Street Sounds: Old is new

Review of Brit folk rockers Dry the River's new album, Shallow Bed.

Shallow Bed is the first full-length album from English folk rock band Dry The River; a recording that celebrates the overlooked tradition of British folk and rock begun in the 1960s by groups such as Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, and Led Zeppelin.

The five-piece group updates an old sound that has its roots in ballad forms and pastoral themes: a pre-dated sound in comparison to the protest and country/bluegrass origins of North American folk music.

Dry the River mines pagan countryside Britain for hymnal ballads and rural traditions that appear unheard and original, with hints of grandeur.

The big, ethereal sound of the record is courtesy of producer Peter Katis, (Jonsi, Interpol) and the soaring vocal mix of Peter Liddle, Matthew Taylor and Scott Miller that’s choir-like in their harmonies.

The group unintentionally touches on the Gregorian, but their appeal is earthier, a mix of seasonal songs and old poems that recall bygone rural themes (History Book).

The lyrics are poetic and obscure (“the familiar sting of the woodcutter’s swing to the tree” on Weights and Measures), the guitars are ringing, and the rhythm is big-beat driven.

Although the band uses unusual chord patterns, they resolve into epic tracks that become musically straightforward and lofty (Demons and Bible Belt).

Some of the grand character of Coldplay and the hushed simplicity of early Leonard Cohen is suggested throughout Shallow Bed, particularly on No Rest and Shaker Hymns.

The group has nailed down an inspired take on the spiritual and the secular, bringing in the drive of old folk forms for a mix of the church steeple and the stone circle.

–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a musician and freelance writer living in Vernon. His music review column, Street Sounds, appears in The Morning Star every Friday.