It's not uncommon for first-time audiences of The Clay States to glance around the venue a song or two into a set, as if to reassure themselves that they're still in the same place - or the same era - as they were just minutes before. The Alabama-based duo's stories come from the past straight and undiluted.

 

Occasionally there's a vibe of the sheer vocal intensity of Buckingham Nicks, or a glimpse into the rural-gothic fantasies of Gillian Welch, but the music of The Clay States is far from derivative. Lyrics are often sparse, laborious, fraught. Instrumentation alternates between cello, banjo, ukulele and traditional guitar to create layers of anachronism.

 

Their typical haunts for performance take place in buildings rich with turn-of-the-century industrial history--from the engine room of a steel mill to the antique pumping station of a former waterworks. "The idea is to get our sound to interact with the crumbling post-industrial South," songwriter Stephen Collins says. "The old brick, rusted pipe, and stairwells seem to sing back."