Album Review: The Washover Fans – Just Like Time – The Gorgeous Americana album we’ve been waiting for
One of the characteristics of Americana is that it must be a hybrid of other styles, often in strands of roots music. That comes through beautifully in The Washover Fans as they clearly infuse elements of Appalachian, roots country, and even gospel music. The strings and harmonies on their album Just Like Time are gorgeous and soothing. They remind me of some of the better, more relaxing tracks on Nickel Creek’s earlier work. Surely this is an album that Sara Watkins herself would enjoy.
Fittingly, the album opens with a track called “Mountains.” Although the lyrics seem to indicate that it’s about something larger than the geography itself. It’s a great first track for the album because the sound is comforting and welcoming, particularly the well-done vocal harmonies throughout.
“Moving Train” is about perseverance. It does have a tangible feeling of movement, which is no doubt intentional. But it’s also about final rest and the end of that kind of movement. The driving percussion and guitar strumming create a sound unlike the others on the album. The track that follows it, “Vagabond Dream” there’s an intriguing narrative style. The imagery immediately conjures a bygone era. For some reason it makes me think of a nostalgic memory of a time when people were nicer to each other. Musically, it’s a bit more like chill rock than any of the other more traditional tracks on the album.
“Farwell” does some really interesting things with layered strings. There’s obviously at least two violins playing and possibly a cello. But then over all of that there’s this really modern-feeling banjo. It all comes together for this kind of new grass sound about having someone who cares enough to help you when you’re lost. It’s almost unexpected in its complexity.
The song “Fever” is probably the style you’d most expect to hear on an album that bills itself as Americana or roots. It relies on the acoustic guitar and a really nice, strong melody. It has images about traveling, love, and dreaming. It’s also probably my favorite on the whole album because the harmonies are just OUT OF THIS WORLD. I try to be careful with using all caps (they say it’s bad form in professional writing circles), but seriously amazing harmonies. At the heart of the song seems to be an existential question, “what if now is the last time?”
“Right on Time” starts off with a sweet and subtle banjo. It carries into a great clear country music style. Again playing on nostalgia, the song tells stories about the good old days. It gets jangly partway through and that’s just alright by me.
“Water Fire,” comes in with some pretty snazzy guitars and a deceptively upbeat rhythm. The lead singer instantly reminds me of Neil Young on this one. In fact, the lyrics seem a bit like the kind of folk that sixties troubadours might have written. “All we can do is rock ourselves to sleep singing hush my darlin honey don’t you weep. Looks like we own the land but not what’s underneath. They’ll steal the soul from the ground below our feet, poison the water, and leave while our children sleep. Gonna dig us to hell…” Not only is it an emotionally-charged song, it’s also extraordinarily well done. It could become an anthem for a generation of folks who have witnessed hydraulic fracturing do just this across the United States. It’s morbidly true.
“Pieces” has a great female lead vocal that drips with sincerity. The call is about a relationship that needs recovery. The music pulls together seemingly disparate elements in violins, piano, and electric guitar – that seem to veer a bit far from the typical Americana sound – but that work nicely to punctuate the lyrical ending, “I could take your picture… hang it on my wall.” It’s about coping and moving on. It’s a nice overall composition.
The final track “The Next One” is about how progressively night after night things get “darker” or worse. It’s a well-developed metaphor done in a rootsy country style. The violins really seem to shine in moments on this track. It’s a great way to end an altogether wonderful album.
All things taken together, fans of typical Americana will like most of the tracks on this album. What makes it great is that The Washover Fans take risks. They are true to their artistry rather than some sort of gimmicks. When they want to use electric guitars they use them. When they want twangy guitars and violins, they do that too. It’s an overall free and expressive album, sure to satisfy fans of newer elements within Americana music. Fans of new grass generally and Nickel Creek more specifically should definitely give this album a listen.