Unarmed Against the Dark
(Innocent 12th St., 2003)
Unarmed Against the Dark might be the Feathermerchants' sophomore CD, but it was my first introduction to the band. In a way, this CD might be new to old fans as well. The band has a new vocalist, Shannon Kennedy. I cannot make a fair comparison to her predecessor since I've only heard brief samples from the Feathermerchants' self-titled debut CD (at Amazon.com). I can, however, say that Shannon has a beautiful singing voice that grabbed my attention right away.
For those of you not familiar with the Feathermerchants, I would describe their music as mostly folk-rock with varied guitar layers joining together to form the body of the melodies. Most of the guitar sounds acoustic, but there is the unmistakable electric influence on occasion. While the music is great, the individual vocals and especially the harmonies can easily be considered the icing on the cake.
Those of you who focus on lyrics will not feel deprived either. Many of the themes seem to be spiritual or historical in nature. A good example would be the song "Dan." The promo material points out that this song refers to Pete Veru's paternal grandfather and his experiences in World War I. The words paint a picture of the horror associated with masses of men surging out of trenches when they heard the whistle blow indicating the time to attack. (A video of this song can be seen at the band's website.)
My favorite song on the CD is "Ursuline." This piece has a very ethereal feel to it. The music is almost otherworldly. The hooks for this selection are strategically placed primal screams. I am not sure if this was intended or if this is only in my mind, but this song has elements in it that hint at a Native American influence and other elements that sound almost Goth. I like the blend and tend to play this last track at least twice before letting the CD end.
According to the promotional material, the band was formed in New York City back in 1998 by Pete Veru (a former junkbondsman on Wall Street). Pete plays guitars, sings and also wrote the majority of the songs. I already mentioned Shannon Kennedy as lead vocalist. Jim Chapdelaine plays lead guitar. Jon Peckman is the band's drummer (and wrote "Ursuline"). Jay Wiggins performs on bass. While the band is normally without a keyboardist, Chuck Leavell plays on two tracks, "All the Way Home" and "Brooklyn Ferry."
Whether you are an old fan or have never heard of the band, I would say the Feathermerchants are worth checking out. The music, vocals and lyrics are quite good on Unarmed Against the Dark. The sound might be a little more rock-oriented than many readers of Rambles are used to. But then, sometimes it is worth it to expand your horizons.