Barleywine Revue,
Barleywine Revue
(independent, 2011)

Barleywine Revue is a band that had only played together for about two years by the time they released their debut, self-titled album in June 2011. Consisting of seven members, the self-claimed newgrass band shows significant promise with their first release.

As an album, Barleywine Revue has terrific flow while alternating consistently with each song, a task not easily accomplished. Almost every band member is credited with writing at least one song, and the lead vocalist varies from track to track. Most songs revolve around current loves, past loves, journeys and whiskey, which is generally the trend with bluegrass music. The consistently impressive instrumentals are on display with each track, which makes this album appealing to a variety of audiences.

The opening song "Sunshine in Tacoma" was written by former guitarist Sean Bernfeld and is a perfect introduction for the album. This sets the tone for the following album terrifically; "Sunshine in Tacoma" is a perfect blend of enchanting instrumentals, featuring guitar and fiddle, and gorgeous vocals, compliments of Bernfeld. The next track, "Tryin' to Beat the Rain," is a great transition into the next few songs, which are all a superb combination of country drinking songs and foot-tappin' jams.

There are no real weak links in this chain, but the one individual who truly stands out on each of his tracks is Kevin Shintaku. He has a deep and soulful voice that suits his genre ideally. The person I constantly am reminded of when I hear Shintaku sing is William Eliot Whitmore. Though Whitmore has a much deeper voice, both on and off the microphone, they have the same rough and gravelly vocals that gives you the impression they've been through some hard times. The best sampling of Shintaku's ability is on "The Wanderer," a track that will become a favorite after about two listens. This is the song that initially reminded me of Whitmore, in particular, the song "Lifetime Underground."

Immediately following "The Wanderer" is my other favorite song on this album, "Whiskey River." While the former is a beautiful love song in which Shintaku reminisces on times past, the latter is an ideal follow-up: a loving tribute to Tennessee whiskey. Next on the microphone is Amelia Thornton, with her performance on "Have You Heard," which is a tremendous display of vocal range.

Try as I may to find a true weak spot in the album, I continuously come up empty. The middle chunk of the album initially did not appeal to me, though on second and third listens, I developed a great appreciation for just about every song. The only song that doesn't meet the incredibly high standard the others set is Thornton's other song, "Port of Tacoma." Still a fine track, and it fits very well in its spot, but it does not feature any overwhelming instrumental display, like "Mountain Thunder," or vocal connection with the listener, like "The Wanderer."

The overall effect of all these factors is a feel-good album that shows more value each time you listen to it. Though I was happily surprised the first time I went through this album, it continued to grow on me with each and every time I put it on. I found myself listening to it two and three times in immediate succession, which is unusual for me with country and bluegrass music. I sincerely look forward to their next release, though I keep my anticipation in check, as their debut set quite the bar.

music review by
Bryan Frantz

30 June 2012

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