As the popularity of Americana music surges, so does the possibility for diluting some of its most sacred musical concepts.
For Castro Valley-based quintet Houston Jones, which returns to Bakersfield on Sunday, straying from a path of musical purity for mainstream success has never been an option. After nearly a decade of alchemizing American folk music, bluegrass, country, jazz -- along with some seriously fiery pickin' and humor-filled lived shows -- they continue recruiting new fans, one stomp at a time.
"We love to record, but the live show is what we live for," said Houston Jones' bassist Chris Kee during a recent phone interview. "We're a very high-energy band. The thing that is the clincher is the ability to interact with an audience and sharing that experience. That's what we love and what we value the most."
Coming together as mutual fans of acoustic jamming and improvisation, the group began as a duo featuring guitarists Glenn "Houston" Pomianek and Travis Jones. Together they took their act around the flourishing San Francisco Bay-area roots music scene, where they crossed paths with percussionist Peter Tucker, keyboardist Henry Salvia and Kee.
"The Bay Area music scene is made up of a large metropolitan area, but the music scene is very incestuous. You kind of need a flow chart and Excel spreadsheet to follow it," Kee said.
All five members of Houston Jones have logged many miles performing with a variety of other projects, including Large and In the Way, The Waybacks and others.
"We bring a lot of influences to the mix because of our experience. I have a classical music background, Glenn is just a great blues player, Travis has got a background in gospel and country music, Henry is from Detroit. He brings a lot of that sensibility with him, R&B and pop. Those types of fingerprints end up on everything we do, like a sort of alchemy."
Houston Jones' latest CD, "Queen of Yesterday," epitomizes the sound their live shows have helped hone. From the mid-tempo blues of opening track, "Angels on the Ridgepole," to the quiet beauty of "I Found a Heart," and sweet shuffle of "Lone Star Smile," the album is a nice slice of Americana pie.
The rest of the world seems to think so, too. Since its release in 2011, the CD has become an indie global success story of sorts. In the process, the group's back catalog has also been rediscovered.
"We've had people listening and reaching out to us in places like Prague, where we were getting airplay. I'd already written some songs with a Middle Eastern feel about the conflict in the Middle East, so we were getting airplay on this station on the border of Israel and Lebanon. There's been some of that happening. The web has opened up the world to us. It's just remarkable how that's worked for a group like us. You never know who's listening."
Kee also said the new world of music delivery -- which skews younger -- has delivered new ears.
"I think it's great. What I think it speaks to is a core power and truth and honesty to the American roots music where that comes from. It has a sort of universal power and authority to it, and I think it's great that there's a new, younger generation that is picking that up and appreciating it."
It's also required a more intense marketing plan as live bills have started becoming cramped.
"A lot of young groups popping up are beginning to elbow us out from festival appearances that we otherwise make. But I think in the larger scheme of things it's a great development. No hard feelings."
Despite the risk of overexposure and becoming too gimmicky, bands will always have room for a banjo, accordion or mandolin, Kee said, ensuring the genre will continue to flourish.
"There's a lot of young bluegrass geniuses coming to the scene and that promises that this music is going to continue coming out rather than become a historical document."