When it comes to faithful recreations of old time string band music you’re hard pressed to find anyone doing it better than The Foghorn Stringband. Their latest offering, Outshine The Sun crams 21 songs and tunes into its 57 minutes contained in the craftily well-designed sleeve and each and every one of them is a delight. When we reviewed a trimmed down version of the band, The Foghorn Trio, last year we said that “they are astonishingly good at capturing the earnestness and innocence that is a quintessential ingredient in the pleasure one gets from listening to pre war country music” and that remains the case despite line up changes. Recorded sitting around a wood stove using one microphone in mandolin player Caleb Klauder’s Portland, Oregon home this sounds as if it could have been taped in the forties were it not for the lack of crackles and static. Klauder(who also plays fiddle and guitar), Stephen Lind (fiddle, banjo, guitar), Nadine Landry (double bass, guitar) and Rebecca Willms (guitar) are all excellent players and all add vocals that fit the songs and the sense of old timeyness perfectly either singly or in the excellent harmonies.
We can’t pick out any favourites or outstanding tracks here as each one is as good as the next. Whether it’s the rousing Be Kind To A Man When he’s Down, the jaunty By the River, the Cajun waltz of Tit’s Yeux Bleus or the tear jerking ode to a dead mother on Sweeter than All The Flowers, the playing captivates and the listener hits the repeat button in order to savour the lyrics. Half the fun here is in reading who inspired the band arrangements and while familiar names crop up in the album notes (The Carter Family, The Stanley Brothers and Charlie Poole for example) a musical quest beckons to find out who exactly were Da Costa Woltze’s Southern Broadcasters (see here). Definitely the best string band album this year, check out the website which carries a great and up to date blog of their ongoing adventures.
As luck would have it when reading The Foghorn Stringband’s blog we noticed that they played a gig with The Cactus Blossoms reminding us that we’ve shamefully neglected their debut release which has been sitting here with pleading eyes for several months. Minnesota based brothers, Jack Torrey and Page Burkum (you figure the surnames) are two fresh faced handsome cowboy types who have obviously steeped themselves in the old Nashville sound of Bill Monroe, Ernest Tubbs and Hank Williams with a dash of the Everly Brothers and Woody Guthrie thrown in. Aided and abetted by the fine playing of Mike Russell (fiddle), Liz Draper (double bass) and Randy Broughten (steel guitar, Dobro) they’ve penned most of the songs here but manage to capture the post war Grand Ole Opry sound perfectly. Stately and respectful songs of regret and lost love are played and sung in a manner that captures a lost world of innocence, full of gingham and manners, songs your mum and dad would love. Nevertheless if the likes of hank Williams rocks your boat then you’ll love this. Cold Foot Boogie stomps along with some fine steel guitar sonic adventures and jazzy fiddling while Adios Maria is sublime with some excellent Dobro frills.