I haven’t been listening to a lot of folk or Americana recently, I suppose. My taste for lo-fi music has definitely crept into this part of my record collection as well, but I don’t seem to have found as much hesitant, wonky, analogue folk music out there as I have guitar band music, but that could easily just be because I am looking in the wrong places.
I’ve got three albums which fit into the loose (and admittedly ill-defined) genre of Americana on fairly constant rotation at the moment: this, and the new records by John Murry and The Handsome Family. None of them could be described as lo-fi really, so I’ve taken some time to re-adapt to a sound I used to absolutely love about six or seven years ago. I know there’s a lot of contrivance in the rough, haphazard sound of lo-fi garage music of any genre, but I do nevertheless find the cleaner alternatives to lack a little energy and looseness in comparison.
That’s not to suggest that Vandaveer make smooth, high fidelity music by any stretch – this was mostly recorded live – but it is rich and rounded and they don’t court the deliberate breakdown at the edge of their equipment’s capabilities like so many who look to emphasise that DIY sound.
The richness presumably comes from the lovely, unhurried vocal delivery of Mark Heidinger himself, because the actual arrangements are pretty sparse. Vocal, a bit of guitar, and drums to underpin it all, and banjo, fiddle and piano here and there to add detail. The contribution of Rose Guerin can’t be understated either – her voice is absolutely lovely, with just a touch of old-fashioned quaver to it, and she works as a perfect foil to Heidinger throughout this record.
Performed in a manner which pays tribute to what I suppose you’d call the essence of folk music. They don’t expand too much on this in their press release, but I am assuming they mean the recycling and reinterpretation of much loved songs, group singing, and a strong sense of the social nature of the music. A lot of these – Banks of the Ohio, Knoxville Girl, Down in the Willow Garden, etc.. – are fairly well-known folk staples, but there is the odd appearance of something contemporary, such as Tom Waits’ criminally obscure classic Poor Edward.
The band have an extensive back catalogue, best sampled on their Bandcamp page, and a fascination with murder ballads, which is apparently what led them to this project. I will confess, there are times when I miss the searing snarl of some of the more vicious versions of some of this material, or even the wispy creepiness of, say, Waits’ own Poor Edward, so I suppose you could say that there is a gentility to these reinterpretations which I personally reckon could do with being nastied up here and there, but for the most part this is absolutely lovely.