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Locals Only: : Ralph Nadir

Kentucky's Ralph Jones Band reach dizzying heights of uniqueness with their eclectic, melodic sound

By Ericka McIntyre · March 23rd, 2005 · Locals Only
Ralph Jones Band
Ralph Jones Band

It's a Saturday night, and I'm out seeing live local music, as usual. This time it's at the York Street Café in Newport. We get there late to see The Thirteens and Campfire Crush, because we've come to the pre-judgment from the opening act's name, The Ralph Jones Band, that they'll be, well, downright boring. So we miss their set, thinking we made the right call.

End of the night, I half-heartedly pick up a demo that Ralph has left behind. Next morning, I emerge from the shower to hear this great music floating down the hall. "Who is that?" I ask my boyfriend. "It's that CD you picked up -- The Ralph Jones Band."

Wow. I guess we were wrong.

"I love when my stereotypes get crushed," Nathan Newbury (vocals, guitar) tells me. "When you think you know what a band's gonna sound like by how they look or whatever."

The Ralph Jones Band definitely defies any pre-conceived notion you might have about them. For one thing, while their moniker suggests otherwise, no one in the band is actually named Ralph Jones.

"It's a good way to fuck with people," Newbury laughs.

So who is Ralph Jones? "(He) was actually a dog that I had," Hibbitts says. Ralph went missing right around the time Hibbitts and Newbury were trying to name their project, so it was a fitting tribute.

Newbury and Hibbitts grew up together in rural Kentucky. They came to Burns' Florence studio, Commonwealth Audio, to make a record in 2003. When Burns (who also plays with locals 3-Legged Stella and Hilltop Distillery) first heard their songs, his reaction was, "Man! I gotta play with these guys -- this is great stuff."

So the duo became a trio and made their first record, Drowning in Kentucky (State Bird Records). It has already sold out its first pressing.

Burns tells me the album's music is "stories about Kentucky, about the state, the style of living."

"After going from Kentucky ... then living in Cincinnati, it's such a weird combination, where the holler meets the urban," Newbury says of the disc's ominous title. "You start to realize that people think the same way about being trapped; kids in the holler feel the same way that kids in the ghetto feel -- trapped, like 'I'm never gonna get out of here, I don't want to do what my parents do.' "

The nine tracks on the disc are a showcase of strong musicianship (Newbury studied music at CCM, Burns at NKU) and their intelligent, melodic, catchy songwriting. Their combination of Folk, Rock, Roots and even a little Jazz, is difficult to categorize.

This uniqueness suits them just fine. "I like that," Newbury tells me. "I think we want to be the ones setting what's gonna happen, rather than be the kind of band (that says), 'Hey, that's workin', let's jump on that bandwagon.' And regardless of whether we're successful or not successful, we're gonna do what we like."

The band has received a good response to its unusual music. They were invited to play at 2004's North By Northeast festival in Toronto. But they almost didn't make it. "I had gotten married in June, and we went to Italy for our honeymoon, and we got notice that NXNE accepted us, but it was right in the middle of my honeymoon," Burns says. "My wife was cool enough to be like, 'We'll fly back in the middle.' So we flew to Toronto for the gig. We got there about an hour-and-a-half before we played."

They have a new record nearing completion. "That's our priority right now," Burns says.

So how do they fit in the Cincinnati scene? "We stick out like a sore thumb," Newbury answers, "but that's kinda good. I want to do more and more here. You have to go out there and create your own scene. You can't wait around for somebody to discover you or a scene to happen."

THE RALPH JONES BAND (commonwealthaudio.com/id15.html) performs Thursday at the York Street Café with Palomar.


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