Sweet Afton is the second full-length album from Chamomile and Whiskey, a band that grew from the duo of Koda Kerl and Marie Borgman who grew up together in the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Nelson County, Virginia. The band name, taken from an earthy tea and a bourbon kick, epitomises their sound – a high-energy mix of bluegrass melodies and traditional Irish rhythms. Over the years, they added some members — Marsh Mahon on bass, drummer Stuart Gunter, lead guitarist Drew Kimball, and banjo player/supporting vocalist Ryan Lavin who was raised in Galway, Ireland. At the heart of Sweet Afton, there is a real warmth that drew me in on first listen.
From the party feel of As Good As It Could Be (think early Waterboys) to the more sombre southern gothic-tinged Sleepless Nights, this is an album to savour – over your tiple of choice of course: tea or whiskey…
Little did Koda Kerl and Marie Borgman know they would one day tour as a musical duo when they met as children in Nelson County, Va. Years later, after playing together as a side project, the two sat down to talk about forming a band. Borgman made chamomile tea and Kerl brought a fifth of Evan Williams.
“We have some serious material — some songs are lighthearted, some are serious and even sad. But at the end of the day, we really try to have a good time,” Kerl said. “We’re a very energetic band and anytime we have a show, we want it to be a party.”
Sweet Afton has plenty of rollicking banjo, lively fiddle and high-energy percussion as well as flute, cello and even a tin whistle. The album’s title is derived from a few inspirations — Nelson County’s well-known Afton Mountain acted as the backdrop for many songs on the album and served as fiddle player Borgman’s previous home. Sweet Aftons were also the cheap, unfiltered cigarettes of choice for banjoist Ryan Lavin in his native Galway, Ireland.
“Gone,” the album’s first single, offers Kerl’s tribute to his father, one of his biggest musical influences.Sweet Afton also has the first studio recording of “Good As It Could Be.” The song is a fan-favourite party anthem during live shows, a personification of how the band sees themselves. Their relationship to their roots is reflected on “Nelson County,” for which they gathered their favourite local musicians, a cooler of beer and a couple of microphones for an intimate, live-recording feel.
Along with banjo player/supporting vocalist Ryan Lavin, Chamomile and Whiskey released a four-song debut EP titled The Barn Sessions in 2012, and focused heavily on touring. In 2013, they released their first full-length album, Wandering Boots.
Beyond the skill that lies within each player of Chamomile and Whiskey is the band’s overall goal: to genuinely engage and have fun with the audience. They will tour throughout the US, with an East Coast tour this fall, and the West Coast in the spring.
Photo Credit: Aaron Farrington