In eight years, Durham's Midtown Dickens transformed from a lovably amateur duo into one of the most purposeful and refined folk outfits in North Carolina. It was one of the more impressive transitions made by any local band in that time. But now, after three albums and a recent rise to some national recognition, Midtown Dickens is more than likely finished, taking an indefinite hiatus as its members move on to different projects.
"I'm really proud of us and what we accomplished last year with Midtown Dickens," says founding singer and songwriter Kym Register. She and longtime friend and creative partner Catherine Edgerton started Midtown Dickens as a DIY crash course in writing and singing songs. Their early work resonates with winning simplicity, shambling banjo and guitar strums accompanied by the homemade percussion of clinking spoons and drumsticks banged on metal chairs and club walls. But starting with the 2009 sophomore effort Lanterns and continuing with last year's starkly beautiful Home, Midtown Dickens grew into a tight-knit quartet, perfecting their playing within lush arrangements steeped in the sounds of modern Appalachia.
"I'm proud of what Catherine and I did just as the two of us," Register continues, "what we accomplished with that band, starting it eight years ago and our technical skill levels and our sort of indifference to that. I hold that really dear in my heart."
Home brought Midtown Dickens to new levels of success, garnering praise from national tastemakers such as NPR. The band hit the road with corresponding force, touring more than they ever had before. But by the end of a late-2012 run with Lost in the Trees, the players realized they wanted to pursue other projects. Jonathan Henderson wanted to be more involved with Kaira Ba, in which he helps back energetic Senegalese kora player Diali Cissokho. Register and multi-instrumentalist Will Hackney realized their chemistry as a duo and are forming Loamlands, a collaborative project gearing up for a busy spring, including an opening slot for guitarist William Tyler at Durham's Pinhook.
"We're all doing our separate things," Register says. "I don't like leaving out the possibilities of playing music with my friends. It'd be nice if we would play together again at some point, but we probably won't."