Born in the small town of Dunn, North Carolina, Clint Alphin always had a straight path to becoming a successful businessman. His family ran a second-generation meat and seafood distributing company, and it was assumed that he might someday take it over, or do something similar. Although his family are all musical, and he grew up singing and playing in church and at school, most people in Alphin’s community considered music to be a hobby, not a profession. “In that town, there aren’t a lot of models for how you can be a professional musician. The perception is that you’re either world famous, or you’re eating beanie weenies out of a can for your whole life”. For Alphin, making the choice to pursue music was a hard-fought personal battle, but one that he found to be deeply true to himself. On his newest release Straight to Marrow, Alphin explores those moments in life that moves you to the bone, as he embraces and celebrates risk taking and dream chasing.
Straight to the Marrow is Alphin’s second record produced by Neilson Hubbard (The Apache Relay, Matthew Perryman Jones). The production is carefully constructed to suit each song, and the record moves easily between the bluesy “Ain’t That Something,” to the feel good “Bless Your Heart,” to the more serious “You Lied” while showcasing Alphin’s skilled tenor vocals.
On the title track (a song idea that Alphin nursed for years before bringing it to fruition) Alphin sings “Don’t we grow up?/Don’t we grow up?/We lose everything we love/Sometimes words go straight to marrow/Only God knows/where we wind up.” The song tells the story of two people who have held onto moments in their past for too long. With soft and inviting fingerpicked guitar and a heartfelt, friendly voice, Alphin makes these tough moments in life feel surmountable.
The album’s final song “Grandfather; Grandmother” honors Alphin’s late grandparents, Jesse and Allene, who were both singers, and who always encouraged him to pursue his passion despite it’s impracticality. “I think because my Grandpa and his brother were the ones to start the family business, he and my grandmother really understood what it means to take a risk and go for something”. In the last verse of the song, Alphin sings, “Life is one big shot/out of a bow and arrow./You better aim it right son/before you let it go.” While Alphin is now fully comfortable taking that shot and pursuing a musical career, it wasn’t always that way.
As a child, Alphin remembers attending a Randy Travis concert, who was one of his favorite artists at the time, and realizing in that moment that he wanted to be a professional musician. However, he didn’t tell anyone about his ambitions. “I remember having this knowledge, even at that young age, that this dream was something I should keep to myself,” he says. True to his family’s expectation, Alphin attended UNC Chapel Hill and got a business degree, only to realize that he had no passion for most business jobs. He hoped he might have more interest in music business, so he got a second degree in recording and production at Appalachian State University. Upon graduating in 2003, he moved to Nashville, where he started an internship at what was then called Emerald Studios. “It was simultaneously fascinating and intimidating”, he explained. “What I realized was that you have to pay just as many dues as a recording engineer in order to get anywhere, and I decided that if I was going to pay my dues, I wanted to pay them as a performer and work towards what I’d really wanted to do all along.” Alphin finally allowed himself to fully pursue his passion and began writing and recording music.
Life lessons from his grandparents have surely found their way into Alphin’s marrow, as he tours the country, bringing with him his hard-hitting songwriting and timeless guitar picking. For Alphin, chasing a dream has led to the release of four full- length albums, earning a spot as a finalist in the Kerrville New Folk competition twice, being named a Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist, and winning the Telluride Troubadour contest at the 2017 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. He was also the runner-up for the singer-songwriter award at the 2018 Fresh Grass Festival in Massachusetts.
One of his proudest moments to date has been performing as a finalist at the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. “My parents go to Merlefest every year, so for them to see me up there really doing what I loved was something very special.” With Straight to the Marrow, Alphin’s songwriting moves beneath the skin to the deeper beauties and sorrows of life, and is sure to move listeners to the bone.
The Bluegrass Situation - “Listen: Clint Alphin, ‘Straight to Marrow’”