After many years, two albums, an EP and countless live shows, North Carolina bred folk-rock band River Whyless talk of reaching a "necessary and collective understanding" in the genesis of their new record 'Kindness, A Rebel'. In fact, much of the information in the album press release and on their website alludes to something of their personal and collective reappraisals "For many bands, and especially those who've been together for several years, recognizing maturation, progress or palpable evolution is a daunting task. Is it continued creative accomplishment that signals progression? Or perhaps it's profitable commercial endeavours? The answer is often quite unclear". At first read, this is potentially a little off-putting and to be honest I was fearful of having to review an album full of maudlin introspection, but more of this later!
For now it's on to things more musical and River Whyless, comprise of Ryan O'Keefe, vocals, guitar, Halli Anderson, vocals, violin, Daniel Shearin, vocals, bass, harmonium and Alex McWalters, drums. This is almost a core set up though and with three lead vocalists and a wide variety of instrumentation beyond the above, their recorded sound has a very broad palette. Further, although each of the band members are songwriters in their own right, the sense is that this album was made as a collective and they, to quote the press release again, "coalesced around each other's creative vision, and fully embraced the beauty of their enduring partnership".
Opener 'All of My Friends' enters on a bassy, morse code type bleeping over spacey drones and then a collective harmony vocal before Halli's voice takes the lead line. She has breathily pure tone with a lovely 70's folk feel to it that's used very effectively throughout the rest of this quirky, attention-grabbing track.
'Born in the Right Country' is more straightforward, rootsy Americana rock with its drum and muted guitar intro and strong, gravely, male vocal reminiscent of 'Kings of Leon' as the song opens up into a hooky chorus. This is followed by the sublime, largely acoustic soundscape of 'Motel 6', which successfully sells itself as a song born to be played over the dusty streets and tumbleweed opening credits of some yet to be made road film.
Any reverie is rudely interrupted by the joyously intoxicating 'Van Dyke Brown' which, at the risk of stating the obvious, sounds the like the best song that never quite made the final cut of Paul Simon's epic 'Graceland'. Then it's on to the starkly chugging rhythm and ensemble vocal of 'Failing Farm' and the courtly, Pink Floyd esque feel of 'New Beliefs'.
Track seven, 'The Feeling of Freedom' is dizzying, percussive pop with its exuberant 'whoops' and rhythmic pulse which makes a delightful detour in to world music territory with its swooping violin solo at around one minute forty five seconds before its all rattled through, done and dusted in under three minutes.
'War is Kind' is succinctly sweet, acoustic singer-songwriter fare and 'Darkness in Mind' all thump, bass heavy, trippy and sultry before the discordant intro of 'Another Shitty Party' belies the glorious 60's vibe harmony vocals and a drum track so crisp and sharp it deserves it own mention in the credits!
Final song 'Mama Take Your Time' is another timelessly acoustic, more identifiably Americana track displaying all their vocal strengths, both individually and collectively, that conjure up fine resonances of The Band in their pomp. A great song, great performance and a great way to end an album.
Well, my earlier concerns about maudlin introspection and the like were mercifully unfounded. In fact, if anything the River Whyless sound released and liberated from any former shackles, be they personal, collective, musical or otherwise.
The sheer creativity, inspiration and eye for detail on display here is very impressive indeed. Factor in the fine recording and production values, magnificent performances and endlessly engaging song writing and 'Kindness, A Rebel' really is something quite spectacular.
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