People who’ve read this site somewhat regularly since its inception have probably garnered that I don’t throw my hat in the ring with the local folk-haters. By contrast, I love folk music and particularly Provo’s unique brand of indie-folk that increasingly populates our venues. I know some wish for “more rock and roll” in our little town but, to me, good music is good music — and if there’s one thing our local bands do really, really well, it’s creating great folk music. Nowhere was that better on display than at Velour on Saturday evening.
The second night of Velour’s four-year birthday bash was heavily slated with local folk heavyweights, beginning with relative newcomers The Archer’s Apple. Featuring a unique set-up that doubles down on percussion (i.e. using two drums sets on most song), frontman Seth Hanks led the band through a rousing set of folk numbers that won many a new convert amongst the folks standing near me.
The Archer’s Apple makes a type of folk that is insanely enjoyable and lyrically driven, but that employs just enough experimentation and instrumental excellence to set it apart from similarly inclined folk-pop bands. Not to mention that “Bang Bang” (which also showed up on our recent local music compilation) is one of my favorite songs I’ve heard in the last year. With the band currently in the studio working on their first album, I expect to hear a lot more from The Archer’s Apple in the near future.
Second act Desert Noises have recently taken quite a bit of time off while band member Kyle Henderson played with friend and labelmate Joshua James on his recent world tour. James returned the favor on Saturday, stepping in to play bass for the band when regular bassist Riley Johnson couldn’t make it due to some mysteriously vague “legal issues.”
It’s been interesting to watch Desert Noises grow as a band from the time they introduced themselves to Provo and the world with their EP release last year to today. While they still harbor a sound reminiscent of a Band of Horses-Fleet Foxes lovechild, their newer songs seemed to have branched out in new and interesting directions, even appropriating some 1950s pop harmonies to make for an intriguing blend.
As always, their musicianship was flawless on Saturday evening and, while vocalist Henderson’s voice may crack on occasion when he reaches for the uppermost parts of his range, the audience can feel his impassioned plea, beautifully complimented by the harmonies provided by his brother (and drummer) Trevor. No one knows where Desert Noises will eventually end up — certainly the sound is becoming more and more interesting and the requisite talent is present — but with the recent national attention the boys have been increasingly receiving, it wouldn’t surprise me if Provo is far from the band’s last stop.
Speaking of upwardly mobile Joshua James proteges, Moses once again proved themselves worth their salt on Saturday evening. Currently recording their debut, full-band album with James, Drew Capener and company turned out a great set of folk-rock tunes, lending credence to my opinion that they’re becoming one of Provo’s most consistently excellent bands. While Moses isn’t necessarily flashy by any stretch of the imagination, they certainly do bring their “A” game to every single show, marked with tight vocals and even tighter instrumentation.
That trend continued Saturday night as the band bounced effortlessly between spare acoustic ballads and the roaring, jet-propelled melodies of their up-tempo country-rockers. Capener’s voice was flawless, reaching seemingly impossible heights on the soaring chorus of set opener “Pictures.” Every time he reached even higher in his register for yet another note, I was absolutely sure he would crack or come up flat, but it never happened — and he didn’t even go into a falsetto. With their aforementioned debut album slated to drop this spring with the always excellent James behind the control panel, you can consider me first in line for what is sure to be a gorgeous piece of art.
Rhombus favorite Isaac Russell had a bit of a rough go of it on Saturday evening, battling through a cold to perform his headlining set. Luckily, even a rough set for The Artist Formerly Known As RuRu is a good one. While this was far from the young phenom’s greatest performance and it was obvious he was straining to control his usually pitch-perfect croon amidst the sickness, Russell still turned in a solid effort, heavily imbued with new songs and glimpses of what his ardent fans can expect from his forthcoming major-label debut.
His nearly six-month recording process with production wizard Dennis Herring in Oxford, Miss., has undoubtedly created a more pop-sensitive Russell — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. More mainstream-friendly rearrangements of favorites like “Golden” and “Anniversary Song” came off smelling like a bubble gum-flavored rose, while new tracks “See You Soon” and “My Heart” redefined the term “soaring melodies.” Russell even mixed in a few digitally sampled beats (heavily indebted to his great love of rap music) that produced a different and interestingly layered sound never before heard from the teenage bedroom folkie.
If I were to predict the future career arc of Isaac Russell, Columbia Recording Artist over the next few years, I would undoubtedly say supporters can expect a lot more of what they saw on Saturday night and a lot less of the vulnerable-boy-with-his-guitar meme that originally endeared him to so many Provo music fans on his debut album. Though I’m as big a fan of his gorgeous 2008 LP Elizabeth as anyone, it’s entirely logical that Russell will (of necessity) develop a more accessible, poppier side to please his new Columbia bosses.
It’s not that Elizabeth isn’t great music in and of itself (it certainly is), but it’s also pretty damn depressing — and I don’t know too many people who are actively seeking a new favorite artist to make them feel like life is bleak and ultimately meaningless, especially these days. Though the purists (including my wife) may never feel entirely comfortable with it, this is a path young Russell must take — and one, he proved Saturday, he can do especially well. I (and many of his adoring fans, both old and new) will certainly be along for the ride.
Steve Pierce is editor and co-founder of Rhombus.