Americana Roots highlights the freshest and most original Americana and bluegrass from across the pond in the US. It covers everything from brand-new, just out of the box bands, to cult favourites, to established acts who have yet to reach the UK’s shores. Best known as a member of Leftover Salmon is forward-thinking banjo-master Andy Thorn who has a heart born from Earl Scruggs and a soul guided by Mark Vann.
Name: Andy Thorn.
For Fans Of: John Hartford, Leftover Salmon, Larry Keel.
Hometown: Boulder, Colorado.
Discography: ‘Bolin Creek’ (2006), ‘Fire in the Sky’ (2011), ‘Frontiers Like These’ (2019), ‘Fox Songs and Other Tales from the Pandemic’ (2021)
Background: “The fox provided constant feedback. Sometimes he was kind of a snob. He would’ve preferred for all the songs to be about him,” jokes banjo picker Andy Thorn, best known for his mind-bending work with jamgrass pioneers Leftover Salmon, about the fox who lives near his Boulder, Colorado mountain home. The fox inspired Thorn with his daily visits, keeping him company while he picked banjo outside to pass the time while home during the pandemic. Eventually Thorn and his writer wife, Cecelia, started writing songs inspired by the fox’s daily visits as a way to address the changing world around them, recording a brand new album, ‘Fox Songs and Other Tales from the Pandemic’, Thorn’s fourth solo album.
“We didn’t really set out to make an album,” says Cecelia. “When the pandemic started, we were just writing songs to process everything. Would our loved ones be OK? Will the world ever go back to normal? Would Andy’s career come back? And then we had this other idea. Like, if Andy was going to be off the road for a while, should we try to make a baby? We had a lot to think about. And one of us thinks in music, while the other one thinks in words. Eventually, we just had so many songs. We were singing them in our backyard, and thought, what if we recorded these downstairs? Our basement had just flooded and it was getting torn up, which gave us the idea to turn it into a recording studio. It was all very 2020.”
Those songs sung in their backyard started with Thorn picking on an acoustic guitar, before adding flourishes of banjo and simple bass and percussion lines. In the evening he and Cecelia, who had been writing content for work all day, and sometimes, by the evening, felt like she had run out of words, would start working together on the words for the songs. Thorn would play a guitar riff he had been working on throughout the day and her sing her a line like, “Little baby Barry” that he had been singing about their unborn child and the two would be off. “Usually the last step was coaching Cecelia through the harmonies.” says Thorn, “which is extra complicated to teach someone with hearing loss. She has a great voice when she finds the right notes.”
Thorn eschews the otherworldly banjo explorations that define his work with Leftover Salmon, instead opting for a minimalist approach with each song stripped down to its core creating an album of simple acoustic pleasures as Thorn sings songs of an altered world and finding new ways to think of that world. The resulting album ‘Fox Songs and Other Tales from the Pandemic’ captures the weirdness and worry of the last year, as they detail the isolation we all felt while stranded at home as Thorn sings, “Looks like the Fox has stopped by, he is the only friend we are allowed to see,” on ‘Got the Fox as Company’. But the album also finds Thorn relishing the unplanned break from touring and the road, instead finding forgotten joys of being at home. He says, “We were given this time we’d never had. Time without touring. Time to sit and watch the seasons change, watch the world turn. And then we found out we were pregnant. And then we found out it was a boy. And then, when he was around the size of an eggplant, we named him Barry. And we wondered who he’d be.” ‘Fox Songs and Other Tales from the Pandemic’ sings of all of that, it questions a new reality, it sings of daily life while stuck at home, it sings of new families, and most importantly finds hope in a seemingly hopeless world.
What He Does Live: