The singing voice that comes out of Eugene musician Corwin Bolt is disarming: There are elements of Bob Dylan there, in the nasally delivery that registers passion in flat insistences and breathy hidey-holes; some Woody Guthrie, like a spike driven into a rail tie, hard-hewn and proud; a little Steve Earle, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and not a small bit of the late Vic Chesnutt, a beautiful croak quenched by kerosene and gargled through the gravel of hard times. It’s an ageless, haunting sort of voice that Bolt possesses, something much more traveled than the guitarist’s mere 32 years on the planet.
As a musician, Bolt is a traditionalist through and through — a good thing, given that his chosen field of play is old-time bluegrass, a genre as intractable to amendment as the U.S. Constitution. And as deeply American. Bolt plays a resonator guitar, which grants his tunes the lagging thump-and-pluck of Appalachian murder ballads or the hooty jig of Tom Waits circa Swordfishtrombones. In all, his music conjures djinns and demons of our distant past, ghostly figures lost in the hills, drunk on moonshine, waiting for trains to destinations unknown.
“I try to keep it as traditional as possible,” Bolt says. “Personally, I think it’s better to become familiar with the music that has come before you in your genre and then, once you know where you’re coming from, then you can go and make a statement based on the knowledge that’s already been accumulated.”
Bolt’s two most recent releases are titled, simply enough, Bellingham EPs One and Number Two, and together they give evidence of the scholarship and spirit behind the artist’s bluegrass roots. Despite the clear, resonant production, the songs, mostly Bolt originals, sound old as the hills. And yet, thanks to the urgency and precision he instills in the well-trod formulas of bluegrass, Bolt makes the old and new.
Bolt will bring a four-piece band, The Wingnuts, on stage at his March 21 gig at Luckey’s, rounding out his sound with mandolin, harmonica and banjo. Expect happy and danceable, he says. “We’re going to stick to really upbeat, groovy stuff — pretty fast,” Bolt says. “I try to go for pure fun, you know? And maybe sneak some serious ones in there.”
Also playing that night are the Dunghill Rooster Strutters (former Alder St. All-Stars alums) and Robert Sarazin Blake and The Put-It-All-Down-In-A Letters, a Bellingham-based outfit for which Bolt has high praise. “They’re really going to be something to see,” he says. “They are smokin’ awesome.”
Corwin Bolt and Co. play 10 pm Friday, March 21, at Luckey’s; $5.