Shooting From The Hip: New Roots Revival Underground

Idaho native Justin Ringle (vocals-guitar-piano) formed Horse Feathers in Portland, Oregon, with partner Peter Broderick (violin-banjo-mandolin), releasing promising ‘06 entrée, Words Are Dead, on a small boutique label. Joined by Broderick’s sister, Heather (cello-celeste-zither), and newly signed to flourishing Kemado Records, Horse Feathers continue to draw more from idyllic traditional folk influences than laid-back Country & Western inclinations on exceptional follow-up, House With No Home. Oft-times, Ringle croons so quietly it’s like he’s on his last dying breath. A light orchestral Classicism and sparingly pristine ambience sometimes bordering on soporific anesthesia haunts each obliging threnody. The pace picks up occasionally to mid-tempo level, most resolutely on soothingly seething multi-harmonized campfire convocation, “Mountain Shifts.” Pleasingly, its sweet lithesome uplift retains the same rustic zeal the slower pondering fare does. Ringle’s temperate flinty voice perfectly suits softened fiddle-tinged piano-trickled elegy, “Helen,” delivered in a ghostly Nick Drake manner and engaged by solemn backup vocals at the louder Belle & Sebastian-evoked verses. Melodious commoners’ covenant, “Working Poor,” could be House With No Home’s finest moment, flaunting Horse Feathers’ richest harmonic interaction. After the somber piano-trumpet tranquility of instrumental interlude “Father Reprise” concludes, the longingly redemptive “Heathen Kiss” preserves the understated minimalist poignancy displayed before and after. Serve warmly to low key romantics.

Though not as boorishly old-fashioned as O’Death nor as moderately centrist as Fleet Foxes (or as warmly tranquil as Horse Feathers), the New Frontiers certainly hold up well alongside their neo-traditional competition, even if they don’t stumble upon the groundbreaking territory its bold name implies. On the Dallas quintet’s debut, Mending (The Militia Group), they dip one foot in hauntingly sad folk-rooted depressants and the other in contemporarily countrified conventionality. Less rockin’ and more roots-y than Ryan Adams perhaps, Nathan Pettijohn’s soaring baritone whir wavers above the buoyant symphonic slopes. On an emotional lyrical level, Pettijohn appears to be getting his feet back on the ground, both physically and spiritually. A sweeping desperation lingers through Mending’s entirety. A strong, inescapable religiosity empowers the graceful “Mirrors,” where angelic multi-harmonies reiterate the dignified passage of ‘we will pick you up/ we will never let you go’ prior to Pettijohn’s content manifesto, stating ‘I’ve found a peace with the world.’ Interestingly, “Spirit And Skin” combines the acoustical retrenchment of Kurt Cobain’s most forthright confessions with the awed hush of David Crosby’s willowy wisp, “Guinevere.” Tenderhearted ballad, “Passing On,” allows flute-like synth affects to enter the breezy atmospheric lull while “This Is My Home” nearly slips into the ether altogether. Despite the rueful sorrow seeping into New Frontiers’ fragile core, none of Pettijohn’s earthy songs seem helplessly hopeless. Righteously, pensive closing number, “Who Will Give Us Love?,” offers no firmly pious answer, just blind faith, hoping ‘Jesus is the one/ but what if he doesn’t come.’

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