Date: Thursday, Aug 11th, 2011

Time: 6:30 pm

Location: Stuart’s Opera House

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Duke Jr. & The Smokey Boots often seem like they’re everywhere around Athens all at once but I somehow managed to corral them into a corner of the Jackie O’s patio Tuesday night for a beer and to talk about their album release party at Jackie O’s this Saturday night.

The setting was fitting seeing as Jackie O’s is where the terra-stomping band first started cutting its chops a couple years ago. The Athens music scene is a close-knit group, and members of Duke Jr. described their album-drop party this Saturday as an opportunity to get down and say thank you to everyone who’s been so supportive through their journey.

Jess Kauffman, Kyle Lewis Martin, Casey Davis and Matt Horne joined me on the brew pub patio. Their new drummer, Aaron Butler, was unable to be corralled, so to speak. Their former drummer, Aaron Lemley, played on the new album before leaving the band.

Guest artists on the album include long-time local guitarist extraordinaire John Borchard on steel guitar, among others.

The band’s self-titled second effort is a divergence from their 2010 debut, “Bag of Bones.” The first one was more acoustically based, whereas the new album doesn’t just go electric but brings together a wide range of dynamics from the band members and guest artists. The new album is the first full album with all of the band members who have been part of the live act for several years now.

“We put this five-piece together for two years and played shows, so we wanted to get those five people on tape and capture the sound we’ve been trying to create,” Martin said.

Kauffman said the band has been gravitating toward the electric sound and melding together the individual contributions of the band members. For instance, the songwriter listings on this second effort illustrate perfectly the expanded dynamics of the band.

She said that the band got together with album producer Eddie Ashworth and recorded most tracks at a studio in Ohio University’s RTV building, as well as doing some work at Ashworth’s “Oxide Shed” home studio in Coolville.

Davis said that Ashworth and multi-instrumentalist Horne really contributed by listening to the tracks and figuring out what could be added to flesh out the sound even more, making it more diverse and adding layers to the music.

“Before it was kind of like we all wrote our own songs,” Kauffman said. “With this album, Matt and I worked together a lot, and we all helped with restructuring songs.”

Kauffman said that this latest effort goes a long way toward starting to define the band’s sound and identity.

“We recorded our first album pretty much when we formed the band two years ago so we’ve been wanting to get our new material out to people,” she said. “And this is our chance to do that.”

When asked about their sound, the band members laughed at characterizations that they play country music.

“We are country-based, in a way,” Davis said. “But at the same time it’s an evolving thing where it’s fun for us, too, to play other things. We’re not going to stick to a formula. It’s fun to branch off.”

Playing with them at the CD release party will be friends from Charleston, W.Va., 600lbs of Sin. Kauffman said that the two bands have played a lot lately, and while 600lbs is similar to Duke Jr., she said they’re a little funkier.

A variety of guest players will also join Duke Jr. on stage Saturday night, they said.

Martin said that the band originally formed in a setting just like the one Tuesday night – having beers at Jackie O’s.

“We just played all the time wherever we could, whether it was here or anywhere we could drive to,” he said.

The band praised the music community here in Athens, where businesses and fellow musicians are known to support their own.

As for the steamy details for Saturday night, the show starts at 10, and if you buy an album at the door, it gets you into the show, or donations are also being accepted.

“If you come to one show this quarter, come to this show,” Martin said.

“It’s fun to have an event,” Davis said. “This CD release show is an event.”

“We just want people to celebrate with us, and if they want to, get the album,” added Kauffman.

Davis agreed that this show is a celebration and in a way a thanks to the Athens music community that’s helped immeasurably in propelling the band.

“It’s a lot of people sharing gear and people sleeping on people’s couches and sharing band members,” Martin said of the Athens music scene. “It’s really something unique that can just happen. And there’s all these outlets where we can play.”

If the show Saturday night is a celebration of the Athens music scene through the showcase of a talented young band dropping their second album, I know that I’ll be there and so should you.

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