The Saddle River String Band is starting the year on a high note.
The East Coast Music Award-winning quartet will headline a concert in aid of the Summerside Intermediate School band program on Jan. 18. The fundraiser starts at 7 p.m. at the school.
“It’s important for us to give back to the community that has given us so much. We also did it last year,” says Mike Dixon, a member of the band that includes Troy MacArthur, James Phillips and Tom Desroches.
“The funds raised will help the students attend the Atlantic Festival of Music in Halifax this May.”
Besides helping children achieve their musical dreams, band members are excited about getting to showcase songs from the band’s new CD, Ain’t Done Dying.
“We decided to produce the record ourselves, and the vibe was fantastic,” says Dixon, adding the album, released this past May, was recorded at Philips’ home in Arlington, P.E.I.
“The other great thing about this album is that except for Old Jim Commands, a blues song from 1936 that we’ve been playing for years, it’s all original material,” says Dixon.
Unlike other bands that pick an underlying theme for their album and write cooperatively, members work independently.
“We’re a very democratic group in that everybody does their own thing. Then we come together and the songs become Saddle River,” says Dixon, referring to their unique sound derived from their guitar/banjo/ mandolin/double bass set up and from their insistence on performing into a single condenser microphone like earlier bluegrass and folk acts.
“Each of us writes, with James and I being the most prolific. We usually pen the songs at home, bring them to a Saddle River jam and by the end of the evening they turn into saddle songs,” he says.
The lead-off single on the 12-track CD is the title song.
“Ain’t Done Dying is written by our bass player, Tom DesRoches. It’s about someone getting through life, going through hard times, falling in and out of love. It’s the idea that life is a long process and we’re not finished yet,” says Dixon.
During the creative process, members quickly realized it was a great theme for the album.
“The band will be celebrating its 10th anniversary next year and it’s the idea that we’re not done yet,” he says.
Don’t Wait, written by Dixon, is about carpe diem — seizing the day.
“It started with a guitar riff. I demoed it with my friend Nathan Wiley as kind of jazz song. Then I took it to a Saddle River jam session and played it for the guys and all of a sudden it turned into a modern bluegrass song.”
In the songwriting process leading up to the recording session, Phillips was prolific.
“James came in with a lot of music. There are six of his songs on the record,” he says.
Keep on Moving, a song he wrote that Troy MacArthur sings, is like a prison gang work song.
“It’s the idea that you’ve got to keep on moving until the Lord comes to carry you home. It’s very spiritual. Although we’re a secular band we love religious music. It’s an important part of our sound,” says Dixon.
Sally Cole is a features writer with The Guardian. She welcomes comments about her column as well as suggestions for future columns from readers. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 629-6000, ext. 6054.