From a home base in Bellingham, Wash., Americana duo Raveis Kole is closer to the border of Canada than to America’s corporate music centers in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles. And their proximity to Seattle, the grunge capitol, likely pushes them even further to challenge convention and embrace the unexpected.
With Electric Blue Dandelion -Nashville Sessions, they do exactly that, re-recording their debut album in a more acoustic manner that reflects a wide global view and a spirited search for meaning. Lead singer and chief songwriter Laurie Raveis brings a Joni Mitchell/Natalie Merchant sort of vocal phrasing to material that has an abstract sensibility – descriptive, ethereal phrases strung together in a way that provides the listener plenty of room for interpretation. Guitarist and sometimes co-writer Dennis Kole adds a curiosity to the mix – a playful mastery as he moves between acoustic guitar, Resonator and other stringed instruments to frame songs that strive for a high, unifying bar.
“Being close to Canada certainly gives you a sense of being an American, but also having some awareness that not everybody in the world is an American and not everybody in the world thinks like an American,” Kole says. “It’s a little bit of a perspective of how other people see us and see our path through the world.”
Thus, Electric Blue Dandelion -Nashville Sessions is an album of cultural cross-pollination, a mix of Southern California freedom, of Middle Eastern mystery, of European panache, of a gypsy’s adventurous spirit.
“I felt like the music should resemble the emotions in the words in some ways, but at other times, the music is actually completely – intentionally – contrary to the lyrical content,” Raveis notes. “It gives you more of a disturbing feeling. Like ‘Why is this music so beautiful and fluid and the lyrics are saying something very grim and dark?’ So, it's all wrapped together. It's all one big enchilada.”
It’s an appropriate summation, too, of the journey they’ve taken with this particular collection of songs. Many of them – including “Fearless (All In),” “Precipice (Flow is On)” and “Dawn Breaks Through” – use water imagery to convey the elusive, ever-evolving nature of life. It reflects the importance of the sea in their day-to-day experiences – they live next to expansive Lake Whatcom, a fresh-water body with 12 miles of shoreline, and they’re also just four or five miles from the salty Pacific Ocean. But it also reflects the depth of meaning one finds by diving below the surface.
“Water is a big part of this environment,” Kole says. “There is just something that speaks to the sense of spaciousness and being a part of something bigger than yourself when you look out at the lake and the forested hills around it and the mist. You go to the ocean and see how big it is, and you think how small we are, and that's a reminder of our place on the planet. And the songs that Laurie writes often have a very strong element of gratitude in there, that sense of being a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Electric Blue Dandelion -Nashville Sessions revises the approach they used on the material in a 2016 album, recorded in Austin. The new recordings mix folk, jazz and rock influences in an acoustic setting, collaboratively produced by Laurie Raveis, Dennis Kole and Jeff Silverman (Allman Brothers Band, Rick Springfield), who used imaginative combinations of cello, accordion and even sitar to find new layers of weight and fragility in the works. The productions travel sonically through India, through Africa, through Italy and through the U.S., in a way that centers the listener in the journey.
“You can feel the spaciousness, you can feel and hear the different instruments,” Raveis says. “It doesn't sound like a big sonic cluster.”
Its calmness and sense of purpose aptly represent two musicians who’ve gone at their art from a very thoughtful perspective that started on the East Coast before they migrated West. Kole was born the only child in a family that moved often for his father’s career. He spent so little time in any one community that he never got a chance to form long-lasting friendships with other kids his age. His parents split along the way, creating even more isolation. So, when he found the guitar around the time he moved with his father to the Pacific northwest at age 14, he soon recognized he could have a relationship with music.
“Playing guitar and writing songs was a way of accessing my own emotions and trying to understand them and to almost have a conversation with myself about how I was feeling,” he says. “It was a safe place where I could talk about stuff.”
Starting in classical guitar and flamenco as a musician, his favorite artists ran the gamut from the folk/pop of Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell to the jazz of Miles Davis and the classic rock of Led Zeppelin and Heart, though he tended to gravitate to their more acoustic work.
“I love open spaces, open tunings, and things that are inventive, whether it's The Beatles or more current music that is kind of ‘out there,’” he says.
Kole spent roughly two decades as an attorney in private practice in Bellingham, making his own decisions about what clients and cases he accepted, knowing he was making a difference in other people’s lives. But as time progressed, he felt that nagging desire to meaningfully connect in a more artistic and universal ways and music was his best vehicle to make that happen.
Raveis, meanwhile, was heavily influenced by the music on the radio – Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allmans – plus the enthusiasm of reggae artists Bob Marley and The Wailers. She picked up the guitar and wrote poetry in her youth, but when it came to selecting a vocation, she took a more prudent route and ended up as a marketing professor at Emerson College in Boston.
A couple of personal setbacks led her to change course. Raveis began to question what was most meaningful to her life. Music was still an overwhelming motivator, and she started practicing guitar for four hours a day and combining poetry with the chords.
Raveis and Kole crossed paths at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation’s workshop and festival in Bigfork, a peaceful getaway in the mountains of northwest Montana. They had enormous musical chemistry, and they discovered that their personal journeys – transitioning from conventional jobs into music – were enormously similar. Raveis relocated to Washington in 2013 to facilitate their undeniable musical camaraderie.
She recorded an initial solo album – 101, which notably has her gazing at the waves against a setting sun in a beach scene on the cover – and they pulled together the songs for the first Electric Blue Dandelion project, including a Colombian tiple based version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” Three of the songs – the title track, “Wicked Game” and “Dawn Breaks Through” – landed on the FMQB AC Top 40 / Top 200 chart, while “Fearless” earned a nomination for Best Americana/Folk Song in the Hollywood Music Media Awards.
In the meantime, they honed their live craft by doing house concerts, booking shows at individual homes to play for small groups of fans, who gathered friends and family for a personal dynamic with the music.
“It's a powerful experience,” Raveis says. “You're in somebody's home, you see how they decorate the home, the people who come there have some affinity and connection. Then when the emotions come up and things are alive in there, you're not just using words to communicate, you're seeing how people are moving and how they are responding. There's much more depth to that interaction.”
They made only slight revisions to the song lineup when they conducted the Nashville sessions for the new version of Electric Blue Dandelion. Most notably, “Thanksgiving” – the lead track on 101 – gets reworked with an Old-World vibe, and new composition “Into Me You See” adds a momentous intimacy to the project. It underscores the desire for meaningful connection at the heart of Raveis Kole.
“We don’t want to just play it safe,” Kole says. “We would rather have depth than superficiality.”
The album is awash in musical sensitivity as percussionist Matthew Burgess, cellist/violinist Tim Lorsch, accordion player Jeff Taylor, bouzouki/ukulele player Dave Flint and bass players Brian Hinchliffe and Matt Smith added character to the music while allowing Raveis’ ethereal collage of word imagery to occupy the spotlight. In addition, the finale welcomes Belizian born roots singer, Eljai, for a reggae take on “Wicked Game,” a jaunty departure from the rest of the album.
“We've listened to between 100 and 200 versions of ‘Wicked Game,’ and nobody was doing something like that,” Kole says. “We thought this was fun, like saying, ‘Hey, I'm going to paint my living room purple.’”
Incorporating both play and the search for meaning, Electric Blue Dandelion -The Nashville Sessions paints Raveis Kole as a thoughtful duo able to musically match internal issues against the external forces of the world at large. Harbored in that spot along the water in Bellingham, not far from the border of another country, they’ve found in music the ability they always sought to connect.
“At the end of the day we're all more alike than we are different,” Kole says. “Music provides a wonderful playground to go out and experience.”