The many moods of longing are wrapped in singing strings and lush harmonies meandering throughout The Feralings’ debut, self-titled EP.
The Iowa City supergroup — Benj Upchurch on mandolin and vocals, Nicole Upchurch on banjo and vocals, and Patrick Bloom on guitar, bass and vocals — will bring their rootsy Americana and bluegrass-infused collection to The Famous Mockingbird in Marion on Feb. 22.
Their backgrounds are as eclectic as their music. Bloom has performed with The Mayflies and The Letterpress Opry. Nicole Upchurch is part of the Awful Purdies, a fearsome female fivesome, and is an assistant director for The Family Folk Machine choir in Iowa City. Her husband, Benj Upchurch, switched from building mandolins to teaching in the ceramics department at the University of Iowa.
On their Facebook page, “music” falls at the end of their playful list of interests: “stories, dog walks, drum beats, camping, kids, cats, maybe some birds, the occasional pot roast, broken clothes, hot peppers, clay pots, tall trees, mountain peaks, cold cold water and hot water, good neighbors, artists, boats, fire, railroads, outer space, rockets, kilns, Marilynne Robinson and Edward Abbey, fire works, speaking Spanish, sheep, staying above the fray, scratching that which itches, and music.”
But all those interests clearly spark the musical muses for songwriters Nicole Upchurch and Bloom. The sheer poetry of their lyrics is enough to reel you into their world. Add in mandolin, banjo, bass, and guest guitars and piano, and the resulting sound wraps listeners in a cozy quilt of warm memories and what ifs.
“Humming Machines” launches the collection, echoing a yearning shared by many, to just “get away from the noise some place to quiet my brain.” Songwriter Nicole Upchurch pours her breathy, reedy vocals into this lament, buoyed by her banjo as the other instrumentals slip in.
Bloom changes the pace with his fast and furious “Maybe Maybelline,” an ode to “a chapel girl resolute and chaste, prettier than a daffodil with curls down to her waist.” It’s a bluegrass love song, with harmonies as tight as her admirer’s heart “cauterized from a lifetime of lies and a thousand small things.” Bloom weaves vivid images of tent revivals into the soulful lyrics.
Slide guitar brings a mournful undertone to “Perennials,” which after the recent snow dumps, is a plea for spring heard round the Corridor. That’s followed by “I Shall Bring You Flowers (Sun God),” where the warmth of the sun romances a sleepy lass.
Nicole Upchurch mines some down and dirty country with “Lila,” then wraps it all up with the woeful yet hopeful “Weeds in the Wall.”
TITLE: “The Feralings”
ARTIST: The Feralings: Benj Upchurch, mandolin and vocals; Nicole Upchurch, banjo and vocals; and Patrick Bloom, guitar, bass and vocals
HOME BASE: Iowa City
PERFORMANCE: 8 to 11 p.m. Feb. 22; doors open 7 p.m.
WHERE: The Famous Mockingbird, 1064 Seventh Ave., Marion
COST: $10 general admission at the door or in advance at Thefamousmockingbird.com/live-performances; for reserved tables, $20 to $45, email Carrie at LucidBuddhaAtelier@gmail.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Theferalings.com