MANHATTAN, NY—Michael Ford, Jr. was a music business major and singer-songwriter at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. He heard that fellow student and guitarist Mike Harris had formed an instrumental band called The Apache Relay. Ford hired the trio, which also included Brett Moore (keyboards, guitar, mandolin) and Kellen Wenrich (fiddle), to back him at a show. Ford dropped out of college, and the group recorded a 2009 debut album, 1988. Growing interest in the band’s album and live performances took them further and further away from the campus beginnings. The Apache Relay added Michael Ford’s brother Ben Ford on rhythm guitar and Stephen Smith on drums and recently co-headlined a tour with The Weeks in support of a third album, The Apache Relay, released on April 22, 2014.
At the Bowery Ballroom on May 20, The Apache Relay proved that its music is distinctively its own. Starting with a folk foundation, the band incorporated rhythm & blues vocals and a recently-developed wall-of-sound rock presentation to forge a rather unique sound. The Apache Relay somehow managed to marry acoustic near-Americana roots, ambient guitar sounds and pop rock melodies in a package that did not shy away from occasional reverb. Ford’s singing was soulful, and when he paused the lyrics, Harris packed simple, smooth and shimmering melody lines on his guitar or Wenrich played a fiddle line in a manner that never sounded like bluegrass. From time to time, the music wailed like arena rock anthems, but mostly it was a lively soft rock with an innovative indie edge. The Apache Relay’s performance was an ambitious statement that song-based music does not have to sound like or depend on standardized, clichéd genres.