Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line breathe new life into original Americana

Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line will perform at the Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks on June 1.
Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line will perform at the Elk Creek Cafe + Aleworks on June 1. Photo provided

Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line will bring their traveling carnival of original acoustic Americana to Millheim on June 1, when the band performs at Elk Creek Café.

Struthers became a household name when she led her band to a blue ribbon at Colorado’s prestigious 2010 Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition, won previously by Nickel Creek and The Dixie Chicks. Now her group is touring heavily in support of their latest release, “Carnival.”

Struthers’ songs are as steeped in American history and as well crafted as the vintage dresses she wears on stage. She has emerged from the studio with a collection of songs that create a timeline stretching from the 19th-century South to the middle of the past century. Having taught English before undertaking a full-time career in music in 2008, Struthers possesses a background in literature, allowing her to craft tunes as story songs that tell a part of American history from a focused point of view.

Originally from Ridgewood, N.J., Struthers grew up singing and playing guitar and banjo with her bluegrass musician father. They would cover a variety of genres, including bluegrass, country, folk and The Beatles.

Struthers’ diverse background also is evident in the various musical styles she incorporates into her music.

“My new songs are more strongly influenced by rock ’n’ roll,” she said. “But I love mixing different styles into the set because it keeps the music fresh for us and the audience.”

Struthers is genuinely passionate about the stories in her ballads and story-songs, and it is her mission to bring that element of traditional music forward into a contemporary space.

“I want those songs to be accessible to more people,” she said. “We gain perspective when we hear another person’s story, and it changes us. It allows us to see our own lives through new eyes.”

The Party Line, which gets its name from one of the record’s songs recalling the early days of rural telephone calls, features Joe Overton on claw-hammer banjo, pedal steel guitar and vocals; Drew Lawhorn on drums and vocals, Josh Vana on guitar, and Brian Miller on upright bass.

Issued on the singer-songwriter’s own label in 2013, “Carnival” is an ambitious follow-up to Struthers‘ 2010 debut. It was produced by Brent Truitt, who has worked with country greats Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss and The Dixie Chicks. “Carnival” includes 14 original compositions that show off Struthers‘ skills as a sensitive and intelligent songwriter, storyteller and vocalist.

The album includes guests such as producer Truitt on mandolin, as well as singers Rachael Hester and Nick Woods. In support of the album, the band is touring heavily in theaters, clubs and festivals, including the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, Merlefest and Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion.

Like her previous recordings, “Carnival” is comprised of Struthers original story songs. But unlike her first record, on which she had a backing band of A-List Nashville session musicians, “ ‘Carnival’ was recorded with her touring band, The Party Line. “I wanted to make a record with the people who would be traveling with me,” she said. “The people who would make music together night after night.”

This will be the group’s second time at Elk Creek and Struthers and her bandmates couldn’t be more excited.

“Every venue has a unique vibe, and for me, the Elk Creek Café has an interesting one,” she said. “It seems both intimate and rowdy at the same time. It’s easy for me to talk to the audience but also appropriate to put on a high energy show.”