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Band releases 'Act 1' of three-part musical project

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By Robert Villanueva

A forthcoming musical, in graphic novel form, provides the basis for the latest release by a band that includes an Elizabethtown musician.

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“The Raven Locks, Act 1,” the first installment in a three-part recording project, is the title of the album released Nov. 19 by Dirt Poor Robins, a band formed by Louisville musicians Neil and Kate DeGraide in 2004. Elizabethtown resident Josh Brown began recording with the band in 2010 and plays brass and other instruments on the latest release.

“We had met through mutual musician friends, and we also are a part of the band for singer/songwriter Dave Moisan,” Brown said. “I also play with Neil in the instrumental post-rock band, Interstates, and it has been through recording and playing live shows that I was invited to officially join Dirt Poor Robins.”

The band is rounded out by drummer Alex O’Nan of Louisville.

Neil DeGraide said “The Raven Locks,” was inspired by an image in his mind of a man in the early 1900s wheeling a mannequin bust and a bird cage across the desert.

“That’s actually a scene from Act 2,” DeGraide said.

Music from Act 2 will be more whimsical while Act 3 will take a dark turn, musically, DeGraide said, “because the story we’re telling is a tragedy.” Act 2 and 3 are slated to be released later this year along with a graphic novel that tells the story, he said.

“We’re putting the music out there first,” DeGraide said.

Part of the reason for releasing the albums first is to engage the audience before the entire story is released. Also, it is an attempt “to carry them along through the process,” he said.

At the Dirt Poor Robins page on Facebook, the musical is described as “a Dickens meets C.S. Lewis meets Lewis Carroll meets Edgar Allen Poe style psychedelic tragedy that takes place 100 years ago in Southampton, England, the Atlantic Ocean and in Hades.” The DeGraides wrote the music.

With a background in music as early as age 8 — the age at which he and his siblings were required by his parents to take piano lessons — DeGraide came from a classical music background. He later learned to play guitar, and at the age of 13 or 14, he began producing records, he said.

Likewise, Kate DeGraide had a long history of music, beginning at age 4, her husband said.

“In the end, we’re doing this because we’re compelled,” Neil DeGraide said.

Three main influences that became the foundation of inspiration for “The Raven Locks” are composer/musician Johannes Brahms, writer Walt Whitman and artist Salvador Dali, DeGraide said. Brahms is appealing for his innovation within classical form, and the DeGraides admired Whitman’s poetry.

DeGraide cited Dali’s “command of skill and imagination” as part of his allure.

Brown expressed his appreciation of such inspiration, among others.
“The project has so many influences and sounds from Brahms, early 20th century hot-club jazz, psychedelica, Chopin, Queen, Muse and Arcade Fire,” Brown said. “And I really enjoy recording, playing, listening to music that really goes somewhere and changes up frequently.”

Dirt Poor Robins, DeGraide said, is a “cinematic, progressive rock band.”

Having recorded on the album “Leviathan” with Dirt Poor Robins in early 2010, Brown described the band’s music as “theatrical, dynamic, emotional and highly musical.”

“The lyrics always tell a story or are a part of a larger theme, and like a great book with an amazing story, you read it again and again because there is something new to take in,” Brown said. “That is DPR: there is something new every time to hear and enjoy, ranging from a lyrical or musical phrase to a texture that was not heard before.”

Brown called the music of Dirt Poor Robins “music for musicians.”

“It is music for actual listening, not background,” Brown said. “DPR is a rock band with brass. If you want your face melted with guitars, drums and brass, we’re your huckleberry.”

Robert Villanueva can be reached at 270-505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.

To buy the CD:

To purchase “The Raven Locks, Act 1” by Dirt Poor Robins, go to www.dirtpoorrobins.bandcamp.com or www.apple.com/itunes.