An accomplished instrumentalist (mandolin, guitar, bass), vocalist and songwriter, K.C. Groves has been at the heart of many celebrated projects. As the creative center and bandleader of Uncle Earl for over a decade, K.C. helped bring old time music to a wider audience. The "g’Earls" played major festival stages in the United States and toured extensively abroad, gaining fans and musical cohorts such as Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, who produced their 2007 album Waterloo, Tennessee. In addition to Uncle Earl, K.C. has released two solo albums of original material, and was a Telluride Troubadour contest finalist and a Detroit Music Award winner. She has teamed up with countless notable musicians, including old time musician and craftsman Riley Baugus and Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman.
Some albums sound as if the artist labored over every nuance, every second of sound, polishing each note to a perfect sheen while others sound like a spontaneous, passionate, intimate letter written to a close friend. Both extremes on the spectrum have their qualities and charms and there are many examples of either end of that continuum, but to find a recording that combines the best of the precise and the passionate to a rare thing indeed. Happy Little Trees by KC Groves is such an album, one that brings a smile of recognition from shared emotions and familiar sounds as well as admiration for the unique arrangements. Groves has assembled a veritable Who’s Who of contemporary acoustic musicians, many of whom are either based currently or who have roots in the dynamic and diverse Colorado Front Range music scene. While I wouldn’t necessarily claim that Colorado has influenced Groves as a writer, I think it’s fair to say that the album showcases what is best about the music scene here in the Rocky Mountains – a deep respect and soul drawn from traditions that grows from the cross-pollination of various music forms, expressions and directions. On the opening track “Northern Lights” the band creates an atmospheric glow that combines familiar chord changes with reverb heavy pedal steel and vocals that seem lighter than air. That feeling returns on “Annabelle”, both songs play out like a little movie, the images created as much by the words as the soundscapes. On tracks like ”Bluebird”, “Little Rain” or “Electric Peak” the sound is much more traditional old time music where the contributions of players like Riley Baugus, Oliver Craven and Steve Smith really shine. “I Can’t Quit You” is pure country, or to be more precise, country music as it used to sound. This is an album to listen to, which may seem obvious, but some recordings are used to document a particular performance or provide merchandise for sale at gigs and while there’s nothing wrong with either of those approaches, a recording that is presented in sequence to be enjoyed as a whole package is something special. While the songs are all written, co-written or adapted by Groves, she seems to be as much the producer or invisible guiding hand to this project as a star in the spotlight. This is not unexpected of course. Looking at the career of KC Groves you’ll notice plenty of brilliant work from projects like Uncle Earl or Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, in each case Groves was contributing integral elements to the overall sound but always as a part of band, one of the team and her solo album is very much the same, the assembly of a fantastic team of musicians who, together craft something special. At the risk of reading too much into the title “Happy Little Trees” which references the public television artist Bob Ross, I’ll suggest that there are a few possible connections. This albums flows together like a well selected art show, where each work compliments the others and yet each is unique. Also, the TV show sought to make beautiful art accessible to a wider audience and this album is equally inviting and accessible, providing many opportunities to connect to and discover beauty.