Although their sound is rooted in traditional bluegrass, Mile Twelve surveys a broader landscape on their newest album, City on a Hill. All five band members bring their own influences and observations into the music, resulting in a project that feels contemporary, thoughtfully crafted, and relevant.
“Original bluegrass music, written and played by young people, is very much alive,” says band member Evan Murphy. “I hope people take away that songwriting and arranging really matter. It’s about the material and playing it in a way that feels honest. This album isn’t political in the sense that we’re beating people over the head with anything, we just tried to tell stories that feel authentic.”
The album title alludes to the idealized imagery of a shining city on a hill – a historical phrase that has often been applied to Boston, where the band got its start. Murphy adds, “We realized that many of the characters in these songs were in crisis, had been failed in some way, or were failing themselves. It’s an unintentional theme but it came out in the songwriting.”
The Mile Twelve lineup offers five of the most promising young musicians in bluegrass: David Benedict (mandolin), Catherine “BB” Bowness (banjo), Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), Evan Murphy (guitar, lead vocals), and Nate Sabat (bass, lead vocals). All are credited as songwriters because everyone in the band helped shape the material throughout the writing and arranging process. Murphy and Sabat initiated most of the lyrical ideas for City on a Hill while Benedict wrote the instrumental track, “Rialto.”
“We all inspire each other and recognize that everyone has different strengths,” Murphy says. “What makes this band so collaborative is that everyone in the band can do something at a really high level. That’s the balance. We’re all challenging each other.”
Produced by Bryan Sutton and engineered by Ben Surratt, City on a Hill begins with a lively rendition of Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Down Where the Drunkards Roll.” From there, the album explores a number of unexpected perspectives, such as a modern war veteran with PTSD (“Jericho”), a Jewish immigrant fleeing war (“Liberty”), and a man who cannot escape the stigma of the penal system (“Innocent Again”). As the album winds down, the light-hearted power waltz “Barefoot in Jail” and the ethereal, old-time dream sequence “Journey’s End” leads to the poignant “Where We Started,” a portrait of small-town life written by John Cloyd Miller.
City on a Hill follows multiple IBMA Momentum Awards, presented by the International Bluegrass Music Association to emerging bluegrass artists. Mile Twelve won the band category in 2017, shortly before releasing their debut album, Onwards. The following year, Keith-Hynes and Benedict secured IBMA Momentum Awards in instrumental categories, while the band earned two major IBMA Award nominations for Emerging Artist and Instrumental Performance of the Year in 2018.
Those kind of accomplishments were far from anyone’s minds when Murphy, Sabat, Keith-Hynes, and Bowness started crossing paths at house parties and pick-up gigs in Boston. In time, they recognized each other as regulars at a Cambridge dive bar called The Cantab Lounge during Tuesday night bluegrass jams. In 2014, they decided to start their own band. By gathering grassroots and industry support, they were well on their way when Benedict, who was living in Nashville at the time, relocated to Boston to join the band in 2016.
Bryan Sutton observes, “I’m a fan of bands who strive for a balance of being musically unique and individualized, while at the same time working to include time-honored traditions found in this music. This blend is not an easy thing to accomplish. Mile Twelve does this with well-honed and refreshingly honest songwriting, along with powerful playing, singing, and performing. Not only did I have the privilege of producing this album, but I also got a chance to know the band better. I’m impressed with how much they bring out the best in each other.”
The band takes their name from the mile marker that sits at Boston’s southern border on route 93, the city’s main artery. It’s a road sign they’ve passed countless times while heading out on tour. Through an active social media audience and radio support from terrestrial stations and Sirius XM, the band has found receptive audiences across the globe, touring all over North America as well as Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Asked about the band’s influences, Murphy cites Alison Krauss & Union Station for their precise arrangements and execution, the Del McCoury Band for their grit and groove, and the Punch Brothers for their genre-bending virtuosity. As for writing, Murphy praises the mastery of Gillian Welch and Jason Isbell for their ability to tell a fully-realized story within the confines of a three-minute song.
These influences shine through in City on a Hill, but at the core the album is a representation of the band’s emerging voice. “We decided to record this album as live and authentically as possible,” Murphy says. “There was no metronome, no filler material, no smoke and mirrors. It was very real, you know? We all feel that the end result is an honest statement of who we are.”
“Mile Twelve’s instrumental skills reflect natural abilities enhanced by serious study of bluegrass tradition and a fearless desire to create fresh pathways. Their trio blend is as tight as it gets. Their duo and solo singing is equally praiseworthy. The arrangements often surprise with subtle twists and turns... delicious false endings, dropped beats, arco bass and fiddle duets, and on and on. Mile Twelve is carrying the tradition forward with creativity and integrity.” — Tony Trischka
Meet the Band
Evan Murphy was raised in Milton, MA. He received his degree in music from Boston College and spent several years after graduating in New York City where he studied bluegrass guitar with Grammy-Nominated artists Michael Daves and Chris Eldridge. When Evan moved back to Boston in 2014 he cofounded Mile Twelve alongside some of the musicians who inspire him most. He now plays full time with them and teaches privately from his home in South Boston. Evan was featured at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Songwriter Showcase in 2018 and was nominated for a momentum award as Vocalist of the Year.
Native New Zealander, Catherine (BB) Bowness started playing the banjo at the age of 12 after hearing a friend play the beverly hillbillies theme song. A few years later, BB received the Frank Winter memorial award at the Auckland Folk Festival allowing her to travel to the USA, where she studied with banjo players Tony Trischka, Alan Munde and Noam Pikelny. In 2009, she became the first banjo player accepted to the New Zealand School of Music, graduating in 2011 with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Perfomance. BB was selected to attend the 2013 Savannah Acoustic Music Seminar, studying with world-class artists such as Julian Lage, Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. She won first place at the 2015 Freshgrass Banjo Contest and currently keeps busy recording, teaching and performing throughout New England.
Nate Sabat is a bassist, vocalist, songwriter, and arranger currently based in New York City. A native New-Yorker, he attended LaGuardia High School as a vocal principal and went on to study upright bass at the Berklee College of Music. He has performed on stages throughout Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States. With his ability to pay close attention to detail and quickly internalize musical form and feeling, Nate has become an in-demand sideman both on stage and in the studio. He has worked with artists such as fiddle maestro Darol Anger, banjo legend Tony Trischka, bassist/composer Bruno Raberg, gypsy-jazz musicians Albert Bello and Oriol Saña, Canadian rock band Fish & Bird and singer-songwriter Jenny Ritter. Nate has written vocal music for NPR's Radio Lab, written string arrangements for the Heifetz International Music Institute, and written songs that are in rotation on Sirius XM’s Bluegrass Junction channel. The debut project under his own name, Walking Away, was released on November 30th, 2018. At the core a rock project, it draws from influences as wide as the Stanley Brothers, Dvořák, Joni Mitchell and XTC.
Bronwyn Keith‐Hynes is a Nashville-based bluegrass fiddler originally from Charlottesville, Virginia. Accepted on a scholarship to attend the American Roots Music Program at Berklee College of Music at age 16, she graduated in 2012 with a Professional Diploma in Violin Performance. Bronwyn is fast gaining recognition for her fiddling across bluegrass and acoustic music circles. She has performed with Peter Rowan, Darol Anger, The Milk Carton Kids, Anais Mitchell, The Deadly Gentlemen and Tony Trischka, among others. Bronwyn is a founding member of the IBMA award-winning bluegrass band Mile Twelve, and can be found touring with them all over the planet. In 2014 Bronwyn won first place in the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship in Winfield, KS and in 2018 was awarded the Momentum Instrumentalist of the Year Award by the IBMA. Bronwyn has been on staff at Berklee College of Music teaching string lessons at The Five Week Program for several years. She teaches in person in Nashville, and world-wide through Skype.
Originally from Clemson, South Carolina, mandolinist David Benedict is quickly becoming a notable figure in the bluegrass and acoustic music scene. After graduating with a mandolin music performance degree and spending a 3-year stint in Nashville touring and recording with acclaimed bass player Missy Raines, David made the move to Boston to join Mile Twelve. During this time, David founded the acclaimed and ongoing weekly video series Mandolin Mondays hosted on the Mandolin Cafe. He also received the 2018 IBMA Momentum Award for Instrumentalist of the Year. His recent solo album The Golden Angle demonstrates his ability to integrate seamlessly with the high-caliber company he keeps, including collaborations from Grammy-winning artists Stuart Duncan, David Grier, and others. Jazz guitar sensation Julian Lage notes, “David is one of the most inspiring lights on the creative acoustic music scene today. A talented player and composer who is paving the way for new and exciting music! I can’t wait to see where he takes us!”