Bradford Loomis and Beth Whitney have been active in the music industry for a while, but you’ve never heard them quite like this. From the first sounds of “My Beloved” music fans will realize this album is an absolute treat. Seasoned songwriters with a story not unlike Joy and John Paul, they found themselves developing a songwriting a performance chemistry that makes music that listeners will absolutely crave. This is an unapologetically incredible album. Please folk music fans, try The Banner Days.
“You are my beloved” is the repetitive refrain on an opening track that is equal parts inspiration and power. It has layers of vocals, strings, and percussion. The entire production blends together perfectly, allowing for intimacy and crescendo. It’s the kind of song that doesn’t just “happen.” There’s a real polished quality to what these expert musicians and songwriters are doing here. The ending “Come back to me” reminds us that this is a lover’s lament, not a cheesy love song. That kind of maturity makes these songs better than the sum of their parts.
“Come on and dance with me… all along the shores of the great Black Sea.” A call to romance by a male and female duo – with a sort of pop country vibe to it. It’s another great hit with layered natural imagery. Towing the line of cliché and powerful romantic lyrics, the track errs on the side of the latter. The call feels real and genuine – here is a man who wants to embrace his lover and dance with her. It’s beautiful and believable.
The title track “The Banner Days” is probably my favorite on the album. Again featuring a pop country sound, the overall feel is authentic. “I may never have much to my name, but I’ll give you everything.” It’s about poverty and being real salt of the earth people, living to be together and embrace life. It’s inspiring and exciting. The banjo gives a highlight tone that feels like adventure. It’s like saying “we’re in this together!” In fact they write “you, me, and our pockets are empty” about that exact sense of adventure. After all, “our banner days are here.” In other words, these might be the worst of times, but they’re also the best of times. What a wonderful track. A banjo and some gang vocals… tell me that won’t work in 2014!
“Song in My Head” is a bit more adventurous. It’s like a song you’d expect to sing if you were out at a bonfire on the beach with a bunch of hippie artsy friends. You know the type… you’re just all dancing around hand clapping and thinking you look amazing even though your hair is all blown in your face. And you hand clap. And “fall asleep with a song in my head…” It’s cool.
“Brother” reminds me of Sara Watkins or Allison Krauss. Beth’s vocals are exquisite here. “The quiet’s got me thinking there’s nowhere to go…” [insert ominous chord] “…brother can you hear me now? Brother where’d you go?” It’s heavy and dark and deep. She’s visiting her deceased brother (although I’m not sure if he’s literally dead or only metaphorically dead). Ultimately the song seems to be about grieving. I can imagine to the right person, this song would hit extremely hard. It’s phenomenally composed and a true work of art. For what it’s worth, the anthemic bridge in the latter part of the piece is one of my favorite elements of the whole album.
The final track “Wanted Man” has grit. Bradford’s vocals on this track show off some hard drinking and hard living in all the right ways. His ability to rise and fall with the action of the song shows the heart of a real singer songwriter. It is a jukebox jumper that hopefully will pick up some popularity. It’s really well done and powerful. The grit is intoxicating. (See what I did there? Whiskey… intoxicating…? Shakes head. Maybe next time.)
In any event, this is a wonderful album. I think the easy comparison is The Civil Wars, but they really don’t sound a lot alike. They have their own brand of male-female harmonies that really aren’t even standard across the album. It’s hard to nail them down to a specific genre or style, but they definitely have that “it” factor that is so rare in the music world. This is an album that deserves mass attention and an artistic team that will only get better as they continue to connect. The Banner Days have just begun this fantastic musical adventure.