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Group at Work: Cabinet

Brian Robbins | January 08, 2015

The instrumentation may evoke the hills of Appalachia, but the vibe is more like the valleys of Neptune. Gentle mists of guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and upright bass (bowed and ominous) swirl around your brain for the first minute or so before the vocal eases in: “Let it rollllllllllll…down the line…let it goooooo…yes, it’s time… .” The first thing you hear is a solitary voice that is soon wrapped in a blanket of brotherly harmonies. “She come ‘round my way…she come ‘round…” they sing before a breath. “My Caroline!” And the swirls implode as drums jump into the mix with both feet, and whomping thunder replaces the bass bow. The fiddle soars while the guitar, banjo and mandolin roll and tumble.

This is the music of Cabinet.

The name of the tune is “Caroline,” the leadoff track on the band’s latest release, the seven-song EP This Is Cabinet – Set II.

As stunning a song as it is, the real kicker is that the band’s founding members wrote “Caroline” when they were barely out of their teens. This sort of depth usually only comes from several thousand more days of living.

“Yeah, that was one of our earlier songs,” says mandolinist JP Biondo. “Pappy, Mickey [Coviello] and I wrote it together years ago, and it slowly evolved into what it is today. It’s really as true a Cabinet song as you can get—and it’s one that we all enjoy playing.”

“Pappy” is banjoist Pappy Biondo: He may be JP’s cousin, “but we’re pretty darn close to brothers,” he says. “His father and my father married sisters…so even though he grew up in Cleveland and I lived in Scranton, Pa., we saw a lot of each other. We grew up with a close bond.”

JP and Coviello, a guitarist, began writing songs together in high school. When Pappy moved to Pennsylvania in 2005, the trio started hitting local stages. Cabinet’s lineup evolved organically. Bassist Dylan Skursky and fiddler Todd Kopec first jammed with the members of Cabinet at open mics and quickly realized they’d found a musical home.

Cabinet played as a string band for about a year before Jami Novak sat in on drums one night. “That was it,” says JP. “Jami’s drums were a great fit—and the rest is history.”

Though a typical Cabinet live set may include a cover or two (Set II features their spin on The Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman”), the band’s forte is their originals, which span the gap from the aforementioned Hendrix-grass of “Caroline” to the far more traditional romp of “Poor Man’s Blues.” And make no mistake about it: This is a band of fearless jammers.

“Pappy always says, ‘Just let it happen,’” says JP. “And he’s right—that’s when we’re at our best.”