Deeper than they look (video 2:16)

Deeper than they look (video 2:16)
Deeper than they look (video 2:16)
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Ryan O’Keefe

I have to admit, I was taken aback by the emotion and sound from Asheville N.C.’s based River Whyless Friday night at Ashland Coffee and Tea…and I mean that in the best possible way. There were, at times, way more layers of sound than you’d expect from 4 primarily acoustic musicians. Halli Anderson runs her violin through discreetly used electronics to create a wide range of tones and textures. The band also incorporates lots of percussion using some not-so-standard instruments, including “Household utensils, kitchen pots, a bicycle rim, a bell from Cracker Barrel“ explains Halli.


Ryan O’Keefe plays guitar (sometimes with a feather’s shaft) and sings, Daniel Shearin adds bass, harmonium, cello, banjo and vocals, while Alex McWalters completes the group on drums and percussion. Halli sings and plays percussion too. They’ve played together in various combinations since college. Years of touring and creating their own songs have made them a tight ensemble that instinctively knows where the others are going. All but Alex write songs for the band. Halli says it’s a democratic deconstruction/reconstruction process…except for the lyrics.



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Halli Anderson

The band used to cite bands that inspired their music, but today they feel like their inspiration comes from within – from both the natural world and relationships. On tour, Halli rarely listens to other music…she needs some quiet space. But those quiet moments deliver new songs that are inflected by the sounds of nature. “Sometimes I just want silence. Then I hear the wind blowing through the trees and I want to write that song!”


The band released the studio produced CD “A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door” in 2012 and have released a self-titled EP last week. The new EP was recorded live with only a few vocal overdubs. This was an attempt to capture the feel of their stage show, something fans told them was missing from the first CD. According to Halli, they only did on the new EP what they can do live on stage, “It’s a different chemistry and it’s detectible.”


Taking excellent advantage of ACT’s quiet, River Whyless encored their set by moving into the audience for a poignant vocal and guitar rendition of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.” They now are in “full-on tour mode” for the rest of the year, promoting their new release. If their tour brings them back this way, make a point to see this unusual and accomplished group.


A shout out to Ashland Coffee and Tea (now in their 18th year) for continuing to present local and regional groups in a true listening room environment (think a compact Birchmere). Groups that play ACT routinely compliment the sound quality of the venue – due in no small part to Kay Landry’s expertise (and love of the music) running the sound board. She’s been doing it full time the last 5 years after her husband (who designed the system) sold ACT and decided to retire. River Whyless remarked how much they appreciate a venue where their music can truly be heard and, more importantly, appreciated. ACT holds a Song Writer’s Showdown the second and fourth Tuesday every month – a great chance to support local songwriters.



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