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Working Together: The Best Denver Music Collaborations

Nathaniel Rateliff and John Prine released two singles on December 13.EXPAND
Nathaniel Rateliff and John Prine released two singles on December 13.
Rett Rogers
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Music would be nothing without collaboration. When artists come together to create something new and different, their sounds become more interesting — often surprising. In recent years, Denver’s scene has nurtured many inspired alliances between local and national artists. Here's a list of some of our favorites:

Nathaniel Rateliff with John Prine and Courtney Marie Andrews
The Marigold Singles

The Night Sweats are just one outlet for Nathaniel Rateliff’s deep artistry. He’s always been a sensitive singer-songwriter at heart. And years before he became Colorado’s beloved-but-atypical soul man, Rateliff wailed cryptic folk songs that could make Leonard Cohen blush. It’s why Rateliff sounds at home fingerpicking dusky guitar lines and trading lyrics with John Prine and Courtney Marie Andrews on two of The Marigold Singles. Released in December, these covers of two Prine originals are part of a series of releases benefiting the Marigold Project, Rateliff’s private foundation that funds various social-justice nonprofits. Proceeds from these recordings are going to the Sierra Club Foundation and Harm Reduction Coalition. With these songs, Rateliff proves that his softer side is simply beautiful and that collaboration pays off.

Trev Rich
It has been a hard ride for Denver’s premier rapper, Trev Rich. Back in 2016, Rich signed to Cash Money Records and was immediately put on the map. Soon, the label started having legal issues and Rich cut ties, opting to drop his next albums himself. After lukewarm releases, a terribly timed DUI, a failed show, an ill-fated trip to Los Angeles and even a lost wallet, Rich was ready to give up the game. Then he turned to faith. His prayers were answered in the form of a new label signing, a sanctified new album Trap Gospel, and an amazing collaboration track for the Academy Award-winning animated film Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. The song, “Elevate,” including DJ Khalil, Denzel Curry, YBN Cordae and Swayvay, shows off Rich’s ability to write a tremendous hook that complements other standout emcees.

Esmé Patterson with Shakey Graves
“Dearly Departed”
“Dearly Departed” — written by Esmé Patterson and Austin troubadour Shakey Graves, aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia — tackles the timeless musical tropes of love and death. As Patterson tells it, she teamed up with Garcia on a fateful Halloween morning after meeting him on tour. Roused by the Halloween spirit, the duo wrote a catchy, tongue-in-cheek romp about ghostly ex-lovers. The immediate popularity of the tune and joys of working with another gifted writer prompted Patterson to leave her longtime Americana band Paper Bird and start a successful solo career.

Colorado Symphony with The Flaming Lips

The Soft Bulletin: Live at Red Rocks
In the realm of local music, major cool points go to the Colorado Symphony. The orchestra can shred classic favorites like Bach, but it also conducts surprising collaborations with mainstream artists ranging from Amos Lee to Tenacious D. In 2016, the symphony joined Oklahoma art-rockers the Flaming Lips to play the band’s seminal 1999 album, The Soft Bulletin, live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The wild, thematic soundscapes of The Soft Bulletin melded so well with chamber instruments, the Flaming Lips dropped a live album of the performance last November, played the album with the Colorado Symphony again last February, and have released an engrossing live video of “What Is the Light?” from the 2016 performance.

Ride Waves

If it isn’t obvious, GriZ, aka Grant Kwiecinski, works well with others. The Michigan-born, Denver-based electronica artist has been expanding his genre’s horizons with numerous partnerships and various instrumentation (Kwiecinski deejays and plays sax). 2019’s Ride Waves includes many acclaimed artists, deepening Kwiecinski’s groovy, catchy, “future-funk” sound. On “My Friends and I Pt. 2,” Kwiecinski brings out the playful side of Snoop Dogg. On “A New Day,” Matisyahu transforms an island groove into a social anthem. On “Bustin’ Out,” Bootsy Collins channels the vintage funk that he helped pioneer into bouncy rap verses. Wiz Khalifa pours his heart into the soulful "Find My Own Way." The point being: GRiZ’s genius is in getting the unexpected from those he works with.

déCollage with Naytronix

DéCollage frontman Reed Fox has created a world of psychedelic auditory wonder right here in Denver. Fox is the mastermind behind Moon Magnet, a local musical collective built around collaboration and avant-garde songwriting. It was out of déCollage’s progressive sounds, which fall somewhere between Animal Collective and Oingo Boingo, that Fox and a team of artists created Moon Magnet. Recently, déCollage teamed up with Naytronix (aka Nate Brenner), the bassist of an equally eclectic project: Tune-Yards. Together, Fox and Brenner wrote “U.R.theoneichoose” with musicians Ben Weirich and Kris Becker The song, which dropped on January 7, ties together Brenner’s gritty, fuzzed-out bass grooves with Fox's carefree production and earworm melodies from Weirich and Becker. When the song ends, it’s hard not to play it again.

Detour enlisted local musicians to play the 5 Pointers. Felix Fast4ward is Wex Abeo, entrusted with a two-pronged psychedelic harp.EXPAND
Detour enlisted local musicians to play the 5 Pointers. Felix Fast4ward is Wex Abeo, entrusted with a two-pronged psychedelic harp.
Michael Emery Hecker

Detour with Venus Cruz, Felix Fast4Ward, CRLCRRLL and Dameion Hines
5 Pointers

In November 2019, Denver artist Detour, aka Thomas Evans, took the Denver music scene eighty years into the future. To do this, he created an imaginary band comprising local musicians Venus Cruz, Carl Crrll, Felix Fast4Ward, and Dameion Hines called the 5 Pointers, then created an entire world of memorabilia dedicated to it. Red Bull Presents helped Evans turn Redline Gallery into a museum dedicated to the band, filled with interactive art pieces, including fake newspapers (because those are still around in 2099). Throughout the month-long exhibit, the 5 Pointers played live, bringing to life a message about black art and music in Denver. Five Points has long been home to Denver’s African-American community, making it a mecca for black culture. With this collaboration, Evans is showing that it still is.

Jesse Elliot with Anna Morsett, Natalie Tate, Lindsay Giles and Ben Desoto
Ark Life

Collaborations can quickly turn into bands. Take Ark Life, which formed in 2014 when musician Jesse Elliot stopped in Denver on tour from Washington, D.C., with his rock band, These United States. He ended up staying three months with fellow musician Lindsay Giles, who introduced him to drummer Ben Desoto and guitarist Natalie Tate. Once Giles began playing keys and These United States bassist Anna Morsett joined in, the five friends began jamming. Out came Ark Life. Elliot’s raspy voice paired with the tender harmonies of Morsett, Giles and Tate, recalled classic-rock favorites like Fleetwood Mac and the Band. Ark Life immediately made an impression, and soon the band was sharing the stage with major artists throughout the city. In 2015, Ark Life reached its rather abrupt end. Perhaps one day this collaboration will be reunited. Until then, the band’s only album, The Dream of You & Me, is still streaming on Spotify.

Members of Dead & Company, Snarky Puppy, Soullive and more
Denver Comes Alive

On January 31, members of Dead & Company, Snarky Puppy, Pretty Lights Live, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Soullive, the Disco Biscuits and a handful of locals will join up at the Mission Ballroom to jam Denver back to life in the new year. This mighty musical fraternization — which is sure to have too many guitar solos — is a spin-off of the Brooklyn Comes Alive series by Live for Live Music. Inspired by the improvisational nature of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, “Brooklyn Comes Alive” concerts are centered around pairing up amazing musicians and watching the magic happen. It’s about time that Denver had its own giant jam concert, given the city’s history with the genre. And with so many collaborations, this event is sure to be a treat for all local jam lovers.

Pretty Lights
Pretty Lights Movement

Before relocating to New Orleans and taking a break from music, Fort Collins-born electronica pioneer Pretty Lights, aka Derek Vincent Smith, embraced collaboration swiftly and often, from using an iconic John Denver sample to pairing up with the Colorado Symphony for an epic Red Rocks show. But in 2017, Smith upped the ante by turning his record label into the Pretty Lights Movement, built on the idea of collaboration and inclusion. Smith made strides in creating a community and family around the Pretty Lights Movement through tons of touring.

What are your favorite Denver collaborations? Let us know at editorial@westword.com.

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