Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Family Crest, The Farewell Drifters, Natural Child

The Family Crest (NMT)
New Release: Beneath The Brine
Release Date: Today (February 25, 2014)
Record Label: Tender Loving Empire Records
Sounds Like: Hey Marseilles (NMT), Hey Rosetta! (NMT), Of Monsters & Men (NMT), The Polyphonic Spree (NMT), The Arcade Fire (NMT, NMT), DeVotchKa (NMT)
Location: San Francisco, Calif.

Back in August, we told you everything you need to know about this San Francisco mega collective and hinted at their forthcoming sophomore full-length release. Now that it's here, we're still impressed with the scope of the outfit's undertaking, which has been fortified with a more cohesive overall sound and theme on the record's dozen tracks, although one – "Love Don't Go" – first appeared on The Headwinds EP. Just wish those of us on the East Coast could see them attempt to execute their massive project on stage, as the bulk of their shows are closer to their San Francisco home base.

Come for: "Beneath The Brine" (serving as both the title and leadoff track, the epic number utilizes the unit's massive orchestral and vocal muscle to build both tension and grandiosity from the outset; the strings and percussion are both exceptionally voluminous and nearly manic at times; I love the operatic soprano wailing away in the background – a signature of their debut album, The Village – I'd love to know who she is)
Stay for: "The World" (easily the poppiest offering on the collection; the beat is jaunty, reflecting the best of The Decemberists (NMT, NMT) and the restrained instrumentation during the verses is a welcome counterpoint to the buoyant chorus; the band's agility is demonstrated on several occasions as it stops on a dime, no small feat for such a large unit with french horns and Hammond organs vying for their measure in the spotlight)
You'll be surprised by: "Howl" (as the second half of the New Orleans-style jazz funeral following "William's Dirge," its sufficiently celebratory and boisterous; if you remember the Squirrel Nut Zippers, they're doing a pretty good representation of that sound; the clarinet is fantastic, along with the muffled trumpets)
Solid efforts: "Love Don't Go" (it would be double-dipping to list it higher after picking it as my Come for selection in my review of The Headwinds EP last time, as little has changed since then); "The Water's Fine" (the jazzy flavor of "Howl" continues, with John Seeterlin's standup bass figuring prominently as strings and percussion battle between smooth fluidity and jagged staccato); "I Am the Winter" (gentile and simple – with flutes and oboes complimenting frontman Liam McCormack's acoustic guitar and warming vocals – it's a fitting trailer to the recently-wrapped Olympic Winter Games); "She Knows My Name" (the most intricate, chamber rock example on the record, with more operatic soprano – a non-sarcastic yay!); "As We Move Forward" (benefits from a driving pulse around which the instrumentation and verses stroke and swirl; McCormack's restrained phrasing in the chorus prevents it all from becoming too frenetic; has become among my favorite tracks on the album after repeated listens); "When The Lights Go Out" (takes far too long – about 1:45 – to get going in earnest, but there's some nice, understated folk here in the remaining 2:45 – or, as least as restrained as this particular brigade of musicians can get); "There's A Thunder" (does not belie its title, with low register percussion and orchestration suggesting stormy conditions that test – but do not defeat – the mettle of McCormack's protagonist); "Make Me A Boat" (a song that sounds much older than its age, like it was once song my monks shuffling through harmonic hallways, a notion aided by the wordless refrain in the first chorus; an epic bookend to match the opener)
Meh: "William's Dirge" (it's well-described by the second clause of its title, but its too short at 1 minute even to arrive at a fully-formed opinion)
Skip to next track: with so much effort required to set the band in motion, they wisely don't waste tracks

Farewell Drifters (NMT, NMT)
New Release: Tomorrow Forever
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Record Label: Compass Records
Sounds Like: Great Big Sea (NMT); Southeast Engine (NMT, NMT); Onward, Soldiers (NMT)
Location: Nashville, Tenn.

As this review serves as my third assessment of new Farewell Drifters material, they've now drawn even with The Gaslight Anthem (NMT, NMT, NMT) for most-reviewed act in this space. And this review comes at a time of transition for the quintet-turned-quartet, following the departure of violinist/fiddler Chris Sedlemeyer. While the unit previously focused on bluegrass with a pop vocal harmonies, the revised effort is rounded into folk-rock, with the introduction of more percussion, keyboards, horns and – gasp – an occasional electric guitar. Your blogger can appreciate reaction that the band is denying its roots – having noted in the most recent review of the group that "that same proliferation of new material also suggests that epic shifts in tone or style are not likely" – they don't stumble too much in the process of redefining their sound. Frontman Zach Bevill – sounding no less like Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin than before – works with his bandmates to retain the same top-notch songwriting while adding new instrumental flourishes that add a new dimension for the band.

Come for: "Bring 'em Back Around" (song structure should be familiar to those who know the group, but this time with drums and electric guitar; lyrically, its nothing earth shattering, but has a tad more sandpaper than chock pop-rock, reminiscent of Onward, Soldiers' "Cinder Blocks")
Stay for: "Modern Age" (this take on the new year, new vision theme could so easily be a Better Than Ezra number; the bell chimes and chorus vocals are both new elements that establish the band's new sound profile);
You'll be surprised by: "To Feel Alive" (the best mix of the group's prior identity with just a touch of rock punch; listen to that, it's a guitar solo!)
Solid efforts:  "Brother" (fantastic harmonies, but is it a tad sappy? Maybe); "Tomorrow Forever" (the banjo and fiddle paired with the marching snare beat are the heart of the track leading to the sing-along chorus); "Tennessee Girl" (simple lyrics, simple melody); "Neighborhoods Apart" ("I remember running through the wet grass..." Oh, wait, that's another version of this song; mandolin and fiddle parts that were such a staple of past Farewell Drivers tunes step out front again); "Relief" (a bit slow in the verses, but it finds its way to a pretty uplifting chorus full of solid harmonies and a hooky melody); "The Day You Left" (not incredibly elaborate, but has a mountaintop serenade quality); "Starting Over" (the paradox of the song's title as the closing number should be apparent; there's some good background harmonies along with Bevill's introduction-by-way-of-departure ode)
Meh: "Coming Home" (the definition of the troubles-of-the-touring-musician trope – Harry Chapin did it first and did it better in "Cats in the Cradle"; a bit wrapped up in country pop but, then again, its not hard to listen to)
Skip to next track: "Motions" (look, I get the point that the song's tone is to illustrate the lyrical theme of "going through the motions;" that doesn't mean its enjoyable, although I did enjoy the slow buildup of drums and strings at the close of the track)

Natural Child
New Release: Dancin' With Wolves
Release Date: (February 25, 2014)
Record Label: Burger Records
Sounds Like: The Sheepdogs (NMT, NMT); Dawes (NMT); Deer Tick (NMT)
Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Imagine you found a full-length, never-before released album of originals circa 1971, classic rock that's a grainy mix of blues and country. It's a sound that comes across as both spontaneous and deliberate at once. This is the rare level of output achieved by the Nashville-based trio on their third full-length release. It also marks the sort of great leap forward realized by Deer Tick last year on Negativity. This time, the group brought in session players Luke Schneider and Benny Divine, respectively to add pedal steel and keyboard/organ flourishes, further augmenting the classic rock approach parlayed by co-frontmen Seth McMurray (guitar) and Wes Taylor (bass) along with drummer Zach Martin.

Come for: "Don't The Time Pass Quickly" (comes across like a tongue-in-cheek Rolling Stones deep cut; fun and brazen)
Stay for: "Saturday Night Blues" (look up Deer Tick's "Dream's in the Ditch" and Dawes' "From A Window Seat" and play this track between them; one of those moments when you remember what rock-n-roll should be about)
You'll be surprised by: "Nashville's A Groovy Little Town" (brilliantly relaxed and more rusty than honky tonk)
Solid efforts: "Out In The Country" (I love that this song about the country is more bluesy and jazzy rather than slathering on bromides about pickups, Skynyrd and red clay); "Country Hippie Blues" (the rolling boogie groove from Taylor plays brilliantly with Divine's pedal steel, while McMurray's guitar figures are freeflowing without becoming too jammy; "don't go judge a cover before you read the book" is a fantastic line); "Firewater Liqour" (Taylor's inpatient bass lines and Divine's ominous organ parts suggest a scene of a backroads dive bar where things are just moments away from turning bad); "Rounder" (most countrified offering among the record's 10 tracks; effortless & twangy); "I'm Gonna Try" (conversely, this rubbery number tacks harder to the blues; its a little groggy at times, but not out of place for a deep cut); "Dancin' With Wolves" (the title track wraps things up nicely with a dusty trails ballad)
Meh: "Bailando Con Lobos" (a mix of Los Lonely Boys and Steely Dan, a trippy grove that The Sheepdogs have found multiple times on their recent records, but is unfocused at times; note the title is the album title in Spanish)
Skip to next track: not much to dislike

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