Red Tail Ring
by Chris Berggren
Think of any stringed instrument, and I guarantee that Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo can play it--and thoroughly impressively. The two form the folk revivalist band Red Tail Ring and sound like something you'd hear on the Cold Mountain soundtrack--which, for those unfamiliar, is filled with wonderful, old-timey, Appalachian-influenced music. Both Beauchamp and Premo attended the U-M for music-related degrees, but their time in Ann Arbor didn't overlap; they met several years ago at Blissfest, a music festival near Harbor Springs. They quickly recognized their similar musical tastes and interests and formed Red Tail Ring in late 2009, releasing the five-song EP August Roads on New Year's Day 2010. The EP was followed this past April Fools' Day with the release of two full-length CDs: Middlewest Chant, a collection of original songs, and Mountain Shout, a collection of traditional favorites recorded live in Premo's native Upper Peninsula.
The songs I saw Red Tail Ring perform at Woodruff's were all from these two CDs, starting with the traditional "Little Maggie," in which Beauchamp played guitar, Premo played fiddle, and they shared vocals. After "The Blackest Crow," an old English ballad sung primarily by Premo, the two dove into their self-penned catalog, which includes "The Road is My Skyway," a travel song written and sung by Beauchamp. The lyrics tell of a soul in need of the open road: "I'm gonna take my truck and pack it up / Write you a letter from time to time / Gonna carry all those secrets I got / Across the state line." The two traded instruments throughout the performance, playing banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and harmonica, and even keeping rhythm on clogging boards with their feet. Vocals were both traded and shared, and while both Beauchamp and Premo are very adept singers, together their voices complement each other and make for a fuller sound. The set closed with a fantastic version of "Pretty Polly," a song made famous by Dock Boggs.
the concert Beauchamp explained the logic behind putting out two albums on the same day. "Musically, the albums are very intertwined, even though one is originals and the other consists of traditional songs," he told me. "They can stand on their own or together." He emphasized that the band's vision is a meshing of old and new and that both albums contain those elements. Furthermore, the albums can be purchased separately or bundled together.
Red Tail Ring is at the Old Town on Sunday, February 12, and performs in concert at the Friends Meetinghouse (see Events) on Monday, February 20. Catch this act before T-Bone Burnett discovers them.
[Originally published in February, 2012.]