Seattle artist and activist Paula Boggs and her band have created a multi-level concept album Elixir: The Soulgrass Sessions, released in September of 2017.
The 11-song collection mixes political-minded calls to action with love songs and personal reflection, much of which is given what they call the ‘soulgrass treatment,” of using primarily acoustic instruments and voices. It isn’t all throwback neo-folk though, as the band does venture into blues and roots rock on several tunes, but the center is all about sweet harmonies. The opening track is a Memphis soul styled tribute to the pre-digital era of FM radio and the name sake pop band “Goo Goo Dolls.” The soul grass then kicks in with the light strums of banjo from Mark Chinen and accordion from Paul Matthew Moore to accompany Boggs’ throaty alto on the softly swinging “Gypsy Sapphire,” that segues into the lover’s lament tone poem “Rear View Mirror.”
Neo-soul vocalist Mycle Wastman trades lines with Boggs on the verses and the Total Experience Gospel Choir joins the chorus on the expansive ode to those lost in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and powerful alter call to action “Benediction.” The full acoustic treatment is given to a cover of the Bon Iver song “Holocene,” with clever use of banjo, triangle and strings to replace synthetic EDM sounds. Timely topics and questions and a plea to heal the world on the longing track “Peel The Charade,” then the mood lightens for the Dixieland call for unity “We All Fall Down.” The joyous instrumental “Two Daughters,” allows the players to show off their considerable chops. Boggs continues her crusade with the direct to the point message of “The Get Along Song,” and then call for self-examination on the challenging track “Sleep Walking.” Boggs then closes the album with an intriguing notion that music has the power to both heal and hurt you and thus is a fickle mistress and dubs her the “Original Sin.”
The term “Elixir,” is associated with magic potions and alchemy and is certainly an apt comparison for what transpires when the Paula Boggs Band plays together, combining their collective elements into a life-giving concoction of golden sounds and spiritual energy.