Most bands can speak volumes of their humble beginnings, but few will tell you of a genesis as abrupt and haphazard as Ploughman's, whose first practice session was a live performance at The Red last year. Almost as if acting out a band's version of a love story, Ploughman is slated to play The Catalyst Atrium for its CD-release party on the night of its first anniversary. Romance aside, the foursome's soulful improvisation and laid-back brand of bluesy rock may not melt hearts, but it will surely set toes tapping. Ploughman's upcoming album, Scratching the Surface, is a subtly polished collection of mellow, well-aged rock with harder moments taking you back to the Toadies and softer ones revisiting the Grateful Dead, although neither bands are mentioned when singer Eric Smith talks inspiration.
“One day, I'd be inspired by John Legend and The Pixies simultaneously,” he says. “Van Morrison is always a stand-by for me. I always pull from him.” Smith lends not only his John Popper-meets-Adam Duritz vocals to the sound, but also his sardonic lyrics about modern cavemen and religious upbringings. The latter subject is visited in the playful yet surely cathartic song “Shandalay,” in which Smith reflects on memories of his mother speaking in tongues during Pentecostal sermons. After Smith pens the words and composes the music, rhythm guitarist Bill Fanara, bassist Joshua Marks, and drummer Chris Carey-Stronck lend their technical skill and flair to fatten the tracks. Smith says that while he spearheads the writing process, the rest of the band is more than just accompaniment. “It's really just a basic starting point that I provide,” Smith assures. While Scratching the Surface may seem like an uncouth title for an album that clearly digs a little deeper, it refers more to the members’ optimistic view of their collective future. “This is just the beginning, hopefully, with our skill and sensibilities,” Smith says.
INFO: 9 p.m. Saturday, March 12. Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz. $8/adv, $10/door. 423-1338.