Thursday, April 05, 2007

Folk Revivalists

During the past three years, one band I keep returning to is The Decembrists. These Portland indie rockers, led by singer Colin Meloy and the eponymous guitar hero Chris Funk, have only been recording since 2001. Their fourth album, The Crane Wife, was released amid much pomp and circumstance late in 2006.

Stephen Colbert described them as "hyper-literate prog-rock." That about says it. Where so many bands today go in for the navel-gazing weepies, The Decembrists, named after the 1825 Russian uprising, take a story-telling approach to songwriting. The Crane Wife, for instance, refers to the Japanese legend of the rescued woman who turns into a crane at night. The Tain refers to the Tain of Cuthulain, the 4th B.C. Irish epic.

The Decembrists remind me of British avant garde composer Percy Grainger's approach. The avant garde composer spent years in the early years of the 20th century rescuing old ballads and shanties from extinction. He would track down aging singers at rest homes and get them to sing their old songs into a needle-down gramophone, then translate the works for his peculiar and particular audience. The Decembrists are engaged upon a very similar mission, to take yesterday's folk art and translate it for today's audience. I wish them well.


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