It’s time to include an honourable mention for an overlooked (by me) early 2011 release. This is The King is Dead by Portland, Oregon folk/rock band, The Decemberists.
The folky five-piece group’s album is their sixth record and it is a vibrant, wordy triumph celebrating rural lifestyles and seasonal musings. As such, it fits that the band recorded The King is Dead in a farmhouse out in the Oregon countryside.
Musically the album evokes sounds of early rural rockers such as The Jayhawks, Neil Young and REM (Peter Buck guests on three tracks). Adding to this twangy frisson is vocalist Gillian Welch, who provides a keening undercurrent (Rise To Me, Rox in the Box).
The band’s frontman, Colin Meloy, is skilled at conjuring images of distant times and vanished ways of life in a poetic flowing style. Meloy’s strength is in unconventional and archaic word flow.
January Hymn and June Hymn are songs that Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny would have approached, but in a more febrile fashion. These tracks, influenced by the British folk resurgence in the ‘70’s highlight the strong pagan underpinnings in traditional folk music.
They succeed in being a personal and ambitious take on country/folk and rock that stretches itself beyond that context.
–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a local musician and freelance writer who reviews CDs for The Morning Star. His column, Street Sounds, appears every Friday.