A few bands have a knack for defying convention, yet sound hauntingly familiar, by blending old influences with new approaches to music. Listening to Anchorage’s Super Saturated Sugar Strings (can we just abbreviate this to SSSStrings? kthxbai) brings to mind numerous styles and influences: gypsy jazz, music hall, a little country swing, folky strings, Dylanesque/Johnny Cashesque gruffness, and honestly, some of their music wouldn’t sound out of place at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show. Call it orchestral alternative folk-rock, throw in all the adjectives you want, but really, just go to one of their shows and listen. This is a musicians’ band, where violin, cello, and acoustic bass combine with piano/guitar, drums, and a one-man brass section to bring a vibrant, rich, clear acoustic sound to the stage, and to listeners’ ears.
The band is mostly fronted by Kat Moore on vocals, accompanied by her guitar or piano, with strong instrumental support from the band. Moore’s style is unabashedly jazz-inflected, with strong harmony vocals from Theresa Watt, who also plays cello. The band is rounded out by Kevin Worrell, acoustic bass; Miriah Phelps, violin; Logan Bean, trumpet and other brass; and Carlyle Watt, who supplies a mix of percussion, guitar, and occasional lead vocals.
The band’s repertoire reveals their breadth quite readily, and with at least three albums of material already in the can, they deliver everything from foot-stompers like “Fiddler’s Man Blues” from debut album Harmonic Toast, to sophisticated, complex pieces showing off the band’s instrumental prowess in “Circles” from second album Heart-Shaped Leaves, to slow-paced ballads like “Float” (cue the Nick Cave comparison) off the new All Their Many Miles album (officially not in release until 2018, but previews are up on the band’s web site). The Strings like to touch on matters of the heart, evident in song titles like “Heart of Stone” and “Because My Heart,” as well as the more melancholy situation after love’s end in “Haunted.”
The band provides a set list prior to going on stage, but amusingly, the order is all but ignored. The Strings are an organic band, and the set list is merely a rough guide to what will be played, and when, and the band’s playing and song selection is nearly telepathic at times, not surprising for a group of musicians with a half-dozen years of recording and concerts behind them. As the band builds its audience of enthusiasts, its shows are nearly everywhere; their current tour includes stops in Portland, Astoria, and Bend, before heading north of the Columbia to Seattle, Bellingham, and eventually to their hometown of Anchorage, Alaska.