The Appleseed Collective emerged in late 2010, and since the first clack of its trademark washboard the band has moved to a quick and steady tempo: it’s played countless local shows; released an acclaimed debut album, Baby to Beast; and toured around Michigan and beyond. This would be a breakneck pace for any group of musicians a little less cohesive or a little bit older, but, if anything, fame and a busy schedule seem to energize this young quintet. In a spirited appearance at this year’s Top of the Park, the band performed a set list of the very old and the very new, ranging from a dazzlingly exuberant cover of the jazz standard “Dinah” to several freshly penned songs. With its second album, Young Love, scheduled for a local pre-release in late August and a national release to follow, the Appleseed Collective doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
The band’s local concerts draw packed, smiling crowds of all ages, a sign both of its Ann Arbor origins and of the appeal of its vintage sound. For the uninitiated, its music is richly colorful, swinging, and soulful, a mingling of gypsy jazz, Dixieland, and bluegrass. Imagine a cool breeze stirring leaves in a tree, and you’ll have a sense of how the music floats through an audience. Its inspired creators are guitarist Andrew Brown, banjoist Katie Lee, fiddle and mandolin player Brandon Smith, washboard player Vince Russo, and upright bassist Ben Rolston.
The band underwent a lineup change in 2012, when its original bassist and vocalist, Sophie Tulip, left for college. Rolston, a recent graduate of the U-M’s jazz program, has had a significant impact on the group. In an email, Lee writes that Rolston “has brought a level of jazz sophistication and musicality that gets our hearts a-flutter.” With the loss of Tulip’s sylphlike twang, Lee has stepped up to the microphone to provide commanding vocals that echo with feeling, at times sweet, at times sultry–the latter at that recent TOP performance when she laid out, with woeful abandon, the riches-to-rags standard “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.”
At press time, Young Love was being mixed and unavailable for a full listen, but live performances of several new original songs reveal the band’s individual and combined growth as songwriters and musicians. “Periwinkle Blues,” written by Brown, features his charmingly antique-sounding articulation backed by the crisp, buoyant sounds and rhythms of banjo and washboard, the sanguine interjections of fiddle, and a brassy trumpet played by the Macpodz’ Ross Huff. What’s more, this unity extends from the stage to the studio. According to Lee, most songs were recorded live as a group, rather than piece by piece, “a testament to how much the band has developed as a unit.”
The Appleseed Collective celebrates the local release of Young Love at the Ark on Thursday, August 29. Opening act is the Kalamazoo neo-klezmer quintet The Red Sea Pedestrians.