“Boys can die but legends never fall,” sings Mile Twelve’s Evan Murphy in the refrain of their new single, “Johnny Oklahoma,” a triumphant and wild tale involving a brave youth turned human cannonball. And still, from this concise and clever story song, listeners may sense a bit of nihilism; a heavy load sang in a major key. These musicians are clearly working through some hard questions posed by the last few years.
“Mile Twelve made fast gains for the first few years…like shiny young bluegrass bands do,” says Murphy, who plays guitar and sings in the flourishing act whose output has helped push the envelope of New England’s progressive bluegrass and string-band scene’s current era. “We picked fast, sang high, and toured hard. Then it all crashed against the brick wall of Covid.” Luckily for fans of the band, and of the broader genre, Mile Twelve made it through to the other side—with a brand new album called Close Enough To Hear.
Today, Mile Twelve shared the aforementioned tale of “Johnny Oklahoma” with the world, shedding light on both the fictional bravery of the song’s main man and the real-life existential reasoning of his creators. “Johnny Oklahoma is in the prime of his life when he decides to sacrifice everything for his community by being blasted out of a cannon and straight into kingdom come,” says Murphy, who took inspiration from a number of epic personalities and stories throughout time to write this new account.
“This song combines so many raw materials that have been rattling around in my head for years,” remembers Murphy. “Shirley Jackson’s short story ‘The Lottery,’ about the ritual stoning of an innocent person chosen at random in order to keep the rest of the town safe; Lawnchair Larry who flew attached only to helium balloons; Casey at the Bat who seemed so mythic and invincible until he struck out; And finally the Irish folk song Mrs. McGrath in which a mother mourns the loss of her son’s legs in a battle overseas,” he lists. Musically, the song is a tender yet exciting finger-picked ode, dotted with symmetrical banjo and mandolin flourishes that keep the song feeling modern and refreshing; a signature move from Mile Twelve, whose innovation and picking prowess earned them IBMA’s 2020 New Artist of the Year Award.
Premiering today on The Bluegrass Situation, fans can check out the music video for “Johnny Oklahoma” at this link, watch the previously-released music video for “Close Enough To Hear,” and pre-order or pre-save Close Enough To Hear ahead of its February 3rd release right here.
Mile Twelve have already wrapped up their 2022 tour, but a full list of confirmed 2023 dates can be found below or at miletwelveband.com/tour.
More About Close Enough To Hear: Fans of Mile Twelve will notice the presence of two new members on Close Enough To Hear: fiddler and vocalist Ella Jordan and mandolinist Korey Brodsky. Take note of the new dimension they add to the band, and their ability to lock in with founding members Evan Murphy (guitar, vocals), Catherine Bowness (banjo), and Nate Sabat (bass, vocals). These aren’t session players; this album captures the formation of a new coherent unit. “Recording this album, our third full length, wasn’t easy,” says Murphy. “The pandemic froze the music industry for two years. We had undergone personnel changes. People who followed us couldn’t be blamed for wondering what, if anything, we might be up to. This was attempting a high jump from a total standstill, no running start.”
Both of the bands' previous full-length albums, as well as their guest star-packed EP, were recorded in Nashville. But the new challenges of traveling and dodging positive covid tests kept the band closer to home. They chose Sam Kassirer’s legendary Great North Sounds in the woods of Parsonsfield, Maine, a studio that’s played host to a murderer’s row of Americana acts and has become a fixture of the New England recording scene.
“I’m more proud of this album than anything else I’ve done to date,” says bassist Nate Sabat. “Listening back, I feel an undeniable urgency in the music. A fresh sound rushing out, wanting to be heard. The songwriting, arrangements, execution, and aesthetic are all bullseye, and I couldn’t be more excited to share this music with our fans.”
This is a band looking forward—simultaneously shoring up their bluegrass foundations (in the transfixing a capella opening of “If Only,” for example) while also pushing their musical boundaries and driving into new territory. You’ll detect flavors of jazz (“Red Grapes on the Vine”), acoustic pop (“Take Me As I Am”), and trance music (“Light of Angels”). Heard as a whole, Close Enough to Hear displays the vast potential of acoustic string band music in the hands of capable players.
Close Enough To Hear Tracklist:
Close Enough To Hear
Red Grapes on the Vine
Light of Angels
Hopping Around Telluride
Take Me As I Am
Catch Mile Twelve On Tour in 2023:
Jan. 20-22 - Anchorage, AK - Anchorage Folk Festival
Mar. 4 - Northampton, MA - Back Porch Festival
Mar. 22 - Atlantic Beach, FL - Fleet Landing
Mar. 23-24 - Live Oak, FL - Suwanee Spring Reunion
Mar. 25 - Fort Myers, FL - Sydney & Berne Davis Arts Center
Mar. 26 - Decatur, GA - Eddie’s Attic
Mar. 29 - Nashville, TN - The Station Inn
Mar. 31 - Berryville, VA - Barns of Rose Hill
Apr. 14 - Fall River, MA - Narrows Center for the Arts
Jun. 15-16 - Grass Valley, CA - CBA Father’s Day Festival