BareBones & WildFlowers,
Higher Than the Moon
(self-produced, 2000)

Some bands manage to find just the right sound for themselves. The singer learns his range, the musicians find their pace and the whole group finds a style they can perform with the ease of a conversation between old friends. BareBones & WildFlowers hit their perfect pitch with Higher Than the Moon, a healthy, welcoming collection of folk songs.

Rachel Handman provides the main violin, and it's hard to believe she's a classically trained musician with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. She manages to sound so raw and natural throughout the album, you'd swear she was a family-trained virtuoso. The vocals by Steve Palmer are an effective match, smooth and emotive with no dramatics. Handman and Mel Paskell occasionally lend their voices to a song in the same earnest way, boosting the profile of a line or chorus without drawing attention to their own presence.

The truly impressive harmonizing is done by the instruments. Handman's violin makes an especially fine duet with Palmer or Paskell's guitars. On an album of such simple basic melodies, the layered instrumental harmonies provide a welcome depth of sound.

BareBones & WildFlowers clearly have their genre of folk-country down. The combination of sweet, unadorned vocals and supporting instrumentals are comforting, smooth and flexible enough to cover the innocent disappointment of "Last Train from Poor Valley" or the bright, dancing steps of "Scotia." They know their way around the music well enough to play around with it; I would never have expected "Salt Creek/Blackberry Blossom/Friend of the Devil/Blackberry" to be a successful medley, but under their skilled fingers it sounds like different movements of an original, unified piece.

The consistent high quality and skill evident through most of the album make their one departure from the genre a strange disappointment. "Joey," an attempt at social commentary in a folk-rock vein, is unwisely placed after "Powderfinger," a mournful country tune about much the same kind of haplessly violent young man that elicits far more sympathy in both tune and lyrics. It's a tactile relief when the album lifts off again with an energetic rendition of "Solid Gone."

Higher Than the Moon is a friendly, companionable album, one that will keep you company even after the last notes fall silent. Being at ease with their music, BareBones & WildFlowers are able to release it to the ears of listeners with a trust that encourages imitation. You'll soon find yourself looping through "Peggy-O" or humming the notes of "Big Scotia" in a sort of happy monologue. And when you want the rest of the conversation, its comforting to know that Higher Than the Moon is there, relaxed and ready for another session.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 22 May 2004

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