Before she formed Steph Stewart & the Boyfriends, Stewart grew up in the foothills of western North Carolina, surrounded by Appalachian folk music and the twang of her grandfather’s classic country records. The sounds of the hills stayed with her years later, influencing everything from the songs she started writing in high school to the Americana string band she formed in 2013. That band, the Boyfriends, explores new limits on Nobody’s Darlin’, Stewart’s second album of raw, rootsy originals.
With its mix of back porch folk and unassuming America, Nobody’s Darlin’ is raw at points and refined at others. Pretty much everyone sings, and the Boyfriends — Omar Ruiz-Lopez, Nick Vandenberg and Mario Arnez — decorate Stewart’s songs with triple-stacked harmonies, mandolin solos, fiddles and plenty of guitar fretwork. Everyone switches instruments, too, with multiple members of the band writing or co-writing songs. The result is an album that sounds like a proper group — with everyone trading the spotlight — rather than a solo project.
It’s music built upon tradition, but that doesn’t mean it’s traditionalist. Steph Stewart & the Boyfriends would rather push the envelope, whether that means writing the album’s title track about a spoon-playing street musician that Stewart once encountered in Asheville, or taking out all the instruments (and all the Boyfriends) and turning the final track, “Mourning Dove” — which features cameos by guest singers Chessa Rich and Skylar Gudasz — into an a cappella song worthy of the campfire, the church and everywhere in between.
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