It's easy to go solo, especially in Santa Fe where rehearsal times seem to be half jokes and where it is still shocking for musicians to receive a concrete load-in time from a venue. The appeal of tossing an acoustic guitar in the back of the car and being ready to go is great and, at the end of the day, a good song is still a good song. While the work of assembling a group is not enviable—scheduling for more than a two-piece becomes exponentially harder the more members you add—it is well worth it. Collaboration and camaraderie bring a vitality to any singer-songwriter's repertoire. Electrify it, and you have something that will keep people up on their feet at your shows instead of what can often be confused with a folky hangout cuddle puddle.
Speaking of folk, local act Clementine Was Right is finding their balance, having recently expanded to six members, including Santa Fe heavies like Peter Duggan, who played in Storming the Beaches With Logos in Hand, and Lilia (who goes by first name only), alongside recent transplants like singers Mike Young and Cecelia Ann Burton. Young started the band for the first annual Mill House Honky Tonk in Nambé circa 2017, enlisting Burton, Duggan and Alex Simon (of Tone Ranger) on lap steel to help flesh out the tunes.
The songs themselves might wink from across the room at folk and country, but to lazily throw out the word Americana would be a disservice. Young and Duggan's guitars shimmer with thick vintage vibrations and just enough grit and dissonance to keep the band well enough away from the three-hour patio set scene. Burton's vocals are trained but not sterile, a voice that sounds very much her own and mixes well with Young's often wilder vocal timbre. Burton comes from a musical background, her grandfather being what she describes as "locally famous" as a blues musician in St. Louis, Missouri.
"My heart in music is the blues, soulful music," she says, adding that she'll share songwriting duties with Young. Anchoring it all down is Taylor Penner-Ash's drumming, which echoes Velvet Underground's Moe Tucker's driving, haunted boogie beats, and agile bassist Aaron Bloom. Lilia, who played drums in an earlier incantation of the band, now accompanies with trumpet, accordion and keys.
So there is a lot going on when the band hits the stage, but none of it feels extraneous or gets in the way of the lyric-driven songs.
While some singer-songwriters can rely on dour, vague poetry with easy success, we hear a welcome sense of humor to songs such as "Nazarene Sheen," which is equal parts earnest character study and wry wit about a school bus driver that no one can quite figure out. Speaking to the band in person, that same feeling of levity and seriousness abides as its members take turns cracking jokes as much as they wax philosophical on their own views of what drives them to make the music.
"There are some songs that remind me of Springsteen that are driven and hooky, but then there are others like 'Girl on the Run' that are so melancholy," Lilia tells SFR. "When I started out playing drums, I would cry because they're so moving."
"We sped the songs up so Lilia would stop crying," Duggan is quick to quip.
The banter and songwriting both illuminate a humanist core to the music—a marriage of sweet and sour.
"That mood is so much like real life," Young explains. "I don't think I could feel good about myself if I was too straight."
Duggan seems to agree. "When there's some humor mixed in, I think it actually highlights the seriousness of the serious lines and draws people into listening," he says. "But it's not ironic, it's pretty irony-free stuff."
Now with a solid crew of musicians, Young, who used to travel the country reading his poetry, wants to do the same with music.
"I do have this feeling inside of me of this wick burning down and I want to go all over the place and play these songs the same way I did with poems," he says. He turns to the band. "I feel really good about y'all, and I want to do that with people who want to do that with me."
Clementine Was Right with Snailmate and Keyboard
8pm Monday Oct. 15. $5.
Second Street Brewery Rufina Taproom,
2920 Rufina Street.