The Secret Emchy Society will host an intimate night of acoustic country music, sing-alongs and fellowship Thursday night at San Francisco’s The Lost Church.
The Lost Church show will double as a “Mark’s Yard: The Campfire Covers” album release party for the Oakland, Calif., queer country music collective and feature Americana legends The Muddy Roses as a special guest.
During the show, The Secret Emchy Society will provide “hymnals,” or booklets with lyrics, to audience members so they can sing along to songs from “Mark’s Yard,” a new covers album the band released in December.
“This room has wonderful acoustics, and we’re actually not going to amplify, but we’re definitely going to do most of the album,” said Cindy Emch, frontwoman, guitarist and accordionist for The Secret Emchy Society. “This album was made with the intention of serving up a community experience. There will be swaying, stomping, laughter, dorkery and stories about songs that will surely go off on tangents.”
Dubbed as the “First Lady of Queer Country,” Emch leads a rotating old school country music collective that appeals to fans of June Carter Cash, Lydia Loveless, Neko Case, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. She’s been sharing her dark, sexy, boozy ballads, off-kilter anthems and cowboy songs with the Bay area queer country music scene for more than a decade.
As a follow-up to 2017’s “The Stars Fell Shooting into Twangsville,” Emch’s latest release, “Mark’s Yard,” includes her own renditions of esteemed country classics from Rhubarb Whiskey, Hank Williams Jr., Tom Waits, Tolan McNeil, Johnny Cash, Carolyn Mark and more.
The album allows Emch to come full circle with her love of country music after hearing the likes of Willie Nelson and Crystal Gayle as a child and watching her mother play the accordion.
For the album, Emch teamed up with Hans Winold (upright bass, harmonica), Michele Kappel (percussion), Mya Byrne (lap steel, mandolin), Nick Foley (backing lead guitar) and Deleina Mae (backing electric bass) and recorded it over three hours one August Sunday night in her neighbor’s backyard.
The project also features backing vocals from Dave Lang, Grayson Walker, Nick Foley, Kathryn Popham, Eddi Wilson, J McLaughlin, Terri Upton, Mae, Byrne, Kappel and Mark.
“They’re kind of old-fashioned field recordings. We did the sound mix just by changing where people sat, and we had one microphone,” said Emch, who grew up in Howell, Mich. “I wanted to get my friends from Victoria in on the recording because I often do these late-night music sessions with them.”
The album’s opening track, “Bears,” features a rowdy acoustic-infused tale with lyrics written by gothic horror author Poppy Z. Brite and music from Emch’s former bluegrass Americana band, Rhubarb Whiskey.
Exquisite mandolin and harmonica solos dominate this ear-catching tune about drinking in Alaska – ideal for a quirky summertime outdoor sing-along.
Another quintessential track, “Go Get Lost,” includes a folksy pro-adventure anthem written by Mark about starting life anew against an acoustic backdrop with chirping crickets. It’s a strong reminder that it’s never too late to make a fresh start.
“This is a new song of hers that she’s going to be putting on her next record. I first heard it when it was still in its rough form and have heard the evolution of it as she’s been writing it,” said Emch, who named the album after the post-show jam sessions Mark hosts in her Victoria, British Columbia backyard.
“She gave me her blessing, and I had to change the key a little bit because our voices aren’t the same. She happened to be visiting me in October, so I was able to record her vocals on it.”
Emch also includes a stellar cover of Tom Waits’ 1971 under-the-radar gem, “Poncho’s Lament,” and wraps strong harmonies around the strum-heavy tune about loving someone who drives you insane. She originally discovered the song on a 1972 live Italian bootleg, one of the first Waits’ records she picked up in college.
“A number of years later, Tom Waits released the song on a compilation that he did of the early years, and I listened to it, and he totally rearranged the song and changed the chord progression. I didn’t like it, and I was used to this other version from the live bootleg,” Emch said.
“I figured out the tablature and chord progression of the one I liked and recorded that version because I was so excited it existed in the world that I wanted to spread it out even further.”
For Emch, “Mark’s Yard” represents her ever-evolving Americana musical journey and solidifies the long-lasting relationships she’s developed with artists in San Francisco, Oakland and Victoria. Luckily, listeners instantly become part of that musical camaraderie as they play each tune at their own internal campfire.
“It helps you figure out who you are as a musician in a lot of ways, so I wanted to honor those events and honor that process,” she said. “It’s a love letter to friendship and musical community, and I wanted it to be that way so people would feel welcome to sing along and get rowdy with it.”
After Thursday’s show, The Secret Emchy Society will play a series of shows in California and British Columbia throughout February and March.
“Mark’s Yard: The Campfire Covers” track listing:
- “Bears” – Rhubarb Whiskey cover
- “Whiskey Bent” – Hank Williams Jr. cover
- “Monkeys in the Zoo” – Dave Lang cover
- “Go Get Lost” – Carolyn Mark cover
- “I’m Not Drunk” – Mack Allen Smith cover
- “The Faith” – Tolan McNeil cover
- “Santa Cruz” – Feral
- “Grayson” – Tolan McNeil cover
- “Poncho’s Lament” – Tom Waits cover
- “Delia” – Johnny Cash cover
- “Rye Whiskey” – Tex Ritter cover
The Secret Emchy Society with The Muddy Roses
Thursday, January 24
The Lost Church, 65 Capp St. in San Francisco
Doors: 7:30 p.m., show: 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10 in advance, $15 day of show