Annie and the Hedonists is a much different band today from what it was just 2 1⁄2 years ago.
At that time, one-half of the band, Minnesota natives Jonny and Annie Rosen, were at a crossroads. Their musical partners for the previous 20 years, Steve and Betsy Fry, decided to retire, breaking up the family atmosphere the folk group had thrived under since the two couples first began holding impromptu meals and jam sessions in the Rosens’ home.
“We had been playing with the Frys for 10 years kind of informally when we moved here in 1990, and then 10 years we were producing CDs, creating CDs and doing more performing,” Jonny Rosen said before a recent rehearsal at the Rosens’ home in Guilderland. “And they just got tired of all the traveling and equipment hauling. They didn’t want to spend all their time doing that.”
Annie and the Hedonists CD release
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs
How Much: $18 (doors); $16 (advance)
More Info: 583-0022, www.caffelena.org
The couple quickly bounced back, though. For some time prior to the Frys’ departure, multi-instrumentalist Peter Davis had been helping the group out in the studio and during live performances — his playing featured on their 2005 album “Moonglow on the Midway” and 2008’s “Good Old Wagon.” He soon stepped in full time, later bringing stand-up bassist Don Young into the fold.
“It was kind of hard at first — or it felt weird at first, because you almost get to be a family,” Annie Rosen said. “So you’re singing with Betsy and Steve and getting certain harmonies; you do it for that long, it’s like second nature. But change is good — this is nice having different people.”
Young’s muscular, rock ’n’ roll-influenced bass playing and Davis’ clarinet lines have also pushed the band toward blues, jazz and classic swing sounds from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. This new style is readily apparent on this lineup’s first recording, “Women Be Wise,” the Hedonists’ fourth album overall. The 15-track album will be officially released at a performance at Caffe Lena, one of the band’s regular haunts, on Saturday night.
“This is a different group — they’re both great groups, but we’re bringing something else to the table that’s equally good,” Jonny said. “We’re a little bit harder-edged; it’s more rhythmic than the old band. And we’re working on being as good as we were on the harmony singing, and we’re coming along with it a lot.”
For both Davis, who was something of the “fifth Beatle” to the old group’s lineup, and Young, being full-time Hedonists has expanded their musical horizons. The two have both been gigging professionally for more than 30 years — they were both members, at different times, of Doc Scanlon’s Rhythm Boys — but neither had played in a strictly acoustic band like this before.
“We’re doing different material than we’ve done before,” Davis said, “so that was part of the attraction.”
Young, who first played with the band at a show at the Schenectady Greenmarket, found himself immediately attracted to the group’s sound.
“It’s like, you hear some people playing, and . . . you go, wow,” he said. “I was like, wow. Great guitar playing, great singing, great vibe, great material.”
The new situation has also had a strong influence on the Rosens’ playing and singing. Since Davis and Young joined, the group has expanded into different performing situations, including swing dances. Having the two in the group has also allowed Jonny to further explore rhythm guitar and blues styles.
“When I was in Milwaukee and met Annie, we were part of the Milwaukee Folk Music Society, and I was doing finger-picking guitar,” he said. “I would try to play songs, like these old jazz and swing tunes, finger picking, and it’s just not the same as if you’re part of a combo, where the role of the rhythm guitar is almost like the drum. It’s really a study in itself playing the rhythm guitar, and I love what I’m learning and doing with that. Don is a great mentor; Peter too.”
Demand for album
As fans began warming to the new sound, they began clamoring for an album. “People would say, ‘Do you guys have a CD?’ ‘Where’s this song, where could I get this song?’ ” Annie said. “So we decided we should get together and put one together.”
The sessions for “Women Be Wise,” which took place at Pechette Studios in Albany, went quickly. The album is a tribute to female blues and jazz singers, featuring songs originally made famous by such artists as Billie Holiday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie. Most of the album was tracked live with few overdubs; Annie’s scratch vocals ended up on most of the final tracks.
“I think I said, ‘Let’s just go in the studio for one day and do a day of recording and see what we’ve got.’ And the incredible part of this was that the three of us were in one room playing live rhythm tracks together, and Annie was in the control room singing scratch vocals,” said Davis, who produced the album.
“Well, the way it came out, every single thing that she sang was perfect. She didn’t have to redo barely any of the vocals. So when we got out of that day, [we thought], ‘Wow, this really sounds like something.’ ”