Cider Mag - Dec 2013 | Page 34

Ringing the strings of tradition issue 38 working_Layout 1 12/7/2013 1:50 PM Page 34 Garret K. Woodward A Southern Perspective on music, art, and life from the Carolina’s The strings of tradition and progress echoed from the back alley. Upon further inspection (and a lone door cracked open), the harmonic tone was radiating from the mandolin of Darren Nicholson. Readying himself for a performance that evening at the Colonial Theater in downtown Canton, North Carolina, Nicholson is part of renowned bluegrass ensemble Balsam Range. As tall as a grizzly bear, with a persona that is the epitome of southern hospitality, he walks across the stage and extends a handshake the size of baseball glove. “Welcome,” he smiled. Those words above became the introduction of my first article for The Smoky Mountain News. Nicholson was literally the first person I ever interviewed in Western North Carolina. And, that seems kind of poignant, in hindsight. Beyond his prized work with Balsam Range, he also fronts a solo band, the Darren Nicholson Band — a group a little bit classic county, a little bit old-time mountain music. The side project plays as an outlet for Nicholson from his hefty schedule for his day job. Both Haywood County, North Carolina bands provide a fulfilling musical existence for the mandolinist, who has an Appalachian heart as big as his sound. I recently caught up with Nicholson. He spoke of his success with Balsam Range (2013 International Bluegrass Music Association winners for “Album of the Year”), his new solo album “Things Left Undone,” and why there’s no greater feeling than being onstage. Garret K. Woodward: 2013 was a big year for you. Darren Nicholson: It has been a huge year. Balsam Range getting “Album of the Year,” I mean that's really at the pinnacle for what you'd hope for as a recording artist. I was on a collaborative album that won “Album of the Year” in 2006, but I have to say this one meant a whole lot more obviously being more involved in it from the ground up. And I'm really glad to see us get a band award, which has been the concept from the get-go. And to be working on the solo project this is been an amazing year. GKW: What’s the intent of the project? DN: Well obviously Balsam Range is my main focus, but the Darren Nicholson Band is basically an outlet for a bunch of old friends to get together to make music when Balsam Range takes time off. And just like the solo record, it gives me an outlet to do something different creatively to keep music fresh and a different sound. GKW: What does the title “Things Left Undone” signify? DN: The title represents a lot of us and how we feel about life in general, and how I think we all sometimes have to stop, reflect and want to be better people. I’m a sucker for a good song. Whenever I’m putting music together, the most important thing in the music is the singing, and everything will fall into place around good material. Great story and laugh songs that most people can relate to. GKW: When you write songs, is it lyrics then melody, or vice versa? DN: The songwriting process for me is an evolving thing, but it's usually lyrics first with music and vocals later. I love a good story and song, and that has motivated me to get more into the songwriting process and work moment because I'm such a fan of great songwriters. GK firin thro DN: I'm mos wha thin ente rela GK that DN: solo Ran and mos cou am ally of d enjo prid it so reco peo to s GK you DN: with in th on t and just a lis in a hea