Bristol-area five-piece outfit Anabelle’s Curse create lovely, lilting rock inflected with traditional Appalachian musics in such a way that sets them wholly apart from their like-minded contemporaries. Theirs is neither just one more shit-kicking y’allternative act, nor is it the product of fey indie rockers, self-consciously shoehorning trad string lines into navel-gazing college radio fodder.
Mandolinist and vocalist Carly Booher says she and her bandmates have worked over the course of three full-length albums at crafting a sound that doesn’t lean too steeply toward any single genre or sound. “One thing we do is that, while we all have bands we enjoy listening to, we work actively at distancing ourselves from a lot of different influences,” Booher says.
“We all have our favorites, our own different musical backgrounds. I grew up in bluegrass; our drummer tends to go for the Dead; some of the others are all in for Modest Mouse. But when it comes to writing songs for this band, we don’t set out to define what our sound will be. By definition, our sound is what happens when we get these particular people together in the same room.”
That wasn’t always the case. The band’s first record, Monsters from 2011, is a strong effort, but sounds more of a piece with pop-savvy Americana acts like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers. Annabelle’s Curse began stepping into their own with the release of 2013’s Hollow Creature, though, and then even moreso with their most recent album, Worn Out Skin from 2015.
“Our first albums was still heavily centered around folk and roots,” Booher acknowledges. “I feel like the longer the band has been around, the more we’re settling into what it is we do. Not that we’ve put thought into that — it’s just a process of natural evolution.
“I think part of it has to do with the fact that we don’t think in terms of ‘this is what a banjo is supposed to play,’ or ‘this is what a mandolin is supposed to play.'”
The band was formed as three-piece in 2010 in Bristol, Va., with singer/guitarist/banjo player Tim Kilbourne and his Emery and Henry college buddy, Zack Edwards on lead guitar. They added, and changed members a couple of times over the next two years, bringing in Booher, current bassist Tyler Luttrell and percussionist Travis Goyette.
Their name is a nod to an old stand-up bass the band purchased, collectively, for their inaugural performance at an open-mic in Bristol. They named it “Annabelle,” Booher says. The “curse” derives from the fact that, as they carried the instrument across a city street in prior to that first gig, the strap broke, the result being that Annabelle took a tumble onto the asphalt, her neck splitting lengthwise, thus forcing the band’s original bassist to play the show with only half a neck and two strings.
Shortly thereafter, having been repaired, Annabelle fell and broke yet again. “That’s the story of Annabelle’s curse,” Booher says, chuckling. “We don’t use Annabelle anymore. We retired her. Now she’s sitting here in the corner of my house.”
Now, with several months of touring Worn Out Skin under their belts, Booher says she and her bandmates are on the verge of recording album number four. “We just put in the down payment for studio time in July,” she says. “We’ve been writing songs. We almost have an album.
“The way things are going, we’re continuing to progress in the same direction we have for the first three records. We’re still true to the roots, in a sense, but we also like to get weird occasionally.”
Annabelle’s Curse will play Scruffy City Hall Friday, May 13 at 8 p.m. with Swing Booty and Chris Henry.