What do you do when you’ve just cleared 40, are settled into family life and career, and you happen to meet your musical soul-mates, the people you’ve been subconsciously searching for since you wrote and sang your first song?
For the members of Americana harmony trio The Boxcar Lilies, the answer was easy, you start a band and figure out a way to make it work as you go along, even if it means carving out a somewhat unconventional artistic path.
The Lilies’ newest album, Knockout Rose, encapsulates that improvisational spirit and passion perfectly and it’s their most ambitious recording to date.
A seamless collection of 12 songs spanning folk, country, blues, bluegrass, and Celtic influences, the album brings together the band’s trademark lush and innovative harmonies with the raw and rootsy sounds of a crew of renowned backing musicians. Featured artists include Mark Erelli (Lori McKenna, Josh Ritter) and Jim Henry (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eliza Gilkinson) on a wide assortment of guitars and mandolins; Marco Giovino (Robert Plant’s Band of Joy) on drums and found-object inspired percussion, and in-demand upright bass player Jesse Williams (John Hammond, Maria Muldaur).
From a cinematic account of one of the many hundreds of women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War to a call-to-action to fight the injustice of mountain top removal coal-mining, the deft songwriting craft of the band members is apparent.
Not in my name/The time for waiting has passed/Not in my name/Make your spine like steel/Don’t look away/Let their stories change you/Keep them like a fire that burns inside
Rounding out their collection of original material, The Lilies’ bring their rich vocal blend to interpretations of choice cover songs including a boot-stomping rendition of Papa Come Quick, a song made famous by Bonnie Raitt in the ‘90s, and a harmony-laden take on the well-loved Karla Bonoff song Home.
Serving as the perfect setting for the band’s soulful harmonies and songwriting is the warm, gorgeous production of Lorne Entress (Lori McKenna, Mark Erelli). The Lilies first teamed up with Entress in 2013 to record and release Sugar Shack, their second studio album. Sugar Shack debuted on the Folk DJ Charts at #2 and finished as the #11 album of the year. It was also highlighted by both CMJ.com and eMusic.com in their roundups of exciting new releases.
The Boxcar Lilies are Jenny Goodspeed (electric bass, guitar), Stephanie Marshall (washboard, guitar), and Katie Clarke (clawhammer banjo, guitar). At the time they met in 2009, Clarke was playing bluegrass and traditional country, Marshall was recording contemporary country and rock songs in Nashville, and Goodspeed was writing in the vein of 70s era singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell. It didn’t take long for them to realize that their varied interests and influences added up to something special.
That summer, Goodspeed invited Marshall and Clarke to join her for the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Emerging Artist showcase which sealed the deal. Afterwards, over a few beers at a local tavern, The Boxcar Lilies were wed. They married their love (read: obsession) for great songwriting and sweet harmonies and set out to arrange originals and cover some of their favorite songs by the likes of Neil Young and Gillian Welch.
Soon after they recorded their debut album Heartwood with producer Dave Chalfant (Erin McKeown, The Nields) in his Pioneer Valley studio which was just a few miles down the road from each Lily’s Western Massachusetts home. From there they quickly made a name for themselves with their signature mix of folk, country, and bluegrass-tinged Americana music, bringing their uniquely warm sound and energetic stage presence to venues up and down the Eastern seaboard.
It’s a sound that has led to numerous opportunities like being selected for an official showcase at the 2012 International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, performing for SRO crowds at the 2015 New Bedford Folk Festival in Massachusetts, being named 2013 Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Formal Showcase Artists, and performing at the 2014 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival as the #1 Most Wanted Emerging Artist.
Some might consider 40-something an unconventional age to embark on journeys as touring musicians, a time when many artists choose to start staying closer to home. Marshall who’s a mom and owns a contracting business with her husband admits, “It definitely can be a challenge balancing music and family, but it’s worth it. The three of us stumbled onto something that doesn’t come along every day.”
“Now and then, when exhaustion sets in, I think, man I wish we found each other 10 years ago,” added Goodspeed, “but the flip side is that we never take anything for granted. We just enjoy every moment we get to make music together.”
It’s a joy that translates to their audiences. Zak Jason of The Cape Cod Times said, “[They] bring an energy, improvisation and charming presence to the stage each night. Anyone with an ear for folk or luscious harmonies will enjoy these women .”