Blues-rock quartet Branchwater has reached a crossroads of sorts. As high school students, they gigged quite a bit and self-produced two excellent albums: the studio recording "When the World Seems Cold" and "Live at the Warner Theatre." They've become a powerful, exciting live act and have won over a fair number of area fans. (They were finalists in the Best Blues category of the 2014 Connecticut Music Awards).
Since graduation last year, however, with its band members separated geographically, the quartet — guitarists Mike Brightly and Chris Connelly, drummer Elliott Hall and bassist John Carroll — is forced to pick its spots and use its time wisely.
That separation hasn't hurt Branchwater's popularity or hampered its forward motion. If anything, the band's sound, Hall said, is much closer to where they want to be.
"I think in high school, when we did that live album, we weren't settled into our sound as a band," Hall said. "We were still trying to figure it out. There were a lot of different-sounding songs, even on our first studio album. We're still trying to figure out what our sound is, and we're closer this summer than we ever have been before."
"When the World Seems Cold," Branchwater's debut album, sounds like a band trying to locate its sound, which doesn't fall neatly into any category. There's a lo-fi, punk feel to "Ride Symbol." On "Being Alone," guest singer Kelly Brennan takes lead vocals, over some warm, ringing guitar arpeggios, a swinging garage-organ break and a trio of backup vocalists (referred to as the "Branchlettes" on their Bandcamp site). You'll notice a few references to Band of Gypsys, Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Nighttime," a 12/8 blues with a stop-time element to the verses, reminds me of CCR's take on "I Put A Spell on You") and the Allman Brothers scattered around ("You Don't Love Me"/"Soul Serenade," which closes Branchwater's live album, was a staple of the Allmans' live shows in 1971). "Harper's Fairy" channels the Drive-By Truckers, while the title track, which closes the album, sounds like a late-night Mick Jagger/Keith Richards writing session.
That's not to say there's nothing original on "When the World Seems Cold," an album that seems to get better the deeper into it you get, but it's a snapshot of a young band in transition. "We want to have the blues influence, but we don't want to be labeled a blues band," Hall, who shares songwriting duties with Connelly and Brightly, said. "We've been dipping more heavily into funk lately. I think the whole point is to stray away from thinking too rigidly in too many grids… The stop-time thing in 'Nighttime,' for example: how do we take this element and make it not sound traditional?"
Hall and Carroll are a loud rhythm section, which forces the guitarists to match their energy. The departure of keyboardist Henry Kavle, meanwhile, has had a huge impact on their new direction, which gives the guitarists more space to improvise and interact with each other. "The sound isn't as muddy anymore," Hall said. "Mike and Chris do stuff together the way Duane [Allman] and Dickey [Betts] would do it, building on that."
On Saturday, June 28, Branchwater will return to Torrington's Warner Theater, the location of their first big headlining gig, with Switch Factory, another Litchfield-area quartet, opening. Their previous performance was captured on "Live at the Warner Theatre," available on the band's website. (Hall mentioned he'd like to record and release this one too, and to make it a yearly tradition.) Meanwhile, the band doesn't plan to go back into the studio until next summer, according to Hall.
"We like to have the songs written and to play them to death," Hall said. "Now that we've got a sound that's solidified, we want the album to reflect that."
BRANCHWATER performs on Saturday, June 28, at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, with Switch Factory opening. Showtime is 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. Information: warnertheatre.org.