In the Madison music scene, people move and babies happen. The scene marches to the beat of life's circumstances, and Dear August is a case in point.
When the Americana band began recording its third album last fall, the members doubted they'd ever have the time or the money to make copies of it. Singer/songwriter Adrienne Applegate was seven months pregnant. Guitarist Dan O'Brien was leaving town to spend six months in Arizona. The band's uncertain future inspired the name of its new album, Act Ready.
"It was this idea that even if you don't know where any of this is going, you pretend that you're prepared for it," says Applegate. "You act like you know why you're doing this."
A year later, Dear August has finally burned its album. The CD release party is Friday, Nov. 26, at Restaurant Magnus.
One thing is certain: Uncertainty still defines this band. O'Brien has been back from Arizona since May, but soon after this show, he'll be moving to San Diego.
"He was the founder of this group," says Applegate. "So we're bidding farewell to the band this weekend, at least for now." Dear August plays a second CD release show at the General Store in Spring Green on Sunday, Nov. 28.
The Spring Green show brings the band back to its roots. Dear August formed in 2002. The group, which originally performed as Box Elder, was launched when former member Tara Martin met Applegate's current husband, Tyler, at the General Store. "We were more of an alt-country band back then," says Applegate. "We played sing-alongs inspired by playing live in a bar. We were more of a party band."
But, Applegate says, on her own she writes more introspectively, quietly, seriously. "I feel like we went from writing sing-alongs to writing songs that are more reflective of what I think about. It's a little more honest, mature or open."
Act Ready is spacious, acoustic and rootsy, but leans no more on country than pop or rock. Doug Milks' mandolin gives "Like You Do" an easy, rustic feel until the song shifts to a dissonant, unsteady vibe. It's a sound that supports the song's reflection on a relationship in turmoil.
The up-tempo percussion of "Perhaps" infuses that song with urgency. Applegate's vocals add the sense of determination to become something more. "Perhaps you'll finally catch me standing up at last," she sings. "Screaming kindly, politely, no."
"It's a song that revolts against being too passive," says Applegate.
"Blue Green Diamonds" reveals the way Applegate's compositions have matured. "I wrote that one for my late grandmother," she says. "She had blue-green eyes and was a fiery musician. My grandfather was a traveling medicine man, so she played road shows along the way."
The tender and nostalgic verses speak to a passionate life that didn't fit a mold. "When I grew up, was gonna learn how to fly planes like a girl they said was insane," sings Applegate. The chorus punctuates the song with a declaration of beauty: "Your eyes shine like blue green diamonds."
Dear August's uncertain future doesn't bother Applegate, who says she's grown to accept the idea that musical journeys don't have to be typical.
"When I first started, I had all these rules in my head about songwriting and which songs we should play where. Now I question all that. Now we're bolder. Now we're comfortable going someplace weird."