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Ithaca’s Freight is set to release their debut album, ‘Hard Worker’

Freight will release its debut album, "Hard Worker," on Oct. 9. From left: Liam Lawson, JP Payton, Chris Ploss, Loveday Greene, and Walt Lorenzut.

Built on the creative partnership of singer-songwriter JP Payton and guitarist Liam Lawson, Ithaca-based Americana quintet Freight has become one of the busier bands in the Finger Lakes region. It’s fitting, then, that the group’s debut album is titled “Hard Worker.”

Due out Oct. 9, the album’s 10 songs traverse a wide musical terrain, blending country, funk, rock and psychedelic influences with traces of Wilco, the Grateful Dead, John Prine, Dave Alvin and other roots-music staples – all woven together to create blue-collar backdrop for Payton’s warm baritone vocals and deeply personal lyrics.

Freight performs at the Abilene Bar and Lounge in Rochester on Wednesday, followed by an album release show at the Downstairs in Ithaca on Sunday night. Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters, from Louisville, Kentucky, will share the bill at both shows; Daphne Parker Powell (formerly Daphne Lee Martin) also will perform at the Abilene.

The gigs are a bit of circle-closing for Payton, a native of southern Indiana who first played in Ithaca in 2017 as a member of Dittmeier’s band. The woman who booked that show soon became his wife, sparking his eventual move to the area.

Within 36 hours of his arrival, Payton met Lawson, a native of Toronto who was hosting an open-mic night. They soon started playing out in local cafes and quickly realized they were developing a unique sound together, with Lawson’s distinctive electric guitar licks (he uses a Hipshot B-bender on his Telecaster, with heavy flatwound strings) complementing Payton’s acoustic guitar rhythms and homespun vocals. They founded Freight in early 2020.

“I brought a lot of songs with me from Indiana, but my partnership with Liam has been trying to start anew again and trying to innovate,” Payton said. “I think this album has been another step in my musical evolution. If you look back through my recordings, you'll see a continuum – there’s what I've sort of always done, but it's definitely taken on a newer kind of flair I couldn't have achieved if I wasn't living here and breathing the same air as y'all.”

The cover of Freight's new album, "Hard Worker," coming out Oct. 9.
The cover of Freight's new album, "Hard Worker," coming out Oct. 9.

In October 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Payton and Lawson headed to Sunwood Recording in Trumansburg, New York. They started laying down tracks with studio owner and multi-instrumentalist Chris Ploss, who played everything from drums and organ to bass and “feedback guitar” on the album tracks. Ploss and bassist Walt Lorenzut, who joined during the sessions, eventually became full-fledged band members, both contributing to the group’s evolving sound.

“It began to grow into this thing where there’s syncopation between the drums and the guitars and the two guitars are rarely playing together but more like talking to each other,” Lawson explained. “At the same time, my lead lines and JP’s vocals are also talking to each other. So, for all intents and purposes, we're playing funk. It's just country funk. But over time, as we started playing the songs live in the studio with Walt and Chris, that just became one flavor. And we realized there were other dimensions that we could explore, from a bit of actual classic country to weird psychedelic folk.”

Colleen Countryman, who had joined Freight in early 2021, also contributed keyboards to many of the songs but left the band after the album was recorded. Payton’s younger brother Ryan Payton played pedal steel on several songs, and his friend Jaime Gartelos contributed cowbell. (A few months ago, singer Loveday Greene joined the group, adding an animated presence onstage.)

Lawson and his wife are expecting their first child in November, so the band plans to take a hiatus for a couple of months. But Payton is already booking shows for next year and hopes to tour beyond upstate New York.

“That's always been important to me and us,” Payton said. “Part of music is travel, and always will be for me. We have several connections to the Midwest that we’ll be able to follow up after the album is out. We’ve gotten to the point where we can start doing some of those 10-day tours, even with our families.”

Emma Underwood

If you go

Who: Freight, Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters, Daphne Parker Powell

Where: Abilene Bar and Lounge, Rochester

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5

Cost: $10 at the door

Who: Freight with Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters

What: Freight album release show

Where: The Downstairs, Ithaca

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9

Cost: $15 at the door, includes copy of the new CD and digital download

Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters
Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, and its affiliates.