Songs from the Wood

The Rex James Bros. make their own instruments!

The Rex James Trio is a group of young North Idaho lads with a passion for acoustic stringed instruments. We're talking guitar, upright bass, mandolin and fiddle here. That passion, however, transcends the music-making capabilities of these delicate handcrafted implements and runs deeper than a mere appreciation of tonal qualities and textures. These guys are, quite literally, into their instruments.

Born in the Dakota badlands and raised in the Idaho panhandle, brothers David Rex Powell and Anthony James Powell (the "Rex" and "James" of the Rex James Trio) settled into music performance after college. With David on guitar, trumpet and vocals, Anthony on upright (and sometimes electric) bass and vocals and Sandpoint native Avery Anderson rounding out the trio on fiddle, soprano saxophone, mandolin and percussion, the group plays acoustic folk in the vein of Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Jerry Douglas and David Grismond -- with no small amount of humor thrown into the mix. The Trio performs a family-oriented post-Thanksgiving show at the Panida Theatre in Sandpoint on Friday night with opening acoustic artist Truck Mills.

Out of the Wood Work, the Rex James Trio's full-length, self-produced CD, is a vibrant collection of original tunes all seemingly built around an Alice in Wonderland theme that showcases the band's considerable songwriting and instrumental chops.

It's also a sly comment on the group's other great love. In addition to performing acoustic music, the Powells also build acoustic stringed instruments in their workshop, the Luthier Shop in Sandpoint.

"As connoisseurs of fine vintage acoustic instruments, we decided to come up with our own exotic instruments," says David.

This endeavor was inspired by the discovery of a cache of 100-year-old furniture-grade mahogany in a Sandpoint home that was being renovated by their father.

In the Luthier Shop, brother Anthony works out the wood's blemishes and around those pesky nail holes to transform this most excellent material into mandolins, harp mandolins, harp guitars and octave harp guitars -- stringed instruments of amazingly rich tone and beauty. Some of his handmade instruments will be played while others will be on display in their current, unfinished state at the Panida show.

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