Acoustic duo keeps it in the family

By Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal

HAMILTON – Growing up there were 10 years and 40 miles difference between first cousins Drew Toler and Blaine Watson, so any interaction occurred mainly on holidays and Sunday lunches. Now the two may see each other four or five nights a week between practices and shows.
“With other bands, you may have four members who have their own lives outside of the music. With us, I don’t think we’ll have any conflicts because at the end of the day, we’re still family,” Watson said.
Family is the solid foundation for their acoustic duo as the group’s name, Avenue Rhodes, derives from their mother’s maiden name and its acronym, AR, pays tribute to their late grandfather, Ardean Rhodes. The band’s first gig was for a breast cancer benefit for their relative, Melissa Rhodes.
Following the demise of a previous acoustic duo last year, Toler’s fiancée suggested asking Watson to provide vocals for the next outing. She wasn’t just on board, she was ready to watch it succeed.
Since the two combined their musical talents in February, they’ve already released their first album, become a regular fixture at venues in Tupelo and Columbus, and built up a set list of 70 originals and covers ranging from Lionel Richie and the Soggy Bottom Boys to Alice in Chains and Adele.
“If you listen to the CD, there are classic country songs, rock songs, pop-friendly songs and progressive modern country songs, so we really can’t peg our sound to one genre. It’s great that way because we’re not just
appealing to one audience with the whole thing, we’re appealing to everybody two or three songs at a time,” Toler said.
Toler has played guitar in garage bands and local bands like Lucky 13 and No Direction since he was 17. Watson has been singing at churches and talent shows from Texas to Alabama since she was 4, and has performed the “Star Spangled Banner” at Memphis Grizzlies and Redbirds games, sung at the Mid-South Fair and the Liberty Bowl and even auditioned for “American Idol.”
“My mom said if I didn’t use my voice, I’d lose it. I’ve had a lot of voice lessons growing up, but with this project, I’ve learned how to get away from the formal side,” Watson said.
While some of the songs from the seven-track debut CD were old songs Toler had written from previous bands, even the newer ones offered a sense of discovery for Watson’s different levels of vocal stylings.
The album was recorded at Pakertown Sound in Mooreville and engineered by Ronnie Harris. It was released in early December.
“Within a couple of months of us playing together, we had enough originals for an album and we’d made enough money from shows to record it. We figured that without a CD people could buy at the shows, it was money we weren’t making. We’re looking at this as a business,” Toler said.
Toler collaborated with former Lucky 13 front man, John Hall, of Dirt Brothers fame to co-write the album’s first track, “Cornbread Country,” which reflects growing up in the country.
Looking ahead to the new year’s goals, Toler and Watson plan on recording the new material they’ve co-written, sell more copies of the debut album, expand their list of venues and continue to get their name out to new listeners.
Avenue Rhodes album, MP3 and T-shirts are available through its Facebook and reverbnation.com pages. The MP3 downloads are also available on iTunes and other digital media providers.
ray.vandusen@journalinc.com