Sunday Valley: the Proof is in the Spirit

Sunday Valley: the Proof is in the Spirit

Anyone in Kentucky worth their snifter (or mason jar) knows a little something about bourbon. To char the new white oak barrel designed for aging spirits, you set the inside alight until you’ve got a small bonfire busy defacing the white oak, moments away from ash. After the fire’s out, the woodgrain is no longer pure, but the longer the spirits sit, the more complex the resulting bouquet and flavor, the more lusty in color, and the larger the angel’s share. Regardless of how long it sets, bourbon is not bourbon unless it first dwells in something that knows what it means to burn. To be steeped in the “mountain soul” of Sunday Valley is to find yourself a vessel holding onto a slurry of flame.

Many fans of Sunday Valley are notorious for their nigh-ecstatic/berserker fervor during shows. Maybe it’s a combination of heat and sweat rising from bodies clustered at the foot of the stage meeting the waves of heat coming from the instruments and voices under the lights. Whatever the reason, it becomes clear, that much like a tent revival, the spirit will really start to swing the further in the congregation is willing to go. In fact, it’s no surprise to hear someone call out to a friend or stranger, “They’re takin’ me to church!”

This is a dynamic reemergence of the band’s unique timbre which garnered them the title, “The Kings of Cowpunk” and got them voted “The Best Band in Kentucky” in 2007 by Louisville’s Leo Weekly. Now a trio, with Sturgill Simpson on guitar and lead vocals, Gerald Evans on bass and vocals, and Edgar Purdom holding down the drums, the band seems to embrace the concept that change is the nature of the universe and that the more recent changes are positive. Most importantly, as a group of friends first, Simpson feels they’re “doing the only thing that makes sense…trying to make the most honest, heartfelt, and pure music.”

Balancing a full plate of shows throughout the state and with a new “top secret” album in the works due out late summer/early fall, Simpson is enthusiastic about what Sunday Valley has to offer audiences, “In terms of musical development, we’re still exploring and are nowhere near exhausting the sonic limits of the unit. As a songwriter, it couldn’t be more exciting because I’m learning more everyday how much freedom we have to go wherever we want. Being a three piece allows us to focus on the rhythmic structure of the songs and our sound and to play around with dynamics on an extreme scale.”

And if what’s being cooked up in the studio reflects what’s been happening onstage lately, “The audience can expect things to get much darker as we’ve strayed away from the now saturated honky-tonk based Country and have been really digging in and developed a sound based much heavier on the music in my heart, which is Appalachian Blues, Bluegrass, and traditional mountain string music. There’s a certain dread and forlornness in the music that I feel translates to modern times and the general state of uncertainty in the world. I think the record will serve as a raw introduction and claiming stamp on the Sunday Valley sound.”

Much like the altered barrels that turn an unrefined liquid into something worth sharing, the more you listen, the more you find that you are able to hold, though your most vital organs be scorched to char, your blood thinning to resin. On Saturday, July 3rd, Sunday Valley will be scorching organs next at Buster’s, the first in a lineup of upcoming gigs this month, including the particularly promising July 24th show at Cosmic Charlie’s with the “Dancing Outlaw,” himself, Jesco White. Simpson wishes clarity for the people planning to come through, “If they take away anything, it will be something to hopefully believe in, being that so much music today, especially country and its retro novelty acts, are based on a postured persona with no real emotional content in the songs….”

And ultimately, he wishes what any musician worth his instrument could wish most for a crowd, “Ideally, someday we’d love to look out at a room full of people rocking their asses off and crying at the same time.”

So come this weekend, try not to flinch when Sunday Valley leaves anyone in hearing range breathless, pulses popping through temples, palms, soles, and throats plain wore out. ‘Cause you won’t be put out until you’re fully cured.

Next show:
July 3 Buster’s Billiards and Backroom w/The Sundresses
Doors at 8, Show at 10, $7,18+

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(Photo by Richie Wireman)