Published on November 29th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Getting Acquainted with the Soul-Twang of the Half Strangers
Charleston-based vocalist, guitarist, and songsmith Devon Elizabeth spent years writing, recording, and performing as solo act for years before switching gears earlier this year. Nowadays, backed by a team of skillful new friends, she’s the lead singer of a proper full band called the Half Strangers.
During their short run so far this year, they’ve already caught the ears of many local music fans with their soulful blend of traditional country, guitar pop, and Americana-rock.
“The motivation to do it alone was gone, and I was very ready to be in a band,” Elizabeth says.
The singer acquainted herself with most of her new bandmates while living and gigging in Columbia during after her college years. She went to high school with bassist Brad Blankemeyer in Charlotte. “He helped me with recording some solo stuff over the years, and we’ve always talked about getting a band together, but we lived in different cities so it never happened,” she says.
While Elizabeth and Blankemeyer stayed close, they acquainted themselves with most of their future colleagues — violinist Michael Parks, drummer Clifton McCallum, and guitarist Josh Beavers — while living and gigging in Columbia.
I met Clifton, Michael, and Josh all on the same night almost two years ago at the New Brookland Tavern [in West Columbia],” Elizabeth remembers. “They were playing in two other bands. I opened for them. Michael was there taking pictures, and he sent me a few photos from the night plus a couple violin tracks he was working on. We became friends. I mentioned the project Brad and I were working on, and he became our violin player. Clifton took up drumming duties.”
After relocating to Charleston from the Midstate earlier this year, Elizabeth and company began writing, rehearsing, and booking shows as the Half Strangers. They hauled ass right off the bat.
“Our first two shows were at the CMA Festival in Nashville in June,” Elizabeth says. “It was an insanely fun weekend. Our sets were a little rough, but we came back really motivated.
Over the summer and fall, the Half Strangers have worked on new material and conducted a few recording sessions. Recent demos include the song “El Dorado,” a fiddle-accented strummer that trucks along with a train-beat rhythm (see clip below). Elizabeth’s sultry soul-lady delivery is sort of a Sade-meets-Lucinda Williams-meets-Mazzy Star thing.
“White Dress” is a slow-grooving pop number with sturdy organ and a syncopated, loungy rhythm. The acoustic guitar-based “Blackberry” slinks at a lazy pace. The instrumentation is sparse, and the vibe is warm breezy.
Beavers officially signed on as the second guitarist and fifth member as they worked on the new tracks. “Josh is super-talented and versatile, and he brings a ton to our arrangements,” Elizabeth says. “The guys all sort of come from a jazz/funk background, so having a creative lead guitarist opens up so much, instrumentally.”
This weekend, the full five-piece version of the Half Strangers will share the stage with two other Charleston pop/Americana acts — the Urban Praise Band and Julie Slonecki & Friends. Elizabeth and her crew will hit the road for a string of dates around the Carolinas in December, including a performance on Sun. Dec. 8 at the WXRY Unsigned Live event (at 1220 Bower Parkway in Columbia) and a gig on Fri. Dec. 13 at the New Brookland Tavern with Raleigh’s American Aquarium and Rock Hill’s Elonzo.
“As far as the future goes, we want to finish recording, play regionally, get on a few festivals next summer,” Elizabeth says. “Then we can start thinking about an album. We are also working on a batch of live videos from our rehearsals we want to start posting regularly. I’m exited for the coming year.”
The Half Strangers will play ay the Tin Roof in West Ashley on Sat Nov. 30 at 10 p.m. The Urban Praise Band and Julie Slonecki & Friends share the bill. Admission is $5. Visit reverbnation.com/halfstrangers and halfstrangers.com for more.
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