Bluegrass is a genre that often get overlooked because it can be grating. The fiddles, the banjos, the vocals can all be turn offs to the casual music listener. One of the reasons that Nickel Creek was so successful was their ability to make music that could be appealing to the general populace with tight harmonies, great fiddle work and a sense for songs that appeal to everyone and not just a certain population. When we reviewed the debut album by The Barefoot Movement, Footwork, we noted that this was a band with potential to be a band that was embraced by more than just bluegrass fans. I’m happy to say that Figures of the Year sees Noah and her gang accomplish this much sooner than anticipated.
Quentin Acres and Hasee Ciaccio provide excellent rhythm guitar and bass work, respectively. Their presense is felt throughout the album and is consistently strong. Tommy Norris’s mandolin seems to have taken a huge step forward, providing the rhythm, lead, and excellent solos whenever necessary. But it’s Noah Wall’s songwriting and vocals that really steal the show on this album. While all members can and do sing very well, Wall’s vocals seem so powerful and effortless that every song she sings and her songwriting has taken on a more personal and powerful tone.
There is a part of this album that is par for the bluegrass course. There are multiple instrumental tracks and traditional instrumentation. This album separates itself with a few things as well. First, each member of the group has a song that they are the lead vocalist. This lends some cool depth to the album and almost makes it feel like a compilation. They also do an awesome job of making all of the songs sound distinct, something that can be a challenge in bluegrass music.
After an instrumental interlude, Figures of the Year kicks off with “Lay It All Down On Me”, a love song of sorts, but also a song that is simply about emotion. “I feel so many things at once, it’s hard to catch my breath./ I fear that if I don’t slow down, I’ll feel myself to death.” Those are some pretty honest lyrics. There are a few songs about feeling out of place, stir-crazy, and ready to move on. “Restless Heart” features Tommy and Quentin on vocals and the result is a song reminiscent of Elliot Road and the bluegrass style they possess. It’s one of the album’s best tracks. “Restless heart of mine, what do you need to know?/ Always looking out, always wanting more.” Noah’s vocals also shine on “Too Long in One Place”, a song that’s very reminiscent of Nickel Creek.
“Do What You Please”, “Second Time Around”, and “Should Have Known” are all very honest and emotional songs, the latter especially. It’s a song about learning those tough life lessons, written to the person who forced her to learn them. Perhaps the best lyric on the album is “People walk and people talk, nobody sits down./ And every time there’s silence, we must fill it up with sound./ Nobody keeps secrets, especially not their own./ Since it was you who taught me this, I guess you should have known.”
The album comes to a close with a rare treat. Covers aren’t particularly rare, but covers on albums are much more so. Covers of beloved 90s rock songs are like gold. Doing a bluegrass version of “No Rain” by Blind Melon with a female vocalist could have gone terribly wrong, but its so good. Noah’s vocals are at their best, the instrumentation is perfect, and there is a clear love of the original.
The Barefoot Movement has followed up their debut album with an album that shows the growth and development we dream of in a sophomore release. Figures of the Year is an incredible album, one that’s worth your attention and is sure to garner the attention it deserves.