Album Review: 5J Barrow – The Journey Volume 1

5J Barrow are an intriguing folk band. We covered their two-year old album recently, but they do have brand new music that just came out last week. If you’re a fan of folk and folk rock music, you’ll have to give them a spin. There are some comparable bands, but probably the best would be The Head and the Heart.

You can hear on “Seagreen Dress” that there’s some genuine artistry here. The lead vocal is particularly strong. The song’s structure invites participation, as you’ll undoubtedly find yourself singing along to the addictively fun chorus. Whether your voice fits with the female harmonies or the male lead, it’s a real joy to let your vocal chords fly with these talented artists. This would be a real blast to enjoy live.

The following “On the Edge of My Seat” is a bit more raucous. Using more of the standard “jangly folk” style of bands like the Lumineers, it’s an uptempo and fun track. Again the bluegrass-informed harmonies take center stage. The tempo keeps you tapping your toes.

The more contemplative “A New Begin” reminds me of the bluegrass evolution that took place with Nickel Creek in the 90s. The sound is comforting and not traditional, yet still holds spirit to it. The layered and crescendoed harmonies are really rewarding and unique. The existential questions at the heart of the lyrics make for a fascinating listen that is curious for the spirit as much as it is pleasing to the ear.

The creative and inviting “Sarah Brown” sounds like someone put equal parts jazz and banjo-based traditional music in a blender. While the song ends up being neither of the original genres, the unique style of the final product is curious. There’s a sort of Bela Fleck element to the banjo part, while the rowdy vocal style makes it totally different than the rest of the album. It seems like the song that shows a totally unique element to the 5J Barrow band personality. It won’t be a hit for everyone, but if curious musical turns and some wild vocals are your bag, it’s for you.

If you haven’t caught it by now, the only comparable band I haven’t mentioned yet is the Avett Brothers. That Americana mishmash might be one of the best ways to understand what 5J Barrow are doing. They’re not “just folk” at all. But in saying they are a folk band, we better understand the breadth of singing for the people that defines their art. The final track “Lullabye” may make you think of a baby in a cradle, but this is a mature lulling to sleep. The sonic structure is complicated and even a bit dark. The vocal is spoken as much as sung, encouraging existential reflections befitting a university philosophy class more than the often down-home reflections of typical folk music.

If you are up for an adventure, I advise that you give these tracks a spin. They go in different directions, but all are accomplished with a satisfying curiosity. This is mature folk music with multiple angles and turns, keeping it interestings for repeated listens.

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