It’s just coincidental that Austin musician Everett Wren’s new album, Porchlight, contains a song titled “Rebirth,” but the May 20, 2022 release does represent a rebirth of sorts. It’s not only his debut solo effort, but also the first time he’s making music under his chosen name instead of his birth name.
He’s always preferred Everett, his middle name, to what he considers his rather common first and last names (Chris Peterson). And Wren was inspired by the small but loud Carolina wrens who nest annually in his porch rafters. Their trills remind him of a violin’s vibrato, Wren says, adding, “The little instrument with the big voice resonated with the concept of my fiddling.”
Though he’s Suzuki-trained and was a first violinist in the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra, Wren’s fiddling — which earned him an Arkansas state championship as a teen — gives Porchlight’s mix of folk and rootsy rock its glow. He’ll deliver ample doses of it during his album release party, slated for May 21 at the Butterfly Bar at the Vortex, 2307 Manor Road, Austin. Showtime is 7 p.m.
When Wren began studying violin at 7, he was already a seasoned performer; he was 4 when he joined his family’s namesake band on stages in Branson, Missouri, and elsewhere. As a teen, Wren somehow juggled playing bass in his high-school rock band, fiddling in a Scottish dance band and drumming in his church’s Dixieland band. He also toured nationally with Americana band Wagon (which recorded a Lloyd Maines-produced album for Hightone Records and two more for Glitterhouse), performed and recorded with future Grammy winner Sarah Jarosz, busked in Europe, earned a master’s degree in acoustics, cofounded Austin bands Lost & Nameless and Chalkboard Poets, and produced several albums for other artists.
Like so many artists, Wren chose to get creative during his pandemic-induced confinement. Porchlight is the result. Though that title bears no overt connection to his avian tenants, Wren notes that porches often serve to bring folks together. “‘Porchlight” seems to represent a gathering place for these songs,” he explains. “Most of them also contrast light and dark in some form, and ‘porchlight’ symbolizes that.”
In addition to singing and fiddling on the self-produced album, Wren played mandolin, acoustic guitar, stompbox, drums, percussion, electric guitar, dobro, lap steel and hammered dulcimer. He also wrote or cowrote 12 of its 15 songs (the others are two reinterpreted traditionals and a cover of “Long Black Veil”), and handled most of the recording and mixing.
Of course, he had help from some talented friends, including Lost & Nameless bandmates Nathan Quiring, Kimberly Zielnicki and Patrick Conway, who cowrote the music for “Have We Lost” and perform on various tracks, as does well-known L&N alum Harmoni Kelley, now playing bass in Kenny Chesney’s band. Contributing pals also include well-known Austin artists Taylor Turner on bass and songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Sasha K.A. They accompanied Wren at his official SXSW showcase in March and will share the stage with him at the Butterfly Bar release.
Through his expressive vocals and masterful playing, Wren channels myriad influences into his own distinct style. The mandolin intro to “Rebirth,” for example, brings Sam Bush to mind, before the fiddle jumps in and takes flight. The title track segues from acoustic strumming and conga taps to jazzy blues piano. “Treaty,” inspired by Austin’s storied Treaty Oak, finds a folky groove; on the lovely “Have We Lost,” Wren’s tenor blends beautifully with co-lead vocalist — and former protégé — Zielnicki’s soprano. Their mandolin and fiddle interplay further elevates the song.
As a whole, the album displays as many colors as the multifaceted porchlights Wren notices when he and his partner jog through their neighborhood before sunrise. They delight him. So does sharing the shine of his own Porchlight.