Spiritually, punk and bluegrass have a lot in common. There’s a freedom inherent to both genres. The front porches in the hollers up in Appalachia were the first D.I.Y. scenes. And need I remind you that the first iconic punk club CBGB’s was originally supposed to be a country, bluegrass and blues (hence the acronym) club? Punk and bluegrass come come from the heart, and they come from the gut. It stands to reason that punk rockers would make some dern fine bluegrass and country.
Enter Starlings, TN, a group fronted and led by ex-punk Steven Stubblefield. Born a Baptist preacher’s son in Shreveport, Louisiana, Stubblefield cut his teeth in the punk bands The Methadone Actors and The Roadside Monuments. Stubblefield hooked up with Starlings co-founder Tim Bryan and dulcimer legend, and longtime Nashville session player, David Schnaufer (from whom Stubblefield took lessons on the instrument). They formed the band in Nashville in 2001, and released their debut record The Leaper’s Fork the following year. Starlings, TN’s early work combined traditional, bucolic bluegrass sounds with sounds electronic, something that impressed NPR in a review of their 2004 sophomore record Between Hell and Baton Rouge. Soon after, Bryan exited the band (he would eventually return to the fold). Stubblefield moved down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed a good chunk of his gear. The following year, Schnaufer passed away from lung cancer. The double blow hit Stubblefield hard, and entered a dark period in his career, although he managed two new albums, 2010’s Under the Influence (a collection of covers), and 2011’s How Dark It Is Before The Dawn. In 2011, Stubblefield also moved here to Austin, and reconnected with Bryan, along with Bryan Robison, a former bandmate from his Roadside Monuments days. They added upright bassist Mitchell Vandenburg to the fold. Last year, with the new lineup set, Starlings, TN released Heartache In 4/4 Time, the first Starlings record to feature an electric guitar.
Earlier this month, Starlings, TN issued their latest full-length All the Good Times. It’s the right title because on covers like “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and “Shake Rattle and Roll” and their ode to BBQ “Burnt Ends,” it sounds like the band’s having a whale of a time. The band gets sweet on “Hey Pretty Mamma.” There’s a lullaby quality to the gently lilting song. Stubblefield almost whispers his vocals, as sprightly banjo and piano lines dance around his words. It’s a tender tune, and it comes right from the heart.