Click to hear: “So Far Gone”
Beauty of a Heart is The Coming Grass’ first release since 2002. Hard to believe. In the meantime, we’ve been graced with excellent releases from band members Steve Jones – 2004’s It Is What It Is (And It Does What It Does) — and Sara Cox — 2003’s Arrive — but it’s awfully nice to hear new material from the whole band.
The songs on Beauty of a Heart don’t mark a radical change of sound or direction for The Coming Grass. Instead, they remind me why this group has remained so consistently good: Nate Schrock writes strong lyrics, the guitar work of Schrock and Jones is top-notch, Cox’s vocals never fail to please, and the rhythm section of Ginger Cote (drums) and Justin Maxwell (bass) build a sturdy groove. They’re a tight band that isn’t afraid to get loose.
Beginning with the layers of acoustic and electric guitars on the opener, “So Far Gone,” Beauty of a Heart is warm thoughtful and, at times, rocking. On “Exploding Home,” the band’s sound is in full force, with lyrics to match: “Like a country song/ broken ties and deception/ love gone wrong/ wishes, cars/ what we lost because we can’t surrender” and “I play guitar/ garage to bars/ and far away/ Now I work the mill/ gave up the will/ to change the world.”
And what would a Coming Grass release be without Cox’s stunning vocals? The first taste of full-on lead vocals from Cox comes on the fourth track, “Polly.” Beginning as an acoustic-guitar-and-fiddle-inflected countrified lament, the tune stretches its legs as Cox stretches the vocals, soon blossoming into a beautifully layered and sonically powerful exploration of electric guitar, fiddle and voice.
Cox shines on “Cold Outside” and “Sugar,” too, but the highest praise I can giveBeauty of a Heart is to say the album is truly the work of a band. While The Coming Grass is made up of some very talented individuals, this album showcases the sum of the group’s parts, and the result is a damn fine collection of tunes.
— Tom Flynn
A Look Back at the Best Local Roots Releases of 2005 (in no particular order)…
Micah Blue Smaldone
Hither & Thither
An album at the top of my list for 2005, local or otherwise. Micah Blue Smaldone has got it goin’ on, friend. (Heads-up: If you’re a Micah Blue fan and haven’t yet heard Death Vessel, a Rhode Island-based band, get thee to a retailer and pick up their 2005 release Stay Close; Mr. Smaldone contributes guitar and vocals on this darkly wonderful CD.)
The Land We All Believe In
Leading the way in new directions for trad music, Cerberus Shoal never fails to amaze and inspire. Their latest pulls you in and shakes you up good. Take the leap and give in to the sonic freakshow – it’ll take you places you never dreamed a banjo could go.
OK, most of the band lives in Brooklyn, but songwriter Christopher Teret calls Portland home, so this one makes my list. Company’s sound defies labels, but there’s a strong sense of folk running headlong into rock. This album’s a keeper, and Company’s live gigs aren’t to be missed. Keep an eye out for Teret’s solo releases, too. Like Micah Blue Smaldone, Mr. Teret has been spotted collaborating with the Cerberus Shoal camp. Lucky us.
Another recent addition to Portland’s music scene, Steven Bacon delivered a gem of a folk album in 2005. Carolina is a well-crafted and beautiful collection of tunes. Bacon wrote the songs, played the instruments, and produced the whole shebang. Every time I’ve played this CD around friends, I gotten the same reaction: “Wow. Who is this?”
Tree by Leaf
Of the Black & the Blue
One of the most overlooked and underappreciated local releases of 2005, Of the Black & the Blue is as complete an album as I’ve heard in the last 12 months. It’s a CD full of songs you want to crawl inside and inhabit. The vocals of Garrett and Siiri Soucy are sublime, and the songwriting and musicianship couldn’t be better.
Half Moon Jug Band
Jug Band Army
Hear what happens when you bring the buskers in from the cold and let the chops thaw. This album was one of 2005’s biggest surprises. The Half Mooners put the shtick on the back burner and boil a pot of damn good music.
In retrospect, 2005 was another strong year for local roots musicians. In addition to the releases noted above, the local scene seems to be gathering steam through continued collaboration, most notably among several artists who’ve recently arrived in town (Steven Bacon, Daniel Jacobs, John Wesley Hartley, et al). These musicians have joined forces at Acoustic Coffee, where the new in-coffeehouse label Cat & Mouse Records further promotes fine, local, acoustic music. Let’s hope the idea works as well for them as it has for North East Indie.