Anna Lee's Company
Well honed, with horns
by Chris Berggren
From the July, 2014 issue
Anna Lee's Company, a funk/bluegrass/folk-rock band with a name derived from a lyric in the Band's iconic "The Weight," formed early in 2013. The four core musicians all previously played in other popular local bands: from Back Forty, Colin Murphy contributes vocals, fiddle, and electric guitar; from the Ragbirds, Adam Labeaux adds vocals and acoustic guitar; from Hoodang, Rich Rickman plays bass and offers vocals; and from The Afternoon Round, Martin Maginity handles the drums (he also plays regularly with Alejandra O'Leary and Dragon Wagon). Late in 2013, the band added a horn section that includes Daryl Bean on saxophone, Bill Kunz on trombone, and Alan Diez on trumpet--the former borrowed from Bugs Beddow Band and the latter two from Hullabaloo. I caught up with them last winter for a Woodruff's show, which did not disappoint.
Cramming seven musicians on any local stage is not easy. The horn section was partially tucked behind the venue's massive bar-side speaker, while Labeaux and Murphy shared the stage's center, Rickman and his upright bass occupied the far side, and Maginity and his drums were in the back. Right away the band's energy was infectious, as was its strange mingling of funk and folksy bluegrass--two genres that got everyone in the audience moving. Labeaux's easy soulful voice was well backed by Murphy and Rickman, though they each got a turn singing lead, too. And Murphy's monster fiddle--which features his wife's painting of a monster that resembles a cross between a pig and E.T.--sparked much crowd debate.
The horn section really sets Anna Lee's Company apart from similar roots-based bands. "The addition of the horns has just been stupid fun," Murphy remarked. "(It) adds a layer of New Orleans/ska/funk/jazz over the top of our roots groove. The only thing I can compare it to is maybe the old David Bromberg Band."
Murphy later explained that his goal for the group was to get back to the living room jam sessions of his youth, when
his father was playing in bluegrass bands in and around Chicago. That vibe certainly resonated. This is a group of veteran musicians, confident and well honed in their craft, who are having an absolute blast. Original songs like "Still Standing Still" and "Swingin" were well received, and for the finale, Anna Lee's Company brought the house down with the song that gave them their name, inviting audience participation for a lively and spontaneous rendition of "The Weight."
Anna Lee's Company opens a show for the Cattledog Orchestra at the Yellow Barn July 26.
[Originally published in July, 2014.]