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The Darnell Woodies buck convention with their first release

by Ryan Snyder

They arrived from what might seem to be one of the most unlikely of stylistic marriages, but the Darnell Woodies (www.myspace.com/thedarnellwoodies) are truly an entity unto themselves. A passing listen might result in merely casting them with any number of old-time, roots and acoustically themed acts, but to do so would be to overlook arguably the predominant element that defines them as a band. The focus on three chords; the fast, aggressive playing — it sounds a little familiar doesn’t it? With lead vocalist and songwriter Matt Smith’s years playing in punk bands, it should come as no surprise that he attributes the band’s leading influence to the punk culture and its stripped-down, do-it-yourself ethos. “It’s simple, it’s fast and if you don’t have a lot of money, it’s easy to get into,” Smith stated, as he expounded on the circular relationship between Irish music, old time, punk and what he and his band mates are doing with the Darnell Woodies. “People like to say our music is bluegrass or old-time music when they first hear it, but it’s not,” Smith added. “Playing loud and fast and oftentimes out of tune, that’s pretty much punk rock. It’s real aggressive sounding.” The connection to the string and bluegrass bands of old are there, however, as it’s hard not to notice the band in matching suits. Yet, they don’t do it out of convention, but mainly out of pride. “We sort of feel more comfortable in a way,” said percussionist Aaron Bachelder. “It makes you feel like a street gang, kind of like Reservoir Dogs.” Though they’ve only been together for a little more than a year and a half, the band has served as a melting pot of influences from each of its five members. That includes everything from old-time mavens like the Camp Creek Boys and Tommy Jarrell to noisy experimentalists such as Peter Brötzmann and Albert Ayler. Their self-titled debut album is a homemade effort recorded entirely in a residential setting that is just a touch more melodic than the sonic madness that became Brötzmann at his best. Nevertheless, in the midst of their arrangements of traditional tunes like “Raleigh and Spencer” and post-punk, string-heavy originals with a splash of tongue-in-cheek humor, there comes the same enthusiasm for ownership of the final product. “We’re not a band for any kind of purist,” said Bachelder. They’re playing very few shows over the coming months, but they make it count when they do. In addition to a birthday gig at the Green Bean this Friday, they’re playing a benefit concert at the Vintage Theatre, which will be the first concert to be held at the venue on Saturday, Sept. 19. The benefit is for a child living in Bachelder’s neighborhood, three-year old Errol Clifford (errolclifford.blogspot.com), who was born with a host of health complications. Anyone who’s ever had a pastry from Krankies Coffee in Winston-Salem is ultimately familiar with his mother Cary, whose Camino Bakery supplies the coffee bar with their baked goods, among other places. In addition to playing the benefit, the Darnell Woodies will also auction themselves off for a house-party performance. “He’s such an amazing kid,” said Smith. “His parents are such great people and they really deserve all of the help they can get.” Smith is forthright in stating that there are times when he and bassist/guitarist/ banjo player Billie Feather might both hit a wrong note or get slightly off time, but the result is often something so unrefined that it only builds toward what they hope to achieve. And that’s not to say that they are amateurs in any sense. Each of the five members are amazingly-well versed at multiple instruments, but the drive toward experimentalism and dissonance is almost irrepressible. “I think in the future we’re going to gravitate towards more experimental stuff,” Smith said, as Feather took on a somewhat surprised look. “Aaron and I are pulling in that direction and I think we’re going to win,” he added with a sly grin in Feather’s direction.

The Darnell Woodies released their self-titled debut album this summer.

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