Plenty of people these days are wearing flannel, raising chickens, trying to live a more rural lifestyle. But Wisconsin singer-songwriter Katie Dahl truly embodies that kind of rustic life, spending hard northern winters and hot Midwestern summers alike in her small cottage in Baileys Harbor, Door County, Wisconsin (population: 257). She’s recorded all three of her acclaimed albums in the county where she lives, in a studio just down the road from the hand-hewn house where her great-grandfather was born. As a songwriter, Katie Dahl ranks among the best in the country–but her songs themselves are tethered to Wisconsin by a strong sense of place and love of home.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Katie Dahl . . . combine[s] old-fashioned populism, an abiding love of the land and wickedly smart love songs, all delivered in a rich and expressive alto.”
The ten original songs on “Ordinary Band” ramble through the Wisconsin countryside, passing through scenes of late summer farm fields, choppy Lake Michigan waves, and a roaring crowd at Green Bay’s iconic Lambeau Field. As part of her vivid picture of small-town life, Dahl examines the ways in which her life intersects with her “ordinary band” of friends, family, and compatriots. From stones to diamonds, betrayal to true love, Lake Michigan to the Jordan River, Dahl tells the story of her everyday life with a sharp eye and a compassionate heart. Never too precious to have a little fun, Dahl also considers what love might be like between kitchen implements and closes the album with a bluegrass cover of “MmmBop”–yes, that “MmmBop,” the 1995 megahit by boy band Hanson.
To create the organic, wood-soaked soundscape of “Ordinary Band,” Dahl enlisted a band that’s anything but ordinary. The album was produced by Memphis flatpicking wizard Eric Lewis. With Lewis, Dahl and her husband, Rich Higdon (upright bass, washboard), recorded the bulk of the album one snowy February week in Door County. A wealth of other musicians lent their talents to the album from seven other studios in six different states, including renowned folk fiddler Tracy Grammer, sought-after Nashville multi-instrumentalist Rory Hoffman, Chicago drummer Mike August (JT and the Clouds/Birds of Chicago), California singer-songwriter Claudia Russell, and Wisconsin singer Amanda Rigell (of Madison band Count this Penny). The album was mixed in part by Grammy-nominated engineer Kevin Houston (Patty Griffin); additional mixing assistance came from acclaimed songwriter Jonathan Byrd.
Most recording centered on David Alley’s Utopia Soundwurks studio in Sister Bay, where Dahl has recorded both her other studio albums.
Dahl raised funds for the album in true down-home bake-sale fashion: a successful Kickstarter campaign launched one Saturday night in her small community eventually raised over $17,000 toward the album’s completion.
“Ordinary Band” is Dahl’s first album to be released on an external label—Chicago-based folk outfit Waterbug Records.
Waterbug’s Andrew Calhoun says of Dahl: “Smart, tough-minded and positive, Katie Dahl’s work is grounded in a place–Door County, Wisconsin–and its community. But her songs are for everyone. A rock-solid musician and rigorous poet, her songs unfold with equal measures of inevitability and surprise–compassion’s welcome dart to the heart.”
The official release date of Ordinary Band is June 14. Dahl will celebrate the album’s release with a CD release concert at Door Community Auditorium in Fish Creek, WI featuring Eric Lewis and Rich Higdon.