Kym Register has had a hell of a year.
In the final weeks of 2015, The Pinhook's owner learned that that, due to a few years of accounting errors, the club was eighty thousand dollars in debt to the state of North Carolina. Register rallied the community to pitch in to save the Main Street hub for music and more, through a crowdfunding campaign and four Save the Pinhook concerts,
These days, not only is The Pinhook alive and well, but, in late September, the pizza-slinging truck Pie Pushers opened its brick-and-mortar nucleus in the space above the club. But in addition to running one business and being a landlord, more or less, to another one, Register's spent much of the year preparing Sweet High Rise, the full-length debut of Loamlands, an increasingly powerful folk-rock ensemble led by Register and Will Hackney.
On opening track "Another Reason," Register repeats a refrain of, "Got to keep on walkin'" throughout the chorus. "I know it's hard to do, but you just start with your left foot," Register sings, offering warm encouragement. That undercurrent powers the entire record: keep going, keep pushing, keep your head up even as the road gets tough. The song has been in the band's live sets for a few years, but here it feels like a mission statement.
Sweet High Rise soothes even as it stands firm. The verdant mix of keys and guitars sounds distinctly Southern, while keeping its distance from twangy tropes. Even at moments when Register's voice sounds weary, it never wavers. "I'm not afraid to love you," Register sings on "You the Mountain," and when Register's voice cracks on a higher note, the moment feels like a lightning bolt of raw humanity. It's a deeply emotional album, peppered with moments of tension, sadness, yearning, joy, and pain.
Those familiar with the geography of downtown Durham understand the record's sly title right away. Directly across the street from The Pinhook is a massive bummer of a pit, in which a twenty-seven-story building will grow over the next year. It will be a literal, looming indicator of the shifting demographics of Durham and the steady influx of out-of-town money. Register has long vowed that The Pinhook is a safe, supportive place for everyone in Durham: artists, activists, people of color, LGBTQ people, and all others on the edges—in short, the kinds of folks in danger of being pushed out by high-dollar endeavors. Sweet High Rise is the natural musical extension of Register's standard operating procedures.
Register saves the best for last on closing number "Get Ready." On the simmering track, Register sings, "I won't give up now, I won't give in to the ruse," along with explicit notes not to trust police or the news. It's a prayer for change, a call to action, and a confident assertion of the self: "I won't be afraid to stand in the way, you can't take us down day after day."
As a business owner, community member, and creative mind, Register may be one of the strongest forces standing up for underdog Durham and the people who breathe life into the city. We might not have much of a choice on the high-rises going up, but with forces like Register at work on the ground, we've still got a bright spark of hope.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Fertile Ground"