Album Reviews

In the country, that geographical region where beer is still sold at gas stations on a Sunday, there is a leisurely gait the residents adapt. It is one that enables you to take your time and still somehow manage to accomplish. To get ‘er done, as they say. Yet our backwoods march is a contradiction: It is slow movement, indeed, but it is efficient. It says that taking it easy is a way of life, as much a part of our bones as cheap canned American beer and fish fry’s. But it also says that you don’t need to rush to achieve and that sometimes, the fewest of words and actions gets the job done just good enough.

That country attitude is not all that different from Denver (the band’s) eponymous debut, the one we’ve been spinning on repeat for over a month now. It the best of country and the country. It is our gait and our attitude in musical form. It is home.


Denver, even in name alone, is a contradiction. The band is not bound to its namesake city but instead to Portland. It’s not composed of Willie and Waylon mockers but instead devotees. While shades of the bands it carries within it (Blitzen Trapper, to name just one) are most certainly evident, Denver is a wholly original endeavor. Though the music is perfection of the oldest variety once put forth by the likes of Waylon Jennings and Outlaws, it is newfangled country. That genre has sadly gone the way of pop, full of clichés and easily rhymed words (please see “honky tonk” and “badonkadonk”, Christ) but its roots are still firmly planted and Denver waters them just enough to make that tree grow with strong marrow that’s adverse to giving up or giving in.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is about this Denver album that has us completely enamored but head over heels we are. At heart, I am a song girl. I will fall in love with a collection of tracks if there is one song contained therein that swells my heart and takes over my head but with this record, I’ve come to understand the value of an album that seeks to tell a coherent story with songs that align and mesh. This is a heartfelt narrative and every song, a chapter. Heartbreak (I’m going home to the one I love / If she’ll let me walk though the door) and rejection (All those beautiful women / they don’t care for me at all) reign supreme but so does a musicality that betrays those afflictions. There is a hopeful banjo amidst “Hot Denver #1” and there is the staggering and completely unexpected voice of Birger Olson on “Keep Your Eye Out” that tells you in song “you might need some help”. There is an emotion too, in that tune, that relays that it’s okay if you do.

There have been plenty of albums that have tickled our fancy this year but slowly and so very surely, Denver’s release with Mama Bird Recording Co. is stealing our cold, sad heart and taking it on a mountain hike, with a rucksack stocked full of whiskey, finger picks, and rabbit pelts (get the album, get the reference, kids). None of it makes sense, how it is these things packed into an album could cure calamity as it does but this is a heart-full album. It is one that is imminently listenable, from note one to the slow fade out of “Rabbit Dancin'” and it is one we cannot recommend enough.

It is a poem for those who cannot stop howling at the moon, as Denver says, even though we know we very well should. It is a requiem for those souls getting by despite barely makin’ it.


Denver :: The Way It Is [mp3]

Denver :: Reno [mp3]

BUY Denver on vinyl / digital :: FACEBOOK :: Mama Bird Recording Co.

We’ve most likely written Balto at this point more than any other band. Because of…reasons. Because of love. Because this band might as well be Folk Hive’s mascot…

October’s Road, the band’s prior release, was a certainly a stellar pack of songs, if evidenced by nothing else than our massive love for it, but Monuments is a study in musical growth and near folk perfection. Singer-songwriter Dan Sheron’s voice was perfectly suited to those older songs of longing and cold but on this album he pulls off a new show of songwriting maturity with stunning accuracy. These songs take on a life of their own in a way they never could have if they were recorded solo and it’s quite clear this album is a huge step for this band. And it is one that should pay off if there is any good left in this world.

To be honest, I thought I knew the sound that defined Balto inside and out and it was great enough that I was in love with it at first listen. This new EP is a departure for Sheron and one that could have failed horribly if not executed perfectly — we see it all the time in the indie music world. But executed perfectly this EP is and I dare say that it will soon replace October’s Road as Folk Hive’s favorite Balto album.

It bears mentioning that the ragtag band supporting Sheron on this release is quickly reaching epic Bon Iver proportions. Justin Vernon has maintained tight ties with his friends in Megafaun and to a certain extent, Field Report, through his music and Sheron does the same here. Folk darling Philippe Bronchtein, of Hip Haptchet fame, covers piano and another Folk Hive favorite, John Glouchevitch of Jeannot covers banjo. We’d like to add that the latter does so immensely stunningly, by the way. Also involved: Sam Budish (a man we’ve met and can say with certainty, holds his liquor far better than we do), Charlie Freundlich, and Andrew Sheron of Everyman of Parts (who’s mandolin work here stands out). If that’s not a roster to peak your interest, well then, you’re just an asshole who hates good things.

The sum of the parts here is a collection of songs that has transcended what Balto was. This is a new chapter for Sheron and his band, whoever may be staffing it, and this sound is a page we will always eagerly turn.



BUY Monuments :: FACEBOOK

If there ever was a track one that so thoroughly summed up an entire album of musical stories, it would be ‘Creek Bottom’. If there was ever a song that did such a thing so very heartbreakingly, without even words, and yet with a soothing salve in its hand, I’ve never heard it.


We travel to cemeteries. We head down gravel roads on sunny afternoons. We traipse through fields we don’t own. If anyone asks we’ll tell them our grandfather was Elton and we will let them know that our great-great-grandparents are resting out in that expanse. Then, when they have heard our reasons for trespass, they’ll kindly show us the way and we won’t get lost in the thickets of wild blackberries, as abundant as the rolls of old barbed wire rusting in the corners of the fields.

There is a feeling doing these things. Even the least spiritual of us will draw a deep breath in the presence of 100 year old stones in an overgrown field, miles from the nearest house. They’ve been left alone out there, those humans which are responsible for our very own being, and there are no visitors. Save us, no one goes. Everyone has forgotten.

Doggerrel is a cemetery. It is those feelings of all those relatives that we can’t even say for sure existed. They are mostly unwritten lives and what happened then is lost in the heavy air — the making of friends and the losing of them. The love and the ruin when it came, the life and the death. These are things that you will one day know too and these are things that those after us will forget about our stories just the same. We are the wounded acres.


Fiddles and banjos and John Atzberger were made to tell these stories, those that have languished for years in overgrown pasture. As those lives trail off into the ether so do the things that today seem to us so important. Our eyes grow thick in love but eventually the sounds of that memory become as distorted as the record that plays along in the background of ‘Soft Like Abel’. We leave our blood in the same silo and none of us ever see it — we are too blind but we are all the same and we all disregard in the same degree.


The best of albums, the best of songs, always end up reminding us to hope. This album and these songs have no numbers. It is for all of us and about all of us. Olentangy John has crafted a tome in just 13 songs that details a life, typical and universal. It is a storybook, one suited for the country, yes. But it is also one apposite for every life, too. We are all born from those faded hues that we’re reminded of in the album closer, “Daylong Waltz”. We are all that indelible stringed instrument from “Creek Bottom”. We are all the wounded acres…


Olentagy John :: Daylong Waltz

Olentangy John :: Euclid



STREAM Doggerel via Spotify

BUY Doggerel :: SITE

It is my well-informed opinion that thoughts on The Strumbellas new album, My Father And The Hunter, would best be written while under the influence some type of drug. Mind you, I’m speaking of a substance that was grown in the ground, not one manufactured in a trailer house with blacked out windows (sorry for the stereotyping, Meth Heads), but one that might produce flowers and pretty leaves along with psychedelic properties.

My thinking is that a drug that petitions your heart and mind to open might make it easier to take this in. Upon first listen, my interest was piqued and upon subsequent listens I’m realizing, hey man, I’m not the sheriff here. Who am I to tell you what to imbibe before wrapping your melon in headphones and getting acquainted?


Amidst the raucous yet well-polished indie folk rock/alt-countrysounds emerging from The Strumbellas on My Father And The Hunter are songs that defy their upbeat tone and carry heavy loads. Talk of marriage and babies, redneck fights involving shotguns and the loss of big toes, and other various affairs that are already so well dealt with by those born, raised, and making music in the backwoods of America, permeates this album and yet, The Strumbellas hail from Canada,  otherwise known as America’s responsible, classy cousin that hides her alcohol consumption so much better than we. What a bitch…

But in the years since 2009, when their debut self-titled pack of jams was released, the band has matured while touching on bits and pieces that would prove too heavy for your everyday band and their brand of self-described ‘folk popgrass’ belies the stories contained on their latest album.

As a resident of the of the Buckle of the Bible Belt, I can attest that this shit can kill man. I mean, have you fucking seen ‘Winter’s Bone’? And yet here, it’s wrapped in vocals that were first dipped in perfection before laid to tape, making it all perfectly bearable. The stomps, handclaps, the banjo, the violin, and these sing-alongs (7 band members strong), carry the feel of a turn of the century family who lived these things and must sing about them to exorcise those demons.  My Father And The Hunter is soaked in anomalies but ones that work…and work very well.

(The Strumbellas perform “I’m Not The Sheriff” for CXCW. As stellar as knees on a bee.)

In all honesty, the layout of the last three tracks on the album — “Underneath A Mountain”, with its gorgeous violin riff there in the beginning, so reminiscent of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils “Road To Glory”, “Diane”, and the southern gospel-tinged “Carry My Body” —  on this album are so perfect in sound, lyric, and timing in relation to each other, that if those three were isolated and released as an EP, that alone would be enough to reserve a spot for this effort on the year-end best of list that’s still months and months away.

Obviously, we here highly recommend this album. And a word of note: Give these tracks a chance. Take a whole of two fucking minutes and listen to every second, as the best bits are buried there in the middle of this awesome sandwich. For example, please see “Left For Dead”.


The Strumbellas :: I Just Had A Baby [mp3]

The Strumbellas :: Underneath A Mountain [stream]

The Strumbellas :: Left For Dead [stream]

BUY My Father And The Hunter :: SITE