St. Louis, MO has a semi-secret history in the rise of the Americana music movement. Some of the most active members of an early "alt.country" on-line forum called Postcard 2 lived in the city and agreed to help create a live get-together. That led to Twangfest, a club-based festival that launched in 1997 and just held its 23rd edition in June.
Beth Bombara has played Twangfest, as well as plenty of other twanging events and festivals across her city, the Midwest and the nation. With a bracing, tuneful roots rock point of view and a straight-arrow voice that may evoke Rosanne Cash or Asheville's Amanda Anne Platt, the songwriter and band leader has emerged as a leading light of the St. Louis music scene, having twice been named Best Americana Artist by the Riverfront Times. She wound up in the city in 2007 after finishing school nearby, thinking it was a temporary base.
"I just never left because it's such a cool place. It's a really under-rated city. I started meeting musicians there in the blues scene, the jazz scene and the Ozark folk scene," she said during a recent Nashville swing to play the City Winery Lounge. "For the size of the city there's a good diverse group of roots musicians there and the community is super supportive of the arts. So being there, I felt really surrounded and encouraged to keep playing and pushing that envelope."
Bombara's commitment to a music career snuck up on her as well. Growing up in Grand Rapids, MI, playing the piano and guitar led to a high school band that made what she describes as melodic punk rock. One gig led to another until they were touring in ever-wider circles. "There hasn't been a point in my life since then that I have not been playing with a band," she says.
Albums under her own name started to flow about ten years ago, following the DIY playbook, which in her case included acting as her own recording engineer on her earliest sides. Her 2017 effort Map & No Direction found its way into the top 30 of the Americana albums chart. And her latest, released August 9, made its chart debut this week.
Evergreen is a ten-song collection that addresses both the state of the heart and the state of the union, with a title that evokes the perennial appeal of a bold voice, a few crunchy guitars and devotion to Tom Petty’s sturdy rock and roll template. Opener "I Only Cry When I'm Alone" investigates how we mediate our private and public personas in the modern world. "Anymore" features a lush and layered bridge where guitars and vocals offer some of the most swirling and beautiful music on the disc. "Criminal Tongue" is a direct rebuke of a serially lying chief executive (who goes unnamed). And the album concludes with "All Good Things," a pensive sounding but caustic takedown of our times written by Bombara's husband and bandmate Kit Hamon. WMOT has been spinning “Upside Down,” a song about resilience that’s arguably got the catchiest riffs among the collection and “Good News,” with bendy guitars that provide enough twang for all future Twangfests.
The husband-and-wife touring and the steady support of local press and music fans are keeping Bombara’s fires lit despite not being in an industry center. One gets the sense after six releases, the 35-year-old isn’t going to let the high school punk rock dreamer down. "I haven't really given myself a backup plan," she says. "I found that if there's something you really want to pursue in life, if you take away the safety net, you're gonna fly or you're gonna sink, and you're going to learn about yourself so quickly.”