"We call it hillbilly disco," says Recipepercussionist Tom Whelan in an effort to describe his group's distinctive brand of Appalachian funk. This weird fusion of sounds started off, as all good mountain music should, in West Virginia.
Party People in a Can was the original band name for three West Virginia University students who started playing open-mic shows, dragging their friends out so they could boast an audience. At the time it was a trio comprising current band members Whelan and songwriter, singer, and guitarist Joe Prichard and former lead vocalist Kristen Wolverton.
"It caught on real well," Whelan says in a voice that still rings with the soft twang of the hill country. "So we got a bassist and a drummer and started a band."
The road from there has been a long one. They've added the Ross siblings, Hannah and Amos, on fiddle and banjo respectively. The Recipe has also gone through more bassists than Spinal Tap has drummers -- more than a dozen in its six-year history as a band, though current bass man Jim Kuras appears likely to stay. A more serious blow came almost a year ago when Wolverton left the band after a five-year run as the group's female lead. Her departure immediately cut into one of the band's strengths: male-female harmonies. Geode, the Recipe's most recent album, features some choice intertwining vocal lines, particularly on "One Day Away" and "The Garden." Of course the singing is not the whole experience; tracks like the blues-funk number "Witch Hazel" and the psychedelic "The Seed" bristle with chops.
Whelan remains proud of the record. "Geode's a little more produced. We heard what we wanted, and we put it in there," he explains. "[On] the [previous] two albums, we just transcribed our live shows. But here, if we wanted an accordion, we added it in."
As for the lack of a woman on the mic, the band has settled on 23-year-old Julie Edlow, who also supplies some backup guitar and songwriting skills. "[Edlow] came in with a new feel and new ideas," Whelan says. "It's an ever-evolving thing. We've got enough songs to record an album, but we'd like a few more."
Until that time Recipe fans, affectionately referred to as Porch People, will have to settle for the energetic live shows -- hardly poor compensation. The show this Friday at the Culture Room promises to lively. Whelan maintains that he and the band are excited to come down to South Florida again, this being only their second trip, having played Tobacco Road in Miami a few tours back.
"Plans right now are to get down there and sit on the beach all day," Whelan says, adding with a laugh, "then I guess we'll play."