Caroline Melby, left, and Hannah Melby were tapped to record a track for a new collection of original songs about the Civil War. Photo by: Courtesy
July 8, 2011 10:26:00 PM
It''s been a long time since Hannah and Caroline Melby were a "sister act" -- since their days as youngsters singing in church, harmonizing with dad, Pete, and mom, Cindy, at the piano.
The Starkville siblings, now 25 and 21 respectively, are usually on stage with their longtime band, Nash Street. But a unique side project with songwriter/producer Thomm Jutz in Nashville, Tenn., recently gave the Melby girls a chance to be part of a stellar collaboration.
Jutz, who has worked with Nanci Griffith, Mary Gauthier, chose the two to sing a track on "The 1861 Project," a collection of new, original songs that imagines the stories of the real people who fought and lived through the Civil War.
The acoustic, roots-based album features Music City icons Marty Stuart and John Anderson, plus a carefully blended selection of veteran troubadours, musicians and rising talents. The release date is July 19.
"The South''s On Fire," recorded by the Melbys, is a fast-paced, powerful song that "invokes Sherman''s rampage from Atlanta to Savannah."
"If you listen to the words, it''s very visual," said Hannah Friday, in Starkville for a rare few days. The band is now based in Nashville. "You can picture the destruction, the fires. You can smell it and feel it. Being from the South, this was a special project for us."
Recording at Jutz''s Nashville studio brought the sisters together with an experienced network of A-list players and crew.
"They were so professional. We weren''t sure what to expect," Caroline recalled. "We practiced, and when we got there, it was so easygoing. They had everything ready; I think we did three takes."
Hannah added, "Sometimes when you''re this young, you kind of feel out of place. These are seasoned songwriters, and they just included us. We just felt like we''d been a part of the group forever, which is really special."
The band -- which also features Daniel Hare, Clay Lezon and Ben Mathis -- is "busy, busy, busy," laughed Hannah. Just back from a major Fourth of July show in Johnson City, Tenn., the quintet next heads to North Carolina.
Road trips are old hat by now, adding to the kinship the group shares.
"Oh, we''re like brothers and sisters," said Caroline, the baby in the bunch. "Hannah and Daniel started off performing probably 15 years ago, and I started in about 2001. When you''re packed in a car for eight hours at a time, you get real close," she laughed.
The 2008 winners of the prestigious 2008 Colgate Country Showdown continue to personalize their sound, a buffet of bluegrass, country and Americana.
"I guess you could say we''ve gotten a little more edgy," said Hannah of their sound. "We''ve been influenced by different songwriters and musicians here, just as we were in Mississippi. ... Caroline and I have been writing more and trying to really hone in on that sound we have, really figure it out."
But for the sisters, the immediate future will focus on the past, so to speak. Along with various other artists from "The 1861 Project," they''ll perform at Nashville''s Music City Roots show July 13. And they will attend the CD release celebration at The Basement in Nashville July 19.
They both valued the passion Jutz personally brought to the concept album. The German-born producer immigrated to America only a few years ago and very recently obtained U.S. citizenship.
"The making of ''The 1861 Project'' has been an incredible journey," he posted at 1861project.com. "Studying this epic war has given me a deeper understanding of this fantastic country and made me love it even more."
Caroline said, "They put a lot of passion in this. They really cared, and when people care that much, you really want to do your best."
Listen to tracks from "The 1861 Project: From Farmers to Foot Soldiers" at 1861project.com. Downloads and hard copies can be purchased there, too.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.