On November 12th, progressive bluegrass and Americana quartet Barbaro released their new EP, Under the Covers, with all proceeds to benefit the charitable organization, Our Saviour’s Community Services of Minneapolis.
The concept behind Under the Covers is one of camaraderie and respect amongst fellow artists and musicians from the Midwest and across the country. Barbaro felt compelled by the challenging events of 2020 to reach out to their musical friends and produce a dedicated collection of personally meaningful cover songs for an essential cause.
Barbaro consists of Kyle Shelstad, (vocals and guitar), Rachel Calvert, (vocals and fiddle), Isaac Sammis, (banjo), and Jason Wells (vocals and bass). The band has quickly risen among the Midwest bluegrass community and beyond since their 2018 debut EP, as they would go on to claim awards for the John Hartford Memorial Festival Band Contest and the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association’s Americana-Roots Band Contest. 2020 marked the release of Barbaro’s debut album, Dressed in Roses, produced by Adam Greuel at Wild Sound Studios in Minneapolis.
The new EP opens with the now iconic 1998 Cher track, “Believe,” which delightfully took me aback upon first listen. To hear the track open with a traditional bluegrass instrumentation soon to be filled with Calvert’s own powerful vocals leading the charge was fascinating. She is on the money throughout the song, and it’s a most unique version of the dance pop classic.
Released on October 22nd as the EP’s first single, “Dark Turn of Mind” follows, offering a radiant collaboration between the band, Siri Undlin of Humbird (vocals), and Adam Roszkiewicz of Front Country (mandolin). The Gillian Welch song provides a compositional space conducive to Barbaro’s sound. The band knew that Undlin’s impactful vocals would produce a moving and original take on this song, and they were not misled.
Sticking with the mammoth 90s commercial bangers, Sheryl Crow’s 1996 smash hit “If It Makes You Happy” featuring Gully Boys is the next cover the band manages to knock out of the park. The familiar lyrics soaring over the frenetic bluegrass fiddle and banjo takes the song to new and exciting heights, and is a most fresh take on the beloved hit.
Rounding out the brief but powerful four-song record is the Wilco track “Jesus Etc.” featuring the late Max Graham of Kind Country on vocals and mandolin. This track isn’t wildly different than the original, but still manages to pay homage in their own skilled way. The harmonies on the chorus are beautiful and unfortunately profoundly sad. A beloved fixture in the Midwest bluegrass scene and beyond, Graham lost his battle with mental illness earlier this year. “Last cigarettes / Are all you can get / Turning your orbit around,” they sing in pristine harmony to wrap up the record with a bow.
Under The Covers is a special project for Barbaro, as Our Saviour’s Community Services in Minneapolis is an organization close to their hearts. With so many social challenges and inequities coming to a head in the summer of 2020, the band found it important to give back to their own community.
The secular nonprofit in South Minneapolis operates two programs: The English Learning Center and Our Saviour’s Housing. Welcoming students from many educational backgrounds, the English Learning Center offers free, culturally sensitive English education and citizenship preparation to adult learners. Our Saviour’s Housing offers person-centered, low-barrier supportive housing services and emergency shelter; it is a place where people can expect to find hope, community, and dignified services.
“With the desire to recognize and support the tangible and impactful work that Our Saviour’s Community Services does in our own backyards, we felt strongly about dedicating the new Under the Covers EP as an opportunity to support this organization. We learned what it means to be good neighbors this year”, says the band.
Under the Covers is now streaming on all major platforms and is available for purchase.