Review: Paula Boggs Band – ‘Elixir: The Soulgrass Sessions’

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.

(Listen below to the album below via Spotify, you can also purchase it HERE and get more info about the band on Facebook HERE.)

Rick Bowen

Rick grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan playing in school band, choir and show bands. While earning a BA at Western Michigan University in History and Social Science, he was a member of the Bronco marching band and jazz ensemble Gold Company. Moving to the Northwest in 1994, Rick soon landed gigs and sessions with many diverse local artists and is currently a member of the award winning Stacy Jones Band and the host of the all ages School of Jam. Rick is also an associate producer and session musician for Critical Sun Recordings, a contributing writer at Innocent Words, Seattle Examiner, No Depression, The Washington Blues Society and S.T.E.A.M magazine, and serves on the board of directors for the Washington Blues Society. Rick is endorsed by and plays THUMPER CUSTOM DRUMS. Awards: Washington Blues Society “Best of the Blues” award 2009 Best New Band –Stacy Jones Band WBS “Best of the Blues” award 2012 Best Blues Jam - Oxford Saloon Monday Night Jam 2013 & 2014 WBS Best Blues Writer award. 2014 WBS Chris Leighton Blues Drummer BB Award. Nominations: 2009 & 2013 Best Blues Drummer WBS BB awards. 2012 Best NW recording “No Need To Spell it Out –Stacy Jones Band (Rick J Bowen co producer)