Mark your calendars twice, because sister pubs Sam Bond’s and Axe and Fiddle have booked two rising Americana powerhouses this week — Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers and Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line, respectively. The two have much in common: guitar-strumming, soulfully voiced and glossy-blond-locked women front both bands, both are touring with recent albums and both leads have been shaped by the music their pops played growing up.
“I was really influenced by stuff my dad was listening to as a kid — John Prine, Loudon Wainwright, Bob Dylan, Neil Young,” Muth tells EW. Now based in Austin, Texas, Muth found herself drawn to country music as a teenager in Washington where she was later deemed the “Emmylou Harris of Seattle.”
“Probably when I was in high school when most people were listening to classic rock or more grunge scene-like stuff, I heard the Louvin Brothers on the local radio and just got totally hooked. No one else was listening to it — it was my way of being different,” she says with a laugh. “The stories they were telling were different.”
In 2013, Muth relocated to Austin “to broaden the base of musicians I could work with. Everyone I knew in Seattle was playing bluegrass, swing …” She needed more country and she got it. Soon Muth was recording 2014’s World of Strangers with Brad Rice (formerly a guitarist for Keith Urban), fiddle-playing Dixie Chick Martie Maguire and Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison. The result is a beautiful, meandering river of an album with twangy gems like “You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying.” Muth sings songs plucked from the heartache of everyday life with the same unhurried confidence of Harris and Iris DeMent.
Whereas Muth is plugged into her own brand of country, Struthers & The Party Line perform at the crossroads of bluegrass, old time, country, folk and rock — in addition to guitar, bass and clawhammer banjo, the band features electric guitar and drums.
“All my foundational music tastes come from my dad,” Struthers says. “My dad plays the banjo. He plays it three-finger style. He grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the folk boom of the ’60s. It’s kinda of like A Mighty Wind.”
On albums like 2013’s Carnival, Struthers is reexamining themes of the Americana canon. “Growing up in American folk and bluegrass, a lot of the traditional canon is comprised of songs from the male perspective. Males were the musicians,” she says. “I’ve been really inspired by the work of Hazel Dickens and Gillian Welch — adding the female perspective. For me, just imagining what women’s lives were like 100 years ago. Adding that back into folk culture seems like it needs to be done.”
Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers play with Eugene’s The Stagger and Sway 9 pm Thursday, Sept. 4, at Sam Bond’s; $6. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line perform 8:30 pm Saturday, Sept. 6, at Cottage Grove’s Axe & Fiddle; $10.