local folkster Kalispell releases first full length

Eric Christenson, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Shane Leonard of Eau Claire rootsy folk Kalispell has been breathing in for the better part of the last six years, and on May 17, he’ll sing.

“Moving from Wisconsin to Connecticut to Boston back to Wisconsin and changing jobs and changing relationships, it’s hard to complete a process with all that stuff going on,” Leonard said. 

A “process” is putting it lightly.  Leonard and his friends and collaborators have been writing, revising, learning, breathing, traveling, all culminating in the release of “Westbound,” Kalispell’s first full-length, self-produced release.

Kalispell is, at its roots, a practice in collaboration, experimentation, relationship and preservation.  It’s letting the air flow in through the window of history while walking forward.  Its reserved folk tunes are muted and expansive, dreamy and confident.

It really speaks to Leonard’s inspiration, willingness and patience. Westbound a travelogue of Leonard’s six years of writing and rewriting is informed not only by his own songwriting ability, but by the history he is so passionate to preserve.

Old-time music, an umbrella term for most of the Appalachian roots and folk music that preceded bluegrass, is a quickly diminishing substance as modern progresses away from traditional instrumental. 

Leonard said he traveled many times to communities in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia to study from mentors like Lee Sexton and 90-year-old Clyde Davenport, masters of the history and deep-seated roots of southern Appalachian old-time technique.

“I really wanted to get to the root of it, the most original kinds of sources,” Leonard said. “So guys like Lee and Clyde are the last living generation that were at the genesis of that kind of music in the U.S. I wanted to get with them because they’re kind of the first source, the primary source.”

Clawhammer banjo (a traditional old-time instrument), fiddle and guitar appear on “Westbound,” but Leonard wanted to move past just recreating old-time or even recreating folk or bluegrass music.  For him, using those instruments to make something that doesn’t fall in either category is more appealing.

And we see this on Westbound.  You’d be hard pressed to find a repeated chorus throughout the whole record.  Each song follows a progression and takes its time, verse after verse.

We see the wave-like rush of progression most earnestly on “Marion, MT,” the album’s penultimate track, and one of its best.  It’s a wash of instrumentation: a string quartet, organ and guitar building and building.  It doesn’t have a strict time signature because it doesn’t need one, or want one.

Or on the minute and a half organ interlude “State Street,” the album divides and leads into single “Lucky A Hundred Times,” a slow-burner that starts with spare guitar pickings and builds up to a Wilco-esque traveler, several lines of guitar going at once with a strong drumbeat which eventually subsides and lets Ben Lester’s pedal steel take over the track before ending by trickling each part off. 

It’s pretty symbolic of being on the road.  You start slow, you get faster and faster and you slow down to find a place to stay.  Leonard’s been traveling a while, and the songs have changed again and again, but here, with Westbound, he’ll stay.

“I love it.  I’m really happy with it.  I’m just really happy with the versions that all went on the album.  I’m happy with how self-recording at home went.  I ended up collaborating with a lot of friends, which I hadn’t originally planned to do,” he said.  “I’m thrilled.”