Michael and Juliet Simmons Dinallo have been a couple for more than a decade, and musical partners for around that long. But they’ve never been a band before this year.
The couple have already made separate marks in the roots-music world: Michael played lead guitar in the popular local blues band the Radio Kings and moved on to some notable production work, including soul giant Eddie Floyd’s comeback album in 2008. Juliet’s last album, “Dream Girl,” won her a nationwide cult following. Their new album as the Dinallos makes the most of Michael’s versatile guitar and Juliet’s graceful voice and sharp songwriting. They’ll celebrate with a virtual release gig, Saturday at 8 p.m. (from their Facebook page or thedinallos.com).
Interviewed together by phone, the couple said that becoming an official duo was a natural step. “We’re a stronger unit than before,” Michael said. “We’d been spending so much time on the road together that it made sense.” Added Juliet, “At first the writing together was the only hard part, since I’d only done a little bit of co-writing before. We had to learn when to step back.”
One starting point for the album was the rootsy ’70s rock they grew up loving. “Michael called me in Nashville and said, ‘Why don’t we do something that sounds like a Jackson Browne record? Not so much musically but that kind of sound, with the vocals way down in the mix. If you listen to an old Linda Ronstadt record it’s really varied, and we’re the same way. It’s a little mish-mosh of genres but trying to tell the story is the most important thing to me.”
“We never decided to make a certain kind of record, just a good one,” Michael said. “I probably got to play more guitar on this record than I have in the last 10 years. The blues sound is still there, I’ve just been distilling it, and I’m letting my country influences show as well. But it’s all that blues-soul guitar noise that I make.”
The one track that sounds nothing like ’70s rock is the actual ’70s rock song: Fleetwood Mac’s “Monday Morning,” which they reinvent with fiddle. Said Juliet, “We tried doing it straight, and it was kind of lame. When we were touring we kept looking for songs that would work as a duo, and that one started working once we turned it into bluegrass.”
The family approach did influence some of the music. In the case of “Lemonade,” it began as a straightforward pop song but transformed into a country singalong with their daughter Annabel, who was 9 at the time, singing lead. Said Juliet, “I sang it straight and it wasn’t going right, then Mike had the idea to make it a Johnny Cash train song. I asked Annabel to sing harmonies, and she was so good that I gave her the lead. We’re working on an animated video, to make it even more lighthearted.” Annabel will join them for the webstream as well.
The couple divides its time between Boston and Nashville, and the album was made in both cities. A notable Nashville player, Will Kimbrough (of Steve Earle and Jimmy Buffett fame) duets with Juliet on one of the highlights, “Purgatory Road.” She said, “I was driving around Rhode Island and saw that street name on a sign and knew it had to be a song. There’s definitely a lot of my personal experience in there, remembering my boyfriend when I was 16 and the car he had, with a 318 engine. That seemed a good direction to take it, into a Mellencamp kind of thing.”
They’re old hands at webstreaming by now, having done a few impromptu shows from home and a virtual show for South by Southwest. Saturday’s will be more formal with a pair of locally known guest singers, Anita Suhanin and Amber Casares. It will be the second one they’ve done this month, following a show for the virtual South by Southwest. Said Michael, “Basically, we’ve just set up a camera and a lot of microphones. At 8 o’clock, we’re just going to push the button and go.”