All of the above

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem bring folk flavors to Kuss

By Rusty Pate

Rani Arbo’s musical journey began as many do—in the church choir.

She spent her years from second to eighth grade performing and rehearsing up to 30 hours a week. That time steeped her in old English music, but at home she listened to Joan Baez, Flatt and Scruggs or whatever else was already in the family’s music collection. She didn’t have the funds to build her own music collection at the time.

It was during college when old time string music came into her life.

“I got turned on to New Riders of the Purple Sage, New Grass Revival and I started playing fiddle,” Arbo says. “I started with the flashier version of all that and I loved the harmonies. They reminded me of stuff I already knew how to sing. I fell in love with that style of music.”

She quickly found herself in a bluegrass band, despite the fact that they admittedly had no idea what they were doing. That style of music requires serious chops, and while the band was doing an admirable job, Arbo says the solo-heavy structure really didn’t fit her personality.

They would end up taking the things they loved most about the genre—the rich harmonies and acoustic instrumentation—and focus it towards a more song-centric approach. As she delved deeper and deeper into old time music, she began seeing more and more similarities with the classical church background from her youth.

“The way that music weaves those different sounds together and how you constantly have something interesting to listen to—it’s a traditional form,” Arbo says. “A lot of it is gospel. I really appreciate having songs that are not about me—that are about some bigger thing. The plan is to deliver the song in such a way that it really reaches somebody.”

While that band—dubbed Salamander Crossing—found moderate success, the lineup began to shuffle. Arbo and bassist Andrew Kinsey struck out on their own in 2000, adding guitarist Anand Nayak and percussionist Scott Kessel, who is also Arbo’s husband.

Kessel plays a unique kit, consisting of a cardboard box, various tin cans and a suitcase. With a solidified lineup, the sonic avenues available to the group began to expand.

“A lot of soloing and four-part harmony elements are still there, but because of these two guys, we ended up with this really wide access of repertoire,” Arbo says. “All of a sudden, we had this drummer that could play New Orleans second-line grooves. We had a guitar player that can do a mini Jimmy Hendrix or he can do flat-picking. It’s been so long now—over 15 years—that we have a recognizable sound, even though it moves into a lot of different genres. The core of it is still the singing, the harmonies and the fact that we’re choosing songs that we really want to get across. There’s an urgency or commitment. We’re not adding electric guitar just because it shreds. We’re adding it because there’s something in the song that makes us need that sound to tell you what we’re trying to say.”

That elasticity of sound in other bands can often cause a loss of identity. Bringing in too many styles or influences might offer variety, but at the cost of cohesion of the artistic sensibility.

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem avoid that by keeping the songwriting structure relatively simple and adding subtle sprinklings of the collective members’ varying influences.

“I think the music that comes out of me relies less on me saying ‘now I’m going to write a swing tune’ or whatever than what I’ve been listening to a lot recently,” Arbo says. “I went on a big Guy Clark kick, after which I wrote a song that has that sort of Austin feel. I feel like it’s more pushed by what I’m currently being inspired by. Basically, it’s all folk roots. That what we do—I’m not a super fancy guitar player so when I’m writing, it’s usually pretty straight ahead chord changes. Sometimes I get a fun arrangement or chord help when I take it to the band, but usually what I’m writing is pretty straight ahead. The variations are ‘is it folky, is it songwriter, is it a little swingy, is it a little bluesy?’”

While the band just released the album Violets are Blue in 2015, they are already back in the studio working on a special collection of tracks.

“Right now, we’re working on a winter song record and it’s full circle,” Arbo says. “I’m going back to some of those early English carols and doing it on the old-time banjo. In rehearsal the other day, we did a spiritual—an old African American tune called “Children Go Where I Send Thee”—with a really cool, rhythmic electric guitar part that goes under the whole thing. It’s fun.”

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem will play at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 18 at Clark State Performing Arts Center, 300 S. Fountain Ave, in Springfield. Tickets are $35. For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit raniarbo.com or pac.clarkstate.edu. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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