Mama Said String Band has been one of my favorite acts since the first time I heard them. When I think of string band/ old time music, they are the first name that comes to mind. 2020 saw lineup changes, the departure of two of the founding members and the addition of banjo player, Taylor Shuck, left Mama Said as a four-piece group where they had previously been a five piece. Sometimes less is more. I saw them live late last year at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, and all I can say is WOW! In addition to Taylor, Mama Said String Band consists of founding members: Katie Didit: upright bass, and vocals, Kaitlen Farmer: guitar, and vocals and David O’Neal: violin and vocals. All four members are multi-instrumentalists and I have only listed their primary instruments.
Mama Said String Band released a four song EP, titled Mariah on February 5th, 2021. Their third release and first with the new lineup. Mariah was produced by and recorded at Nitrosonic Studios in Lexington, Kentucky. Of note, Nitrosonic Studios is Kentucky’s only completely female owned recording studio. Mariah’s four songs features each member of the band on lead vocals on one song. This works very well and showcases the versatility of the group. All four members of Mama Said String Band are excellent musicians in their own right, however the four of them together are absolute magic.
Mariah opens with Kaitlen Farmer’s “Kentucky Heartbreak.” An almost ragtime romp through the ups and downs (trending toward mostly downs) of a wild ride of a relationship… “Smooth like the petals from the roses you picked from me yesterday. You’re like a first-time criminal robbing a bank and getting away. You’ve taken sugar from a lollipop or candy from a kid. Stolen my heart like you always did, sweet talk won’t help you this time.” In “Kentucky Heartbreak,” our heroine sees the light by the end… realizing her man has once again “left me here all alone in Kentucky” and it’s time to move on. Or as Kaitlen frames it, “there is just as many of me as there are the bars.”
David O’Neal takes over lead vocal duty on “Good Company.” From the ragtime romp of “Kentucky Heartbreak,” we transition to a more Grateful Dead, “Me and My Uncle” type of flavor with “Good Company.” O’Neal’s masterful playing of the violin is sometimes referred to as the ‘fifth voice’ of Mama Said String Band. On “Good Company,” the fiddle is the first to speak, setting a haunting pace for the entire song as O’Neal tells us “There’s a demon, on the doorstep and he’s calling after me”. On top of the fine violin playing and warmth of David’s lead vocals, “Good Company” showcases the stunning harmonies and vocal play that is a Mama Said String Band trademark. We all need good company.
Taylor Shucks’ “Peace of Mind” is a stunning blending of instrument and voice, blending all while showcasing his banjo and voices. Upbeat and joyous, yet driving. Lyrically, “Peace of Mind” is that relationship we spend our lives searching for, “No matter what you say or do, I found myself stuck back on you! It’s different, every time! This peace of mind, I only find with you and I.” Who doesn’t want that person that makes us feel this way in our lives? The blend of the instruments and voice I mentioned is one thing, the surprise a cappella harmony ending will give you goosebumps and again showcases the harmonies that Mama Said String Band is known for.
Batting clean-up on Mariah, is Katie Didit and ‘Boxwine Swing.’ Much like Katie herself, “Boxwine Swing” is high energy. Full of the vocal play that is a trademark of Mama Said String Band, ‘Boxwine Swing’ takes on another path of relationship woes, “Codeine and a little bit of nicotine, helps me forget your memories”. While these vices ease the pain of the relationship struggles, boxwine on the other hand, “ain’t for crying times, I push it all away.” How a tale of relationship woes ends up being such an upbeat tune is interesting, but pure Katie Didit.
Overall, Mariah delivers everything you would expect from a Mama Said String Band release. Strong songwriting, amazing harmony and vocal play, with the instrumentation behind the lyrics adding to the beauty of the songs. Mariah is available on all platforms as well as direct from the band at : https://mamasaidstringband.com/