What the folk?
Listen, I don’t know anything about folk music other than what I knew when I was just a youngster, and that was this: my dad owned over two hundred and fifty pounds of The Kingston Trio vinyl (all of which I hated) and The Kingston Trio was considered folk and also, hippies seemed to like folk a lot.
But The Kingston Trio weren’t hippies and hippies weren’t clean-cut kids who looked like they just strolled off of a production of The Music Man singing three-part harmony. To a kid trying to make sense of the world, this sort of binary opposition was bewildering and so I’ve pretty much stayed away from this music known as “folk” most of my life.
I’ve been hearing about The Wildlife Refuge for years. It’s a house turned into a bar, which, in my vast experience with bars and taverns and such, is the best type of drinking establishment there is. The night my old friend Kelly and I were there, American Folk was celebrating the release of their self-titled debut ceedee, and there was free beer for anyone who bought a copy.
Yep. I was in.
True to their live show, American Folk keeps things simple on their debut record. It’s a crisp, clear recording, no frills, just the guys playing and Lantz singing stories of travel, drinking, lost women, new women and so on. Thematic clichés abound, but their playing is as neat as a pin and the melodies stick. Take the opener “Moonshine Mama.” I don’t even need to explain what the song’s about cuz you’ve already guessed it, but here’s the outstanding thing about it : listen to it twice, and you’ll catch yerself humming it later on. Even when they are at their weakest, (and that would be their cover of “C.C. Rider,” a track so old and worn it’s grown skintags that have their own skintags) Lantz still sounds convincing as the band turns it into an acoustic blues number.
“Was It Really Me Or Him” is the record’s most impressive track. It’s a murder ballad, although Lantz never really confesses to the crime, he just openly questions “Did one of us really have to die?” and considers altering the forensics by laying the victim’s body on the train tracks and letting the train take the blame. As Lantz wobbles between regret and his own preservation, a lonely banjo plunks away the deep, gothic tones of restraint.