This is an exclusive song premiere, part of The ARTery's effort to highlight ascending New England musicians.
“Journey’s End,” by the Boston bluegrass band Mile Twelve, is a series of unfurling visions. In it, a traveler wanders through a shining city lit by the morning sun. But the buildings are bolted, the windows boarded up. A sense of foreboding sets in. “It’s a long way down to journey’s end,” the traveler says, and we believe him, even though it’s not clear where, exactly, he’s going.
“I think of it as a futuristic song, kind of a foretelling of things to come,” says bassist Nate Sabat, who wrote “Journey’s End” and sings lead on the song. He conjures a city that once thrived, but has since fallen; the setting could be post-apocalyptic, or an empire in decline.
Despite the song’s ambiguity, Sabat says he strove to imbue “Journey’s End” with the sturdy texture of real life. For Mile Twelve, those details matter. “Our main priority, especially with this album, is just songwriting,” Sabat says. “If you have a well-written song, it doesn’t take much to make it have impact.”
That approach stands in contrast to much of the bluegrass genre, where virtuosity and live performance often take center stage. But “Journey’s End” and the other songs on Mile Twelve’s upcoming release, “City On A Hill,” turn on sensitive arrangements and a lyrics-first mindset. Steered by bluegrass guitar idol and producer Bryan Sutton, the band directs its considerable musicianship toward pithy licks and carefully calibrated dynamics.
The members of Mile Twelve — Sabat, mandolinist David Benedict, banjo player Catherine “BB” Bowness, fiddler Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and guitarist and singer Evan Murphy — trace their origins to the jam sessions at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, where Boston’s thriving bluegrass scene congregates on Tuesday nights. The band borrowed its name from the 12 mile marker on Route 93 as the highway snakes south away from the city — a familiar sight to a young local band heading out on tour.
Mile Twelve’s strength lies in its ability to apply bluegrass’ natural affect to modern concerns. A traveler, a dark road, a dangerous journey — these are the subjects of many a traditional song. But “Journey’s End” has its eye trained resolutely on the future.
Note: The audio for The ARTery's music premieres comes down after the track is released. You could still listen to the track via the streaming service embed above.
Mile Twelve's "City on a Hill" comes out on March 29.
This article was originally published on March 22, 2019.
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