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Bringing it home

BY ISABELLE ROBLES | JUNE 25, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Englert Theater’s latest guests have truly been inspired by Iowa — through food, farming, family, and love.

The Awful Purdies, all all-female quintet, embarked on a yearlong project with Sean Lewis of Working Group Theater, traveling around the state to hear stories from people in Iowa — including lots of farmers — as part of an Iowa Arts Council grant. The experience culminated in the Purdies' newest album, All Recipes Are Home, and a musical by the same name.

The Midwestern roots are clear in the album inspired by the experience. Each member brings her own musical and vocal talents to the table to create an electric mix to the modern folk group.

Their musical talents are obvious when listening to work they've already released. Each song they've released thus far is unique and supplies a different feeling to accommodate any mood, with some softer vibes in "Homesick Birdies" and "Oh, Medina!" to deep, full-hearted soul coming from the plummeting vocals in "Turtle Blues."

The Purdies members come together to give a joyful listen in such songs as "Yes, but …" and "I've Got Friends," creating a plentiful melting pot of sounds to indulge. And more will come. The folk melodies will continue to be brewed up upon the release of the album.

“Sean Lewis of Working Group Theater liked Awful Purdies, our music and our energy, and with a loose story line in mind, he wrote the play All Recipes Are Home,” said Awful Purdies member Katie Roche. “At the same time, we had proposed a grant to the Iowa Arts Council, which was funded for $10,000, in which we would, like Sean, talk to farmers and food workers about their lives and work with the purpose of writing songs.

“Throughout the collaboration, there were so many moments where we were all on the same page, getting the same ideas at the same time.”

After traveling around the state to perform concerts, talk, and share stories with farmers, these ideas became songs.

With the songs completed, the show went on tour in April with four shows in Iowa City, Decorah, and Grinnell.

“We performed in the musical, so being in the play was an incredible feeling,” Roche said. “To have a song I wrote be performed by a full chorus, as part of larger narrative, giving it new meaning in the context of the play, was remarkable. Lyrically, songs can mean different things to different people, and now these songs will also live in the landscape of the play. The cast was incredibly talented and did a beautiful job with the music.”

There was a lot of work, she said, but the experience was well worth it.

“Between talking to farmers and food workers, the play, the album, and the amount of work could have been too much for us,” she said. “But instead, we are tighter as a project, as friends, and leave this album as a love letter to our sisterhood and everyone working in Iowa to feed us all.”

Album mixer Brooks Strause also credits the time and hard work for the result.

“It’s easy to develop an attachment to a record that one spends that much time on,” Strause said. “There are very beautiful songs and sounds on this album, and the analog recording process definitely gives it a classic feel. It was a pleasure to contribute to it.”

Aly High, the Englert marketing director, said the record-release party will be a time to celebrate the work put into All Recipes Are Home.

“Record releases are really exciting, because they have a celebratory vibe,” she said. “Everyone, artist and audience alike, everyone is so amped up for new music. It kind of feels like planting a new seed, which is an apt theme for All Recipes Are Home.

“The public can expect a really fun show from a group of talented performers. Purdies’ shows are always a party, with a really fun, welcoming atmosphere. If you’re new to folk or local music, definitely check it out.”


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