A butcher, a father, a singer | TheUnion.com

A butcher, a father, a singer

With a family to support, Aaron Ross didn’t daydream about quitting his day job as a butcher for a life of rock ‘n’ roll.

“I liked working with food,” said the 27 year-old songwriter and married father of two. Ross cut meat at SPD Market in Nevada City for two years before his music career took off.

His first break came last year. Ross traded his white smock and butcher knives for a microphone when the Sacramento-based art metal band Hella asked him to join the group as its singer.

This week, Ross celebrated another milestone when Grass Roots Record Co. released his first solo album, “Shapeshifter.”

“Aaron’s been a well-respected songwriter and singer in this town for a long time,” said Grass Roots President Marc Snegg. “Shapeshifter” is the third CD from the Nevada City startup, which focuses on producing local talent. In November, Grass Roots issued a compilation of songs by local artists, “Family Album.”

The company will expand its list this summer with solo releases by local artists Lee Bob Watson and Mariee Sioux. In a throwback to pre-digital days, Grass Roots has also started pressing vinyl 45’s. A single by Mariee Sioux is the first in the series.

Ross grew up in Grass Valley and was home-schooled along with six brothers and sisters. Encouraged by their musical parents, Ross said that his siblings often sang together at home.

Snegg compares Ross’s talents to folk legends Bob Dylan And Woody Guthrie. He said that he was impressed by Ross’ emotional depth and the lyrical imagery of his writing, which often veers into mystical territory.

“He writes about what he sees going on in the world,” said Snegg. “It’s religious, in a sense, but not in any organized way.”

With “Shapeshifter,” Ross has transformed himself from humble butcher to prophetic folk rocker. In the album’s nine tracks, his reedy tenor rises authoritatively above the acoustic guitars and rhythm section as he emotes about heady subjects such as truth and death.

In person, Ross appears shy, gazing at his hands as he talks about touring with Hella. Playing at large venues in big cities “cured me of my nervousness,” he said, although he still gets butterflies before he goes on stage.

“Shapeshifter” was recorded earlier this spring at Dana Gumbiner’s Station to Station studio in Grass Valley with a cast of local musicians: Cody Feiler on backing vocals, Luke Janela on cello, Jonathan Hischke on bass, David Torch and Neal Morgan on drums and Dan Elkan on guitar.

Ross will perform with harpist Joanna Newsom on May 26 at a fundraiser for St. Joseph’s Cultural Center before setting off for a two-month West Coast tour with other Grass Roots songwriters.

“Shapeshifter” is available at After the Gold Rush Records and through Grass Roots’ Web site, grassrootsrecordco.com.

To contact Staff Writer Jill Bauerle, e-mail jillb@the union.com or call 477-4219.

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