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Midnight North takes its cue from the fertile Bay Area music scene. Formed in early 2012 by singer/songwriters Grahame Lesh and Elliott Peck, whose harmonies came as naturally as the initial songs, along with bassist Connor O’Sullivan. The band’s current-day lineup was completed when drummer/banjo player Nathan Graham came aboard after a chance meeting at a benefit concert in Philadelphia in 2016 following the release of its third, and breakthrough, album, Under the Lights, in 2017. In the early days, the group was able to grow as a unit thanks to an association with Lesh’s family venue, Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California.
Grahame Lesh on guitarDiamonds in the Zodiac - on the Americana Vibes label - is Midnight North’s fifth studio album (along with three live discs), representing a continuation of the musical direction on 2021’s There’s Always a Story. The title comes from the unearthed Robert Hunter lyrics for “Jupiter,” one of two extended tracks on an album -- the other, Grahame’s opening “Questions.” Other than those two, Diamonds is increasingly song-oriented and steeped in bluegrass, country, soul, blues, funk, jazz and gospel – a true Americana melting pot.
Elliott Peck on the Telecaster guitarIt also turned into a real, second-generation family affair, as it was produced by the band’s dear friend Amy Helm, daughter of The Band’s Levon Helm and singer/songwriter Libby Titus, and features Grahame’s dad Phil and brother Brian. “Things have come full circle in that it was meeting Amy and Levon Helm at a Ramble in the Barn that gave my parents the inspiration to open Terrapin Crossroads, and having Terrapin was so instrumental in the band’s development. And now Amy produced this album and shepherded these songs to their ultimate form,” said Grahame.
Connor O'Sullivan on bass guitarRecorded at Dave Schools’ (Widespread Panic) Spacecamp in Occidental, California, Diamond in the Zodiac’s 10 tracks represent a truly collaborative effort, featuring band members playing different instruments and many friends & collaborators stopping by the studio to contribute to the music and the vibe. Phil & Brian Lesh, Jason Crosby, and TJ Kanczuzewski all contributed significant moments, and all of the focus was on pulling the best version of the song out of the ensemble.
Nathan Graham on the drumsWith its top-flight pedigree, Midnight North is intent on carrying the torch for this distinctly American music from one generation to the next. “Songlines” sums up the idea of a group of individuals putting their unique experiences into the common thread of music. Elliott and Amy join their voices together, singing, “Pass the lyric down to a troubled heart/A broken choir sings to light up the dark.”
"It’s a generational thing," acknowledges Grahame. “It’s about what’s passed down to us and what we pass on. The verses are about different people in the dark needing the light, and that’s where they get it, from families and friends.”
Midnight North Live“Elliott’s “A Great Farewell” brings the album to a suitable close. It’s about starting over, trying new things, but never forgetting what got us here in the first place. “I guess we’ll repeat the same mistakes/Knowing nothing’s going to change,” she sings, adding, “There’s a light out there/If we’re open to the spark.”
Diamonds in the Zodiac shows not even the sky is the limit for Midnight North.