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C.D. On Songs: Barrel O’ Songs From The New England Americana Festival, Part I

March 29, 2011

Given the fact that this blog is called Boston Band Crush, I am going to assume that we are most of us Americans. In or near or somehow interested in Boston. Which situates you in New England. This alone should make the New England Americana Festival something of interest to you over the next few days, but I’m totally going to sweeten the pot here. The New England Americana Festival (or NEAF) kicks off Thursday night at Church, and today and tomorrow we’re going to warm you up with two old timey barrels full o’music from the included bands. It’s like you went up the road apiece to the general store and the kindly old shopkeeper played by James Cromwell just handed you a whole bag o’goodies. Except I am James Cromwell, and the goodies are files that are fully reliant upon 2011 technology. Stop splitting hairs. Start reading. And get downloading down the end of the post. You’ll know it when you see it.






The Kieran Ridge Band – “Untamed”
There is an almost immediate challenge to the senses of musical and emotional consonance. “Untamed,” you say, “Must be sort of wild, butt-kickin’ ride on a wild stallion!” but in truth, “Untamed” is a more measured and almost-stoic experience that relies upon its sentiment to carry the message rather than the more obvious elements of volume and wild sound.

“Untamed” is a wise character – the song seems to almost be singing more to itself than any external listener. This gives us a look at a certain sense of internal monologue – you may dance like no one’s watching, but what do you actually do when no one’s watching?* “Untamed” seemingly takes little notice of the listener; and in that sense, it creates a wholly genuine sound that puts on no airs. The band might be three guys, it might be 30 guys – it barely matters when the sound is not just so immersive but also so natural.

*Besides THAT, you sickos.

The Molenes – “Hot Damn”
Certain songs with certain titles demand certain atmosphere. Such is the case when you title your song “Hot Damn.” The song with this title must be suitable to make the listener echo the sentiments of the title. Anything less is a loss. The Molenes go all in – there’s no sipping the shot of burnin’ cinnamon liquor – they shoot it down and then slam their shotglass back onto the bar like an exclamation point. Hot Damn!

The heat in this song (and maybe part of the damnation) comes largely comes from a team of guitars that are strummed, bent, and slid all over the place to create a party of a song, where the saloon is a-rockin’ but it’s OK to come a-knockin’. The bright guitars color the walls of the track, even kicking in in the stop-time breaks. “Hot Damn” is a straight up dirty-floor boogie that comes out smelling like a rose despite its dusty corners.

Highway Ghosts – “Beauty Queen”
The guitar that starts “Beauty Queen” immediately stands up and cuts itself open long, languid pick-strokes that allow you to hear each string activate individually and resonate to form the high-speed desolation of the chords which in turn follow each other to create a progression that flips itself from minor to major and back again. This modal morphing comes thanks not only to the chords but the melody, which rolls around the progression, creating various tensions and moments in music.

The vocal have a 4/5 split; wherein the lead vocal shares some of its time with a much more western-flavored background vocal. It’s like North American Gordon Lightfoot running a duet with an American country singer. The lead vocal is strong, gruff and surefooted, whereas the background vocal runs a little higher-and-thinner. The lead even has some of that manly end-of-phrase waver, like Gord’s performance in “If You Could Read My Mind,” where the singer is very masculine, yet somewhat vulnerable and not afraid to show it. Because he’s sure of both himself and he powers of his “fine lookin’ beauty queen.”

Sarah Blacker – “Come What May”
“Come What May” operates on absolutely no one’s schedule but its own. The song takes what we would feel OK calling a riskily long time to get moving in earnest; kind of puttering around for around a minute or so before formally introducing itself. Sarah Blacker’s vocal tone, however, sustains the intrigue during the initial “off” section – the qualities of her voice create a situation where the listener is almost magnetically and inexorably drawn to continue listening to the track.

Blacker’s vocals aren’t really a “spotlight” section of the track – there are no huge, “Holy crap” moments to this performance, but it remains steadily interesting and sonically attractive. Blacker’s timbre is small but sturdy – she sings her way around corners and through tiny spaces under chairs and tables. Blacker is like the mouse that appears out of nowhere and leads you on a chase through sections of your house you didn’t even know existed.

Mount Peru – “Crooked Road Blues”
Sometimes the screen fades to black, and when it comes back, it is very, very apparent that we are in a wacked-out dream sequence. “Crooked Road Blues” opens up with a smash of the surreal; a sound that sets the bizarre darkened-corners scene of this song’s world.

The dreamworld of “Crooked Road Blues” calls in elements from other “worlds” (read: genres). The muted trumpet, for example, is not particularly famous for its placement in Americana music for some reason, perhaps there weren’t any hard-boiled detective stories back then. “Crooked Road Blues” plods along as if it’s staggering around a well-used battlefield, and still seeing the echoes and ghosts of that battle. It’s hard to tell whether we’re pre- or post- the end of the world here, but this song’s world is truly left hanging on by singed and tattered edges.

Glenn Yoder – “Okono Road”
Folk music is not just an excuse to buy some old wooden instruments and not plug anything in. Folk music, at its core and source of origination; was a communicational tool for the community. You know, the folks. It could stand to reason, then, that a song could be named after a place as a sort of map marker. Whether it’s memorializing a famous (or infamous) location or simply making it famous; Glenn Yoder’s “Okono Road” is a perfect example of the roots of Americana music, as redundant as that may sound.

It is further refreshing that “Okono Road” is not all zithers and plinkety-plink strings. Yoder and his minstrels break free of the “normal” woodsy trappings of the Americana genre and let things get a little bigger than one might expect. The recurring parts of this song make it as familiar as an old road that you have come to enjoy traversing. The modern elements of “Okono Road” make it bridge the time-gap between “Americana” and today’s sense of, well, “America.” Is Glenn Yoder a true American? Of course he is. Just listen.

Big East – “Camel Blues”
We must remember that if this idea of folksy Americana never pushed through, we’d all still be hanging out in the woods or in log cabins or something. We’d probably all be a lot more mellow and there’d be less traffic (but an infinite amount of more horses, so take your pick there).

“Camel Blues” carries with it a solid punch of energy; best expressed in the phrasing of the chorus. The action of the chorus is reminiscent of the action of a shotgun. The song loads up, pumps the action and then blasts away with a blasting end-of-chorus. This emphasis on the final part of the phrase gives the chorus enough punch to carry the whole rest of the song wherever it wants to go.


Cactus Attack – “Dean”
This music is supposed to be all-inclusive. That’s another nigh-lost inference from the name of the genre. Cactus Attack takes it upon themselves to try to make this title mean something again, man in “Dean,” a late-evening sing-along that makes space for anyone who wants to join in, regardless of vocal range or possible inebriation.

Inebriation might help capture the lazy spirit of “Dean,” different parts and pieces alternately join in and pass out; creating not a “gang” feel but more of a “group” feel. It’s exciting to be part of the “gang,” but is is sometimes more rewarding (and a lot safer) to be part of a group. Mainly because you never hear about “group-wars.” This track parties along the trail like a roving gang of people who you are glad are not driving. It’s easy to get caught up in the merry tide if you let it happen – and it is very, very easy to let it happen.

TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW…
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