Nevada County songwriters Mariee Sioux Sobonya and Aaron Ross
bring solo sets to the refurbished Nevada Theatre.
Mariee Sioux Sobonya was born on the Humboldt coast in Arcata, California. When she was 2 her family moved to the Sierra Nevada foothills in the Yuba River watershed in Northern California, to pursue their dream of farming and living off the land. She was raised on their small farm whose surrounding lands were formerly occupied by the Nisenan people before the cultural and environmental decimation that occurred at the hands of expansionist migrants and settlers during the gold rush, and has come to be known as Nevada City.
Mariee grew up surrounded and deeply touched by music—often going to bluegrass festivals and listening to her father’s bluegrass band—but held no particular personal musical ambitions. However, she taught herself to play the guitar at 18 while volunteering at a school for Mapuche children in Patagonia, Argentina, and wrote her first songs here while taking refuge from the Patagonia winds indoors. She continued finger picking and writing songs and made two home-recorded albums purely at the urging of friends. In 2007 she released her first studio album, Faces in the Rocks, on which she collaborated with Native American flautist Gentle Thunder and which achieved a dedicated cult following that would propel her career to this day. She began touring Europe as well as North America and has continued ever since.
Mariee Sioux has learned to more consciously embrace her role in the old and new tradition of healer-singers who have always helped hold the human social fabric together. Through music she attempts to fill a cultural void left by severed connections to her mixed Polish, Hungarian, and Native American heritages and to thereby address the broader cultural voids felt by Americans today. She does this “with hopes of enticing the sacred work of grief back into our lives from the exile American society has placed it in”—and this is evident in her most recent album Grief in Exile.
The songs continue to come to Mariee Sioux, and her approach as a singer continues to mature. The flowing melodies and quivering vibrato of her voice, as well as the poetry itself, continue to locate themselves and their work with a more solidly grounded precision as to just what that work is. Her most recent songs most deeply reflect this clarity of vision and acceptance of both her role as an artist and the endless need for that role in this changing world. Mariee Sioux brings us back to the child and the grandmother in ourselves, in a time in which it has never been more needed—and she intends to keep it up as long as she has a voice.
Aaron Ross has been a force for eclecticism since his time with math rock band Hella (with Zach Hill of Deathgrips and Spencer Seim of sBACH and The Advantage), and his solo trajectory has reflected a constant drive for innovation since his first release, The Hallelujah Side in 2003. His musical path is almost schizophrenic in its complexity, uncompromising innovation, and drive to involve more nuance, layers and mystery with each successive release. But the man himself has eschewed the spotlight to some extent. Impose Magazine calls him ‘bugged out in a backwoods way…’ and indeed his catalog vacillates in and out of the deeply organic blues-folk of the Sierra Foothills, and the very synthetic, playful and even absurd, here reminiscent of Mick Jagger, there warbling esoteric in the vein of fellow Nevada City native Joanna Newsom.
Each track is a contemplative journey complete with a beginning, climax and finale. Ross’ tenor voice, always unwavering, leads the way as tumultuous drums juxtapose with spry cello melodies on the opening track “Pass the Peace Pipe.” On “Looking Glass Mass”, a folk romp that could easily be passed down from one generation to the next provides a lighthearted undercurrent to powerful words on the simplicity of life: “You can laugh and you can cry but everybody still must die.” Charged words of freedom and spirituality take the spotlight on “Mississippi Burnin”, as a guitar lullaby summons the listener closer before culminating into an all-out jam. The album’s finale, “Speak the Truth”, showcases Ross’ remarkable vocal agility and leaves the listener with a resounding message on humanity.