August 8, 2009
Words, photo and video by Berta A Daniels
With toe-tapping melodies and a wry sense of humor, Coyote Grace explores themes deeply personal, yet universal to the human experience. Heads turned in rapt attention when they recently appeared in the Emerging Artist Showcase at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and a cappella harmony rang from the stage as they lifted off with a verse from “Run Around,” the first track of their new CD, Ear to the Ground. Weaving a rich tapestry of vocal harmonies, guitar and upright bass, the musical duo of Ingrid Elizabeth and Joe Stevens have formulated a deeply textured and sometimes sparkling blend of alternative Americana.
Ingrid and Joe met in Seattle where Joe was going to school and they were both members of other bands. They began playing together, forming a band called Greenwood, but were in competition with another band of the same name. As they watched the other Greenwood’s posters get bigger and bigger, they decided to combine their stage names of Coyote Joe and Amazing Grace to become Coyote Grace. Each day they played for tips at Seattle’s Pikes Place Market to finance their first record, Boxes & Bags. Upon its completion, they moved into their 1978 Chevy RV named Harvey for a yearlong national tour. Since then, they have played countless house concerts, coffee houses, universities and festivals. Along the way, Boxes & Bags made its way into the hands of the Indigo Girls, who asked Coyote Grace to open for them at the Woodland Park Zoo during Seattle’s Gay Pride celebration, giving them a giant boost.
A unique pairing, Ingrid’s bright alto, down-home bass and vivacious style lend the perfect counterpoint to Joe’s dusky tenor and brooding acoustic guitar. Written by Joe, Boxes & Bags is an autobiographical portrait of his transition from a woman to a man, chronicling a lyrical journey of self-discovery. “It’s So Bright” opens the album with a tale of finding beauty in this world, set to a frolicking, danceable tune. Introspective and specific to Joe’s transformation, “A Guy Named Joe,” “Trainman” and “Ghost Boy” relate an intimate search for self-identity. A cathartic story of feeling isolated and misunderstood, Ghost Boy resonates with anyone who has revisited their past, especially their high school, after experiencing a life-changing event or revelation about their own identity.
Their new album, Ear to the Ground, blossoms into full color with tightly attuned vocals and infectious composition. Ingrid shares more fully in the voice of this CD, with three songs of her own, including “Girls Like Me (Summertime),” a country song with a twist about young love in a small Midwestern town, and “Runaround,” a classic Appalachian-style folk tune grounded in bluegrass and Southern rock. Joe’s craft has matured as well. Almost a lullaby, with a stylistic nod toward James Taylor, “Little Tree”tells of change, belonging and spiritual growth. When Joe’s grandmother passed away, he wrote “Zuma” to pay special tribute to a matriarch whose strong will and bright spirit continues to inspire him.
Talented and devoted musicians, Joe and Ingrid move forward into the mainstream public eye with personal integrity and a musical sound all their own. In honoring who they are, they refuse to be told who or what they should be as people. It is that candor, combined with impressive musical craftsmanship, that transcends boundaries and speaks to a wide audience.