A local band you may not know is getting a lot of national attention. Rock Hearts, a Charlestown, RI-based bluegrass/country band has been making waves in recent years. These guys are going places… if they’re not there already.
Rock Hearts recently released Wanderlust, their new album on the renowned Nashville label 615 Hideaway Records. You can hear songs from the album and more on Saturday, April 8 when the band hosts a record release party at the Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland at 8PM. Lead vocalist/guitarist Alex MacLeod shared a little about the band and the new album in a recent interview.
“Following the incredible national attention and chart activity that our (independently released) first album Starry Southern Nights received in 2020, we entered a relationship with Sammy Passamano III of Nashville-based The 615 Hideaway Record Label in 2021,” MacLeod explained. “He served as an industry friend and advisor as we were starting to evolve from a regional band to more of a national band. After being selected as one of 20 official showcase bands to perform at the world’s largest bluegrass gathering in 2021, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass event in Raleigh, NC, we were approached yet again by Sammy. In June of 2022, we signed a multi-recording agreement with him and his label, The 615 Hideaway Records.”
MacLeod offered more about the album and the inspiration behind the songs.
“’Wanderlust’ is the title track. It’s an original song I wrote reflecting on aspects of growing up as a military brat; the internal desire to always want to move and the impacts it had on forming relationships. Shortly before recording at the Dark Shadow Studio in Nashville with Stephen Mougin, a Massachusetts native who is the guitar player with bluegrass giant Sam Bush, we finalized the arrangement for the song. It has been receiving regular rotation on SiriusXM Bluegrass Junction since October,” said MacLeod.
The band was fortunate to have Grammy-award-winning fiddler Michael Cleveland join them on the album.
“It was validation that our music has been received and appreciated by the very top musicians in the business,” said MacLeod. “Grammy-nominated and 6-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Dale Ann Bradley, joins me on a gospel duet, ‘Driving Nails,’ and longtime folk favorite and Maine-resident, Jonathan Edwards sings with us on a tune he made famous called, ‘Don’t Cry Blue.’”
Other notable New England-based musicians including Stan Keach, Seth Sawyer, and Sam Tidwell also joined in on the project. “One of the hottest song-writing duos in country and bluegrass, Thomm Jutz and Bob Minner, pitched us their song, ‘Cotton, Corn and Hay,’ which is pretty cool. Minner is the guitar player for Tim McGraw, and Jutz is a former IBMA Songwriter of the Year,” explained MacLeod. “To have two of the industry’s hottest composers pitch us a song was major validation.”
In addition to the Sirius/XM plays, the album is being heard around the world.
“It’s wild to think that people from around the US and around the world are enjoying our music,” said MacLeod. “AirPlay Direct, the one-stop source for DJs from around the world to download music, reports that programmers in places like Australia, Sweden, and Japan are listening, while stations from around the US are doing the same. I have to pinch myself when people from as far away as Norway and Ireland, or Walla Walla, WA, are listening to our music and emailing us with kind words and inquiries.”
“I think because we are a more traditional-leaning band, folks don’t realize we’re from Rhode Island until we tell them,” he added. “Our sound for the most part blends in with other nationally-recognized popular bluegrass bands. We play the music in a fashion that respects tradition, yet doesn’t attempt to imitate it. There will never be another Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, or Earl Scruggs, but their music lives on and we are thrilled to be playing it and performing it.”
The band isn’t exactly new to the scene, just new to the fame that accompanies national recognition. In fact, they are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. “We woodshedded for a while but we have been blessed and fortunate to have found the critical components needed to be a happy band. To quote our banjo player, Joe Deetz, ‘we speak the same musical language,’” explained MacLeod.
Rock Hearts is comprised of Rick Brodsky on bass, Austin Scelzo on fiddle, Joe Deetz on banjo, Billy Thibodeau on mandolin and MacLeod on guitar, lead vocals and “the bulk of the emcee work,” a critical role in bluegrass. “We are building up our summer tour schedule and have some availability if venues are interested. We’ll be performing at some notable festivals this summer including Blistered Fingers (ME), Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival (ME), Jenny Brook Bluegrass (VT) and Delaware Valley (NJ).” Check the band website here for regular updates.
Click here for further information and tickets to the show.
More about the band:
Joe Deetz’s career on banjo spans over 40 years. A New England Bluegrass Boy with Joe Val, Joe has also worked with Back Eddy and many others. Alex MacLeod grew up in bluegrass. With a classic leading voice and rock-solid rhythm guitar, Alex has served as frontman for several bands in the region including Northern Lights and Southern Rhode. Billy “BT” Thibodeau boasts an undeniable bluegrass pedigree and he brings his high tenor and lead vocals, along with his rock-solid mandolin and guitar playing to Rock Hearts. He cut his teeth with his dad, Sam Tidwell and Uncle Bob in the Kennebec Valley Boys. Rick Brodsky is a multi-instrumentalist and a regular on the CT/New York bluegrass scene. Austin Scelzo was introduced to various fiddle traditions at Mark O’Connor’s early Berklee String Camps. He created the Bluegrass Coffeehouse, and launched the Connecticut Bluegrass Music Association.