TL;DR REVIEW: OLD WORLD WARBLERS, A BAND THAT DANCES WITH MELANCHOLY AND GRINS WITH WHISKEY ON THEIR BREATH, CAPTURE THE BEAUTY OF "LESS IS MORE" IN A WAY THAT FEELS REFRESHINGLY UNIQUE. A BARE BONES ACOUSTIC TRIO THAT UTILIZES THE PERCUSSIVE ELEMENTS OF THEIR INSTRUMENTS WITHOUT WASTING A SINGLE NOTE.
Old World Warblers, a band that dances with melancholy and grins with whiskey on their breath, capture the beauty of "less is more" in a way that feels refreshingly unique. Their debut First E.P. features a bare bones acoustic trio that utilizes the percussive elements of their instruments without wasting a single note. Singers Hannah Farley and Timothy Braley mostly sing alone but defer to octaves over harmonies when singing together; a great choice to highlight their distinct singing voices. They give their songs time to breathe with brilliant mandolin-filled interludes by Scott Calpin so you can let each verse sink in.
This musical space is necessary as the album is full of astute lines and turns of phrase. "We all know that living is sometimes the toughest of chores,“ sighs Hannah Farley on the opening track October Drinking Song with a weariness that is all too relatable. The way that Farley weaves this picture of a day where you just can't find any motivation and turns it into a love song is brilliant. Choosing this sentimental waltz to ease the listener into the album is a bold choice that works well for the group.
There is something remarkable about the vocals on this album as a whole. Take the track Sinking Cities, where Timothy Braley relies on drawn out low notes (such as the deliciously baritone "what was hard fought" line) and long uninterrupted lines emphasizing each syllable with a brittle staccato to keep the listener on the hook. This is a welcome departure from the passionate high notes that are so often used for dramatic emphasis. That's not to say this album lacks passion. In fact, one of the best parts of this song is Braley's conclusion to each chorus where you can hear the emotion choking his voice. It is worth noting that Sinking Cities is a commentary on the future facing New Orleans in our era of severe climate change.
Behind the memorable lines that capture the carefree wonder of being outside in the summer, there is remarkable depth to these stories. Old World Warblers go out on a high note with Summerfest, an energetic song about waking up next to someone after a night of drinking. The rapid starting and stopping of the instruments on each line illustrates the process of gathering your bearings after an evening of indulgence. On the surface this is a wonderful and upbeat song that is a favorite at Old World Warblers live shows. Braley's infectious personality especially shines here with his throwaway lines at the end of each verse. But a closer listen reveals a manic energy. The love story hints that it may be a song dedicated to the bottle itself. The romantic line "I've got to see her again tonight" reveals a codependent relationship that can so often happen with drinking. The evolution of understanding this song mirrors the experience with alcohol for many of us. It starts out fun and energetic, then turns into something that is hard to escape. In a clever bit of symbolism, the song doesn't change as you listen but your interpretation does.
As the years go on and music gets more nuanced, it becomes increasingly difficult to classify genres. That being said, it can help readers to have an idea of what sort of music to expect when reading a review. With that in mind I would say this album falls under the folk genre. If folk music is all about stories that draw you in and make you think, the Old World Warblers have proven themselves to be masters at it.
Listen and purchase on Bandcamp here.