North of Mason-Dixon's new album transcends country genre
It's been six years since North of Mason-Dixon (NOMaD) released new material. Part of the reason for the delay is the egalitarian nature of the band that bills itself as "Modern country … and so much more."
"Unfortunately, this has become a pretty big democracy," says lead singer David August in advance of release of NOMaD's new EP, "A Day Late." "And I do say unfortunately because that caused a lot of delays. We use Google chat and that's where the feedback would come in, people throwing stuff out there. And sometimes it would cause conflict and that would put us back a day or a week."
Fortunately, the end result was worth the give-and-take. The five tracks on "A Day Late," recorded at drummer Bobby Kunkel's home studio in Greenfield, showcase a sound that appeals to country purists and anyone who turns up their nose at even the hint of a fiddle or pedal steel guitar. August, Kunkel and their bandmates –guitarist "Suitcase" Johnny Waclo," fiddler Luke Zacherl, guitarist Jay Pfeifer, and George Elliott on bass (everyone but Elliott contributes backing vocals) – are one of the region's most accomplished ensembles, even if their sound can perplex new listeners.
It's almost guaranteed whenever NOMaD performs someone will say, I don't like country, but I like your music.
"Somebody approaches and asks who you sound like," August says, noting it's not easy to explain how the band mixes country with rock during live performances. "It's not like 'you gotta see the show,' but to some degree you do to get a feel for what we're like."
"A Day Late" – August jokes it could have called "A Year Late" – illustrates the group's musicality. The five songs touch on traditional country themes ("Drive Me to Drink" and "The Way Things Used to Be") but also transcend the genre. "Grand Love," penned by bassist Elliott, is a gorgeous song that, with slight adjustments, could be a pop or heavy metal ballad. But the standout track is "Partners in Crime," a song Jakob Dylan or the late Tom Petty would envy.
Because they didn't have to pay for studio time, there were no limitations when it came to re-working the songs. That became a double-edged sword, according to Kunkel, who admits he occasionally got carried away in his quest for perfection.
"I would spend four hours doing a rough mix," Kunkel says, laughing. "I think it was John (Waclo) who had to keep reminding me they're only rough mixes, they're only rough mixes."
NOMaD averages between 70-80 appearances each year, many of them at fairs, festivals and corporate events. Notably, they are a popular attraction in Delaware and at Sunfest in Ocean City, Md.
But in Pittsburgh, the band often flies under the radar. They admit to having mixed feelings about their standing in the area, but have no regrets about staying in the region.
"There are a lot of individual solo artists who can't wait to tell people they're a Nashville artist because they did a demo in Nashville," Kunkel says. " … If that's what you're after, fine. But this is where we live. I'm proud to be from Pittsburgh. I love this town. It's fantastic. Do I wish the music scene was better? Yeah, but I think everybody has wished that over the years."