Even in its name, Dead Winter Carpenters captures that kind of Northwest Americana sound best suited for frosty nights sipping hard liquor with friends in some dimly lit but cozy-as-hell watering hole. The Lake Tahoe-based band must feel at home in icy Montana, because the musicians come here often, even in the worst of winter, sometimes playing five or six shows across the state. The band appeals to a broad audience of bluegrass, country, old-time and jam fans, and the quintet doesn't delve into any one of those genres enough to pigeonhole itself beyond the vague and meaningless "Americana" tag.
Forget I even brought up that annoying genre term, though, lest it dissuade you from listening to Dead Winter Carpenters' new six-song EP, Dirt Nap. The EP is a nicely honed collection filled with crisp fiddle and thumping bass, rich gang choruses and driving guitar riffs. These songs feature the usual country themes of whiskey and outlaws, but it's all repackaged into new narratives that somehow don't feel derivative. Songs about robbing and bootlegging roll along like a smooth but familiar belly-warming nightcap.
A few songs, like the deceptively up-beat "Easy Sleep," have a lyrical edge the others don't. Guitarist Bryan Daines sounds like he's happy, even if the words indicate a harsher reality, as in, "Sleeping comes real easy when you have no bills to pay/ and when no one gets in your way./ But sleeping/ don't come easy/ when the one you want to be around/ only wants you nowhere to be found."
The band shares songwriting credits, but it's the two songs Daines wrote for the EP that provide the most complexity. Besides "Easy Sleep," he wrote "Colorado Wildfire," which he performs as a duet with fiddler Jenni Charles. When Charles sings, "With a fire running through your veins/ stepping in and out of time./ Stars come crashing and exploding/ as you let your barrels fly," it's hard to tell what's going on, but the mystery keeps you hooked. The song also intertwines a counterintuitive mixture of genres—elements of classic rock, Celtic, psychedelic and Texas country—that proves how wide open that "Americana" genre can be. Rather than drowning in a generic style, the Dead Winter Carpenters take full advantage of wide boundaries, and it pays off.
Dead Winter Carpenters plays the Top Hat Wed., Feb. 12, at 10 PM. $5.