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Frontier Ruckus cuts a trail through bluegrass with deeper arrangements and a singing saw



Frontier Ruckus with Noah Earle and the Double Clutchers
10 p.m. Saturday
51st Street Speakeasy
1114 N.W. 51st /51speakeasy

Matthew Milia is a poet in a songwriter's skin.

As a creative-writing major at Michigan State University, his mentor was poet and professor Diane Wakoski, whose guiding hand was an immense influence on then-duo Frontier Ruckus.

"Her emphasis that a poem should hinge off of indispensable images, contain original and recurring tropes and have a rewarding or challenging revelation have shaped the way I approach songwriting," Milia said.

What began as an after-school project for two 17-year-old kids quickly evolved into a developed, complex sound. Milia and his friend, banjo and Dobro player David W. Jones, got their start by mimicking the straightforward chord progressions of bluegrass and Appalachian traditionals, but the simple songs didn't last for long.

"The songs started out as beautiful, little tunes modeled after the people we were originally imitating. I think Matt quickly realized there was a well deeper within him to draw from," Jones said. "I remember the first time I heard a song closer to his current lyrical style: 'Foggy Lilac Windows.' It blew my mind. From then on, we had no intentions of being a traditional bluegrass band."

While attending MSU, Milia met the members of the current Frontier Ruckus lineup: Zach Nichols, Ryan "Smalls" Etzcorn and Anna Burch.

"When those two decided to expand the band four years ago, they were looking for musicians that could fill out the sound in a way that a banjo-guitar duet can't," said Nichols, who takes turns at the trumpet, melodica and musical saw.

The group writes unconventional, audibly stimulating music " a persona carried in part by Nichols' singing hacksaw, which is drawn with a bow.

"This might seem like a hilarious claim, but I think Zach is the best saw player in the state. He has such an ear for melodies," Jones said. "He just knows how to utilize the saw in a way which no one else I've heard can."

Frontier Ruckus' 2008 debut album, "The Orion Songbook," held significance for Milia as a conduit through which he could channel his innermost thoughts from his teenage years. The title comes from Orion Township, Mich., at the outer edge of the northern suburbs where his childhood love lived.

"All of this self-mythology was simply a young attempt to invent some ownership of identity within the pilings of memory and experience, sweet and desperate, instead of admitting the reality of being owned by it," he said.

Milia expects the band's sophomore effort, "Deadmalls and Nightfalls," scheduled for release in July, to be more "adult, intense and fresh."

"We're simply looking forward to the continuing development of this world we love creating," he said, "along with the expanding invitation for more and more people to enter." "Emily Hopkins

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