What we often find, as a blog that deals primarily in folk music, is a lot of bands trying to recreate the success of other famous bands. For every Fleet Foxes, Civil Wars, Mumford and Sons, there are an endless number of knock offs that try and fail to emulate the success of their influences. When you come across a band, then, that combines all the successful troupes on today’s music and just nails it, then you’ve hit the jackpot. But really, the band, in this case, Fox and the Bird, has hit the jackpot. The banjo laden, harmonic, storytelling jackpot.
The first thing I heard when I turned on Fox and the Bird and their debut album, Darkest Hours, was “When I Was Young”, a 50 odd second, four verse, harmony building acappella song. I was hooked almost right away. The song leads right into my first truly great song of 2014, “Wreck of the Fallible”. The banjo, the cadence of the vocals, the violin and slowly added harmony make this song an incredible combination of everything we look for in music. When you hear the harmony and the tone of the lyrics, it’s hard not to appreciate it. “And battered, arriving at the spot./ Awakened after years of being lost./ These men they’re not worried what it cost,/ they just dive down below./ They say “O…” why have we been rejected by our own?/ Was it wrong to expect that in their darkest hours,/you were ever really there at all?”
The second track, “Saints”, put the female vocals and the bright, more upbeat music also found on this album. What makes this song stand out is that throughout the gently plucked banjo and the female led harmonies is the horns. Oh the horns! So rarely are we treated to horns in folk music that when it hits, you think to yourself, “Why doesn’t everyone do this?!” Right before the horns, we hear a perfectly placed lyric: “And if I’m perfect would you love me even more?/ And if I told you that these perfect traits that you adore were all just a rouse, for you?”
This album is not a happy album however. “Habit” is a song about violence, habitual, deep seated violence. “I am a killer, that’s just the way that I was made.” The clapping and deep and ever present bass drums really bring home the darkness of the lyrics and give them a new weight. “Valley” is similar in its darkness, but the choral singing throughout the song, it sounds as if it’s a shared pain and hardship. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, strengthened, in this case, by the minor banjo and very melancholy violin.
Regardless of whether the music sounds happy or the lyrics led themselves to warm feelings, the music certainly will. The perfectly crafted and thoroughly layered instrumentation on this album would make it wonderful as an instrumental album alone. To give us the added bonus of beautifully written lyrics is a gift we are all too willing to receive.