The Brothers Comatose,
Respect the Van
(independent, 2012)

The Bay-area based Brothers Comatose are an acoustic string band, which if you haven't heard them may lead you presume that the musical content is old-time or bluegrass. Though the echoes of those genres are easily heard on Respect the Van, the Brothers are also defined by the California country-rock of the latter 1960s/early 1970s, minus the, er, coma-inducing slow love songs.

I imagine some could characterize their style as Americana, a label that has as much to do with marketing slogan as with musical identity, which Americana has in no observable abundance. Mostly, to my ears, it's a thin, unmemorable fusion of vaguely rooted sounds that the performers got from listening not to actual rooted artists but from hearing their contemporaries who were in turn listening to them, in pretty much an unbroken circle. I will add here that I doubt that the average Americana performer or fan will catch the unbroken-circle allusion. At any rate, I'll take an actual folk singer or bluegrass picker or rockabilly bopper or hard-core honkytonker any time. It is, I suppose, a matter of taste.

A more charitable way of looking at the Brothers, whose repertoire consists of original compositions, is as an evolutionary development spawned by the eccentric neo-roots music of the late, missed John Hartford. They're a five-piece outfit fronted by the brothers Ben and Alex Morrison, who seem awake enough. Nothing really intense is going on here, though; even the more sober songs refuse to take themselves all that seriously. And anyone who survives by the skin of his or her creative (and therefore financial) teeth will appreciate the fiddle tune -- one of several happy indications, by the way, that they do know their Appalachian music -- the Brothers call "Pennies Are Money Too."

music review by
Jerome Clark

21 July 2012

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