Take two of the beach’s best-known bands, Ten Toes Up and Who Shot JR?, remove their frontmen and add a little folk.
That’s the recipe for the Folkem Duo, a side project made up of local songsters BJ Craven and Jonathan Roberts.
Though they’ve only been playing together since January, the duo has already written and recorded a self-titled album, out this week. They’ll celebrate the project with a CD release party Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Wahoo’s Raw Bar on the Murrells Inlet Marshwalk.
“We just want to get as many of our friends in one place as we can and let them hear what we’ve been doing,” said Craven. “We just got some CDs and T-shirts made up. It should be a lot of fun.”
The two guitarists/vocalists have known each other for a few years, playing many of the same spots and crossing paths often with two of the scene’s busiest bands. However, it wasn’t until the booking a few shows together — including the regular gig at Wahoo’s — that the pair began to really click.
“We started out just practicing some songs and immediately decided to book a few gigs to try it out,” said Roberts. “We were lucky to get this [gig at Wahoo’s] every Wednesday from mid-February through October and it’s been great to be able to get away from our bands and everything else we’ve got going on.”
Myrtle Beach Msuic: The Folkem Duo performs at Wahoo's in Murrells Inlet.
During this time they’ve become fast friends, playing together as often as possible — when Craven’s not on the road touring with Ten Toes Up — and doing shows at Dead Dog Saloon, Bourbon Street and the Socastee Heritage Festival.
The group, which Craven calls “still mostly a cover act,” performs a variety of tunes live. Favorites include old Bill Monroe bluegrass tunes, more traditional country with both men switching off on Mandolin and a gamut of covers from artists such as the Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, The Black Crowes and Johnny Cash.
It’s an experience Craven enjoys as being very different from his regular duties as lead singer and lead guitarist of a rock band.
“I enjoy it because I can turn my mind off and read charts and sing harmonies and not have to worry about a bunch of lead stuff,” said Craven.
Roberts, meanwhile, looks at the collaboration as a chance to learn from the experience his partner brings to the table.
“He’s been there and done that when it comes to recording stuff and being able to become friends with BJ and have him help guide me in writing and recording has been a real gift,” said Roberts.
Myrtle Beach Msuic: The Folkem Duo is BJ Craven, left, and Jonathan Roberts.
The pair wrote and recorded six of the album’s eight tracks — two are covers of The Doors and The Black Crowes — together in Craven’s home with local engineer David Henson mixing and mastering it.
Craven describes the sound as “songwriter-based” with more Americana and Country influences.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll is more of a feeling, where these are put together a little differently,” he says.
The albums lead tracks “The Mill” (
) a heartfelt tale of S.C. industry and “Dylan’s Song” a ballad about a father’s love are great examples of what Roberts says makes the project so special.
“The songs we’ve made so far are all very personal. Songs about [BJ] growing up and his dad, songs about having my daughter,” said Roberts. “Being able to play those with my daughter or his dad here to hear them is an amazing feeling.”
While this personal touch and the Southern soul which run through each track make for a very listenable effort, the album isn’t exactly the typical folk you might expect from a duo called Folkem.
“When we say folk music, we really just think of it as the story-telling music and that what this is in our eyes,” says Craven.
Roberts adds: “I immediately think of a voice and a guitar and with us being the voices in our bands and guitarists it’s just worked for us to come together and make some good music and play what we like to play.”
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