Cricket Tell the Weather leaps to roots-music renown
Andrea Asprelli had to go to England to find America — or at least, the American music that the songwriter and fiddle player has since made her stock in trade.
Growing up in Denver, Asprelli had what she calls a vigorous education in European classical music, and didn’t pay much heed to the healthy roots-music scene around her. After heading east to study philosophy at Mount Holyoke College, she spent a year abroad at the University of Kent at Canterbury. There, she met some fellow musicians whose infatuation with American folk styles proved catching.
“I thought that maybe I would play more English or Irish folk music, but they were totally about American folk music, which I didn't really know about and hadn't even considered,” Asprelli, 29, says in a telephone interview. “I gave them street cred because they were playing American music with an American. They didn't know it well enough to know I didn't know what I was doing.”
She knows what she’s doing now.
Asprelli has brought her classically honed chops and a touch for timeless-sounding songwriting to Cricket Tell the Weather, an acoustic quartet that draws inspiration from a handful of sepia-toned styles, but plays original songs aiming to showcase a contemporary voice. The band pays its second visit to Club Passim on Thursday, followed by two appearances at the Apple Jam festival in Russell on Aug. 21 and 23.
As happens in the fluid world of bands working in bluegrass and related styles, the Cricket lineup has shifted around a bit. The group came together after Asprelli met guitarist Jason Borisoff, who was playing with a group in Syracuse, N.Y. The two got some early recognition when their co-written “Remington” won the songwriting award at the bluegrass festival in Podunk, Conn., in 2011.
She met banjo player Doug Goldstein the next year during an impromptu hallway jam at the indoor Joe Val bluegrass festival in Framingham, Goldstein says. Jeff Picker, who played bass with the group for much of last year, rejoined in spring on guitar when Borisoff departed. Sam Weber plays bass now.
Though the players’ instrumental chops are in evidence, Cricket’s self-titled debut LP, released last year, is very much a song-based affair.
“You need to be able to showcase your chops to win respect in this [musical] world, so some of that is necessary,” Goldstein says. “It's a bit of a sport. But I’m not interested in that competition. I was never an athlete in real life; I shouldn’t have to be one in art.”
“Remington,” informed by Asprelli’s many tours of abandoned buildings in and around Bridgeport, Conn., when she worked for an affordable-housing nonprofit there after college, is about the Remington ammunition plant, which closed in 1986. New song “If I Had My Way” re-appropriates the chorus of the traditional song first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson, and later reworked by the Grateful Dead (as “Samson and Delilah”), among many others.
The child of an Italian-American and an Indonesian immigrant, Asprelli makes no claims to austere authenticity beyond the honesty of her own creative voice. But her contemporary spin on inherited forms is very much part of the American musical tradition.
“The aesthetic borrows from bluegrass, and it borrows from old-time music and folk and spirituals,” she says, noting that she’s not aiming for a pristine re-creation of any one style. “These are very specific genres, and people within them will have very clearly delineated lines as far as what makes something bluegrass and what makes something folk — it depends on who your audience is, but with [my songs] I just say it's original music.”
Now based in Brooklyn, N.Y., Cricket has yet to tour very far from the Northeast. Still, the band has been gaining momentum. It won the inaugural festival-award at FreshGrass in North Adams in 2013, and participated in the emerging-artist showcase at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. In the wake of Borisoff’s departure, a new album in the fall will display the band’s focus on Asprelli’s songs.
Traditional bluegrass “is very particular,” guitarist Picker says, “and there’s certain idioms that don't necessarily translate to a non-Southern group of people who are in their 20s and living in 2015 in New York City. But there are other things about it that transcend all that stuff. Cricket is more or less a modern take on a tradition that I love, and something I think is genuine . . . because it feels like we're taking the right things from the tradition, and putting a modern spin on other things.”
Cricket Tell The Weather
With Monica Rizzio
At: Club Passim,
Tickets: $15. 617-492-7679, www.passim.org