In spring 2016, the string band Mipso found themselves looking at a musical embarrassment of riches. The group was ready to begin recording then and there only to discover that the person they wanted to produce their next album, Todd Sickafoose, wouldn’t be available until January 2017.
But instead of biding their time, Mipso decided they had another option.
“We realized we had more than an album’s worth of material already,” violinist/singer Libby Rodenbough explained in a recent phone interview. “This was in, I guess, mid 2016. So we decided we would just make an album in the Triangle with some of the people we knew well there and trusted. Then we would keep the January session on the books.”
Looking back Rodenbough, as well as guitarist/singer Joseph Terrell, agree that doing two albums in such a short span of time may not have been the best idea.
“There were definitely some times during that period where we felt like we had bitten off more than we could chew,” Terrell said in a separate phone interview. “Looking back, it’s interesting to hold these two things true in my head. One, is that I’m really proud of both of these records. I think they both feel like us. On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend this process of making records to anybody because it was stressful as hell.”
“It’s a lot to make two albums in something like six months,” Rodenbough agreed. “It was a lot for us financially, and it was a lot for us interpersonally and emotionally.”
The album recorded in summer 2016, “Coming Down The Mountain,” was released in spring 2017, while the Sickafoose-produced “Edges Run” will be released today.
The songs Mipso band members Terrell, Rodenbough, Jacob Sharp (mandolin, vocals) and Wood Robinson (bass, vocals) chose for “Coming Down The Mountain” were in good shape and suited for being recorded pretty much live in the studio. That wasn’t the case for “Edges Run.”
“For ‘Edges Run,’ we had songs that we didn’t know exactly what to do with. We wanted Todd, the producer, help us make sense of them a little bit,” Rodenbough said. “There was a lot of taking songs apart and re-arranging them and messing with the structures of the songs or the feel, and there was a little more of an experimental approach to production.”
The music on both “Coming Down The Mountain” and “Edges Run” continues to expand the breadth of Mipso’s sound. “Long, Long Gone” and “Dark Holler Pop” hued fairly closely to the group’s bluegrass roots, the band showed signs of having other influences to explore on “Old Time Reverie.”
On “Coming Down The Mountain,” several songs pushed well beyond bluegrass (such as the eerie organ-laced ballad “Water Runs Red,” the Laurel Canyon-ish country pop of “Monterey County” and the tender and spare ballad “Cry Like Somebody”), but there was still plenty of bluegrass woven into the material.
With “Edges Run,” though, Mipso has reached a place where the music can’t really be assigned to any genre — bluegrass or otherwise. There’s country, string band and even a bit of ambient pop in songs such as the ballads “Didn’t Know Love” and “Take Your Records Home.” The sturdy “Moonlight” and the peppy “Servant To It” parcel out pop/rock, country and bluegrass in pretty equal amounts. Then there is “Oceans,” a gentle tune with a lovely winsome vocal that is as pop as anything Mipso has recorded, and “Sleep, Little Dreamer” which indeed has a lullaby quality within its rustic country/bluegrass sound.
Mipso has had to wait nearly a year to perform the “Edges Run” material live. This happened because the 2017 tour was intended to promote “Coming Down The Mountain.” Rodenbough said she has enjoyed the process of getting reacquainted and readying the songs from “Edges Run” for live performance.
“We actually have had a drummer on the road with us for a little over a year now,” Rodenbough said. “We had drums on the previous album (“Coming Down The Mountain”), although they were a lot more straight-forward than the drums on this one. So percussion will be probably a little more central to the sound of some of these songs.
“And the other element that we’re trying to incorporate are some of the keyboard sounds, the organ and piano sounds,” she said. “They’re all simple parts, and we’re all capable enough players on a keyboard that we can probably all cover the parts, but it’s a matter of figuring out where we need the other instruments we play and where somebody can hop on a keyboard for a little while.
“We’ve been figuring that out, but I like that kind of challenge because I think that the best live shows are when the performers are a little bit unsure of themselves, just enough that you have that sense it’s possible that things could fall off the rails. So I think it’s better if you can find ways to naturally confuse yourself a little bit for the live show. That’s a good thing.”