Sabine McCalla can handle her own. After years of providing backup vocals to bands around town, she’s finally ready to push her own voice to the front of the stage.
Making the move to New Orleans four years ago, McCalla found herself welcomed into a flourishing scene of supportive, fearless artists, gravitating around this young community that nourishes itself with country-folk and street culture, agreeable musicians, dancers, visual artists of all colors and shapes. It’s a scene where old-time music and lifestyle find a new breath, are brought back and celebrated each day with a fresh perspective and a hunger for the fleshed-out beauty of grassroots Southern music.
Last January, McCalla compiled a selection of songs crafted over the last four years in New Orleans and found help from the independent Mashed Potato Records to make a first recording, Folk, a dark and intimate testimony to her fascination for old songs and classic gospel, all fittingly recorded on grainy-sounding tape. McCalla speaks from the heart. Her songs tell the stories of lost souls and broken hearts with moanful laments. They summon the strength and comfort of old spirituals. Her stripped-down style, either singing a capella or with minimal guitar or vocal accompaniment, bears a force that evokes the most haunting of the early Lomax recordings of historic American music.
Things have been moving fast since then. The record reached a couple of ears, including those of Eli “Paperboy” Reed, a New York–based singer and producer who arranged for McCalla to play with the Harlem Gospel Travelers up in the Big Apple. An inspiring and fruitful step, the experience helped McCalla piece together her own first band. A five-piece outfit, Sabine McCalla & the Dew Drops premiered at Siberia in May. In this context, McCalla’s songs benefit from an entirely different treatment, veering toward a classic rhythm-and-blues sound, like if a stack of 1950s 45s had spilled over a Ouija board, injecting the light-hearted soul of those days onto the stage. A major piece of that puzzle is the sound and mind of organ and piano player Casey McAllister of Hurray for the Riff Raff, as well as vocalist Casey Jane, with whom McCalla sang backups on Langhorne Slim’s rendition of “Deck the Halls.”
For her fresh role as a bandleader, McCalla draws great inspiration from her experience as one of Tasche de la Rocha’s Psychedelic Roses. She mentions the family spirit that reigns and ties the whole group together into a well-balanced, supportive and loving operation.
With a strong community around her, a record in the books, a feature on the recent United Bakery Records Revue, backup vocals gigs, connections up north and a promising new band, McCalla has much to look forward to, and many new ears to reach. Ours are wide open.