For any writing and recording artist, the second album is the litmus test. If it's true that you have a lifetime to come up with all the songs for your debut, the sophomore project will prove if you can deliver the goods within a much smaller window of time and experience.
With this week’s arrival of A Train, A Truck, An Old Dump Pile, the Accomplices have passed with flying colors. The Savannah acoustic/Americana band’s debut album, Canned Beans, was nice enough, but this new one bears witness to the muscles and sinews that develop after a band has been together for a while.
“This album is really the band growing and kind of identifying itself with a certain sound,” says standup bassist Zachary Smith. “We’ve all worked together on developing these songs.”
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Matt Eckstine agrees. “Everybody was part of the entire process of making these songs,” he says. “That’s why I love it, because it’s like the first real album by the Accomplices.”
Eckstine, Smith and fiddler Colleen Heine crafted Canned Beans before drummer Stan Ray—whose harmonies are key to the band’s sound—came along. Although he’s best known as a songwriting guitarist (he co-founded the Savannah Songwriters Series), Ray’s a pretty good drummer as well. “I had spent the last decade of my life trying to rule the world. I was tired,” Ray laughs. “I just wanted to lay back and go oom-chicka, oom-chicka oom.”
“The first album didn’t really have this clear vision,” adds Heine. “It was made up of songs that developed in the studio. And we had to go back and learn the songs from the record! But this one, this is a very clear vision.”
The Accomplices had a full-time mandolin player then—Eric Daubert—but he left the band last year.
These four people—Eckstine, Smith, Heine and Ray—have become a nuclear family; they’ve toured the southeast for weeks at a time, and have played every local and regional gig they could get, becoming one of Savannah’s most popular acoustic groups.
The claustrophobic studio experience for A Truck, A Train brought them even closer together.
The story so far: Eckstine had just arrived in Savannah in 2010, transplanted from Beaufort, S.C. He’d taken a three-night-a-week job as the resident acoustic troubadour at Rocks on the Roof, the bistro on top of the Bohemian Hotel.
“It was great money but man, what a soul-killing gig,” Eckstine explains. “There was no social acceptance. I thought ‘I want to do something else. I want to be part of this town.’ I just wanted to be known as a musician more than anything.”
He began going to open mics, meeting and observing and jamming with other musicians. Soon he and Smith had developed a duo act; Heine walked in one day and, through a mutual acquaintance, got introduced. Inside of a week, she was gigging with them.
A native of St. Louis, where she ran the School of Folk Music for seven years, Heine had come to SCAD to get a post-grad degree in design management.
The self-taught fiddler naturally started looking around for other like-minded players. “I came from the traditional, bluegrass and old-time Appalachian music,” Heine says. “That’s what I wanted to play. I got here and thought ‘Where are all the bluegrass players?’” She started by attending the Saturday afternoon bluegrass jams at Randy Wood Guitars.
“When I was getting into fiddle, I was going to festivals and just jamming with people, as much as I could. Learning fiddle tunes from other people, by ear. And it’s the most fun in the world.”
With the exception of the traditional tunes “Darlin’ Cory” and “Cuckoo’s Nest,” everything on A Truck, A Train, An Old Dump Pile is original. All the songs bear the first-class instrumental work and tight harmony singing that have become Accomplices trademarks.
The band will perform Saturday, May 24 at Southbound Brewing, along with their buds Soap, to premiere the new record.
“The band has developed the flexibility to play to the room while still being true to our songs,” says Heine. “For example, recently we did a run of shows in Florida. One night, we played at a kind of young edgy club in downtown Jacksonville right after a hard-core punk band played their set. We got the room dancing and hollering.
“The very next night, we played at a wine and cheese place for Florida snowbirds ... they couldn’t have loved it more. Honestly, I don’t think there are many bands that can say that.”