Cranford and Sons takes American music back to your grandmother's gramophone — that is, if your grandmother listened to old 33s of Kentucky bluegrass and Delta blues. Led by singer-guitarist John Cranford, this Appalachian-rompin', Lowcountry-stompin' quartet lives and breathes Southern roots music. "We draw inspiration from anything that is American music, especially in the South," Cranford says. "So many culturally cool sounds that come from here provide something so different, regionally."
The red-bearded, Irish whiskey-drinking Cranford has a gritty voice that's ideally suited for the music of the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains. He's particularly a fan of the Carter Family. "[A.P.] Carter used to make field recordings, where he drove around in the '30s and had a record machine in the trunk of his car, and he'd go to people's front porches and prisons and record African-American and gospel songs," Cranford says. The singer-guitarist calls Carter and company "80-year-old inspiration."
Joining Cranford are Eric Reid on fiddle and banjo and Phillip Sirmans on bass. They just added drummer Julius DeAngelis to the mix. Cranford says that when he formed the band with Reid and Sirmans, they wanted to be more than just musicians who played a few gigs here and there. "A lot of people play music and do the solo thing, but Phil, Eric, and I were dead set on getting something that was a full-time band and full-time job," Cranford notes.
Cranford and Sons' self-titled debut came out last June, featuring the fiddle-heavy, ho-heying "Black Gypsy," the folk-poppy "Radio," and the wistful "Carolina Sand." It was all recorded on two-inch tape over 10 days at Retrophonics Studios in St. Augustine, Fla. The recording process had a subtle effect on their songs. "It brought out a little bit more commercialism while still maintaining our sound," Cranford says of the first album. "There's a fine line between selling out and salable. Mass appeal is good as long as you keep that in check. Our goal is for kids to listen to it, people our age to listen to it, and then my grandma to listen to it."
Since their debut, the Hilton Head-based group has been touring all around the South. They've also been in the studio working on a new album that will hopefully be out in October. Cranford says the disc has a decidedly Eastern European vibe. "My favorite song to play is 'Miles Beyond the Heart.' I have this six-string banjo — well, really guitar. I put the capo way up top to create this sound that's high and fast and dark. There's a neat fiddle-lick to it, a strange groove about it that's gypsy music," he says.
In October Cranford and Sons will be returning to the Charleston Music Hall. "I love coming to Charleston. I am an ex-chef, and I love to eat. FIG is delicious and really cool because I'm a Wisconsin native, and in Wisconsin we have really great beers in cans, and so does FIG. So you're at this classy restaurant and you can enjoy some crappy-looking canned beer while eating your quail legs," Cranford says with a laugh.
What's in store between this weekend and October for Cranford? First off, a band name change might be in order. The band has been mistaken on numerous occasions for the super popular folk-rockers Mumford and Sons, so they are thinking of switching to something like Cranford Hollow or Cranford and Co. Beyond that, John Cranford and company are finishing up their new record and planning to tour a lot in Georgia and North Carolina. They also hope to set off on a big tour in the Midwest, maybe running to Texas and back and playing in as many places along the way as they can. Cranford says, "Our biggest goal is being on the road, playing as many shows as possible, and getting our songs out to as many people as possible."
Cranford and Sons will also be playing the Celtic Summer Stompfest with Sweetgrass Girls, Tristina Nicole Miller, and Irene Rose on Sat. July 20 at Molly Darcy's, 235 E. Bay St., (843) 737-4085. Tickets are $10, and the fest starts at 4 p.m.