Michael Roe and Derri Daugherty both helm revered cult bands that continue to produce satisfying but disparate music after decades in action. Sacramento, California-based act the 77s has operated since 1979, featuring Roe’s versatile baritone and formidable guitar chops rooted in classic blues and pop. With Daugherty’s crystalline tenor, Nashville-based band the Choir has created ethereal and mysterious space-rock since the mid-1980s.
When the two joined forces to create Kerosene Halo, they didn’t blend the sounds of the 77s and Choir. Instead, they laid a new path exploring a collective love of roots styles that didn’t fit with their other bands. “We discovered that we both had a large appetite for folk music,” says Roe. “It’s been fun to sing in harmony as a duo, pursuing all those forms of American music – traditional, modern, country, alt-country, bluegrass and more.”
Kerosene Halo’s tour stops at the Warehouse in Aurora in support of “House on Fire.” The album contains original music written by the duo, collaborations with friends including the Choir’s Steve Hindalong, and choice covers. Fare ranges from love songs like Steve Earle’s “Every Part of Me” to heartbreakers like “A Long Long Time Ago.”
Daugherty sings Hindalong’s yearning and shimmering “Sweet Girl.” “It’s that ’70s Southern California, Fleetwood Mac-meets-Laurel Canyon vibe,” says Daugherty. “It’s the sound I loved as a kid. The lyric is so warm and sentimental that it was easy to sing.”
Roe sings “The Ghost of Johnny Cash.” Previously recorded by Shawn Mullins, the song imagines the late musical maverick as a “broken guardian angel” who’s still “flipping off the Pharisees and laughing at Old Scratch.” “I was very moved by the lyric,” says Roe. “Our friend Phil Madeira wrote it, and I found out that this scenario actually occurred in one of his dreams. It touched on things he was going through personally, and took on an even deeper meaning.”
Merle Haggard would have been proud of “If I Could.” In the song, Daugherty takes the role of a hard-bitten character struggling to let go of grudges and be his better self. “It took a darker tone the more we worked on it, but it’s got redemptive qualities too,” says Daugherty. “There’s a really great line that goes, ‘There’s a way I want to live, free of hate, full of forgive.’ Sometimes, you have to decide whether you’re going to try to let a problem or conflict go, or suffocate it and wait until it shows up another time.”
The companion album “Live Simple” contains artfully re-imagined covers of songs chosen by fans. Considering that a meshing of the 77s and Choir might have resembled Echo & the Bunnymen, the 80s rockers’ “Bring on the Dancing Horses” is an appropriate choice.
“We heard a live version with Ian McCulloch playing with the symphony in Liverpool in a cathedral,” says Roe. “It was so overwhelmingly beautiful that we decided to use that arrangement. I played a great big billowy guitar to fill where are the strings would have fit, and it took on a new character. I always loved that tune.”