National Park Radio – “Old Forests” Album Review
By Dayna Duncan
A Triumph of Lyrics and Bluegrass – “Old Forests” by National Park Radio Album Review
There’s always been something about Bluegrass/Folk/Americana that makes me feel like there is hope in this world. From the earliest seconds on, National Park Radio’s “Old Forests” gave me that hope. The bands’ newest full-length album release is pure light, thoughtful, and filling. True beauty is musical form…Stefan Szabo and company are vocally, musically, and passionately decadent. So much so that I found it difficult to make light of it and add humor (As I’m known to do.) Not that this album is above it, but I felt more inspired with this review than I have in a very long time. So, please allow me the over-use of synonyms and shut it. (Side note: A band who offers a free stream or download from their website always proves to me that no amount of money is worth more than the purity of genuine musicianship.)
Song one, “Mighty Mountains,” is as banjo-led as you would desire from this genre of music, but the lyrics are so well thought-out and poignant that you don’t feel this song exists just to satisfy genre-norms.
“Oh My Heart” speaks from a songwriters point of view when listeners hear and respond to their music. How the musicians heart is conflicted between the passion and power of the craft versus the desire to be home with the ones you love. It’s deep, but the music is light and dreamy with outstanding vocals.
The third and title song “Old Forests” is a lyrically fabulous wonderland of picturesque storytelling. A journey through forests and mountains while roaming through all that life could send your way. It’s masterfully played by stripped-down guitar, banjo, and with the added ethereal vocals that are almost reminiscent of a fallen angel on his way from heaven to earth.
“See everything you can see. To find your way you must be free. Go find your love and keep it near. Don’t get caught up in doubt and fear.” – “These Great Plains” starts off with these beautiful words overtop the twang and pluck of the accompanying guitar and banjo. Then the wonderful harmonically-placed “oh’s” of the chorus march us into the “setting sun.” This song is genuinely enjoyable and utterly uplifting.
The fifth song “Blood” seems something, to me, straight out of the T Bone Burnett movie soundtrack arsenal. A mountainside Spritual-esque tune that makes you feel joy while simultaneously questioning anything and everything. Genuinely good music should do that. Adding the classic fiddle to the harmonies, plucking, and strumming make this song supremely strong.
“Meant to Be” is a softer and welcoming change after the strength of “Blood.” It’s a wonderful love song that greets you and gives you a sense of joy. The stripped drums to a snare, high-hat, and tambourine is light and the harmonies are simply delicious. “The perfect match, it’s plain to see.” I’m sure they meant love, but musically this band seems to do that effortlessly.
In the seventh song “The Way it Always Has” I get a “Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors”-vibe and it is a warm and well-timed song on this album’s journey.
Song eight, “If the Rain is Fallen’” is a cute, old-timey country-style love song. It has great banjo/acoustic rhythms with simplified vocals. It’s everything you need and want with a song like this.
“December” sure does make me want winter to come on this hot summer morning. Love and family bring a warmth and joy that we all can relate to and this acoustic-driven tune reminds us of it all. The addition of strings is oh, so welcomed at this moment and makes for such an ethereal, beautiful song.
“Fame and Misfortune” is a song about how chasing empty things are not worth it without the love of family. The female vocals on this song are so clean, bright, and I am a firm believer that a well-sung duet always adds a certain depth to any album. This song has a country feel vocally and the guitar beneath it is fresh and pure.
The final song “Go” again revisits the idea of home and all humankind’s journey navigating life, love, family, fame, and doing what you truly love to do. “Do everything you’re dreaming of.” This whole album makes me believe that I can do anything. It’s so completely uplifting that I can’t even accurately describe the music, as the lyrics are truly the star of the show. Musically it’s fantastic, as are the gorgeous vocals, but it’s such a genuine act of triumph to hear lyrics so deep in your spirit; and my spirit is so full.