There is something about folk music which seems to reflect the land in which it was created. Nature has been a principal inspiration of musicians for millennia. Elements from the natural environment would also go into the production of musical instruments. In the past two decades, the digitalization of music production has taken music in a different direction. Regionalism still influences the development of music, but it is far more difficult to pinpoint a region to a song than it would have been 10, 50 or 100 years ago.
That is what makes a band like Second Valley so unique. It is a young, modern folk band, all of whom's members are under 20, which bucks the trend and proudly claims its regional roots. By infusing the North Carolina sound into new music, they stand out amongst the crowded singer-songwriter genre.
With the Uwharrie and Appalachian Mountains to its west, rolling hills covered with great pine forests across itss center and south, and the Outer Banks islands stretching into the ocean at its east, North Carolina holds many of the greatest natural wonders of the East Coast. These lands became the home of one of America's most pioneering ethnic groups, the Scots-Irish, who brought their ballad signing traditions from the Celtic Strait. Some ballads were written as working songs; songs to be hummed while chopping a tree to build a house, or harvesting rye to make whiskey. Other ballads were about the deepest of feelings; love, hope, exasperation, joy, desire and despair.
Second Valley continues this tradition with fascinating results.
Since 2018 Jacob Messick, Thomas Sawtelle, Mason Sawtelle and John Poston have been singing, plucking and strumming in a style that can only be described as North Carolina born folk with pure Americana spirit. Their music seems to beckon one to take the road less traveled, or more aptly, the trail less traveled. It could make a soundtrack for getting lost in the Appalachian woods.
The band's repertoire consists of their takes on songs by bands like the Avett Brothers or the Lumineers, and songs that they have written themselves. With the acoustic guitar, bass guitar, the mandolin, and banjo their style ranges from soft alternative folk-rock to bluegrass-esque country.
I first heard Second Valley play at Brown Truck Brewery on High Point North Carolina's Main Street. It was a small audience, but they sang with as much spirit as if hundreds were watching. It was one of those special concerts when the audience felt close to the band itself, as well as part of something bigger than just the night. Their songs about the loves that got away were particularly popular with the audience.
"We write about shared experiences", John Poston told me. "Feelings that we've all had"
In the song "Story of Her" by the cousins Thomas Sawtelle and Mason Sawtelle, they sing, "tomorrow, may not come, so love me yesterday while strumming a rhythm that gets steadily faster and louder, only to fade out mid song and give way to twangier banjo riffs. They never tell if the girl in the song really did love him yesterday. But the song does indeed conjure up all the North Carolina landscapes one would see while "Driving down the East Coast".
So far, nearly all of Second Valley's music has been firmly rooted in the folk tradition, but the band has begun to experiment with other musical styles as well. As well as making songs that are completely outside of their root genre, Second Valley is experimenting with mixing folk and new age elements.
The documentary detailing how they first started out to getting where they are now will be published on their YouTube Channel and will feature on Messenger Pigeon on July 24. On August 7, they will release a new single titled "Sing For". They can be found on Spotify and Apple Music.