Carbon Leaf Pulls Out All the Stops

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Carbon Leaf Show Review (and a Close Look at Their Gear)

Over the weekend, I had my first chance to catch this talented quintet from Richmond. I had heard that the band puts on a great show, highlighted by fantastic musicianship and a huge array of instruments. Truer words were never spoken.

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I’ll get to the show itself in a bit, but I snuck into soundcheck to learn a little more about the slew of instruments dotting the stage when these guys perform. This night, on the cozy stage at the Social, they actually downsized a bit – travelling light, as they were headed out to sea on The Rock Boat the following day.

Charismatic front man Barry Privett plays a harmonica, two different whistles and uses a handful of creative percussion items, drummer Jason Neal has some fun stuff on his kit and joins his mates center stage with a small drum slung over his shoulder for a few songs. We see a standard electric bass and a fantastic upright bass masterfully played by Jon Markel, but the real fun starts when we get into the remainder of the string instruments.

We took a tour of the guitars and other assorted items with Terry Clark and Carter Gravatt after sound check. These two guys are absolutely passionate about their craft, and both talented musicians.

It also became obvious that the band members are incredibly versatile, sometimes switching out instruments nightly and within a set based on the venue, the mood of the room and flow of the setlists, which are quite fluid. I asked Gravatt about the plans for the Rock Boat, “Sometimes we’ve done three completely different sets so we don’t repeat stuff, so I’ll be switching up.”

Clark added, “We will change things from show to show. A lot of folks come to all three shows and we want to make it interesting. A handful will get played each set, but we like to switch it up to keep the fans engaged, and keep us engaged, too!”

I mentioned bow fluid the setlists typically were and Gravatt noted, “It depends on the tour and the venue. Usually there’s a core set we want to play every evening. There’s usually a few variables and we try to honor some requests.”

“On this tour, we are still promoting Indian Summer Revisited, so the core set is Indian Summer songs, then a block of some of the more Celtic material, and then the rest is tweaked night by night,” explained Clark. “Barry actually keeps a database of every show we play, so when we return to a venue, he’ll look to see what we played so that we don’t repeat ourselves.”

(Check out our recent interview with Barry Privett here)

Gravatt shared, “It kind of depends on where we are playing. Barry will show up and kind of decide what kind of show we’re going to play and from there, I whittle down what instruments I’ll be playing. So, I usually don’t know until I get to the venue.”

As you can see, each show is like a box of Cracker Jacks, and on this night, they actually left a few things behind due to space requirements on The Rock Boat. When you see them live next, in addition to the instruments we’ll see described shortly, you’re just as likely to see them sporting a dobro, fiddle, or who knows what else.

So, we took a quick tour through the racks of instruments.

Clark shared a bit about his rack of guitars: “I play a ’75 Les Paul with a few modifications to it. Then I’ve got a Gibson J-45 acoustic and a Tackamine that I use for alternate tunings.

Diverse collection, but nothing like what we saw on Gravatt’s stands. The descriptions below are all from Gravatt unless noted, and songs where the instrument is more noticeable are listed afterwards.

Bouzouki – Per Clark, “Sometimes you don’t even it’s really bouzouki because it’s doubling an acoustic guitar part or snuck in there with another instrument, you’ll ask, ‘What’s that weird instrument in there?'” “Desperation Song,” “Changeless” and “Paloma.”

Banjo – Some nights if we’re doing an acoustic show, I’ll play banjo on a few songs that I would have played electric guitar on. “On Any Given Day,” Another Man’s Woman” and “One Prairie Outpost.” Sometimes Barry will say put these songs together and I have to go figure out a way to play it on banjo. On a song called “Tombstone Versus Ashes, I play it in claw hammer style.

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Carter Gravatt’s incredible collection of foot pedals.

Guitar Viola – This unique instrument takes a guitar and a viola de gamba and kind of mushes them together. I’m still tinkering around with different tunings for it, but everything I play is set on a tuning I wrote a song for, so I don’t really improvise on that much; it’s more the song it was written for. “Song For The Sea” and “Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle.”

Mandolin – You’ll hear it on “American Tale.”

Violin – Tonight, I’ll play a fiddle tune “Banish Misfortune” on it and a song called “Block Of Wood” and of course we play it a lot on some of our old Irish tunes.

Guitar – I have these Bill Callahan constructed guitars. This is a Gibson, rebuilt by him; he machined it from a block of steel and replaced all of the hardware.

Electric Mandola with a high B-String – It’s used on “Raise The Roof” off of Indian Summer Revisited. It has more of a cool sound, especially when you add distortion to it.

As impressive as that was, they left a boatload of stuff back home, so we didn’t even get to fiddle, hurdy gurdy, 12 string guitar, dobro, bodhran or Privett’s bagpipes!

I truly enjoyed my time at soundcheck, but the show was just as entertaining. Gravatt, Clark and friends played superbly and seemed to be having a great time on stage, but this band truly revolves their live show around the charismatic Privett.

The band boasted some fantastic, meandering jams that at times featured every musician; Privett often taking a back seat to let each member shine in the spotlight. But when Privett stepped back into the spotlight, he was constantly engaging with the near sold out and eagerly participative crowd, bantering frequently, sharing a social (at The Social) and downing a shot or two. At one point, he announced “My limit is two per show” and then passed the third shot on to the eagerly accommodating Clark.

Privett shared his affinity for the military in general and his appreciation for the members of the USS Eisenhower specifically. We also heard a killer patriotic song they were toying with in soundcheck. We’ll leave the details for now, but can’t wait to see when it is unveiled in the future. (and here it is: Danger Zone)

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Carbon Leaf’s Ragtime Carnival segment.

Highlights from the two hours plus set were the Ragtime Carnival segment where the full band came front and center for a handful of captivating folksy songs, and the brief but incredibly energetic Celtic segment. Gone For Good This Time? No…

See our photos from the show here: Carbon Leaf Photo Album
Rock On!

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3 thoughts on “Carbon Leaf Pulls Out All the Stops”

    1. Dee – it was my first time seeing them, but I can definitely see that. They’re one of those bands that transcends generations – like Cowboy Mouth, BNL, etc…

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