Date: Jul 7, 2023
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: The Meeting House
Registration: Members and non-members: $10. Kids 12 and under, free.
Write what you know. Tell a story. Let the journey be your guide. There are some simple tools for making great, lasting songs. Humble devices that have served the finest songwriters for centuries well, yet too often seem to have been cast aside in the current era of disposable TikTok locomotion. Thankfully, though, it’s these modest implements that were used to carve and craft the enduring music on Northeast, the sublime second album by Hudson Valley singer-songwriter and fiddler Sara Milonovich and her band Daisycutter. (Scroll down to hear Sara and Daisycutter.)
Northeast is a heady harvest of heart-stopping original roots rock and alt-Americana gems, most of them written by Milonovich. Spun here are rustic yarns about the realities of rural life (“Two Dollar Town,” “Northeast”), haunting tales of heartbroken heroines (“Valentine’s Day”), and durable, highway-bound, leave-it-all-behind road songs (“87 North,” “Last Time for Everything”). Atmospheric, powerful pieces with words that paint poignant, personal scenes — and melodies that linger long after the last listen. As an interpreter Sara is a singular force as well, weaving her own experiences and artistic voice through the threads of well-chosen, lived-in covers of songs by the likes of Josh Ritter (“Lawrence, KS”) and Karine Polwart (“The Sun’s Comin’ Over the Hill”).
“I’ve never gone into the studio with a road map,” says Sara, a seasoned side musician to such artists as Richard Shindell, Pete Seeger, Eliza Gilkyson, and Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys, and a featured player in the recent smash Broadway musical Come From Away. “Making an album has always been more like a circuitous voyage.”
Sara’s own voyage starts in the bucolic agrarian area of northeast upstate New York — the name of the song that gives Northeast its title is no accident — where she was raised on her family’s working farm and exposed to earthy music at a young age via her parents’ record collection and her grandparents’ efforts in organizing local bluegrass concerts. Having started on violin at age four, by age nine she was already leading her own band and enjoying a rising regional reputation as a top-flight fiddler. “It was a very welcoming scene,” says Sara, who released a live cassette when she was 12. “If you could play, you were accepted. I learned a lot, playing standards like ‘Tennessee Waltz’ and ‘Faded Love’ at grange halls and dances. I loved how those songs could tell stories and make people dance.”
At 16, Sara dropped out of school and joined legendary upstate Celtic bluegrass outfit the McKrells, recording two albums with the group and touring the U.S. and Ireland. “It was the best road education I could’ve asked for,” she recalls about her McKrells tenure. “They’re all world-class pickers, they have well-crafted songs, and they really know how to hold a room. They taught me a lot.” Between accompanying other mentors — including Seeger, on his Grammy-winning 2008 album At 89 — she made her solo debut with 2009’s Daisycutter, a disc whose moniker eventually became that of her band. After an eye-opening 2011 tour with the U.S. State Department-/Jazz at Lincoln Center-sponsored “Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad” revue that took her to Kosovo, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Turkey, she and Daisycutter recorded 2015’s Waiting for the Stars. The acclaimed disc earned her enthusiastic reviews and comparisons to paragons like Shawn Colvin and Sheryl Crow.
Like Waiting for the Stars, Northeast was produced by Daisycutter guitarist Greg Anderson. But while its predecessor has more experimental touches, the new album is more direct, more stripped down, more driving — more Milonovich, really.
“It was [Bob Dylan/Levon Helm sideman] Larry Campbell who first brought Sara into my studio,” says Grammy-winning engineer and Hot Tuna drummer Justin Guip, who recorded, mixed, and plays on Northeast. “Being in the band and getting to know the songs from the inside, I felt like I was really able to get to the core of her music. This album has a lot of moods: some swampy, spooky stuff, some upbeat pop, some alt-country stuff. Whenever I listen to it, what really hits me is how much Sara stands out, as both a musician and a songwriter. That’s a pretty rare thing.”
“When people hear Northeast, I hope they feel connected to what they’re hearing,” says Sara, who was named 2022 Americana Artist of the Year by the Capital District Thomas Edison Music Awards (AKA the Eddies). “Like their stories are being written and sung through mine. We’ve all got stories to tell.”
So true. If only we all could tell them in the beautiful, moving, and melodic ways that Sara Milonovich does. Luckily, until that day comes, we have Northeast as our traveling companion.
This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of The Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and administered in Schoharie County by CREATE Council on the Arts.