Thursday, May 05, 2011

Low Anthem at Congress Friday

One of the highlights of the End of the Road Festival for me last summer in England was The Low Anthem, a neo-folk quartet from Delaware that has had me buzzing since I first heard the band's 2007 debut album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.

The Low Anthem is back with Smart Flesh, one of the best records I've heard yet this year. The album sounds like taking an afternoon long curious trip in some old dusty attic, finding bygone treasures and strange artifacts in musty drawers and boxes.

I reviewed the album in the new Tucson Weekly. Check it out below and don't miss the show:

The Low Anthem make folk music that ambles with a sense of curiosity, ducking into unexpected corners just to see what's been left lying around.

It's not exactly a throwback sound; it's a sound that never really found its footing. The Low Anthem can be soft and slow, leaning on an airy clarinet and the melding of four voices. Then the band turns around with a chugging, raucous tune that sounds like they're trying to wake the ghosts of old folk and blues musicians who played before the genres formed such distinct boundaries.

The band opens with "Ghost Woman Blues," a cemetery blues song written by George Carter in the 1920s. It's the perfect expression of the Low Anthem's strengths: ruminant lyrics, glorious harmonies and a sense of shedding years, decades at a time.

Next is "Apothecary Love," with its chorus of, "I've got the cure for the shape that you're in," applied to a steady succession of intoxicants. On "Love and Altar," singer Ben Knox Miller returns to the falsetto that carried "Charlie Darwin" on the band's breakthrough.

"I'll Take Out Your Ashes" features a plucked banjo and bowed crotales (an antique oddity) before fading into an old radio broadcast of a ballgame.

The band recorded Smart Flesh in a defunct pasta-sauce factory, a fitting origin myth for a band that sees wonder and possibility in a big, old, empty room.

Published May 5, 2011 in the Tucson Weekly.
The Low Anthem - Apothecary Love (live KCRW 2010-03-15)
The Low Anthem - Ghost Woman Blues (live KCRW 2010-03-15)
The Low Anthem - Evangeline (The Band cover) (live 2010-08-30)

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