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Imagine “The Office” spinoffs that would have been possible if one of the female Dunder Mifflin employees got up from her desk on Friday afternoon and instead of heading home to the suburbs, jumped into a van with six guys, drove hundreds of miles to take the stage at bars and festivals, slammed out a few sets of high-energy countrified bluegrass punk music and then high-tailed it back to her desk bright and early on Monday morning. Sound too unrealistic? Enter Lauren Staley Morrow, a gregarious soul with a head full of blonde curls who works in the communications department at the Georgia Department of Labor during the week and performs as the sassy siren of The Whiskey Gentry on weekends. Ask her how she does it and Staley says, “I’ll just put it this way—I’ve been very fortunate to have a boss who supports our dreams and wants to see us succeed.” The irony of her statement is that Michael Scott, the infamous boss in the NBC series that ended its nine-year run in May, once said, “An office is a place where dreams comes true.”
The Whiskey Gentry came together in 2009 and today includes Staley Morrow’s husband and songwriting partner Jason Morrow (guitar/vocals); Chesley Lowe (banjo & accordian); Sammy Griffin (bass); Price Cannon (drums); Michael Smith (mandolin); and Rurik Nunan (fiddle). The members come from varied musical backgrounds—Morrow, Griffin and Cannon played in a punk band together previously, Staley grew up on alt-country and Brit-punk and Lowe, Nunan and Smith hail from more traditional bluegrass backgrounds. Put them all together, though, and it’s a combination that has been electrifying audiences for the past four years.
The band’s first full-length album, “Please Make Welcome”, released in 2011, showcases a tremendous talent for songwriting, from plaintive ballads like “Four Horsemen” and “Cost of Loving You” to the revved-up, banjo and fiddle-fueled “Eula Mae,” a true story about Morrow’s grandmother, who was electrocuted in the mid-1940s when she grabbed an electrical wire that had fallen in her front yard during a storm. The album was produced by John Keane of Athens, known best for his work with bands including Widespread Panic, R.E.M. and Cowboy Junkies.
Since the beginning of 2013, The Whiskey Gentry has been working on its second album, tentatively titled “Holly Grove”, slated for release later this summer. Staley Morrow believes the sophomore effort will reflect the thousands of miles and countless gigs the band has logged since “Please Make Welcome”. “Having played so much together over the past few years, I feel like we’re a tighter knit group not only in performing, but also in songwriting. I think we have a clearer idea of our voice and our direction as a band.”
Once again, Keane is at the helm and his role has extended to include mentor as well as producer. “Now that we’ve been working on the second record, we’ve spent almost six months with him and he’s become such a good friend to us,” Staley says. “We ask him for advice, not only for the recording process, but also for the industry – he’s been playing music in Athens and Atlanta for so many years and seen so much. It’s nice to have his perspective.” Besides, she adds, “anyone can go work with an overpriced knob turner in Nashville if they have the money—we wanted to make a good record with a good person right here close to home.”
The Whiskey Gentry will host a record release show for Holly Grove on Aug. 17 at Center Stage in Atlanta. Just don’t be surprised if, among the mix of tattoos, black t-shirts and cowboy boots, the loudest cheers are coming from a group of polo-shirt-and-khaki-wearers who look like they walked straight out of an office.