JP Biondo, who plays mandolin and sings in Cabinet, took on a new challenge recently: his first solo album, “Blue Radio.”
“Some of the songs are from a few years back that I kind of had sitting around,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to do something with them. I was playing in Cabinet at the time and some of [the songs] are a little bit more mellow than the Cabinet stuff. I had ’em sitting in my back pocket.”
Cabinet’s hiatus — the Northeastern Pa.-based nationally touring bluegrass-jam band has since returned but with less frequent shows — gave Biondo time to focus on the record, which he tracked at Windmill Agency with Eric Ritter; Biondo and Roy Williams produced. “Roy helped me shine ’em up and make ’em look pretty,” says Biondo, adding that Williams played piano, bass, guitar and sang. The album also features his cousin and Cabinet mate Pappy Biondo and frequent collaborator Chris Kearney.
Biondo has been playing live in various groups recently, including Band of Rustlers with Williams and brother Kevin Williams, “mostly cowboy tunes from the ’30s and ’40s.” “That’s pretty well spread out because Kevin lives in North Carolina and Roy lives in Brooklyn,” he says.
“More so lately I’ve been playing with my cousin Pappy in a duo called Owl and Crow,” which will perform Friday night at Karl Hall in Wilkes-Barre.
“We try to keep it original for the most part,” he says of Owl and Crow. “We incorporate a couple Cabinet songs. What we’re doing is mostly with acoustic guitar and two vocals, some blood harmonies with each other, but trying to keep it to our original stuff and some Cabinet songs that we’ve revamped to work for two guitars, and some old bluegrass and folk songs, which we’re putting a little spin on.”
The duo format “is a completely total change of pace from playing in a band with six or seven people in it,” Biondo says.
“It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a lot easier to work with one other person rather than five or six. It’s just nice to hop in a car with Pappy or Chris and now it’s the two of us, and setting up and soundcheck and all that stuff that came along with that is considerably easier. But I like also when it comes to the music, I love the stripped-down acoustic stuff. I like when you can hear all the little faults and everything. It’s just like that barren kind of thing.”
Cabinet recently got back together to play the Grateful Getdown, which it billed as its only festival appearance of the year. This week the band announced an Aug. 31 show with long-time cohorts Railroad Earth at the Pat Garrett Amphitheater in Bethel, Pa.
After years of road dogging, Biondo says Cabinet is a more casual enterprise now. And he’s very candid when asked about the hiatus.
“I think if you asked each individual everyone’s answer might be a little bit different,” he says. “I definitely needed a little break from it personally. I love the band. It’s been my baby since it started. I put my heart and soul into it, as all the guys did. We were a little worn down, and Pappy with a wife and kids, it was getting tough. Earlier on, same with Todd [fiddle player Todd Kopec]. From the family aspect, let them be with their children at home and be around the house and be a normal dad for a second. That was a factor.
“And this kind of thing happens in bands. You spend 10 years with each other, let’s take a little break. Let’s all remain friends. But the itch will always be there to want to play in that band.”