The Lineup

Midtown Dickens

Durham, NC

Festivals are meant to celebrate community, and it’d be difficult to find another more communally oriented act than Durham’s Midtown Dickens. The best-buds duo of Kym Register and Catherine Edgerton learned to play their particular brand of bluegrass- and country-inflected folk music with donated and recycled instruments, informing their songs with punk’s DIY spirit but conjuring their own DIT (Do It Together) aesthetic. 

Midtown Dickens recorded their promising 2007 debut, Oh Yell!, with a host of regional musicians, and settled into a quintet for the Scott Solter-produced follow-up, last year’s well-received Lanterns. The record’s homespun packaging (in three formats: LP, CD and download code) and unique artwork by Edgerton certainly represented the band’s foundations, but the community spirit went beyond even that.  When the band solicited funding help from friends, fans and fellow musicians for studio time and Solter (The Mountain Goats, John Vanderslice, Pattern Is Movement), they wound up exceeding their goal by $4,000.

They put that extra dosh into the recording and emerged with an album that extends the storytelling traditions of folk and country into contemporary fare more suitable for narratives that celebrate a retreat from the white noise and excess baggage of modern life. The duo also expanded their instrumental palette to embrace electric guitar, percussion, cornet, piano and such but did so without losing any of the informal feel that characterizes their sing-along gigs. Like a less tradition-obsessed Freakwater, the voices of Edgerton and Register define the band’s sound, whether keening through a piano dirge like “The Road (Part I),” brashly challenging the horns on the backporch-flavored “Old Dogs,” or close harmonizing on the love ditty “It’s Alright.” 

Lanterns is most effective celebrating the quotidian, as when Edgerton and Register paint afterglow images of bike-riding, fireworks and tea-drinking to remember “The Best Summer Ever.” These are the everyday things that people really like about their communities, and it’s why listeners have fallen under Midtown Dickens’ spell. —John Schacht