All it took was a bit of simple mixology to connect the dots for Marie Borgman and Koda Kerl, better known as the founders of deep-roots-rock outfit Chamomile and Whiskey. One evening Borgman and Kerl, native musicians of Nelson County, Virginia, combined chamomile tea with Evan Williams bourbon whiskey for an evening libation. Upon taste, the duo decided that the combo of chamomile and whiskey perfectly embodied the music they’d been creating—thus, Chamomile and Whiskey was born. Since then, the group has developed a more electric sound, adding members Drew Kimball on guitar, Stuart Gunter on drums, and Marsh Mahon on bass. On October 30th, the band will release their third LP, Red Clay Heart. Produced by Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo), Red Clay Heart opens with a rollicking backbeat and harmonized guitars that would make Dickie Betts crack a smile. That tune is the album’s first single, “Way Back,” and Americana Highways premiered the accompanying music video yesterday noting, “…this video combines nostalgia with a heightened universal feel — we all miss ‘way back when.’” Filmed in the band’s favorite Charlottesville bar, The Whiskey Jar, Kerl reminiscences, “I guess this one comes from being in a small town scene for a long time and thinking about how much I used to care about things that don’t matter so much to me anymore,” says Kerl about “Way Back.” “I felt it would be a good song for our new lineup… more electric guitar, slightly tongue in cheek and a little “f*** it.” Fans can hear “Way Back” now at this link and pre-order or pre-save Red Clay Heart right here.
The album continues with “Dead Bird,” a tune penned by a friend of the band’s, Robert St. Ours of the Hackensaw Boys. “To me he’s as good as it gets,” says Kerl. “This one just seemed to fit well with the group of songs we had and we were happy to put it on the album.” “Never Live Up” is followed by the part-guidance, part-lament, all hopped-up rock and roll of “Triumph” before giving way to the haunting “Alright.” This song’s chorus says it all—“It’s gonna be alright. Or maybe it won’t. You carry on, you make it through. Unless you don’t.”
Before the album’s end, a pair of songs come along which deal with more than rowdy crowds and lives off-the-rails. Both “Another Wake” and “Heartbreak (Luke’s Song)” find Chamomile and Whiskey dealing with the feelings that come along after great loss; the former a follow-up to the tragic events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. “I wrote this song just a few days after August 12, 2017, when a bunch of nazi’s and white supremacists came to town and one of them drove a car into a crowd full of peaceful protesters…some of them close friends of ours.” says Kerl. “Multiple people were hurt and Heather Heyer was killed. It was an unbelievably tragic few days for us, Marie’s sweet cousin Nicole had passed away and our friend Ro had died. I was walking back from Ro’s wake on August 13th and downtown Charlottesville felt like a war zone. It was the second wake I’d been to there in a short time. I remember thinking that there is nothing more universal or human than the pain of losing loved ones. I wondered if the small minded, awful people that had come to Charlottesville could ever see that and what might have caused them to live such sad and ignorant lives.” “Heartbreak (Luke’s Song)” gives an almost positive spin on the “slow beautiful heartbreak” of life. Written for the band’s friend Luke who Kerl calls a “one-in-a-million” character, “Heartbreak (Luke’s Song)” closes the album with an intimacy hardly captured on records before now. Kerl recalls, “I did one take of this song in the studio and (producer) Ken said ‘take this shot of whiskey and do it one more time.’ I did and that’s what went on the record. I know that Luke would approve.”
“Koda’s ability to sing about the dark side of his city and home, and to be able to put you in that moment, is a very special talent. You don’t feel like you are listening to a song, as much as, that you are standing with him,” praises Coomer. He adds, “Then add Marie’s sweeping bow on the violin, which takes me instantly back to my time I recorded with Dylan’s one time collaborator Scarlet Rivera. All of this held down by Stuart’s groove. It makes you want to listen closer. I have a career where an artist or a band will come into my life, and then exit almost as quickly as they entered. I felt like I had known them from the moment they walked through my studio door.”
Over the course of Red Clay Heart, Chamomile and Whiskey once again prove their ability to distill the ups and downs of life into song without ever being too earnest, too heavy, or too light. With stomping rhythms, slow burn songs, and the musicianship to carry it all, the band—and this album—are poised to bear a torch for roots, rock, and Americana music well into the next chapter.
Red Clay Heart Tracklisting:
Never Live Up
Hard Time Honey
Best of the Worst
Heartbreak (Luke’s Song)