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Vinegar Creek Constituency captures intensity of live shows on new album

staff report • Jan 20, 2013 at 5:03 AM

American songs are full of deranged old ghosts howling at the moon. Vinegar Creek Constituency, an eclectic, incendiary string band out of Pennsylvania Dutch country, channels these venerable old ghosts of the American folk tradition through imaginative, emotive original songs delivered with rock ‘n’ roll intensity.

Full of shouting, floorboard-stomping soul, their live performances are uplifting, high-energy events with fans dancing in the aisles and clapping, stomping and singing along.

Local fans can catch Vinegar Creek Constituency live Jan. 27 at the Acoustic Coffeehouse in Johnson City. Show time is 8 p.m.

For years, fans have told the band that while they love its albums, none of them succeeded in capturing the grit, energy and sweaty emotion of a live Vinegar Creek Constituency show.

So for their third studio album, titled “Don’t Go Back in Time,” Vinegar Creek Constituency’s members booked a recording studio in the historic river town of Columbia, Pa., set up in a circle and recorded 14 songs over the course of three intense nights.

“In an effort to stay true to our string-bandy selves, we shunned modern recording techniques like digital edits and overdubs and recorded the songs live to two-inch analog tape like the old-timers did, with a top-notch engineer at the wheel to make sure it all came across right,” said singer/songwriter/guitarist Leonardo DiSanto. “Make no mistake, though: this is not a retro throwback album. (It’s called ‘Don’t Go Back in Time,’ after all.) It’s modern, original string band music made the way we thought would bring out the best album we could make.”

The musicians of Vinegar Creek Constituency come from diverse musical backgrounds that range from formal classical performance to experimental garage rock to traditional old time Appalachian string band music to Gypsy jazz. Consequently, the band’s sound encompasses elements of many styles, including super-charged bluegrass, early rockabilly, swing, vaudeville, outlaw country and ragtime.

“I really hear our music as a form of primitive rock ‘n’ roll played with a bluegrass instrumentation,” DiSanto said. “From the age of 9 I’ve been a huge Elvis fan. If you listen to Elvis’ legendary earliest recordings on the Sun label, it was really just a three-man string band lineup — acoustic guitar for rhythm, double bass on the bottom and electric guitar phrases for embellishment. Elvis was recording Bill Monroe songs back then, bluegrass songs like ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky,’ and charging them up with the energy that would come to characterize rock ‘n’ roll music. I think those records are ancestors of what our group does.”

Vinegar Creek Constituency was first conceived in 2005 as a side project by DiSanto, a Lancaster, Pa., singer/songwriter then fronting an experimental garage rock band.

The group’s first (and for a long time only) show was at Lancaster’s Chameleon Club opening for Appalachian guitar legend Larry Keel (who sat in for a Bill Monroe tune). All of the band members were with other groups at the time, and the Constituency played only a few sporadic shows in the Lancaster area the first few years.

By the spring of 2008, the Vinegar Creek Constituency’s members had begun to approach the project with increased focus and commitment. That May, they traveled to Cumberland, Md., performing in and winning the first annual Delfest band competition, an event that became a catalyst for the band’s already-growing creative energy.

Their eponymous debut album was released in October 2008. The follow-up album, “Angel of the Last Waltz,” was released in May 2010. Both albums were engineered, produced and released by the band members themselves and feature all original material.

The Constituency dropped “Don’t Go Back in Time” during a CD release party Jan. 11 in Lancaster, Pa., and immediately hit the road in support of the new album.

In addition to DiSanto, the Vinegar Creek Constituency features Jeff Bryson, Mark “Banjo Doc” Rast, Pierre de Vitry, and Mike Gordon or MIke Vitale.

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