John Dendy | Tombigbee

Helena favorite reunites with Zach Owen and Karen Newlon in Tombigbee

New Albums
Blues Americana Grass
Blues Americana Grass

Long-time Helena musician John Dendy has a new recording out with the same name as his band, Tombigbee. The musicians are comfortable playing together, and it’s obvious. Dendy reunited with banjo player Zach Owen and violinist Karen Newlon, who provides harmony vocals and delightfully smooth accompaniment.

The album has nine self-penned tunes that Dendy either wrote or co-wrote with Owen; Dendy helped flesh out Owen’s banjo riffs to create songs, then added a few of his own tunes that the banjo worked well with.

Besides his soulful bass/baritone lead singing, Dendy contributes upright bass and harmonica to round out the band’s minimalist sound. He’s a guitarist, too, but likes the absence of that instrument here, commenting, “It leaves more space and doesn’t sound like every other Americana record out there.”

The album kicks off with a mournful blues tune called “Worry None for Me.” Dendy starts it solo, singing from deep within while playing a south-of-the-border bass line. Newlon’s silky strains sail over Owen’s percussive chops as the two join in.

In the bluesy finger-snapper “Neighborhood Inferno,” gravel-voiced Dendy sings, ”I can’t take my records, I can’t take my books, I can’t take a lifetime of your disappointed looks.” It’s propelled by an interesting melodic strain.

The instrumental bluegrasser, “Flang,” finds Owen finger-picking the quickie, and he and Newlon intertwine chops in an oddly dissonant coupling. Then Dendy jumps in on harmonica to kick up an all-out jam. Definitely different! And on the instrumental stutter-step “Escalante,” liner notes say it all: “bidding-ting, bidding-ting, ting-ting-ting-ting.” Ha! ‘Nuff said.

Dendy likes this instrumentation for a lot of genres, but particularly appreciates the “darkness and space” of the “Tom Waits-y vibe” on a few. His voice suits this niche perfectly, with its attendant exotic bass lines and slowed-down feel.

This is Dendy’s first recording since I Got Lucky in 2005. He promises it won’t take him another 10 years to put out more music.


– Mariss McTucker