Bluegrass artist Becky Schlegel returns with new album

Singer-songwriter Becky Schlegel emerged at the forefront of the Upper Midwest's bluegrass, country and acoustic rock scene in the past several years. Now, she is set to move further forward.

Raised in the central South Dakota town of Kimball, Schlegel has been making music as long as she can remember. She took piano lessons from kindergarten through her senior year in high school and sang in choir and church events.

When she was still in junior high, she joined her mother's professional country band, The Country Benders.

Schlegel formed the band True Blue in March 1997. Their first official event was a fundraiser for the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Association, where they caused an immediate sensation.

In 1998, Schlegel and True Blue recorded and released their debut CD, This Lonesome Song, which was nominated for 1998 Bluegrass Recording of the Year by the Minnesota Music Academy.

The band was invited to showcase at the International Bluegrass Music Association's annual trade show in October 1999. The next month they appeared on Garrison Keillor's public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, which was broadcast from Rapid City, S.D. 

Schlegel and True Blue won the Bluegrass Band of the Year award for 2000, given by the Minnesota Music Academy. The summer of 2000 found the band performing at numerous festivals, including the WE Fest Country Music Festival and the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival.

Already an accomplished singer, guitar player, and performer, Schlegel has developed a strong voice as a songwriter. In 2001 she began recording her second CD, Red Leaf, featuring the talents of acoustic luminaries Peter Ostroushko, Marc Anderson and John Niemann.

During this time, Schlegel continued to learn and grow professionally.Her songwriting continued to flourish and she found a new vocal freedom in the complex, yet relaxed structure of her own creations.

Schlegel returned to Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion several times over the years, and also became a frequent guest on the RFD TV Network’s Midwest Country Theater. She released her second solo CD of originals, Drifter Like Me, in 2005 and it quickly became a favorite of fans and music critics.

The project marked her first musical effort with acclaimed banjo player and guitarist, Brian Fesler. The result is For All The World To See, and it is perhaps the most wholly-representative of Becky’s works.

The 11 intricate arrangements feature the judicious placement of Fesler’s banjo, Marc Anderson’s percussion, Bo Ramsey’s electric guitar, Gordon Johnson’s bass, Jeff Midkiff’s mandolin, and Schlegel’s singing and writing make this album a perfect jewel.

Recently, Becky Schlegel sat down with O&AN at Bongo Java in Nashville and talked about her newest offering.

O&AN: This is your third solo effort to date. What is it that you feel most sets this album apart in the context of your previous work?

BS: It’s a little different from my previous work because we tried to use a lot of different instrumentation and we tried really hard to work out what each song needed to make it alive. Brian and I are so on the same page most of the time that when we do have a little bit of crossed wires we’re both very open minded to hearing what the other has to say.

We work incredibly well together. I feel like this album is not incredibly different from my previous work except that it is more polished. We didn’t know at first if some of the decisions we made for the album were even going to work, but it did and that was amazing to me.

O&AN: What have the audience reactions to your new music been like?

: When we started playing it was pretty much traditional Bluegrass and my background is pretty much traditional Country. It was an incredible thing for me when someone pointed out that there was a seventy year span of people in the crowd.

As soon as I realized that there was this moment where I almost froze because I didn’t know what I should play. I wasn’t sure if I should stick to the more traditional sounds for the older fans or do more of my recent work for the younger crowd so we ended up mixing it up and doing a little of everything. What we found out is that they love it all.

O&AN: As well crafted and finely honed as this album is what do you plan on doing next time around in order  to top yourself?

: I think I was able with this album to really draw more from my songwriter side than just sticking to an expected genre sound. There are songs that aren’t bluegrass or country. I don’t know what they are other than just good. It is definitely my most mature work but I am just falling out of my skin waiting to do my next album.

I am so excited because I already have the songs and the idea. I know what I want to do. I can already hear it in my head and it sounds really great. I listen to my music a lot because I learn a lot from it especially in the songwriting aspect. I spend a lot of time studying my songs so I can learn what worked and what didn’t and how I can do better.

O&AN: When you are working on new material is it more fun for you to write the songs or to be able to perform them in front of people?

: If I come up with a great idea for a song and work on it until it’s perfect, it is no fun if you can’t record it. They really go hand-in-hand for me because people will let you know by their reactions while you are on stage if they like a song or not. It’s important to me to know if something works for my audience or not, so they really can’t be seperated in my mind.

O&AN: There are a lot of deeply personal sounding songs on this release. What is it like baring yourself in front of a live audience like that and kind of putting yourself out there for the world to see? Is it hard to share yourself like that?

: Some of the songs that are really very personal for me are kind of hard for me to look at the audience during. I just kind of close my eyes and go away a little while I perform. It’s really kind of like having your bare butt hanging out of a window.

You’re kind of giving the audience a secret, a little part of you that no one else has. I choose to do that because I love what I do and that’s the only secret. A lot of my writing is about me, but some of it isn’t things that have really happened to me, but I put myself in the shoes of the person in the situation and try really hard to see things from their perspective while I am performing.

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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