipped oldtimey feel: it’s hard to tell how much the girl at the center of the story really wants to go through with the breakup. By contrast, When I Die, a banjo tune, bookends an optimistic carpe-diem message with a somber opening and closing. Whispering Pines Motel, a cheating song, is surprisingly plaintive: it’s more about being abandoned than it is about being afraid of getting caught.
By contrast, the ambling, swaying Montana paints a more optimistic picture, the banjo and fiddle joining for a vivid big-sky ambience. Then the band gets pensive again with My Friend, building artfully from an enigmatically syncopated verse to a woundedly soaring chorus. Over a subtly intertwining web of banjo and guitars, Love Looks Good on You offers a resolute tale of a couple drawn to each other because one doesn’t like country music and the other wasn’t raised in the church, rather than despite all that. Then the trio go back toward a more straight-up, shuffling bluegrass groove with the warmly reassuring Rest Easy.
Shine, by Williamson, takes a strongly successful detour into noir Appalachian terrain, a tale of defiance and survival in moonshine country (one minor quibble: the 1940 Cadillac Coupe de Ville she references doesn’t exist. That model first appeared in 1949). The band keeps the moody, minor-key intensity going through a shockingly decent, bluesy version of Straight Up, which people who go as far back as the 90s might remember as a radio hit for ex-LA Lakers cheerleader Paula Abdul. The album’s final two numbers, by Underhill, are the resolute, steel-driven solo drinking song, Not Gonna Worry, and the title track, a darkly optimistic look at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.